Protesters Demand Answers From Itasca County Officials On Spending of Taxpayer Funds

The protesters want answers from the Sheriff's Office and other county officials on how taxpayer money is being spent.

GRAND RAPIDS, Minn. – Protesters in Grand Rapids are calling out Itasca County on what they believe to be the misuse of funds.

The protesters want answers from the Sheriff’s Office and other county officials on how taxpayer money is being spent.

Dozens of protesters were in front of the Itasca County Courthouse braving the cold to get their point across.

They want the county to be audited.

“We’re screaming,” said Protester Charlene Nelson. “We’ve been screaming it for a long time.”

Several of the protesters are also calling for an investigation into how the county is spending funds.

“If there was an investigation we would uncover something a lot bigger than misappropriation of funds,” said Nelson.

Nelson says taxes keep going up but she and others are not seeing these increases produce results.

“There are so many issues like this. Multiple lawsuits, multiple civil lawsuits going on right now,” said Nelson. “There are arbitrations in which multiple people in the county are identified as being unlawful. they’re not being trustworthy.”

Itasca County Auditor Jeff Walker says he respects the group’s right to protest as part of their freedom of speech.

He says he’s even invited some of them to speak to him face to face.

“To date they have not come in,” said Walker.

Walker has been in his position for 12 years and says there’s nothing to hide.

“We are audited. We’re audited several times, our grants are audited, our large grants,” said Walker. “We have single audits on those. Our nursing home is audited separately. The Sheriff’s Department is audited. It’s part of the year audit.”

Gail Lawson was there in honor of her father who was killed while off duty, Deputy Sheriff Robert “Beefy” Lawson.

“We want a state audit to know every factual information so Itasca County knows exactly what is being done,” said Lawson.

Organizers tell us more of these protests are planned in the future.

They’re also standing with Deputy Lt. Michael Bliss, who they call a “whistleblower” to the misuse of funds in Itasca County.

Bliss was fired back in 2016, but then given his job back after arbitration.

On Monday, Bliss won a legal settlement of more than $500,000 from Itasca County over claims he was retaliated against for reporting wrongful conduct in the department.

The county auditor says its portion of that settlement is $200,000, but the county is not admitting any fault in the case and county leaders only agreed to settle because their lawyer recommended it.

We reached out to the sheriff’s office for comment and didn’t hear back.

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