Wright County receives update on wRight Choice Program

By John Holler

A year-and-a-half ago, Wright County Court Services started a pilot project to help address the problem of high school students that have found themselves in trouble with school officials and, in some cases, law enforcement. The program was called wRight Choice and, in 18 months, has expanded from Buffalo High School to include several schools districts, including Annandale, Delano, Howard Lake, Maple Lake, Monticello and St. Michael-Albertville.

“It’s been a really unique opportunity for us to partner with different school districts around the county and the students they serve,” Wright County Court Services Director Mike MacMillan told the commissioners at their July 31 meeting. “From our perspective, it’s been a really positive experience.”

Keys to the wRight Choice program have been restorative justice, community service and maintaining academics. It is hoped that by showing students on the brink of being in significant trouble the pitfalls of missing out on an education and the consequences of their actions. Some of the students that have gone through the program have become mentors to middle school students who are at risk themselves. While kids sometimes bristle at authority figures, learning life lessons from their peers that have “been there, done that” can make a more meaningful impact.

Buffalo High School Assistant Principal Kris Thompson said that the program has seen tangible results and helped make changes in kids who may have been heading in the wrong direction.

“We know that students have good in them,” Thompson said. “Putting them in a position to experience some success and build off that success is pivotal to (the program).”

The wRight Choice program has been one of the more effective projects the county has undertaken, drawing comparisons to the MEADA methamphetamine awareness program that helped drastically reduce the use and sale of the drug in the county and MacMillan said that, while it started with lofty goals, those have all been met or exceeded.

“This started as a pilot project a year-and-a-half ago and we’ve been very pleased with how it has progressed,” MacMillan said. “We came into this with an idea of what we hoped to accomplish have been very pleased with the results.”

In other items on the July 31 agenda, the board:

BY a 3-1 vote, authorized the parks department to prepare grant applications for Phase 6 of the purchase of parkland in the Bertram Chain of Lakes project. The county will apply for both Legacy Grant funding and Non-Metro Regional Park Grant funds. The legacy grants call for just a 10 percent local match, while the regional park grant call for a 40 percent local match. The county is seeking $1.7 million in funding for Phase 6, as well as making a request for consideration for the remaining $8.3 million in land acquisition needed to complete the chain of lakes purchase. Commissioner Jack Russek voted against the proposal, maintaining his longstanding aversion to funding the park when the county is belt-tightening with county departments during the ongoing economic recession. Commissioner Dick Mattson was not at the meeting, which is why the vote was 3-1.

APPOINTED Virgil Hawkins as the new Wright County Highway Engineer, effective Aug. 8. Hawkins replaces Wayne Fingalson, who is retiring Aug. 7. Hawkins, whose position is an appointment by the county board, is eligible to be reappointed to a four-year term May 1, 2013.

HEARD a presentation from Minnesota Department of Health Commissioner Ed Ehlinger, who shared some of the public health priorities that state will be pushing in the coming year.

SET the date for the primary election canvassing board for 8 a.m. Thursday, Aug. 16. Commissioners Russek and Elmer Eichelberg, both of whom are not seeking re-election, will represent the commissioners on the canvassing board.

ACCEPTED the June revenue-expenditure guidelines. At the midway point of the year, the county is at 52 percent of revenue projections and 48 percent of expenditures.

APPROVED a one-day special waterfowl hunt for veteran’s with disabilities at Ney Park Oct. 6.

WAIVED the inspection fee for the bleachers at the Wright County Fairgrounds at the request of the fair board.

APPROVED payment of $13,477 to the consulting firm of Madden, Galenter & Hansen for work performed in July. All of the money was the result of preparation for a grievance arbitration hearing between the county and the sheriff’s department.

SET a bid opening for the Human Services Center parking lot for 10 a.m. at the Aug. 21 board meeting. Because cost estimates could exceed $100,000, sealed bids for the project are required.

APPROVED the minutes of the tax forfeit committee and authorized the tax forfeit parcels in the cities of Albertville, Rockford and Waverly to those cities to give them the first opportunity to purchase the parcels before they would be available for public sale.

ANNOUNCED changes in the budget committee of the whole schedule for the 2013 budget process. The board approved switching the schedule for Veterans Services/Civil Defense and the Auditor/Treasurer-Elections time slot, moved court services from Aug. 9 to Aug. 13 and rescheduled the Sept. 4 meeting to set the final draft budget and levy to Sept. 10.

ACKNOWLEDGED receipt of the highway department’s 2012 annual report. Time has been allotted on the Aug. 7 board meeting in case the commissioners have any questions about the report.

APPROVED an agreement with the Minnesota Department of Transportation for a trail and sidewalk extension in the City of Montrose. The project is part of the Safe Routes to School program.

APPOINTED Eichelberg to represent the county for the remainder of the year on MnDOT’s Urbanized Area planning board. After the 2010 census, the cities of Otsego, St. Michael and Albertville are being considered as part of the Twin Cities metro area.