Isanti County Board says no to sex offenders

The Isanti County Board of Commissioners has formally voted against the proposed relocation of sex offenders in treatment to a facility in Cambridge.

By unanimous vote Oct. 2, the board passed a resolution expressing its opposition to the state’s plan to relocate “committed sexually dangerous individuals” to the Minnesota Specialty Health System campus, otherwise known as the former Cambridge Regional Human Services Center or state hospital grounds just down the road from the county government center.

“This state facility has evolved over the years to include a community garden, offices and family residences,” Isanti County Administrator Kevin VanHooser said in a letter to Lucinda Jesson, commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Human Services.

“If this relocation plan proceeds, the county requests limitless communication with local officials,” he added.

In case the plan indeed moves forward, county commissioners also approved Board Chair Susan Morris to serve on a community liaison group with city and law enforcement officials to help give the community a voice on matters dealing with the Minnesota Sex Offender Program.

Morris acknowledged the hours of testimony voiced by concerned residents at two public meetings held the day before at the Armed Forces Reserve and Community Center in Cambridge. Both gatherings attracted more than 200 people from families and individuals to local government officials and law enforcement.

Morris recited the county’s resolution word for word. In part, she said, “The Isanti County Board of Commissioners does not believe the Minnesota Specialty Health System facility in Cambridge has the adequate security nor can it be easily retrofitted to house dangerous sex offenders to assure the proper level of security Isanti County citizens need and deserve.”

The resolution addressed the neighborhoods, offices and amenities that currently exist near the facility as further justification for denying the state’s plan.

“The city of Cambridge has revitalized the surrounding community area with residential housing; local government offices, which serve families, are located directly across the street …; our Cambridge Community Garden, a place (where) families regularly bring their children, is located adjacent to the … facility,” Morris recited from the document.

A library and senior center, proposed to go directly across the road from the facility, were mentioned, too.

“No assurances can be made as to whether sexual predators are actually ‘cured,’” Morris continued with the resolution. “Home values within our community will be negatively affected by the housing of sexual predators at the Minnesota Specialty Health System facility in Cambridge.”

According to the resolution, the Minnesota Sex Offender Program, or MSOP, was created by the state Legislature to civilly commit individuals who are sexually dangerous or have sexually psychopathic personalities. The courts commit people to MSOP who have completed their prison sentence but whom the courts deem as posing a risk for recidivism.

The Minnesota Department of Human Services has state-of-the-art facilities for housing civilly committed sex offenders in Moose Lake and St. Peter, Minn. The facilities there have the infrastructure, staff and security to care for the patients who have been civilly committed, the document said.

The issue surfaced when the state Department of Human Services recently announced its plan to move six “low-functioning” clients from MSOP to the state facility in Cambridge. This is part of a larger effort to develop alternative placements for clients who can be served safely in settings that are secure and supervised, but less restrictive, than the facilities at Moose Lake and St. Peter, DHS Commissioner Jesson said.

The six clients, who range from 40 to 80 years old, have developmental disabilities and/or mental illness. Under law, their transfer petitions will be considered by a special review board, yet the ultimate decision will be made by the three district court judges who make up the Supreme Court Appeal Panel.

This sex offender treatment program is proposed to take effect in early spring or fall of next year, when the last of the current clients at the Minnesota Specialty Health System-Cambridge campus transfer to more integrated programs in the community — given their transfers and provisional discharges are approved by the court. At present, the facility is licensed for 16 clients and can serve to 48.

In other action, the board:

• Welcomed new health educator Melissa Carstensen, as introduced by Public Health Director Kathy Minkler. Carstensen, who grew up in Braham, comes from the WIC program in Mille Lacs County. In Isanti County, she will work primarily on on-site wellness programming and help coordinate the Employee Health Fair on Nov. 19.

• Agreed to provide allowances for safety glasses (up to $225 annually) and tools (up to $750 annually) for the Heartland Express mechanic through a memo of understanding between the county and Minnesota Teamsters Public and Law Enforcement Employees’ Union, Local 320.

• Directed commissioners Mike Warring and George Larson to serve on the Library Building Task Force.

• Approved Isanti County’s portion of the East Central Regional Library 2014 budget for a total of $372,553.

• Approved a retainer agreement for the continuation of prosecution services between the city of Braham and Isanti County.

• Approved the city of Isanti’s request to acquire four tax-forfeited properties due to the developers’ failure to convey. The parcels include Sun Prairie First Addition, outlot K; Rum River Meadows Second Addition, outlots A and C; and Brookview South Sixth Addition, outlot A.

• Approved the county to enter into a sub-grant agreement with the Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management in the Minnesota Department of Public Safety for the Hazard Mitigation Assistance program. This will allow the Isanti County Hazard Mitigation plan to be developed or updated.

• Approved Dalbo Township to be reimbursed $1,835 from its Township Park Fund. The dollars were used for improvements to the public access on North Stanchfield Lake.

• Hired Bobbi Gehrke as full-time correctional officer.