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Wadena board still divided over where to put coordinator

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Wadena commissioners heard a detailed proposal March 4 regarding reorganizing some of the upper-level and lower-level courthouse spaces to create an office for the new county coordinator who is expected to be hired by May 1.

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Zoning and Parks Department Head Deana Malone presented the proposal on behalf of a subcommittee tasked with developing a plan for the Building Services Committee. Malone and the other committee members — including department heads from Maintenance, Recorder's Office, Assessor's Office, Veterans' Services, and Auditor/Treasurer's Office, the GIS Coordinator, and Commissioners Ron Noon and Jim Hofer — met several times and decided that the least disruptive option was to have the county board vacate the board room, remove the wall between the board room and Planning and Zoning, and reconfigure the resulting space to accommodate both the new county coordinator and the County Attorney.

Zoning and Parks would move to the lower level, to the former offices of the County Attorney.

Malone emphasized that the committee had consulted as many county employees as possible to get their input, and that as of Feb. 25, the plan to reuse the board room and Planning and Zoning space was the plan that could go forward. She also identified potential space in the Treasurer's Office, but the space lacked privacy, so it was not put forward as an option.

However, after Malone spoke, County Attorney Kyra Ladd addressed the board to oppose the plan. Ladd said that the proposal did not meet her needs, and that she had been asking for additional space to allow her to hire a second assistant county attorney for several years. Yet the board never offered to vacate the board room to provide that space. And now the board was considering a plan to provide space for a new employee, while continuing to ignore the needs of the County Attorney's Office.

She said that every assistant county attorney that she had hired in the past had left county employment because they were overworked, underpaid, and lacked space to work.

Ladd accused the board of consistently making short-term decisions and spending money to implement them, but refusing to engage in long-range planning to provide for county employees to deliver services to county residents.

"You've got to look at the big picture, " Ladd said.

Ladd then left the meeting to carry out her responsibilities in district court.

The board turned its attention to a discussion of the Wensman Building as a location where physical space is available, although not usable in its present form. After several minutes of argument, Board Chair Bill Stearns suggested that the topic be taken up again at the special board meeting on March 7.

Also at the March 4 meeting, commissioners heard a recommendation from the Information Technology (IT) Committee that the board hire a third person for that department. The IT Department has been operating without a professionally-trained IT supervisor for 17 months, since the departure of long-time IT Manager Kevin Stensrude.

After much discussion, the board agreed that a third person should be hired, and appointed a committee composed of Hofer, County Engineer Ryan Odden, Morris Electronics consultant Shawn Larson, Interim IT Department Head Dave Anderson, and Human Resources consultant Mike Gibson. This committee will interview the two remaining IT employees to get a sense of what is needed by the department. Next, the committee will determine the education and experience requirements for the position, and then authorize Gibson to do a pay equity study of the resulting position description.

The board also set the annual salary for Interim Auditor/Treasurer Judy Taves for 2014 at $66,000. The board should have done this in January, but neglected to bring it up. Auditor/Treasurer Liaison Commissioner Dave Hillukka apologized to Taves for the oversight.

The board acknowledged the current list of members it plans to appoint to the Wadena County Economic Development Committee: Gary Sellman, Wayne Wolden, Lee Westrum, Matt Van Bruggen, Wendy London, Del Moen, Craig Folkestad, Bruce Kinnunen, David Anderson, and Nate Matthews. Two additional seats remain to be named by Hillukka before the committee can be authorized to begin meeting. The committee has 90 days to do its work of making a recommendation about who or what entity should be selected to become the Wadena County Economic Development Authority.

The board heard from Odden about five deficient bridges that had been identified in the county. These bridges will be repaired or replaced using funds from the State Transportation Bonds when available. The board approved a resolution approving the bridge identification.

The five deficient bridges are:

• Bridge 80506 on CSAH 7 over the Crow Wing River, work planned for 2016.

• Bridge 80501 on CSAH 26 over the Leaf River, work planned for 2014.

• Bridge L7119 on Twp Road No.149, over a ditch, work planned for 2015.

• Bridge 80J25, on CSAH 26, over Hay Creek, work planned for 2014.

• Bridge 80502, on CSAH 1 over the Wing River, work planned for 2016.

In other business, the board:

• Set the date for the County Board of Equalization meeting for June 16, from 3 to 7 p.m.

• Approved the purchase of a Point and Pay system that will allow customers to pay for certain expenses with credit and debit cards at the courthouse, or online.

• Authorized the Highway Department to advertise for bids for 2014 materials and supplies for road maintenance.

• Hired Judy Hughes as a full-time Jailer/Dispatcher, effective Feb. 21.

• Met the new 4H Coordinaator, Virginia Hendrickx

• Met the new SNAP-Ed educator, Marilyn Hofland

• Tabled a discussion of replacement staff needed in the Auditor/Treasurer's Office

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