County Attorney retires from role
FAIRMONT– Martin County’s long-time county attorney, Terry Viesselman, will retire at the end of June. Viesselman has held the role for the last 27 years.
Viesselman grew up locally in Trimont. He went on to study at the University of Minnesota Law School, which he graduated from in 1978.
He then returned to the area and worked at the Erickson Law Firm in Fairmont from 1978 to 1985. Then he joined with Bob Walker and Jerry Wilhelm, who was county attorney. Viesselman became assistant county attorney. Walker became a judge and Wilhelm eventually left to become assistant U.S. attorney.
“I was assistant county attorney for 6 years until 1991 when Wilhelm retired. Gary Wollschlager was then named as county attorney for three years and when he had to run for re-election, I filed and was elected and became county attorney Jan. 1, 1995 and have been county attorney ever since then,” Viesselman said.
As a county attorney, Viesselman is a public employee and receives a check every two weeks rather than billing for his time. He handles all criminal prosecutions in the county and is the attorney for the county of Martin.
“I answer legal questions and represent the county on legal cases and do all the civil stuff,” Viesselman said.
Viesselman has also had a contract with the city of Fairmont to handle all criminal matters since the retirement of city attorney Libby Bloomquist several years ago.
He handles many other statutory requirements like tax appeals, commitments and child support enforcement.
When asked what some of the big changes are that Viesselman has seen over the past three decades of his career, he said crime has gone up significantly.
“It’s primarily drugs. We just didn’t have them when I started out. Once in a while we had someone with LSD or marijuana,” Viesselman said.
Now, meth is a big issue and Viesselman said that gets mixed in with child protection cases.
As things have changed in the legislature, Viesselman said they do more paperwork and reporting than they once did. The way in which they do that has changed as systems turned over to digital filings.
As it’s an elected position, Viesselman has had to file every four years and only ran against another opponent once. Currently, no one has filed to run for county attorney in Martin County. The county is one of two in the state where no one has filed.
Though it was believed that Pete Ogren would be his heir apparent, Ogren left in the fall to join a private practice and since then his position hasn’t been filled, either.
Viesselman said that as the state adds more rules and regulations, the job of a county attorney has become more difficult. That and the increased viciousness of social media.
“No one wants to be in the county attorney’s office anymore,” Viesselman said.
While it’s a difficult job, Viesselman has stayed with it as he viewed the role as being that of a public servant.
“You’re taking care of the county and the people in it and that’s the way I’ve always viewed it,” Viesselman said.
He said for the three years when he wasn’t in the county attorney’s office, when Gary Wollschlager was county attorney, he found that he really missed.
“I missed not taking care of it so I filed to get back in. It’s very rewarding,” Viesselman said.
He noted that prosecuting people in a small town, especially one you grew up in, is not fun. Viesselman has many friends and family here and has on several occasions prosecuted people he knows.
“They’re not bad people. People make mistakes. I always treat them with respect,” he said.
Viesselman actually intended to retire about two years ago when his wife had retired from teaching. However, at that time with Covid, Viesselman said there were a lot of legal issues because of it and the job became interesting so he stayed on to help deal with it.
And then he stayed on longer still as vacancies arose in the office. Now, Viesselman said he’s somewhat reluctant to leave, but felt it was time nonetheless.
“I will miss it. It will be hard not being involved and doing what I can to help solve issues that come up with the county,” Viesselman said.
Earlier in the week when the Martin County Commissioners accepted Viesselman’s retirement, he recommended that the board appoint Taylor MGowan as interim county attorney. People can still file as a write-in candidate.
At that time, commissioners commented on how available Viesselman has been to talk to and ask questions to over the years.
“You will be missed.I understand it’s time but I have regrets letting you go,” said Steve Flohrs.
Kathy Smith said, “Terry has served the citizens of Martin County for 33 years, in a position that’s not always easy, but he’s always had the best interest of the people he’s serving in mind.”
While Viesselman will miss the job, he’s looking forward to pursuing other hobbies, namely beekeeping.
“A place is only a place, but parting with friends is a sadness. I’ll miss all the people I’ve worked with and the interactions with the people of Martin County. I’ve gotten to know a lot of people and in many situations helped them and that’s been really rewarding,” Viesselman said.