By 3-1 vote, county board approves interim staffing for human services

By Charlie Warner
Argus News Editor

After reviewing a number of different options provided by HR Director Tess Arrick Kruger dealing with the Human Services Department, the Houston County Board approved a motion to combine several options, creating a new one.

For more than a year Public Health Director Deb Rock has been wearing two hats, as she has served as the Human Services Director as well. Rock was appointed the interim Human Services Director 14 months ago after Beth Wilms resigned from that position to take another job in another county.

After reviewing the various options, the board agreed to name Human Services Accounting Supervisor Linda Bahr was an interim Human Services Director/Accounting Supervisor, Sharen Lapham as the interim Social Worker Supervisor, continue having current Human Services Financial Worker Supervisor Karen Kohlmeyer serve that capacity and search for an accounts collection person to work in the Human Services and Financial departments.

The board discussed the various options, especially the fact that the county is currently working with a number of other Southeast Minnesota counties in a regional redesign project. Commissioner Teresa Walter felt the county should contact Fillmore and Winona counties and see about possible sharing options.

Commissioner Steve Schuldt pointed out that if the county took that route, there would not be a full-time person overseeing the largest department in the county.

Commissioner Tom Bjerke agreed that the department needs someone in charge, a “point person.” He said he really didn’t feel comfortable moving someone up and added that there might be someone out there with a fresh attitude. “There’s a lot of good people out there looking for jobs,” he pointed out.

Commissioner Justin Zmyewski said if the county goes out and hires someone from the public sector, at a salary and benefits package of $114,000 or more, he feels that might be a big gamble. “It’s a crap shoot. What if we hire someone who doesn’t work out? I’ve always pushed for trying to hire from within…someone who already knows our system and we know them.”

Bjreke agreed with Zmyewski but added he would be inclined to take that approach (hiring from within) if the positions were “interim” for a year.

Kruger felt that would be the way to approach the issue for now and said she felt the county should “do with what we have, set it up as an interim position and see how it works out.”

A motion by Zmyewski and seconded by Bjerke to hire from within and incorporate the option mentioned before passed by a 3-1 vote. Walter voted against the motion.

Later last week, Kruger confirmed that Lapham tendered her resignation as interim Social Worker Supervisor, but plans to continue working in the Human Services Department.

In other board action:

   Redesign discussed

Randy Washington, management consultant with Accenture of Austin, Texas, provided the board with an update on the 12-county human services redesign project.

The aim of the project, which is being funded by the Bush Foundation, will hopefully provide more efficient and effective human service to residents in Southeast Minnesota.

Washington said there is much diversity between the 12 counties, but also much commonality, as far as demographics are concerned.

The intention of the redesign is not to have whole sale layoffs of county staffers throughout the region. But job descriptions will be changed and staffs reduced through attrition.

Washington predicted it would take from three to five years to have the new region-wide human services system in place.

Airport EA Study

County Highway Engineer/Airport Manager Brian Pogodzinski informed the board the environmental assessment study for the proposed airport expansion project is nearly complete. Representatives from Mead and Hunt (the consulting firm conducting the study) will attend the March 6 board meeting to review the findings. Pogodzinski said Mead and Hunt would then schedule a public hearing to provide information to the general public.

Zmyewski asked if it was really necessary to have representatives from Mead and Hunt attend two meetings. He said he was concerned the board room would be filled at the March 6 meeting and then again at a later date.

“The March 6 county board meeting will not be a public hearing on this,” Board Chairman Jack Miller said. “We will hold a separate public hearing on this after we’ve had a chance to review the study.”

The public meeting has been scheduled for Monday, March 26 from 6 to 8 p.m. at the lower level conference room at the CJC.

You can contact Charlie Warner at [email protected]