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Thiede receives most pay for extra meetings, travel

Should Crow Wing County commissioners receive extra pay on top of their $28,051 annual salaries for extra meetings they attend?

“There’s the ongoing debate of whether or not we ought to get per diem at all or whether salaries ought to be increased,” said commissioner Paul Thiede, who represents the majority of northern Crow Wing County. “I continually vote against a pay increase for us because it ought not to be about pay.”

However, Thiede said with the past two county boards, the distribution of work and number of committee meetings each commissioner attends has affected what per diem each claims. Commissioners can claim $50 in pay per extra meeting they attend, plus mileage.

“Being furthest from the courthouse — I’m probably twice as far as anyone else for roundtrip to the courthouse — so I think it’s fairly logical that my expenses will be more than others,” Thiede said.

In fact, Thiede has had the highest reimbursement for extra meetings and mileage in the past couple of years. In 2012, the District 2 commissioner collected a total of $9,623, which included $5,250 in per diem and $4,373 in travel expenses.

District 5 commissioner Doug Houge, who now covers Manhattan Beach and Fifty Lakes, claimed no per diem in 2012 and $1,292 in travel expenses.

Other commissioners’ claims included: Rosemary Franzen, District 4, $4,600 per diem and $1,480 travel expenses for a total of $6,080; Rachel Reabe Nystrom, District 3, $4,150 per diem and $1,496 travel expenses for total of $5,646; and former commissioner Phil Trusty, District 1, $500 per diem and no travel expenses for total of $500.

Thiede said he doesn’t have a problem with people questioning the expenses he turns in and he has no problem justifying them.

“Anyone who thinks we aren’t earning our pay should look at the last three budgets and see we have reduced the levy, and that should be an indication we’re doing something right on the pay we’re getting,” Thiede said. “We’ve been paying attention to what needs to be done to keep the budget in control and that’s, to me, an indication of our earning whatever pay we’re currently getting.”

He said some commissioners attend fewer meetings, and he attends more meetings for their educational value and to learn about issues.

“You can’t pay me enough to do this job, but you shouldn’t. It’s a public service job,” Thiede said. “I feel very comfortable with what I do and feel on an hourly wage I’m not overpaid for what I put into this job, and that’s just the reality of it.”