Martin County weighs reopening

FAIRMONT — Martin County commissioners on Tuesday began considering plans to potentially reopen the Courthouse.

With the recent lifting of Gov. Tim Walz’s stay-at-home order, which expired Monday, the board was asked to consider amending a previous resolution, to continue operations and payment of employees as stands until June 1. The board approved the motion, which also stated that a preparedness plan will be developed to implement procedures for continuing county operations and meeting public needs because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a related matter, the board rejected a resolution that would have modified a Walz executive order relating to the closure of bars, restaurants and other places of public accommodation. The resolution would have sought the opening of these establishments, as long as they followed requirements of social distancing as well as local, state and Centers for Disease Control guidelines.

“This is a resolution that was sent to me and I talked it over with [County Attorney] Terry [Viesselman] and with [County Coordinator] Scott [Higgins],” said Commissioner Richard Koons. “It’s not really doing anything other than making a recommendation to the governor that he needs to open things up. We’ve got businesses that are crashing daily that aren’t going to reopen, and he can’t continue to kick this down the road.”

“I don’t have any problem with the way the governor has handled this situation,” replied Commissioner Elliot Belgard. “I think, with the health and safety of the citizens of Martin County, he probably did the right thing. I think the premise of flattening the curve was good and did help the medical community prepare. Unfortunately, it hasn’t flattened the curve as much as we’d hoped, but it certainly has flattened our economy. I think we need to open pretty soon but, that being said, I think the governor is already moving in that direction anyway, so it probably isn’t that important that we pass this, but we do need to get things opened up.”

Commissioner Kathy Smith also weighed in.

“I agree with Commissioner Belgard that we need to get things opened up,” she said. “But as a county, we’ve had more cases happen than many other counties. I think we need to defer to the experts on this; our state experts and local experts are doing the right thing and it’s important that we follow the guidelines of the governor.”

The board also discussed and rejected a request by Martin County resident Neal Meyer, who asked the board to consider flying the U.S. flag upside down until all constitutional rights are restored to all Martin County residents. In a written statement to the board, Meyer said citizens’ rights are being denied by Minnesota’s stay-at-home order.

Meyer noted that commissioners previously were asked to declare Martin County a “constitutional county,” thereby restoring constitutional rights, and that his plea was denied based on the advice of the County Attorney.

In light of that denial, Meyer requested the board to fly the U.S. flag upside down on all county-owned flag poles, citing Statute 176 of the U.S. Code. He said the current situation in Martin County constitutes an unconstitutional “instance of extreme danger to life or property.”

“I don’t disagree with Neal on a lot of things that he’s saying,” Belgard said. “But I don’t believe that the United States Code has anything in there to fly the flag upside down for any other reason than a ship was in trouble or a fort was in trouble. I think it’s a misinterpretation, and I make a motion to deny the request.”

Commissioner Tom Mahoney seconded the motion.

“I’d like to thank Neal for coming today, but I have to agree with Elliot,” Koons said. “I understand where these worries come from, but I do not feel that this is a proper use of the flag code.”

“I also agree with a lot of what Neal says, but I took a pledge of allegiance to the flag when I started this meeting and I have too much respect for it to fly it upside down,” said Commissioner Steve Flohrs.


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