County Board discusses increase in juvenile probation in Fillmore County

Gretchen Mensink Lovejoy

Fillmore County’s Board of Commissioners entertained several visitors during the Oct. 22 meeting as Travis Gransee, director of Dodge-Fillmore-Olmsted Community Corrections, reviewed results of 2018 corrections efforts for the board. 

Gransee focused on juvenile probation and supervision in Fillmore County, as statistics showed that the county’s data concerning such has indicated that there has been an increase in the percentage of juveniles being supervised or placed on probation, as opposed to what’s happening in Dodge and Olmsted counties where percentages, at first glance, are much better. 

“One thing that caught my attention was the juvenile probation data in Fillmore County, compared to other counties,” he noted.

Olmsted County’s data was included in the graph he showed even though he acknowledged that that county has a much larger population and therefore would have more young people involved in the probation system. 

Commissioner Randy Dahl stopped Gransee as he began speaking further on the juvenile court and probation system, inquiring as to who constitutes a “juvenile” and who does not, as there are legal implications – he pointed out that young people can be drafted at 18 years old but cannot buy alcohol until they’re 21 — so knowing the difference would be helpful. 

Gransee defined a “juvenile” as “someone who was under 18 at the time of the offense. There are some juveniles that can be in probation until they are 19, or extended juvenile jurisdiction status, but that’s not very often.  We’ve seen the use of the juvenile system in Fillmore County.  (County attorney) Brett Corson has been around for specific incidents…and a lot of kids, maybe we end up putting a lot of kids in probation that some diversion programs might do better (to serve) them. The probation numbers…potentially, the reason behind the increase is escalated response to offenses.”

Gransee remarked that getting young people involved with social services before they commit offenses might be one of the solutions, but that more mental health diagnoses have been a growing factor as a cause and in how children are dealt with once they enter the system. “Increased mental health is across the board – all across the state,” he said.

Commissioner Mitch Lentz questioned “blanket mental health” as reasoning for inducting young people into social services or the juvenile probation system, asking Gransee to be more specific.  Social media use was cited as a cause of mental health issues, along with fractured family structure. 

“Kids being diagnosed is more prevalent than 40 years ago.  On Jan. 1, 2019, there were 51 adolescents on supervision in Fillmore County, and of those, 37 were male and 13 were female.  Fifteen of those were on administrative supervision, and several years ago, you had 41 clients, with 14 on administrative diversion.  Diversion deals with petty matters, and administrative diversion or supervision has a file that goes to the courts,” Gransee said.

He related that decision-making tools are employed to determine how much supervision a young offender needs because of the gravity of the proposal. 

“We make a decision based on the risk of folks who need really low supervision, because too much supervision can do more harm and increase the risk of recidivating,” he said. “It’s the principle that if we overdo it, we’re going to do more harm, and we apply that principle in both the juvenile and adult world.” 

Presently, the county has 16 cases of felony, 16 that are gross misdemeanor cases — misdemeanor and petty misdemeanor — and that “if you compare, you’ll see a similar pattern, with a slight increase in felony and gross misdemeanor,” according to Gransee. He remarked that being unable to engage a young person in social services might also mean that the child’s family is unable or unwilling to support that person as they grow up. 

“The challenge is that these kids have things that they need to address, and sometimes their families do as well,” he said. “If they don’t address the family in the system, that could create problems for the young person.” 

Commissioner Duane Bakke wanted to know how families become involved with social services if the social services department doesn’t know that a troubled youth is out there. 

It was stated that referrals are made by schools and that participation is voluntary on the part of the student and families, and Corson concurred as he said, “Social services are all voluntary, but the hard part is persuading families to have their kids (involved).  If a family won’t voluntarily do this and they know that a child has issues, this (probation or diversion) is a good mechanism to address concerns before they become an adult.” 

Gransee contributed, “There might not be a smoking gun…the national trend is that numbers are going down, it’s a state trend, so you ask, ‘Why is it not happening here?’”

Suggestions were made that point toward process changes in other counties that show that Dodge County’s juvenile probation rate decreased 48.9 percent, Olmsted County’s decreased approximately 42 percent, and Fillmore County’s has increased by 24 percent. 

Lentz asked Gransee, “You don’t know if they’re the same clients, but are they repeats as adults?” 

Dahl stated, “I’m not as concerned with the numbers as I am with the goals.  If our numbers are up, maybe that means we’re doing a good job handling this in an optimal way and treat all the different cases, because each of the cases is different.” 

Lentz commented that he wanted to know if the county has provided the help that children need, and said, “Through my 18 years on school board, I fought this truancy thing every time it came down here to the judicial system, because it’s a parent thing if a kid can’t get out of bed, not a judicial thing.” 

Sheriff John DeGeorge registered that “if we have one or two cases a year and one of them is a burglary where we charge five kids, that can really skew the numbers.” He added that probation has been a useful tool as the sheriff’s department works to process those who need to be in the corrections system. 

In conclusion, Corson stated that he sees the increased juvenile offenses “not as a trend, but as an ebb and flow.”        

Chamber visitors    

Additional visitors included Preston Chamber of Commerce Director Gabby Kinneberg and Jennifer Hengel, of the Rushford-Peterson Valley Chamber of Commerce, who came to the boardroom with a review of the 2018 southeast Minnesota tourism season and of the 2018 Root River Trail Towns tourism organization. 

The Southern Minnesota Tourism Association (SMTA) submitted an invoice of $1,043.30 at 5 cents per capita for advertising in its 2019 marketing plan, and Hengel distributed information on the Root River Trail Towns that sought the county’s support in the form of a $2,000 appropriation for marketing purposes.     

Foster care transport

Kevin Olson, of social services, brought forward a foster care transportation agreement between Fillmore County and Mabel-Canton Public Schools that provides reimbursement for transportation of students who have been placed in foster care outside of their home school district in Mabel or Canton to be bused to Mabel-Canton schools as a means of providing continuity in their educations. The commissioners voted in favor.

Advisory committee

Director of nursing Jessica Erickson presented a resolution for the Fillmore County Advisory Committee to be formed to continue work that previous committees had begun in the public health department, as well as the committee’s roster of members to be approved. 

“We are not obligated to have this advisory committee, but we find it very beneficial to have it (to work out discussion items),” she said.

Dahl made the first motion for the committee, and after it was seconded and passed, Commissioner Duane Bakke thanked Erickson for taking the initiative to form the committee, then asked about the members who will be part of it. 

Erickson replied, “We’ve been working very hard at the meetings to try to come up with suggestions, and I believe the only district we don’t have represented is Mr. Dahl’s – ideally, it would be nice to have two from all districts.  I do have some calls out to Semcac to see if they have some representation they’d like to send.” 

Motions were made to accept the proposed membership roster, with additions to come.   

 Parking, road projects

Highway engineer Ron Gregg updated the board on the replacement of the upper and lower parking lots at the county office building on the east side of Preston.

Gregg related that the parking lot plans for the county office building do address issues brought up at the previous meeting, such as how to direct foot traffic to a widened sidewalk instead of parents having to constantly manage their children in parking space as they move from cars to the building and back again. 

“We would highlight those, put together some specifications for concrete and bituminous and advertise for construction in 2020,” he told the commissioners.

Dahl asked Gregg whether there was anything included in the plan to stop cars from crashing into the office building because it’s been a problem over the years. 

Gregg answered, “It was not.  That whole workup came to about $570,000, so we backed away from that.  The issues we’re trying to resolve is the drainage and people visiting on the sidewalk, so they don’t have to go out on the parking area.” 

Lentz verified, “It’s on the west side of the building, not on the east side of the building.”

Gregg answered affirmatively, and the board voted to proceed, adding the replacement of the office building’s front steps for safety.      

He then sought approval to advertise for the replacement of a township bridge on the Canton-Harmony township line, for a bridge in Pilot Mound Township, and also for one on County Road 101 in Jordan Township. He also asked for permission to advertise for the 2020 sealcoat projects to include County State Aid Highways (CSAH) 8, 11, 17, 21, 2, 4, 5 and 10 – with a total of 17.25 miles in municipal locations and another 35 on rural locations. 

All the bridge replacement advertisements passed the commissioners’ approval, with Gregg noting that all will be box culverts, going on to inform the board that 2020 sealcoating plans will bring the county’s program up to date. 

Additionally, he shared information regarding entering into a $24,000 engineering contract with Bolton & Menk for preliminary site work for the construction of T-hangars at the Fillmore County airport in 2021.  A portion of the engineering will be paid for through state funding. 

Bakke gave the highway committee’s report, during which he highlighted that there are 468 bridges in Fillmore County, and of those, 14 are functionally obsolete and 34 are structurally deficient. 

Conversation then turned toward what might be done with the historic Forestville bridge.  Gregg stated that he’d met with Forestville-Mystery Cave State Park’s new manager and the site manager of the Historic Forestville town site.    

County website

County coordinator Bobbie Vickerman brought up the county’s website and the possibility of redesigning it to better serve the county’s and residents’ needs.  She shared with the commissioners that the website needs to be compliant with Americans with Disabilities (ADA) requirements, be it for someone who is hard of hearing, has low vision or has mobility issues, and she presented two vendors that might be of assistance as the county works to address that. 

“Kristine Oman and I looked at the website, and we got quotes from Civic Plus and Revise.  We overall had the best experience and impression of the Revise websites, and they happened to be the low bidder as well.  They did the Association of Minnesota Counties and Dodge County, and a couple of different counties said it was really positive.  The websites’ reviews were really positive,” Vickerman said. “Revise would host our website, whereas we have someone host our website and we have a server. This would be a little different, but there’d still be three years and then a refresh. Once we select a company, we’d be bringing it forward.” 

The board chose to accept Revise as the vendor that will overhaul the county’s website.

E-911, security issues  

The county will also be choosing new E-911 software, and DeGeorge told the board that lead dispatcher Leroy Eickhoff has typically handled finding the right software to meet the department’s needs. 

“Leroy has been at the forefront, so I usually defer to him.  The important part is that it has to be compliant with our new GIS provider and the product they’re putting out,” he said.

Jamie Fenske, of jail administration, spoke about purchasing jail software that would allow jailers to scan wristbands worn by inmates to make recording all cell checks easier and “eliminate probably 90 percent of handwritten reports” as well as manage inmates’ dietary needs and medication requirements. 

The cost will be under $10,000, and the board granted purchase of additional licenses for jailers to put the software to use. 

At the courthouse, more security cameras will be installed around the courtroom hallways at the request of judges who felt that they couldn’t keep an eye on everything as necessary.  The board gave permission to have new cameras installed for up to $4,100.   

Other business

Human resources officer Kristina Kohn had a short list of hires for the board’s consideration, beginning with a replacement full-time dispatcher – effective Oct. 23 — and replacing a full-time jailer through internal promotion on Oct. 23.  Johnathon Whitney, who has been a jailer for three years, is moving to the dispatch position. Nayna Johnson, now a part-time jailer, will move to full-time in the jail. Both were approved.   

Administrative items encompassed a request to send reimbursement to the Fillmore County Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD) for the Southeast Water Resources Board refund following the water board’s dissolution earlier this year.  The consent agenda included approving the minutes of the Oct. 8 board meeting.