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    Affirmative action plan hastily approved by County Commissioners

    By Nikki Hallman,


    Isanti County commissioners were put in a sticky situation during their May 7 board meeting when the Affirmative Action Plan came before them.

    Human Resources Director Heather Sward informed the board about the action plan, which had not been submitted to the state yet and was overdue.

    “It came to our attention from the Department of Human Rights that, with the changeover in staff, we were late in getting this submitted,” Sward said.

    She followed saying this would typically be done in the late fall.

    Commissioner Alan Duff quickly stated he was not comfortable moving forward with the approval and wanted to make changes.

    But the board first wanted to know why this came to them so late.

    “It appears emails were lost, and that has happened a lot, since we have had a lot of staff transition over the last couple years,” County Administrator Amanda Usher said.

    According to Sward, the state was aware of the innocent error and gave the county until the end of April to submit it. But by the time the plan could come before the board, it wouldn’t be until the first meeting in May, making this a more urgent matter.

    Sward said she felt concerned that if the county doesn’t get it filed as soon as possible, state funding could be taken away, such as grants. This would occur only if the state were to revoke the county’s Workforce Certificate.

    “A lot of the funding we receive is tied to being workforce compliant,” Usher said. “I would hate to see some funding not come through because we are not a compliant workplace.”

    With the board being sure of wanting to make changes, Sward added that this plan would expire on July 31, giving them the opportunity to make changes at that time.

    Sward added that she was aware there were concerns about veterans being covered under the Federal Affirmative Action Plan. She confirmed they are automatically included in the state’s. But there were other concerns.

    “Possibly adding something of relevance with the county’s demographics would be appropriate too because the county does have different demographics than a lot of the communities,” Duff said.

    To help ease the situation, Sward said she’d be willing to do the leg work between now and July 31, getting this topic on the next Committee of the Whole meeting for discussion and make any changes for commissioners.

    Despite the offer, Commissioner Kristi LaRowe asked if they could make some changes immediately.

    Usher said she asked the state and they said, “Not at this time.”

    “I think that is a conversation we can have with the state for our next plan, but this is the proposed plan that was approved by the state and it needs to be approved today to become compliant,” she said.

    Commissioner Steve Westerberg wasn’t as concerned, considering they could make changes as soon as August.

    “The fact it is going to expire on July 31 makes me not too uncomfortable to say, ‘Let’s just go with it,’” Westerberg said.

    After discussion, the board passed the Affirmative Action Plan 3 to 2, Duff and LaRowe voting nay.

    Therapy dog introduced

    Isanti County Investigator Sean Connolly presented the Sheriff’s Offices’ new working therapy dog, Cooper.

    The yellow lab, who will be 2 years old in August, joined the team two weeks ago and has already gotten off to a good start.

    Connolly explained the department has received an influx of donations, which is how the costs will be covered for Cooper, meaning no taxpayer money will be used.

    Connolly told commissioners that, just from donations, enough money came in to pay for the vehicle and upfitting needed for Cooper. In addition, these donations arrived before he did.

    “We can’t be more grateful and appreciative of all the people who did donate money,” Connolly said.

    Cooper came from Freedom Service Dogs of America (FSD), based in Englewood, Colorado, a nonprofit that custom-trains assistance dogs for veterans, children and teens with disabilities and other individuals with physical challenges.

    After reaching out to Washington County — the only other county to have a therapy dog — in June 2023, the sheriff’s office got more information about FSD.

    Now Isanti County is the second law enforcement agency to have a therapy dog trained at FSD and the second in the state to have a K-9 therapy dog.

    “We’re very proud of it in Isanti County,” Connolly said.

    He explained that Cooper is going to go mental health related calls, crisis calls, suicide calls, critical incident calls, and traumatic event calls such as fatal crashes.

    “(Cooper can) give them a smidgen of relief on the worst day of their life,” Connolly said.

    Cooper has already made an impact, according to Connolly, saying he’s proved his worthiness just by visiting county employees.

    “It’s people that never would have came forward, and I know that. And I’m going to get emotional because I didn’t know we had such an issue going on with our own employees,” Connolly said.

    He went on to explain and show cues that Cooper knows that are geared toward helping victims. Some include laying on laps, putting his head on a knee, bringing a box of tissues to someone, bringing someone their shoes, and even waking someone suffering from night terrors.

    To read more about Cooper, please click here .

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