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Commissioners consider future of county administration

MORRIS – Members of the Stevens County Board of Commissioners seem to agree that the county will hire a full time replacement for part-time County Coordinator Brian Giese, but the board has still not decided the duties that person should assume.

At a work session on Tuesday, the board discussed the differences between a county coordinator and a county administrator and which role would fit the county better.

The county would have more flexibility with a county coordinator. The county board can set the duties and responsibilities for the position, and a coordinator can be dismissed at any time.

A county administrator, on the other hand, has specific statutory powers and duties that include things like hiring and removing staff, making purchases, preparing the budget and oversee county finances. Administrators can also supervise other county department heads.

Commissioner Ron Staples said he was leaning towards hiring an administrator who would have a stronger hand in the day-to-day operations of the county.

“I feel that we need some strong leadership in this transition we have coming up,” said Staples. “A”It seems like the way we’re doing it now is broken. We’re not functioning the way we should be, I think.”

Commissioner Jeanne Ennen asked what the point of the board of commissioners if authority is granted to an administrator.

“We’re paid to set policy – we need somebody to carry out the policy. We’re not supposed to be managing day-to-day operations,” said Staples.

“You have to know what it is that’s going on in your organization to set policy,” responded Ennen.

Commissioner Donny Wohlers said the coordinator or administrator should be a link between county department heads and the board to create a better chain of command within county government.  

“It’s a free for all out there, if you ask me, and it needs to be reigned in,” said Wohlers.

Commissioner Phil Gausman said he didn’t have a preference, but wanted to find a way to keep the board from micromanaging county functions.

“I think we could streamline the chain of command so we don’t have department heads coming to us,” said Gasuman. “I try not to come up here and bother anybody. We hire good people to do jobs. Let them do their jobs.”

It can be more difficult to remove a county administrator than a county coordinator, a concern Ennen voiced at the meeting.

According to state statute, the administrator can be removed at any time during the first year. If the administrator is dismissed after a year, the administrator can demand written charges and a public hearing on those charges.

“If you get the wrong person in there, you have someone that is making decision for the county with no way to correct that,” said Ennen.

County Attorney Aaron Jordan said there is a risk of a lawsuit when removing an administrator if it’s done without cause.

Giese offered two areas where a stronger administrative head for the county would be helpful – coordinating the budget and streamlining hiring and personnel decisions.

Wohlers said the budget remains a challenge for the county and having a leader would be “advantageous for us all.”

The board instructed personnel committee members Staples and Gausman to work with Raguse, Jordan and Giese to develop a job description for a county coordinator with some administrative duties for the full board to review at their next regular meeting on Aug. 5.

County moves forward with county engineer hiring plan

The Stevens County Board of Commissioners plans to work with Merle Early, district state aid engineer for District 4 and former Stevens County Engineer, in screening and interviewing candidates for county engineer.

Early came to the board’s meeting on Tuesday to discuss the process for hiring and offer his help with the process. The county personnel committee will meet on Wednesday, Aug. 6 to review applications and set a plan for preliminary and final interviews.

To fill the gap until an engineer is hired, the board approved an agreement with Giese and Pope County for Giese to serve as interim Stevens County Engineer effective Aug. 4 for 60 days.

Under the terms of the agreement, Giese will work, at most, eight hours per week on Stevens County projects during the normal work day and complete any other work outside business hours.

Early said Giese has put the county in “really good” shape for project this summer, but planned projects for 2015 might suffer if the engineer position is left open too long.

Other business

  • The board appointed Auditor/Treasurer Neil Wiese as interim clerk to the board. The commissioners decided to offer Wiese a stipend at the end of his time as clerk and asked Wiese to keep track of his time clerking the board.

  • The board approved promoting Lori Anderson to administrative assistant in the Stevens County Sheriff’s Office. Sheriff Jason Dingman said his office interviewed five candidates for the position and Anderson was the highest-ranking candidate. The board authorized Dingman to move forward with filling Anderson’s current position as records manager.

  • Stevens County will be asked to increase their contribution to Rainbow Rider, a public transportation service in west central Minnesota, from $1,700 in 2014 to $5,574 in 2015, Commissioner Ron Staples told the board. Stevens County ridership is about two percent of the total ridership for the program.

  • The board reappointed Barb Tomoson to the board of the Stevens County Housing and Redevelopment Authority. Tomoson is currently the board chair and represents the Alberta area.

  • Members of the board will be attending an informational meeting about Baker Dairy, a proposed project south of Chokio, on Tuesday, July 22 at 7 p.m. at the Chokio school.