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Memorials to follow state rules

By Staff | Aug 10, 2009

Tom Warmka

After two months of controversy surrounding a highway memorial in Pilot Grove Township, the Faribault County Board voted to follow state law and have such tributes moved out of the road right-of-way.

The vote, however, was not unanimous, and came after nearly 45 minutes of sometimes loud discussion. Commis-sioner Tom Warmka, one of two members of a highway memorial subcommittee, recommended to the board that a motion be passed stating the county follow the state law pertaining to memorials and the guidelines of the Minnesota Department of Transportation.

“Those guidelines allow for a memorial to be in place for six months before it must be moved out of the highway right-of-way,” Warmka says. “It also limits what the memorial can be, such as a white cross or flag.”

Commissioner Tom Loveall vehemently questioned the proposal, saying he felt the current Josh Johnson memorial should be grandfathered in and left in place.

“I will not vote for removing it,” he said, and when the vote was taken, he did vote no.Loveall also repeatedly asked how – and who – would be in charge of enforcing the policy. He suggested it would be John McDonald, county highway engineer.

McDonald, who was at the meeting, said he was not a law enforcement officer.

County Attorney Brian Roverud agreed, saying it would be up to the county’s two elected law enforcement officers, himself and the county sheriff.

Roverud also told the county board that the real issue is liability, and that if there is some type of accident at the site, it would be the responsibility of the county.

Warmka agreed the issue is safety and an attempt to prevent hazards and accidents. He cited an instance of a car going off the road when it met another car going over the line due to ‘gawking’ at the memorial.

“Its a distraction,” he said. “If there is an accident we could be sued and we would lose.”

Warmka did agree it is an emotional issue, but said it was the duty of the board to follow state law, saying it is not them, but the state which covers highway memorials.

“I wanted (this issue) to just go away quietly, but it didn’t,” Warmka said. “So it is up to us to follow the law, and the MnDOT policy.”

Loveall called the policy “wrong-headed” and questioned why not all state laws are strictly enforced.

“Do we enforce all of the speeding, burn barrel, noxious weeds and other state laws in the county,” Loveall questioned. He also asked if the townships would be enforcing the state policy.

After the vote, Loveall made one final comment, calling the whole matter, “a classic case of why you let sleeping dogs lie.”