Sheriff Lake, sales tax gain mass approval
November 11, 2022
Reelected in a landslide Tuesday, Carlton County sheriff Kelly Lake expects to be around for the end of her term in 2026.
"I made a promise to the voters of Carlton County and intend to keep that promise," said the 53-year-old Lake, who will reach retirement age during the middle of her next term.
Voters agreed to extend Lake's 17-year run as sheriff, while at the same time overwhelmingly adopting a half-cent sales tax to pay for the $66 million Justice Center.
Under construction on County Road 61 near the Transportation Building, the justice center will feature a new jail, courthouse, offices for probation and a new 911 call center. The facility is expected to open after 22 months of construction in summer 2024. It's the largest, most spendy project in the history of the county. Had voters rejected the sales tax, financing would have come from landowners' property taxes.
That wasn't happening as the sales tax passed with 89% of the vote, 13,857 votes to 1,711. That margin even outstripped Lake's popularity. She beat challenger Jason Syrett, 84% to 16%, 12,814 votes to 2,400. Syrett, a Moose Lake police officer, ran to be a new leadership voice, one critical of what he called a "Taj Mahal" justice center.
But voters continued to trust Lake.
"That means a lot to me," Lake said. "I've dedicated my career to this office and to the people of Carlton County - I'm just very humbled they still have that level of confidence in me."
Unchallenged since 2006, Lake was grateful for the competition, she said, as it gave her opportunities to reconnect with old allies and meet new ones. It also reminded everyone that sheriff is an elected role.
"A lot of people forget that or didn't know to begin with," she said. "It was a good reminder ... that they have a choice of who they have leading the office of sheriff and their public safety."
Carlton County has only two police departments - in Cloquet and Moose Lake - meaning the Sheriff's Office leads law enforcement coverage for the rest of its communities.
As supervisor of the jail and 911, Lake is eager to move into the new facility. But she's not alone.
"We've had a lot of people for years planning for this justice center," she said. "There's a big team of criminal justice people and county commissioners working hard on developing the best justice center moving forward for Carlton County for years to come. I'm happy to be able to see that through and make sure it has a smooth opening. There's a lot of work yet to do. It's not as easy as opening the doors."
Lake ended her interview with the Pine Knot by addressing her long-term future. It's possible her next full term will be her last.
"I would say I would likely not continue, just considering my age," she said. "But I don't ever want to say 'never.'"
New commissioner is
previous commissioner, Susan Zmyslony
Sue Zmyslony is returning to the Carlton County board, defeating the commissioner who usurped her four years ago, Mark Thell, in the election for the District 4 seat encompassing Barnum, Carlton, Holyoke, Mahtowa and Wrenshall - the southeast corner of the county.
Zmyslony edged Thell by a 2.1% margin, 1,968 votes to 1,884.
"I'm very pleased," she said. "I worked hard to get to this spot."
Zmyslony is only the third woman to be on the board, a fact that's common throughout the state, as county boards have been historically male-oriented.
"I worked well four years ago with the board and I anticipate working well again," she said. "There's mutual respect, but I do believe some diversity is very important."
Zmyslony talked about getting property taxes under control by working with the board to bring more revenue into the county.
The Pine Knot also asked her about the controversy in the district: a natural burial cemetery opening soon in a Blackhoof Township neighborhood featuring farms and residential homes. Residents have been to the board repeatedly in an effort to find a way to prevent the cemetery from opening. Thell has been allied with the residents throughout the process, but he's also been frank about limits of county authority.
"The first thing that needs to be done is you need to listen to your constituents," Zmyslony said. "They need to know their concerns are validated and that you will research and find out answers for them. It's something I've done and will continue to do."
County commissioner Marv Bodie ran unopposed in the District 2 race, which includes Thomson Township and part of Carlton. Bodie garnered 99 percent of the votes, with 20 write-ins.