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Thoreen expected to be Pope County's new coordinator

Former Stevens County Coordinator Jim Thoreen is expected to fill a similar role on an interim basis in Pope County.

The Pope County Board of Commissioners will vote on hiring Thoreen at its regular meeting March 15 and the board is expected to approve the resolution, said commissioner Larry Kittelson.

The county's Coordinator Riaz Aziz is resigning to become Steele County Administrator. Thoreen also is expected to assume some of Aziz's duties as Executive Director of the county Housing and Redevelopment Authority.

Thoreen retired last spring after more than 12 years as Stevens County Coordinator, split over two tenures (1988-1993 and 2003-2010), and more than 30 years in county government. He spent the fall campaigning as the DFL-endorsed candidate for the Minnesota District 11 Senate seat.

"I'm at an age where I want to retire but I don't want to step out of life," Thoreen said, adding that the Pope County job will allow him to help the county plan for future changes necessitated by state budget deficits and changes in county operations.

Kittelson has known Thoreen for almost all his 11 years on the Pope County board. Thoreen also worked with the county on a part-time basis for a time when it was between coordinators before Aziz was hired.

"We're all good friends -- all the commissioners and coordinators from the counties around here -- and I told (board chair) Gordy Wagner, 'Maybe Jim can help us out again now that he's retired,' " Kittelson said. "Jim has a way about him. He's very people-oriented. He talks things through and he's intelligent -- he knows what's going on. I feel very confident having him here. He was our first choice right away."

Thoreen said the position would be almost full-time but that "it's a relatively short-term deal." The transition time will give Pope County officials time to determine if they want to change the county's management structure and how to potentially share more services with surrounding counties.

"It's a chance to look at, here's where we are today, here's where we think we'll be tomorrow. How do you want to get there?" Thoreen said.

Kittelson said the county could resume discussions -- particularly with Stevens County -- about possibly sharing a coordinator. Since Thoreen's retirement, Brian Giese has worked as Stevens County's Highway Engineer and taken on many of the coordinator's responsibilities.

The counties have had informal discussions about sharing a coordinator in the past, and current conditions in the state and counties might make it a good time to revisit the issue, Kittelson said, noting that the counties already share personnel for public health, veterans and other services.

"This gives us time to look at these things," Kittelson said. "I don't think we can keep on going the way all 87 counties have been doing things. Now's the time to look at how we can share and change things."