The Free Press, Mankato, MN

April 20, 2013

Blue Earth County strives to let the public know what it does

By Mark Fischenich
Free Press Staff Writer

MANKATO — There’s plenty of competition for counties when it comes to seeking public awareness in April.

April is National County Government Month, but it’s also National Poetry Month, Financial Literacy Month, Irritable Bowel Syndrome Awareness Month and many more. But folks at the courthouse are making a game effort to get people to think about Blue Earth County and what it does.

Even the 2- to 3-year-olds at the Blue Earth County Library’s Story Time got a taste of it this week with Capt. Rich Murry of the Blue Earth County Sheriff’s Office and County Board Chairman Drew Campbell reading to the tots.

Murry, dressed in his uniform and reading law enforcement-themed kiddie books, is a natural attention-getter for the youngsters, said library specialist Jennifer Cassman.

“It’s kind of awe-inspiring, it really is,” Cassman said of the presence of a cop for little ones.

County commissioners, even the chairman, probably don’t carry the same sort of star appeal for pre-schoolers, and Cassman didn't have Campbell read a nonfiction book on county zoning or property assessment records.

Instead Cassman picked out at least one funny work of fiction called  “‘This Is Not My Hat" for Campbell's session that occurred Thursday.

Appropriate, too, since April is also National Humor Month.

The story time readings combine National County Government Month with National Library Week, but the county awareness efforts have been scattered throughout the month.

On April 29, the Blue Earth County Justice Center will be open to public tours, said county communications manager Jessica Beyer. The county jail is off limits for public tours, but visitors will see courtrooms and other parts of the facility.

“Next year we’ll probably be doing the historic courthouse again,” she said.

Beyer also is trying to get the word out about the wide variety of services provided by the county, something that county officials think can get lost by people’s focus on the federal government, the state and cities.

“Counties are sometimes known as the invisible layer of government and do a lot of work that is often out of sight to the public,” Beyer said.

For instance, Blue Earth County handles garbage collected in the area (46,000 tons in 2012) and operates a recycling center (70,200 tons recycled last year) and collects household hazardous waste (82 tons from nearly 4,000 households).

It provides public safety (14,599 sheriff’s office responses to calls for service, 86 inmates on average held in the jail each day, 78,124 calls to 911 answered, 2,766 cases worked by the county attorney’s office) and handles probation programs (nearly 11,000 hours of community service by sentence-to-serve crews, oversight of 1,584 offenders on probation, and nearly 10,000 drug tests collected).

The county operates the library (800-1,000 patron visits a day); assesses property valuations (34,127 parcels); handles licenses, vehicle transfer paperwork and passport applications (just under 65,000 combined).

The county maintains and upgrades an expansive road and bridge system (15 miles resurfaced and 20 miles seal-coated in 2012), operates 16 parks and bike trails, and is involved in numerous health and welfare programs for thousands of adults and children.

The County Board is commemorating the month by visiting each of the county’s work sites to thank employees for their efforts. After stopping by the Public Works facility last week, the board was set to visit the Justice Center, the courthouse and the government center this week.

April also brings National Karaoke week starting April 21. There’s a board meeting that week — but no indication the commissioners will be combining County Government Month and Karaoke Week in the same way they did with National Library Week.