County board tackles several obstacles and opportunities
By Emily Bialkowski
When the lightning strike of July 13 knocked out the county phone system, internet connection to the highway department and a HVAC module at the courthouse it left in its wake an opportunity to upgrade a very outdated system.
Houston County IT Director Andy Milde told the board that insurance money will become available to replace wireless equipment that connected the highway department to the internet and county servers.
Milde suggested, however, that the county get an actual line out to the department, as opposed to continuing on the sub-par path that existed with wireless.
The county can simultaneously replace a 16-year-old phone system that doesn’t even offer voicemail services.
The proposal was well received by commission members. “It is one of those things… they deserve to have the same connectivity as the human service building,” Commissioner Tom Bjerke said.
“It’s a big deal,” Milde added.
The monthly cost to the county will be $800. Adding in the cost of services to the human services building brings the monthly total to $1,600. The county had budgeted $1,400 per month for this; however, the insurance money from the lightning strike will help offset the expense.
The decision to proceed with an upgrade passed unanimously.
“It seems to me it will be much more reliable,” Commissioner Steve Schuldt said.
Milde confirmed the thought and said work on the project can begin immediately.
The board voted unanimously to go into closed session to discuss a personnel issue and then agreed to remain in open session after the employee (Lindsay Pierce) asked that discussion take place in open session.
Human Resources Director Tess Arrick-Kruger presented the board with documents pertaining to Pierce’s work history as an IT network manager and digital evidence technician.
Arrick-Kruger said that on multiple occasions, including May 16 and 22, June 7 and July 16 and 27, Pierce demonstrated an “almost verbally abusive” demeanor at meetings and “refused to work with certain people.”
“On July 30 Mr. Pierce said that if you’re going to fire me I need two weeks to clean out my computer files,” Arrick-Kruger said.
She then instructed the IT director to terminate his computer access.
She reported that he has been “highly disruptive in the workplace,” and that, “Mr. Pierce failed to properly perform duties of his office and failed to complete work in a reasonable time frame.”
Pierce has been on paid administrative leave since July 31.
Per county policy, Arrick-Kruger requested the board draft a “notice of intent to terminate.”
This is the first of two steps to terminate a county employee. The next step is a hearing in front of the board on Aug. 21 at 10 a.m.
When asked if he cared to address the board, Pierce said he just wanted a copy of the documents presented to the board and copies of items in his personnel file.
The board continues to mull over the possibility of collaborating with other counties on human service needs.
This reoccurring agenda item always warrants considerable discussion as the board grapples with ways to remain cost effective and provide the best service.
Linda Bahr, human services director, presented the latest update after she attended an intergovernmental meeting Aug. 6.
Of the initial 12-county conglomerate, Houston County is now included in a group of six counties who are willing to continue to research sharing services.
Bahr said of the six counties two voted unanimously to proceed, one county voted unanimously with six conditions and three counties voted 3 to 2.
The diversity of votes proves that the topic can be sketchy.
“I don’t know if everyone truly understands the difference between mandated service versus best practices,” Bahr said, adding, “I observed quite a bit of confusion.”
She said each county philosophically approaches human services differently. Some maintain the bare minimum as mandated by the state, while others aim a little higher.
“Mandated just describes what you’re going to do. Best practices describes how you’re going to do it,” Bahr said.
In the end, Bahr said it came through during the meeting that not everyone necessarily voted the way they had intended with total understanding of the issue.
County board members continue to attend meetings on the topic, and another intergovernmental meeting is set for Aug. 30.
A public hearing has been set for Tuesday, Aug. 21 at 10 a.m. to consider changes to the Wildcat Park ordinance. The public is encouraged to attend.
There will be no meeting of the Houston County Board on Aug. 14.
Contact Emily Bialkowski at email@example.com