Miller and Hillukka will lead Wadena County Board in 2012
At its first meeting of the new year on Jan. 3, Wadena County Commissioners elected Ralph Miller and Dave Hillukka to serve as their chair and vice-chair, respectively, for 2012. It is the custom of the board of commissioners to rotate these duties each year, with newer members waiting their turn to serve until after they have had one or more years in office to learn the ropes.
Miller was elected to the board in 2008 and Hillukka was elected in 2010.
Other decisions also have to be made by commissioners at the first board meeting of a new year. One is the annual setting of the salaries of the four elected county officials by the county board. In accordance with an agreement made in 2010, the sheriff, county attorney, auditor/treasurer, and recorder did not request individual raises for 2011 or 2012, but instead offered as a group to receive a salary increase of the same kind as other county employees received - in effect, a longevity, or "step" increase, based on the salary scale adopted by union employees at the county several years ago.
Although the elected county officials are not members of the union, are not subject to the union salary scale, and do not receive any paid sick leave or other benefits, nevertheless the four have agreed to accept what County Attorney Kyra Ladd called "grade equivalents" that take into account the education, experience, and level of responsibilities of their respective positions, just as the "grades" or positions of other county employees do, who are members of the unions and bargaining units that represent non-management county employees.
A job's "grade" is established through a Comparable Worth Study that evaluates the education, experience, and degree of responsibility assigned to a particular position, and compares it to other positions within an organization. When the most recent Comparable Worth Study was performed for all county positions several years ago, grades were assigned to all positions, including the county elected officials' positions.
The salaries for 2012 for the four elected county officials will be as follows: county recorder, $48,422; county auditor, $64,729; county sheriff, $84,781; county attorney, $90,605.
Another required decision was the choice of an official newspaper for the county for 2012. In December, a request for newspaper publication bids was put out by Auditor/Treasurer Char West. Two bids were received by the deadline, December 30, 2011. The bids were from the Sebeka-Menahga Review Messenger and the Verndale Sun. The other major newspaper in the county, the Wadena Pioneer Journal, chose not to bid on the legals.
During the Jan. 3, meeting, the bids of the two newspapers who responded to the county's request were evaluated by commissioners and West. The Verndale Sun was the low bidder and was chosen as the county's official newspaper for 2012, and the publisher of the First Financial Statement. The Sebeka-Menahga Review Messenger was chosen as the publisher of the Second Financial Statement.
The final required decision of the new year was the assignment of committee and liaison responsibilities to commissioners by the chair. New board chair Miller requested that the assignments be tabled until he had a few days to consider them and make recommendations.
The board had other business to attend to. County Engineer Ryan Odden appeared before the board to explain the process of updating county forms and procedures for enforcing the allowed uses of the highway right of way along the county road system.
The Highway Department will be placing right of way markers along roads during the next several months to inform property owners where the right of way is.
Along agricultural land, it is sometimes difficult for the property owner to know where the right of way is, Odden explained. He said "We are starting this process now so that property owners know where it is before they plant their crops this spring."
Minnesota Statute 160.2715 covers the uses of the right of way. This statute was first enacted in 1959. According to this law, it is unlawful to "plow or perform any other detrimental operation within the right-of-way except in the preparation of the land for planting permanent vegetative cover ...; erect a fence on the right-of-way ...; erect or reconstruct driveway headwalls ... except as may be allowed by permit from the road authority ...; obstruct any ditch ...; place or maintain any building ...; place or maintain any advertisement ...;" damage or tamper with any structure work, material, equipment, tools, signs, markers, signals, paving, guardrails, drains, or any other highway appurtenance on or along any highway.
Commissioner Miller made a statement immediately following Odden's introduction of the topic. Miller said, "I know what the law is and I have violated it in my farming activities." But, Miller continued, "three years ago I took an oath to uphold the law."
Waldahl said, "If we don't take care of the right-of-ways and a tree gets left in the right-of-way and someone runs off the road and hits it, then the county would get sued."
Commissioner Rodney Bounds said, "We hired Ryan to be the person in charge of the Highway Department. I don't know why we'd want to question this. It's the law. I want to support whatever he's doing."
A property owner who did not give his name was given permission to speak by Miller. He asked Odden a series of questions in an angry and insulting tone of voice, interrupting Odden whenever he tried to respond. Here is a sampling of the dialogue that resulted:
Property owner: Ryan, why did you decide to enforce this now?
Odden: The maintenance employees have been doing a lot of mowing and cutting trees this fall ...
Property owner: (interrupting Odden) You have never done any mowing or cutting on my property because I maintain it meticulously. There have been two pieces of farm equipment sitting on the road right-of-way for two winters and you never did anything about that. Are you going to be spraying for thistles? Where's this extra money going to come from? Why did you decide to enforce it now?
Odden: I'm the new department head now, and this is one of the things I feel is important. The other county engineers may not have, but I do.
Board Chair Miller had the last word. "I've got to support the county engineer. I took an oath to uphold the law."
The last major item of business was a discussion about the ongoing disagreement between the Teamsters Union Local 320 and the county, over the way that overtime compensation of two Solid Waste Department employees who work on Saturdays should be calculated.
Teamsters Business Agent Joann Derby appeared before the board, along with Solid Waste Director Mike Hanan, to present their differing viewpoints about the issue and inform the board about the current state of negotiations and research on the issue.
An agreement to resolve the controversy was reached on Dec. 12, 2011, but soon after that, the Teamsters discovered a county board motion from 1992 that said that employees who worked Saturdays after they had already worked 40 hours in a week would be paid time and a half. So the Teamsters withdrew their offer to agree on a method of settling the situation.
After considerable discussion among board members, Ladd, Hanan, West, and Derby, the board voted to form a subcommittee to meet during the next few days after the Jan. 3 meeting to talk to the county's labor attorney, Steve Burton, to see what to do next.
In other business, the board:
approved the continuation of the Joint Powers Agreement with the Todd County Board of Commissioners for Community Corrections for 2012.
authorized the Director of Public Health to fill two positions for Public Health Nurses and/or Registered Nurses in accordance with position descriptions and grant requirements.
discussed with Sean Larson of Morris Electronics the scope of his services for the county in the absence of MIS Director Kevin Stensrude who was deployed to Qatar for three months.
set a fee public hearing for Jan. 19 at 10:15 a.m.
approved a liquor license for Pine Cove Inn.