County Board debates hiring

Craig Moorhead

The Caledonia Argus

Houston County commissioners picked up where they left off last week, debating how to replace  sheriff’s deputy Kurt Kuhlers when he retires on March 10. The February 21 meeting was also the first county board session in recent memory to be held in the evening, giving residents who work day jobs a chance to attend.

Kuhlers has worn two hats for the past decade, serving as the county’s emergency manager and court security officer.

Commissioners eventually agreed to a request from sheriff Mark Inglett to hire a full-time deputy to handle court security. But his suggestion to create the new full-time job of emergency manager/civil process deputy hit a speed bump. After an extended debate, the board voted 4-1 (with a “no” from commissioner Scott Connor) to hire a half-time emergency manager.

“Emergency management is a critical position to the county,” Inglett asserted.

“We don’t necessarily disagree.,” commissioner Jack Miller said. “But it’s occasionally, it’s not daily.”

“You’re focusing on that they only have something to do when there’s a disaster,” Inglett replied. “That’s not the only obligation to the job. They’re responsible to do all of the emergency-related grant paperwork, they’re responsible when townships have flooding or some type of damage. They are responsible to see that their paperwork gets filled out so they can get the maximum amount of reimbursement.

“And they are responsible for preparedness. It’s not just when there’s a natural disaster.”

“I don’t think we disagree that we should back-fill Kurt’s position,” commissioner Justin Zmyewski said. “It’s the back-fill plus another position.”

“I think we agree that we need to replace Kurt,” commissioner Theresa Walter added. “We’re questioning whether that person, when he’s not in court, can he do civil process?”

“There’s just too much demand for civil process for the court security deputy to do that on those rare days when he’s not in court,” Inglett noted. However, the security deputy would be able to fill in for sick days or other department needs on those occasions, he noted later in the session.

Chief deputy Travis Lapham said that when Kuhlers leaves, the first 15 days of court will require 12 eight-hour shifts of overtime from the department. “We have no other choice,” he added. “We’re required to provide court security.”

The board left the question of civil process duties up to Inglett.

Walter made the motion to hire a half-time emergency manager. “Fillmore County actually talked to me about waiting until the 28th of February when five of us meet with Fillmore County commissioners, to discuss a shared position or other alternatives,” she reported. The chance to get together is a regularly-scheduled Joint Board of Health meeting.

Inglett said that a retired person might be interested in the half-time job, but personnel/facilities director Tess Arrick-Kruger warned that, given the professional training required, a half-time emergency manager might be “very difficult” to recruit.

Connor said that the emergency manager job should be part-time, but “We’ve got to decide whether we’re looking for a deputy-type or something else. We’ve got to decide how critical this position is.”

The board also agreed to advertise for a replacement patrol deputy if the court security job is filled from within the department.

Other News

Commissioners approved a grant agreement with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. The paperwork will make way for $3,893 in annual support for boat and water safety patrols.

Another vote rehired David Benson as a 67 day drop site supervisor.

Commissioners will take up the recent Erickson mine court decision on April 18. That document states that the county’s Board of Adjustment was in error when certifying a mining road as a “legal non-conforming use,” stating that “The court hereby certifies the property in violation of the appropriate ordinance and remands the action to the county board in accordance with Houston County ordinances.”