Washington County Commissioners Butt Heads on Out-of-State Travel
Commissioners who argued that three board members don't need to go to a Portland, OR, conference were outvoted.
Two Washington County commissioners who questioned the timing of sending three commissioners to an out-of-state conference in July were outvoted Tuesday, following a heated discussion.
Commissioners Lisa Weik and Gary Kriesel said only two board members should attend the National Association of Counties' Portland, OR, conference to cut costs and prevent having to cancel the July 19 board meeting due to lack of a quorum.
With an impending state government shutdown and tight budgets, they argued it’s bad timing to cancel the meeting and spend money unnecessarily.
“Just because we’ve budgeted something doesn’t mean we need to spend it,” said Weik, who represents most of Woodbury.
Autumn Lehrke—who along with Dennis Hegberg and Bill Pulkrabek said she wanted to attend the conference—argued that if the county was going to pay to be a member of the organization, it should derive the benefit of having members attend the conference.
Hegberg, who is on the national organization’s Environment, Energy and Land Use Steering Committee, agreed.
“I feel the board should participate in these as much as possible,” Hegberg said.
Kriesel responded to their arguments saying, “There’s a lot of other dynamics going on within this board.”
Soon after, commissioners started making some of those dynamics explicit.
Weik asked Pulkrabek whether he would have to come back early from the conference due to his court date. Pulkrabek was charged with misdemeanor domestic assault for an alleged Memorial Day incident involving his girlfriend.
“My personal life is just that—personal—so I would appreciate if you don’t bring it up,” said Pulkrabek, who represents Oakdale and part of Woodbury.
He added that his court date wouldn’t conflict with the conference, set for July 15-18, and questioned a recent trip Weik took to Washington, D.C., to represent the county on transportation issues.
Weik defended her trip, saying she was trying to make sure Washington County residents get their fair share of federal dollars.
“I oppose and denounce the obvious attack on my integrity,” she said. “Our residents pay their federal taxes, and they deserve to get a return on those taxes. I am doing my job.”
Weik also said commissioners should save travel money now so Kriesel can travel to Washington, D.C., in September when federal deadlines are nearing to advocate for a new Stillwater bridge—a recommendation of the law firm that assists the county with lobbying, she said.
“I did not hear what the purpose is for a third commissioner to go when I have complete confidence in Commissioner Hegberg and Commissioner Lehrke to go,” she said.
The Star Tribune reports that Washington County budgeted $1,950 per person to attend the conference in Portland.
Check back later for video from Tuesday's meeting.