by Dennis Dalman
Stearns County Commissioner Joe Perske recently returned from what he described as an “effective” four-day trip to the annual convention of the National Association of Counties.
The event took place mainly at the Gaylord Center in Prince George’s County, Maryland, just south of Washington, D.C. A total of 1,500 county commissioners from all 50 states took part in the convention events, in person and via zoom meetings. Minnesota has 87 counties.
Along with Perske was another Stearns County commissioner, Tarryl Clark, as well as Stearns County Administrator Mike Williams.
Perske has been to the nation’s capital on business many times, both as former Sartell City Council member and as former Sartell mayor. These conference sessions, he said, were the most productive of all the meetings he’s attended there.
“There was a wealth of information presented at the conference,” he said. “And it was the most effective of my many visits in so far as speaking with them (national officials). Sharing information is so important.”
Although many people might think county decision-making is far from high-and-mighty federal governance, there is an important and very direct connection, Perske noted. That is because so much federal funding to states, such as from the Health and Human Services Department, is distributed through the counties of each and every state.
Perske and others who attended listened to in-person talks by Vice President Kamala Harris, Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg, Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Marcia Fudge and Speaker of the U.S. House Nancy Pelosi.
The Stearns County contingent also talked via telephone with Minnesota Sen. Tina Smith and in person at a conference room in the Capitol building with Sen. Amy Klobuchar and her staff.
The four Stearns County priority issues Perske and the others shared with others were the following:
One: Funding for projects to maximize energy savings in county buildings, as well as help to create a network of electric-vehicle charging stations.
Two: The need for funding to reconstruct CR 12 between Richmond and Melrose.
Three: A strengthened partnership against domestic violence, with more help to provide legal services in such cases, with particular emphasis on work done for survivors of domestic violence at Anna Marie’s (shelter) House in St. Cloud.
Four: Federal funds to purchase property adjacent to and just north of Mississippi River County Park north of Sartell. Development of that land, which abuts the river, would extend the county park for two miles more northwards of undisturbed river-front property. Two years ago, Stearns and Benton counties agreed to combine forces to someday make that area a regional park (to include as part of regional designation the Bend in the River Park on the Benton side of the river).
Other topics discussed at the convention were national broadband issues and planning, implementation of the American Rescue Plan Act, security and processes to strengthen local and national elections, the pending National Infrastructure Plan, and numerous topics regarding agriculture and transportation.
National and county officials plan to keep in touch about all of those topics as local and national actions are proposed and possibly enacted.