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Stevens County votes to hire engineer, discusses coordinator

MORRIS – On Tuesday, the Stevens County Board of Commissioners voted 3 to 2 to accept the resignation of Brian Giese as Stevens County Engineer and Stevens County Coordinator.

Commissioners Jeanne Ennen, Donny Wohlers and Bob Kopitzke voted to accept his resignation, while Commissioners Phil Gausman and Ron Staples voted against.

Giese’s last day with Stevens County will be July 25.

With Giese’s resignation, the board will have to move forward filling both vacancies.

County engineer salary provokes discussion

On Tuesday, the board approved advertising for a new county engineer. But a discussion about whether to include a specific salary or offer compensation “depending on qualifications” became an opportunity to air frustrations about losing Giese as Stevens County’s engineer.

The current salary range for the county engineer position is $69,638 to $90,854, but it seems likely the range will move up after the county completes a classification and compensation study this fall. Giese’s starting salary as Pope County Engineer will be $105,435.

County Attorney Aaron Jordan suggested that the county would get better applications for the position if they didn’t include a specific salary in the job description and advertisement.

Wohlers, Staples and Gausman initially objected to removing the salary requirements.

“I think our best hope at that price range is to find a young, eager guy – that’s what we’re going to find,” said Wohlers.

“We can’t go over that range because we wouldn't raise [the salary] for what we got, and we got one of the best engineers in the state,” said Staples.

One of the sticking points in an ongoing discussion about splitting the roles of county engineer and county coordinator had been salary. Giese received about $90,000 a year as county engineer and an approximately $20,000 a year augmentation for his role as coordinator.

Ennen argued that if Giese stepped back from the coordinator role, he should no longer receive the augmented salary.

“When we were discussing this I said I had no problem raising it, if that’s what the compensation study said,” Ennen said Tuesday.

“By the time the compensation study came back, we lost an engineer,” responded Gausman.

Gausman went on to argue that the dual engineer/coordinator role has saved the county approximately $240,000 over the last four years, and the board’s treatment of Giese has been “shabby.”

“Then you should have made a motion to raise his salary,” responded Kopitzke.

“Yeah, probably should have,” said Gasuman.

Eventually, the board agreed that the county would get the best pool of applicants for the position if they removed the salary range from the description.

“At this point I think we need to go with what’s best for the county – leave it out,” said Wohlers.

“In the long haul, we need to all get together on this,” said Gausman. “I can live with a description without it, I’m not happy about it.”

In the interim, most of the functions of the Highway Department can continue with existing staff. However, there are some tasks that require approval from a professionally licensed engineer.

Human Resource Director Janet Raguse told the board she will reach out to Douglas County Engineer Dave Robley, who is currently serving as interim county engineer in Pope County, and other nearby engineers to see if they can fill in temporarily.

Staples said the best option could be to work with Pope County and contract with Giese to continue until a new engineer is hired.

“I think that would be simplest transition for Stevens County, but it’s up to Brian and the Pope County Board if they would allow that,” said Staples.

The board plans to make a decision about an interim engineer at their next meeting on Tuesday, July 15.

Board discusses role of full time county coordinator

On Wednesday, the Stevens County Board of Commissioners met in a work session with all county department heads to discuss short- and long-term solutions for how to fill or replace the county coordinator.

During the work session, the board discussed whether they should have a county coordinator or move up to a county administrator, a position with specific statutory requirements.

Most department heads said they were comfortable with a coordinator, and valued being able to approach the board directly with their concerns and issues in their departments.

A county coordinator can fill a variety of roles. One primary role the board seemed interested in was internal leadership and management of the day-to-day operations of the county.

The board has planned a work session for Tuesday, July 15 at 8 a.m. to discuss the specific role and responsibilities of a full time coordinator. At the work session, they will review job descriptions and specify the responsibilities for this position.

In the interim, the board indicated they would like Auditor/Treasurer Neil Wiese to serve as clerk for the board and be the point of contact for the county from outside organizations. According to state statute, in the absence of a county coordinator, the county auditor is tasked with this role.

Initially, the board approach Human Resources Director Janet Raguse about the position. Raguse previously served as a county coordinator and has experience serving as clerk for a board.

Raguse said she was concerned taking on the role would negatively impact human resources, which is in the middle of coordinating the county’s classification and compensation study.

“It wouldn't be my wish to take it on, I guess – I want to be a team player, but I’m really concerned about how it would affect HR,” Raguse said.

Wiese said he had similar concerns, citing the upcoming election season, his small staff, and his inexperience clerking a board as reasons he does not feel like the position is a good fit.

“I’m really not interested in working 60, 70 hours a week to take on those duties – something is going to suffer if I clerk the board and these additional duties,” said Wiese.

Previously, the board also voted to have the auditor/treasurer’s office take over preparing the budget for 2015.

While board members acknowledged that it would be a difficult transition, they returned to the statutory requirement for the auditor to clerk the board.

“Right now everyone is going to have to work together to get this transition done – we can’t just cut services to the county,” said Wohlers.