HIBBING — On Tuesday, Mike Jugovich took the reins as the new chair of the St. Louis County Board.
The Hibbing-based chair’s first meeting in 2020 started off with the selection of Commissioner Beth Olsen as vice chair, followed by routine committee appointments: Patrick Boyle to Health and Human Services; Paul McDonald to Public Works and Transportation; Keith Musolf to Environment and Natural Resources; Keith Nelson to Finance and Budget; Beth Olson to Public Safety and Corrections; and Frank Jewell to Central Management and Intergovernmental Relations.
But the Board’s meeting turned demanding as commissioners absorbed more than two hours of opinions from some of its 200,000 constituents and eventually voted 4-3 in favor of postponing a decision on whether to approve refugee resettlement until May 26.
In a followup interview on Friday, Jugovich told the Hibbing Daily Tribune that he sided with the delay so he could gather more information on just how a county which has taken in one refugee in the past six years would be affected by a vote in favor of resettlement.
He also told the HDT that he remained frustrated with how media “negatively” depicted his creating and appointing commissioners onto two subcommittees to focus on 1) rural mental health and chemical dependency; and 2) joint powers agreements. He put Ely’s McDonald and Hermantown’s Musolf on the first committee and himself, McDonald and Duluth’s Boyle on the latter.
His comments come after the Duluth News Tribune published an article on the meeting, reporting that the board “experienced seismic activity along the Duluth and Iron Range divide.”
“We have opioid-related and mental health issues and the rural parts of St. Louis County just don’t have resources like we have in Duluth,” Jugovich told the HDT in an attempt to clarify his reasons behind creating the first committee, tasked with tracking down accessible resources for the Iron Range. “Commissioner Musolf showed interest in joining the committee and I thought McDonald should be on it since he represents the most rural district in the county.”
Jugovich also noted the coverage on creating the second committee as being “code for a review of the $16.6 million budget expense St. Louis County puts into its arrangement with Arrowhead Regional Corrections and its Northeast Regional Corrections Center,” the article read.
He told the HDT that “it’s been no secret that we’re going to look at ARC and we also want to make sure everything is looked at” including the Northern County Land Use Board and the Voyageurs Joint Powers Board. He continued, “We’re not looking to strip the ARC budget. We’re taking this opportunity to make sure everything is looked at to run smoother. If it’s running great as is, wonderful.”
The HDT asked Jugovich to respond to the Duluth newspaper quoting Olson as saying she was “being punished” for voting in favor of the refugee resettlement earlier in the meeting, and also to the article stating that by “installing Nelson atop the Finance and Budget Committee, a position he’d once held for more than 10 years, Jugovich was giving Nelson control of the purse strings to ARC,” the article reads.
In his response, Jugovich said that “right now, there’s hard feelings, but we’re going to get past it.”
As Jugovich told his story, he told Olson in a private meeting in November 2019 that he wanted to switch up who would lead the Finance and Budget Committee.
In the past, the committee chair held the position for multiple years. But as Jugovich sees things, he recently told Olson, who was serving in her first year from Duluth as committee chair — in addition to telling Boyle, the most recent County Board chair — that he wanted to give commissioners from both the northern and southern parts of the county their own chances to lead the committee.
“This has nothing to do with punishment,” Jugovich told the HDT. “There were two people that wanted it: one from the South and one from the North. I thought it made sense to start the rotation, since we have to start it at sometime.”
He continued, “There’s nothing intended with Nelson as chair of the Finance and Budget Committee. I couldn’t chair it and McDonald showed no interest. So, it was given to Nelson. Last year, the South was chair. This year, the North is chair. Next year it could be the South again.”