Keith Carlson raced to the Anoka County Government Center on Tuesday, hoping to prevent the county from leaving the Minnesota Inter-County Association after 46 years.
Carlson, MICA's executive director, arrived 10 minutes late. The County Board had already voted, 5-2, to leave MICA. But the seeds leading to the board's vote may have been planted years before.
Conservative board members insisted that the decision to leave the nonprofit organization of growing or urban counties was purely financial. But Jim Kordiak, the county's longest-serving commissioner, insisted it had more to do with politics and a personality rift than the $77,778 in dues the county pays MICA.
"This really is about one person who recently left Anoka County employment," Kordiak said, referring to former county manager Steve Novak, who was hired by MICA last year as a lobbyist. "It is about that one individual. We need to grow up."
Kordiak never mentioned Novak by name. Nor did County Board Chairwoman Rhonda Sivarajah, who said previously that any decision to leave MICA would be financial. But Commissioner Matt Look did mention Novak by name during discussion after Kordiak's comment.
Novak later declined to comment.
'An island unto itself'
Sivarajah, a Republican candidate for lieutenant governor in 2010, was the only Anoka County commissioner to vote against a proposed Vikings stadium in Blaine in 2006. Novak, a former DFL state senator, was Anoka County's lead negotiator for the Vikings stadium. Any relationship they had seemed to deteriorate after January 2011, when Sivarajah became chairwoman of the board and Novak was one of the county's senior managers.
Before he formally applied for the MICA job, Novak warned Carlson of possible fallout if he was hired. Carlson said he discussed the matter last July with Anoka County Administrator Jerry Soma. But Novak's personnel record was impeccable, Carlson said. Novak was MICA's unanimous choice for the job.
"Steve's a valuable asset," said Carlson.
But once Novak was hired, the rumor mill began churning.
"The politics inside the boardroom of Anoka County, to me, are kind of frightening," said Sherburne County Commissioner Felix Schmiesing, MICA's treasurer. "They're a polarized board. They never said, 'Don't hire him.' But it was clearly understood that if we did, it would create issues for them. Anoka County is going to become an island unto itself."
Yes for other county group
Minutes before newly elected Anoka County Commissioner Scott Schulte voted for the county to part ways with MICA, he said he wondered where MICA stood on certain financial issues. He was never given a chance to find out.
Carol LeDoux, who along with Kordiak voted to keep MICA, asked that a vote on MICA be tabled for later in Tuesday's meeting because Carlson was en route to Anoka. But Sivarajah and the board's conservative majority said no. Then, just minutes after the board agreed to remain a member of the Association of Minnesota Counties, which includes all the state's counties, Anoka County voted to leave MICA.
"I regret they've chosen to leave," Carlson said. But he said there would be no immediate effect on MICA. He mentioned that two other counties, which he would not name, have inquired about joining MICA. (Hennepin and Ramsey counties are no longer members.)
Kordiak remained livid, saying Sivarajah rushed the MICA vote knowing she had a stacked deck.
"The other counties in MICA are like-sized and like-minded," Kordiak said. "We just separated ourselves from 13 counties. We're going to harm our relationship among friends."
Paul Levy • 612-673-4419