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Brantner missing board meetings

Casey Brantner has missed five of 14 Clay County Commission meetings this year. The board chairman said he has been on vacation in Arizona and participates by speakerphone when he can't physically attend meetings.

Casey Brantner has missed five of 14 Clay County Commission meetings this year.

The board chairman said he has been on vacation in Arizona and participates by speakerphone when he can't physically attend meetings. But three of his fellow commission members say the arrangement hasn't been working.

"It has gotten to be a bit more frequent than I had anticipated, and I don't think it is working as well as I had anticipated either," said Commissioner Jerry Waller.

Commissioners Waller, Mike McCarthy and Jon Evert said it has been difficult for Brantner to follow meeting discussions.

To try and remedy the problem, the county recently purchased a $300 speakerphone.

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"We were trying to do what we could to improve service," said Clay County Administrator Vijay Sethi.

The improvement has been minimal.

"Unless people make a special effort to speak into the phone, the message doesn't get through," said Sethi. "There's an issue of whether or not people are willing to speak into the phone."

Brantner has attended four of the 14 commission meetings this year via speakerphone and missed one meeting.

Commissioner Ben Brunsvold has missed two meetings this year and McCarthy, Waller and Evert have each missed one.

Going back to October 2001, Brantner has attended seven meetings via speakerphone. "I don't have to apologize because I took a vacation," he said.

"I don't need to defend my service to Clay County."

During that time, Brantner has been an outspoken critic of former Sheriff Larry Costello, who retired Friday for medical reasons.

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"I was upset when (Brantner) was criticizing the sheriff's attendance from work due to a medical problem when (Brantner) was 2,000 miles away in his winter home," Waller said.

"It didn't appear to be appropriate. I bet Larry was on the phone daily talking with his people. I think what he was saying is that you need to physically be at work every day. (Brantner) wasn't physically at the meetings."

Costello said it's further proof Brantner had a vendetta against him.

"He can't separate business from personal," Costello said. "It's a bit hypocritical. There was no secret where I was."

McCarthy agreed.

"The sheriff has not been here because he has been sick," he said. "There's a distinction between not being able to conduct business because you're unable and not being able to conduct business because you're gone."

He said Brantner's absence has been difficult, especially considering the hefty issues the county has been dealing with recently.

"It has been very frustrating," McCarthy said. "It has been difficult conducting business over the phone, but that is his decision. By statute, elected officials don't need to attend more than one or two meetings a year. To me, it would not be appropriate to make a commitment and miss that many meetings. In my opinion, his effectiveness is greatly reduced, but we're not his supervisors."

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Commissioners are paid $20,508.80 annually and receive $50 per diem for every committee meeting attended.

Brantner, who pays the long-distance phone bill out of pocket, said in 35 years of service to Clay County he missed about "10 meetings in all that time."

He said his interest in the county goes well beyond the District 4 boundaries that he represents.

"I feel well connected with the whole county," he said. "I try and make a swing throughout the county two or three times a week. That is how you know what's going on."

As for his recent use of a speakerphone, he said, "That's the modern way of communicating for God sakes."

Brantner said the speakerphone link-up functioned clearly about 90 percent of the time.

"It is just a matter of people speaking into the phone properly," he said.

Brunsvold said he believes the speakerphone is necessary because all commissioners miss meetings occasionally.

He agreed, however, that communicating clearly has been a problem.

That problem might be solved "if we work on it when we are not having an actual meeting," Brunsvold said. "In other words, don't work out the bugs during the meeting."

Readers can reach Forum reporter Jeff Baird at (701) 241-5535

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