County board asked to take another look at human services collaboration

By Charlie Warner
Argus News Editor

Should Houston County move forward with 11 other Southeast Minnesota counties in a region-wide redesign for human services?

That is the question AFSCME Rep. Dean Tharpe asked the Houston County Board last week. Tharpe said six of the 12 counties considering participation in the redesign program have expressed deep concerns about the welfare of their clients and the many uncertainties of being part of a regional collaboration.

“I was very impressed with the concerns your county employees brought up,” Tharpe told the board. “These concerns had nothing to do with their own positions, but the uncertainties of how their clients would receive help and the community as a whole.”

Tharpe cautioned that being a part of this large an endeavor is a very big step and pointed out that the county would lose much of its decision-making power.

After discussing the issue with county staff, Tharpe suggested that a collaboration between Houston, Fillmore and Winona counties would be much more manageable and would still meet the criteria of having at least 55,000 population included in the collaboration.

Earlier this year the county board had listened to several presentations from  Accenture, a consulting firm from Austin, Texas, that had been hired by the regional redesign committee to conduct the 12-county human services redesign project.

According to Randy Washington of Accenture, 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.

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 also told the board in February.

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

“The employees and clients who could be affected by this regional redesign project were not even represented at the meetings you have been holding with Accenture,” Tharpe pointed out. “There are things to be gained by moving forward with the regional concept and things that can be lost.

“Caution must be taken when making a big decision like this,” Tharpe added.

AFSCME Rep. LeAnne Kunze added that Accenture is a global industry and that the cost for the redesign project, before it is fully implemented comes at a price tag of $19 million.

“They claim that the counties involved will realize a $30 million savings for a five-year span,” Kunze said. “That isn’t a savings, but a cost avoidance.”

Commissioner Tom Bjerke asked what the plan should be. “We’re not ready to go with Accenture until we can come up with rock-solid numbers. I don’t think it is wise to make a commitment with them yet, but in the mean time, what do we do?”

Kunze suggested Houston County get in touch with Fillmore and Winona counties and work on a small collaboration plan. She added that the counties can get assistance from the state to help develop a smaller collaboration.

No action was taken on this issue.

In other board action:

Personnel issues

HR Director Tess Arrick Kruger recommended that Jacquelyn Hauser be hired as a case aide (child support collections) for the Human Services Department. Hauser would be hired at a probationary status, B-22 at $13.29 an hour.

A motion by Commissioner Steve Schuldt and seconded by Commissioner Teresa Walter to approve the hiring was unanimously approved.

Kruger then recommended the change of employment status from probationary to regular due to successful completion of probationary terms for Human Services Office Support Specialist Maria Stemper and Financial Worker Carrie Allen.

A motion by Walter and seconded by Schuldt to approve the recommendation was unanimously approved.

Kruger made a third recommendation to change the employment status from probationary to regular status of Fred Lee, automated systems manager/custodian.

That recommendation was also approved.

Donation to Historical Society

Kruger asked for board approval to have the county donate the old courtroom furniture to the Houston County Historical Society. The items include the judge’s bench, chair, counsel table, several leather bound case books (from the 1800s) and documents of conveyance from the U.S. District Court to Houston County.

Kruger explained that when the U.S. District Court, located in Winona, was decommissioned in 1959, those courtroom items were donated to the Houston County District Court.

A motion by Commissioner Justin Zmyewski and seconded by Schuldt to approve the donation was unanimously approved.

Federal water grant

Chief Deputy Scott Yeiter informed the board that the county has received the $5,000 grant from the federal government that will be used for the water patrol.

Rock bids approved

The board approved crushed rock bids from six different quarries in the county. The board also approved a bid from Bruening Rock Products to apply the gravel on county roads.