Adoption of campaign-related activities policy questioned

The Morrison County Commissioners adopted a campaign related activities policy for the Government Center and its employees.

The policy states that no employee, during work hours, shall use authority or official influence to compel any co-worker or member of the public to join a political party, to make a political contribution, to support a political candidate, or to take part in any political activity.

Influence includes, but is not limited to, displaying in or on their person, work space , or office, during work hours, any button, hat, article of clothing, sign, advertisement, or literature promoting a political candidate of a ballot question.

The policy also stated that no employee shall spend time with any political candidate, nor any individual working on behalf of a political candidate, who is soliciting votes or support in county buildings during work hours. This prohibition does not include conducting county business with a person who is a candidate or who is working on behalf of a candidate.

Before the final vote was taken on Tuesday, Antoinette Wetzel questioned the action that was about to take place.

She asked, “I wonder why now and where it came from?”

County Administrator Tim Houle said, “We began working on this policy in May. It is not a reflection of any candidate. Up to this point we have had no problems.”

Wetzel said, “It appears to have a look of impropriety. It appears to be directed at a candidate and that is how it is being interpreted. I don’t think there is any mystery about who I am speaking. My bother has filed (for the position of Sheriff) and has been working on this since before May. There are bumper stickers, T-shirts and buttons already printed and after that happens, the county board implements a campaign policy. That is going to be a detriment to him and it benefits or favors another candidate.

Wetzel added, “It appears that someone has a personal agenda to favor one candidate over another.That is my personal opinion. That is how we perceive it.”

County Attorney Conrad Freeberg said, “Russ Nygren ( County Auditor) and I discussed the need for a policy two years ago. It would have been nice to have had it in place a year ago but that did not happen.”

Wetzel said, “The timing is suspect. If you institute the policy, you institute the policy and that will have to be analyzed further.”

Before voting on the issue, which carried unanimously, Commissioner Gene Young said, “I would rather have a policy in place than have to be proactive. I don’t feel this is going to impact what has been going on. We have had no problems up to this point.”

A full copy of the policy is available at the Government Center.

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