Group of 29 (revisited)

By Gene Haselmann

In November 98 (see RRR Dec. 98 for details), the Board approved an additional study of the Ramsey County Government Center East (RCGCE) building. This was to be a second opinion study, if you will, and was to be conducted by Clean Air Group, the choice of the Group of 29.

At the 12/21/99 Board meeting, Commissioners’ Rettman and Reinhardt thanked all that were involved in the year long testing and introduced a resolution to accept the final report and recommendations of Clean Air Group.

Mr. Kirkwold said that approximately one year ago, the Board approved a resolution asking that another effort take place to look at the East Building to find out if anything was in the building that may have contributed to a condition that might have caused cancer. Staff moved ahead with the request working with a consultant who was very concerned about getting definitive results. An observer group, made up of employees, was put together to participate in the process. They raised the issues to be looked at again. The study became larger than anticipated. While doing comparative sampling in the West Building, problems were found that will also be addressed. The reports received from the Clean Air Group and Dr. Conibear make [six] recommendations to the County for future actions.

Commissioner Wiessner asked County Manager, Paul Kirkwold, "If the employees accept this latest report?" Kirkwold answered, "The scientific facts were laid out; they are understood and accepted for what they are by the employees. There will be employees who perceive the building creates health concerns. That must be kept in mind when locating employees in the building."

Ms. Boone said, "Many employees called her when they were not happy, but since the report has come out and employee meetings held, she has not received additional phone calls. The employees accept the report for what it is."

The Group of 29 and myself are ones that still "perceive that the building creates health concerns." But as I stated in a letter to the Group of 29 in January:

"As hard as it is for me, I have accepted the reports for what they are—facts that tell me that the buildings are to be remediated and that employees will continue to be housed there. That is the reality. I will continue to be involved by attending the safety committee meetings of the East Building, primarily to make sure that the recommendations are implemented as soon as possible."

From the beginning, their goal was to make the work area of the East Building a safer place to work. I think they did just that. I concluded in my letter:

"To me, you have accomplished a great deal. Remember your effort has made a difference and I want to thank you for letting me be a part of that effort. I am proud of you! I will keep you informed of any new developments."

Is this the end of the story? I don’t think so. There may be a more permanent resolution. Community Human Services is in a 3-year reorganization process, and part of that reorganization is decentralization—eventually RCGCE will be vacated. Janice and I believe that would be good for everyone. The RCGCE building could be sold to private developers and the property could be put back on the property tax roll.

I would like to see that happen as early as 2000-01. That would be an excellent ending to the story.

None of this could have happened without Paul Kirkwold. The staff time he assigned to work on this was tantamount to going the extra mile. Special thanks goes to Darren Talbolt, Commissioner Reinhardt’s Assistant.

But the most thanks goes to the employees, the Observer Group and the Union and the Board of Commissioners for listening to the Group of 29.

Note: www.co.ramsey.mn.us – Board of Commissioners, December 21, 1999, Minutes or by calling: Chief Clerk - County Board 651-266-8014.

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