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Commissioners receive update on HACTC

By Staff | May 9, 2014

Mike Graner, director of business at Heart of America Correctional and Treatment Center, met with the Pierce County Board of Commissioners at the group’s regular meeting Tuesday.

Graner informed the board that HACTC is 86 percent compliant with the state and still well ahead of schedule. An 18-month non-compliance order was issued by the North Dakota Department of Corrections in August following two security breaches by prisoners last summer. Sheriff Matt Lunde said he hopes to see the jail in full compliance by mid-June.

Graner presented the facility’s March balance sheet and was pleased to announce a profit of $16,527. He said the average number of inmates in March was 102 including 60 federal inmates. The April average jumped to 121. Graner said there is no rush to reopen the treatment operation because the jail is currently housing 18-20 female inmates in the treatment area. There is currently no other place to house the female inmates and using the treatment center would require removing inmates from the jail’s general population.

Graner said a schedule plan was not in place for keeping up to date on supplies, so spending was up in March for new mattresses, jumpsuits and sandals.

The commissioners questioned Graner on the relationship between correctional officers and HACTC Chief of Security Darren Heidbreder. One employee, who recently resigned, expressed discontent with Heidbreder, according to District 1 Commissioner Joe Bohl.

“People should never be afraid to go to you guys (Graner and Lunde) for fear of being fired,” said David Migler, District 5 Commissioner.

District 2 Commissioner Mike Christenson was quick to comment that no employee at the jail has been terminated for voicing a concern. Christenson also urged against a rush to judgement on Heidbreder because of the ineffectiveness of previous chiefs of security.

“The culture out there was one of people not being held accountable for their actions,” said Graner, who assumed his role in October. “Darren’s back there constantly and we’re still in the process of undoing previous (procedures) and implementing new things.”

Graner said he and Lunde – the sheriff is in charge of the jail per state law – have pushed for employees to be completely honest and open about the work environment.

Migler asked Graner whether microwaves should be allowed in the facility after an incident involving one federal inmate throwing hot water on another. Graner informed the board that inmates are allowed to purchase Ramen noodles from the vending machines and use the microwaves to heat water for food.

Graner informed the board that the starting rate for correctional officers in Devils Lake has risen to $15 per hour. Ward County is starting it’s employees at $19 and HACTC has a starting rate of $13. He voiced support for his staff and said they’re doing a “great job.”

Graner also told the board that HACTC is switching to a different jail management program, which is supported by the state. He said HACTC is a pilot site for the less expensive program and supports better information sharing with other facilities in the state. The current program is based out of state and doesn’t provide the most immediate support.

The board asked Lunde to propose a flat-fee contract with Brad’s Towing for cars impounded by the sheriff’s department. The board also expressed the desire to have impounded cars removed from public sight and sold or salvaged in more timely fashion, as long as the vehicles are not still subjects of investigation.

County extension agent Yolanda Schmidt requested the use of basement vaults in the courthouse for lock-and-key storage of eight air rifles for the 4-H Shooting Sports program. The board approved the request.

Clerk of Court Coleen Stutrud received approval from the board for the purchase of two new computers needed to support an updated court-system program. The current program is obsolete because it is no longer secure.

The board accepted the resignation of Yvonne Hagen, director of Heart of America Community Service Program. Hagen, who works 36 hours as a sheriff’s dispatcher, will be allowed to work four hours per week to assist in training her replacement if she chooses.

Hagen took over as director last fall after previous director Dave Denich pleaded guilty to driving under the influence and preventing arrest.

The community service program is used by Pierce, Bottineau and McHenry counties. The program has an advisory board, which is seeking an even split in funding among the three counties on top of the more than $11,000 provided each year from the state through 2015.

The Pierce County Board of Commissioners held conference calls with the commissioners of the other two counties, but a joint-powers agreement was held off. The projected expense of the program this year is more than $52,000, which includes a $28,000 salary plus benefits.

“If we don’t give benefits it’s hard to find anybody,” said Pierce County Chairman Duane Johnston, District 4.

Migler expressed frustration with the amount of time it’s taking for the three counties to agree and requested all three boards of commissioners meet.

For better management of time in the community service program position, state’s attorney Galen Mack urged common sense be used when the next director decides when he or she needs to be at sentencing.

The board also met with architects working on the renovation of the old jail for social services. The renovations are on schedule.

The board met with Jessica Tagestad from Wold Engineering for an update on road projects, including a joint project with Rolette County. Knife River of Bemidji, Minn., was awarded the contract. Pierce County will pay more than $56,000 or 10 percent of the work done in Pierce ($566,990) along ND 3 from ND 17 and north 3 miles. The state will pay the rest.

Migler discussed water issues on a road leading to the Stanley and Travis Pederson farm in Hillside Township. The section 33 line by Antelope Lake is in such poor condition that the school bus will not drive it. The county is waiting for 2013 FEMA disaster money needed to address this problem. Hillside Township is in a deficit and would be responsible for any repair bills, if work is done before documentation from FEMA is received.

The board approved its April minutes, April financial report, previously paid bills and payments on bills yet unpaid.

The board approved the transfer of $100,000 from County Poor Relief to Social Welfare Fund. Abatement applications for inundated agricultural land were approved for Selensky Family LLP and Virgil Helmuth.

The board approved a call for bids to open on June 3 at 11:30 a.m., for a new 2014 four-wheel drive motorgrader with front-wheel assist.

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