Battle of the Badge
The fight to be the Aitkin County Sheriff
by Cynthia Brekke | October 22, 2002
Dennis Landborg’s term as sheriff began after winning the election on Nov. 3, 1998, defeating Tim Catlin 4,134 votes to 3,504. He was a Minnesota State Highway Patrol officer and has plenty of background experience to draw from.
Dennis was in the U.S. Navy as a Sea Bee, serving two tours of duty in Vietnam. Sea Bees were the nuts and bolts of the war, performing construction duties of all kinds. He was awarded several medals and commendations before being honorably discharged with the rank of E-5.
After serving his country, he came back to Minnesota to serve his state. He was a patrolman, then Sergeant, and finally, Acting Chief of the Ham Lake Police Department for two years. He also served on the Ham Lake City Council for two years and was Mayor for three. He broke off and joined the Minnesota State Patrol, working in that capacity for over 26 years, before becoming the Aitkin County Sheriff in 1998.
Throughout this array of experience, Dennis had a wide variety of on-going training. Besides the basic police science and State Patrol training, he had schooling in the Dept. of Justice Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs, was an FBI Firearms Instructor, went to the FBI school for Weapons of Mass Destruction, took advanced Accident Investigation, Tactical Response Unit training, was Security Aide for two Governors, served as Legislative security for the Minnesota Legislature and was an instructor for MN State Patrol Firearms, Radar, besides instructing Patrol Classes at Metro Community College. He has also been a volunteer Firearms Safety Instructor for the DNR for over 38 years.
As in his military life, Dennis earned various awards and commendations throughout his service as a law enforcement officer... everything from Trooper of the Year and Life Saving awards to Outstanding Citizen and the WCCO Radio “Good Neighbor” award. At age 56, he’s satisfied with his accomplishments.
Dennis has been married for 25 years to Merlyn, and they have three children: Rhonda, Stacy and LaNae. They also have four grandchildren.
Changes in the last four years
“The accountability of the sheriff’s office has always been one of my highest priorities,” Dennis began. “All the employees have to remember that we’re working for the public and the citizens of Aitkin County. I’m a strong believer in that courtesy and those kinds of things are a high priority.” He went on to explain that he’s been in law enforcement over 32 years and has always felt strongly about accountability to the public he serves. “We represent the people. We have to remember who we’re working for.”
Dennis has also tried to make himself accessible to the public, attending meetings and various other public functions in the communities. “This sheriff’s position is really a way of life, it’s not really a job,” he explained. “It’s the only job I have and I don’t have any other outside interests, own any businesses or have anything else. This is my full-time job.” It’s very seldom that Dennis ever has less than a ten or twelve hour day. “That’s my choosing, because I feel that it’s important that, representing the Aitkin County Sheriff’s office, I’m out as much as possible, dealing with the public.”
Dennis is aware that he was referred to as a ‘coffee shop politician’ when he ran for office four years ago. “Where ever people are at, you have to make yourself available,” he stated. “People would much rather talk to me on the street, in the coffee shop or at an occasion, and keep in touch with what’s going on.” As sheriff, Dennis knows he is ultimately responsible for what goes on in his office. The buck stops at his door — “Sometimes a little more than I’d like it to,” he joked.
“There are several things that I was handed when I took over. The 911 system was just being implemented,” Dennis explained. Dan Haskins, an employee with the Aitkin County Land Dept., was working with GIS (Geographical Information Systems) with the mapping and E-911 addressing. “If you seen what this guy can do... it’s amazing,” Dennis complimented. “This is not something that just stops. Every time someone moves in, and pushes a new road into a property, somebody has to be out there and GPS that location.” Right now, the E-911 system is fully operational. When a call is received (on hardwire phone lines), the location of that residence comes up on a screen, with an arrow pointing to it, and directions on how to get there. If the caller cannot talk or doesn’t say anything, help can still be on it’s way. The nearest ambulance and fire department is also displayed so that the closest help can be sent. E-911 is always being updated.
Another bit of business is the jail. “It was just in the infant stages, and the plans being drawn,” Dennis began. Very high cost estimates had come in for the construction part of it and his department looked at changing it. “By going to a ‘direct supervision’ type of jail (open dormatory style), over a half a million dollars was saved on construction alone.” But, what about the cost of operating? Jails require more staffing, which means payroll. “Linear-style jails, where there’s individual cells for each person, requires one staff for every twenty-five individuals, where with a direct supervision jail, staff to prisoner ratio is one for every 59.” Dennis pointed out that there was a need for the jail and that our county has been able to house prisoners from other counties, thus making a little money instead of housing Aitkin County prisoners in other jails and losing money. “Jails aren’t built to make money,” Dennis reminded, “But as of September, we’ve taken in $155,000 dollars through housing from other counties.” This money, then, helps pay off the bond faster, saving money for the taxpayers. But Dennis warns that this won’t go on forever. If Aitkin County needs that space for it’s own prisoners, housing outside prisoners will cease.
Amenities are purchased out of a prisoner welfare account, funded by purchases by prisoners for food, phone cards, etc. Taxpayers do not fund purchases of televisions, blankets, pillows, etc. And every prisoner is charged a $10 booking fee.
“These are the two major things,” said Dennis.
Has the rapport between public and Sheriff’s office improved?
In the past, many have felt that the Sheriff’s office was ‘hands-off’. “I’ve tried to change that and, hopefully, I’ve been somewhat successful,” Dennis began, explaining that officers have to remember to leave a bad call behind them when responding to a new call. “I’m a very strong believer in strong public relations,” he added. “We need the public. Their eyes and ears are important. You can hire all the officers you want, but if you don’t have the public’s cooperation...”
Tim Catlin would like another crack at the Aitkin County Sheriff’s posi-tion, an office he held after win-ning the election in 1995. He served as Aitkin County Sheriff until 1998, when he was defeated in the election by Dennis Landborg.
Tim is a life-long resident of Aitkin and Aitkin County, and proud of it. Married for over 21 years to wife, Gretchen (Zasmeta), they have been raising four children: Amanda, 20; Erin, 18; Samuel, 15; and Daniel, 11. They own Aitkin Floral & Gifts in Aitkin.
Tim is currently an officer with the Aitkin Police department, where he has been active for most of 16 years. He enjoys his work there. “Good department,” he commented. “I’m not in a bad situation, is why I’m running... that’s not the situation at all. It’s kind of nice when you can run for an office and do it because you want to, not because you want to get away from where you’re at.”
A 1980 graduate of Aitkin High School, Tim attended Alexandria Technical College, where he earned an Associates of Arts degree in Law Enforcement. Other education he’s received includes Public Relations, Jail Administration, Police Management Concepts, Legal Aspects of Law Enforcement, Personnel Management and Strategic Planning.
As Sheriff of Aitkin County from 1995 to 1998, Tim began some projects that were finished under Dennis Landborg’s tenure. The implementation of the E-911 system was just getting started when Tim was ousted from office. He was also in the blueprint and bidding process for construction of the new jail when he left in 1998. Both were controversial, but Tim believed in their development for the betterment of Aitkin County and it’s citizens, and still does. Neither of them are perfect, however, and Tim believes both can be fine-tuned.
Changes in the last four years
“I guess what I want people to do is look at the last four years, and look at the four years I was in there. We definitely had some issues that, when I was out campaigning, four years ago, people were tellng me — and one of them was 911.”
The E-911 system definitely had it’s opponents. People felt their world was being turned upside down and didn’t see the point of it all. “There were some upset people, and I was a spokesperson for it .” It became an issue where people were killing the messenger. “They told me,” Tim said, straight forward. “They said, ‘we’re not going to vote for you... we don’t want this system’ and I just stressed to them that changing the sheriff wouldn’t change the system. It isn’t the sheriff’s say.”
He was right — it wouldn’t be stopped. What had already been mandated by the County Board of Commissioners would see full implementation. Now, people joke about the “big city numbers in the sticks” and scoff at how ridiculous it all seems but, like it or not, it came... without Tim Catlin. But Tim stands by his decision to back the E-911 system. “I thought it was the right thing to do, by informing people.”
The other issue was the new jail. Again, Tim felt this was necessary and was behind it. It was in the bid stage when he left office. “The facility that I was involved in, or was looking at, they did do changes there,” he recalled. “Some of our issues were that, when you build a jail, you can’t build it labor-intense. There were things that we were trying not to do, because it would take a lot of personnel to do it. Unfortunately, some of the changes they made automatically added staff.” One item Tim is firm on is the $50 a day that the county is supposedly making on housing prisoners from other counties. “If you did a cost analysis on the jail right now, it will run about two million dollars. This is corrections,” he explained. “If you break that down, you’ve got 86 beds in the jail. Break it up and divide that out, and the cost comes to $63.71. That’s what it costs us, per day, for each prisoner if the jail is full, which the state won’t allow it to be full for the purpose of transferring, moving and processing prisoners. This $50 came from when I was sheriff six years ago. I went to the board and asked for a resolution for $50, and we weren’t housing prisoners then, but if we ever did, down the road...”
“We’re still using that $50 dollars,” Tim continued. “No one’s even done a cost analysis, so I did one. We’re at $63.71. So, every prisoner we house, the taxpayer picks up part of the cost for housing that prisoner from out of the county.” Tim considers this to be unfinished business that he would like to have a chance to change. But he wanted to stress that the jail isn’t a money-making proposition. “Don’t misunderstand,” he stressed. “The jail isn’t there to make money. It COSTS money. Remember that now we have 26 staff and we have 31 prisoners in Aitkin County. THAT’S what has to be looked at. How much staff does it take for 31 prisoners?”
Other unfinished business
Writing, grants was something Tim was eager to jump into during his tenure as Sheriff. Before a grant could even be applied for, it had to be justified before the County Board. If they approve, they pass a resolution and the grant application process can be started. “That hasn’t been getting done in the last four years,” Tim said bluntly. “We, as taxpayers are losing a lot of money and services that are needed in this county, that can be paid for in other ways.”
Has the rapport between public and Sheriff’s office improved?
Tim’s outlook on the rapport between the sheriff’s office and the public was skirted somewhat, because he has a plan to bring more involvement and better communication to all sides. “One thing that I want to do is start a Citizen Advisory Committee in the County,” he said. “What that does is, we’d ask for a couple of volunteers from each area... not just from McGregor, Aitkin or Hill City. I’d break it up in sections and get a couple people from each area. Then, people would be made aware of who’s on this committee.” These people would then bring their areas concerns to regular meetings with the sheriff and discuss any problems that people have. “Other counties in the state are doing it, and I feel Aitkin County should.” he stated. Tim feels that, many times, people are afraid to come in and complain to the sheriff for fear of retrobution. “What I’d like to do is open up a channel, through a committee, and give them another route to get that input. For a sheriff, if they don’t tell ya, you don’t know.”
This article first appeared in the October 22, 2002 issue of the Voyageur Press.