Wright Board delays approval of sheriff’s reorganization plan

By John Holler

Contributing Writer

County government is always looking to streamline operations to maximize productivity and find ways of saving costs, but at times that comes with a price.

Such was the case at the meeting of the Wright County Board of Commissioners, as the board discussed the proposed reorganization of the clerical unit of the sheriff’s office which would result in the elimination of two longtime employees currently in supervisory positions.

With the recent hiring of a new business manager in the sheriff’s office, the opportunity arose to review the structure of the clerical staff. The planned reorganization would result in the clerical division going from 17.5 full time employees to 16. That would be achieved by eliminating the positions of Teresa Doerr, who has worked for the county for almost 40 years, and Karen Davis, who has worked in the sheriff’s office for more than 25 years.

Commissioner Darek Vetsch opposed the plan because he doesn’t believe the reorganization plan is fair to the employees involved and that the process, although falling under the terms of county policy, is creating animosity among employees who have been streamlined out of jobs with their only recourse being to apply for future openings at significantly less pay.

“There are a lot of other side issues to this thing that need to be discussed,” Vetsch said. “There may be a savings there, but there also could be some cost factors to us as well. It doesn’t smell good. These are issues that we’ve already had — I don’t know if it’s 5 percent, 10 percent or 50 percent of the sheriff’s department — but they are very loud about the unhealthiness. We need to find a way to foster some of those relationships so we don’t have a high turnover in this department. We need to find ways to get them to want to work with us instead of working against us. This is just another thing that is going to compile this fight. The more somebody wants change, the more questions it makes me want to ask.”

Vetsch said he didn’t want to get in the sheriff’s office’s business as a commissioner, but also wants to make sure that the board is fostering good working relationships between the county board and departments and he isn’t feeling comfortable about that in this issue.

Human Resources Director Sunny Hesse that, because the sheriff’s office deals with both union and non-union employees, when certain positions come open, they need to be posted for all potential candidates, which is part of the county’s union agreements and hiring policies.

In the case of the two current clerical division supervisors, they are unfortunately caught in the middle.

“I just want to make the point the decisions like this are never easy,” Hesse said. “No matter which way we go with this somebody’s not going to be happy. That doesn’t make anybody feel good, but it is kind of the way it works.”

Vetsch said he doesn’t have a problem with the reorganization plan per se, but that the process hasn’t been fully vetted and the ball is rolling before the full county board could have the proper level of discussion on the matter.

“This is a good plan,” Vetsch said. “I have no problem with the reorganization. It’s how went from (Point) A to (Point) B. It’s the process in between. It just seems a little messy and I hoping that there were a way to go from A to B a little cleaner.”

Davis spoke to the issue, saying that there isn’t any fairness to how the new reorganization plan seems to single out the clerical division. In all the other divisions within the sheriff’s department, there is a similar hierarchy of job duties, but, the clerical division is having two supervisor roles eliminated.

Commissioner Mark Daleiden initially voted to approve the committee minutes that would have approved the reorganization plan. Instead, he withdrew his motion and tabled the proposed plan until the April 4 meeting.

In other items on the agenda, the board:

APPROVED a professional services agreement with Ehlers & Associates to represent the county in the refunding of the bonds that were used to construct the county jail. By refunding the bonds, the county will save more than $500,000 a year in repayment costs.

APPROVED a sheriff’s department request for grant applications to the 2017 Safe and Secure Courthouse Initiative program. One grant requests asks for $37,580 with an equal local match to cover the purchase of a security package screening station and 25 security cameras. The second grant application is for $576,000 with a 50 percent local match. It is much more comprehensive, including requests for a package scanner, pre-screen storage lockers, 40 security cameras and monitors, 30 panic buttons and door access controls, a security screen infrastructure, bullet-proof barriers in courtrooms, a dedicated judge elevator and staff parking. There is competitive applications being made, so the requests aren’t guaranteed and that, if awarded, may be at a fraction of the requested amount.

SCHEDULED a Finance/Capital Improvement Plan Committee meeting for Wednesday, April 12. Topics to be discussed include the budget process, proposed CIP projects and the funding process to address those projects.

APPROVED winter road maintenance agreements with six cities for winter snow/ice removal on county roads within the cities – Delano, Elk River, Maple Lake, Monticello, Montrose and Waverly.

*Authorized signatures on an amendment to the operating agreement between the county, the City of Monticello and YMCA Camp Manitou relating the construction and use of the Bertram Beach House.

APPROVED the February revenue/expenditure guidelines.

SCHEDULED a pair of Owners Committee/Courts Facility meetings. The first was scheduled for March 30 to interview four potential construction manager candidates for the courts building project – Adolfson and Peterson, Wenck, Contegrity Group and Kraus Anderson. The second was scheduled for April 3. Topics to be discussed include and updated site/landscape plan, an overview of the floor plans and the mechanical engineering systems and a schedule review.

AUTHORIZED signatures on a letter of support for the Great River Regional Library’s effort to get addition funding from the State Legislature for increased appropriations for the library system.

APPROVED Municipal State Aid Street designation for the portion of Co. Rd. 119 located in the City of St. Michael. The designation allows the city to apply for state aid funding for the road in the future.