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Wadena sheriff rejects 2012 salary hike

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Saying that he never intended to ask for a 2012 salary increase, Wadena County Sheriff Mike Carr Jr. appeared before the board of commissioners at their Jan. 19 meeting to ask them to take back the raise they approved for his position on Jan. 3.

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Carr is one of four elected officials who serve four-year terms: auditor/treasurer, county attorney, recorder and sheriff. At the Jan. 3, 2012 meeting, each official was required by Minnesota Statute to ask the board to set his/her salary for the year.

But last year, in 2011, the salaries were set in one board motion, so in preparing for the Jan. 3, 2012, meeting the auditor-treasurer drafted a similar board motion for this year. The board approved the motion, as reported in a previous issue of this newspaper.

However, Carr explained he was not expecting all four salaries to be set in one board motion, and he was not paying close attention to the meeting because he was handling some department issues, and when the vote took place, he failed to speak up and object to it. That is why he asked for time on Jan. 19, to request that the board's motion be rescinded and that his salary remain at the 2011 level for the remainder of his four-year term. Commissioner Lane Waldahl made the motion to do that, and it was seconded and passed. He made another motion to set Carr's 2012 salary at the 2011 level of $82,550, and it was seconded and passed.

Board Chairman Ralph Miller asked that the re-setting of the other three officials' salaries be tabled until Feb. 7, the next scheduled board meeting, "So we can address this in a manner more appropriate ..." Miller said.

A vigorous discussion then took place among the commissioners, County Attorney Kyra Ladd, County Recorder Soledad Henriksen and Auditor/Treasurer Char West.

Ladd pointed out that the salaries were required by Minnesota Statutes to be set at the first board meeting of the year. West pointed out that the computer programs for payroll had already been changed to reflect the new salaries. Commissioner Bill Stearns pointed out that the officials were already receiving their new salaries and could be put in a position of having to return money to the county. Commissioner Rodney Bounds pointed out that no one had asked the remaining three officials whether they wanted their raises to be rescinded.

Miller said, "Back to Jan. 3, it was my responsibility to set the direction for the way it should be, I failed to do that, I take responsibility for that, now here we are on Jan. 19. ... I think it deserves some thought, more than we have given it."

Bounds said, "My question is, where did the numbers come from [for the salaries]? How were these arrived at?"

West replied, "Last year on Jan. 4, 2011, and Jan. 20, 2011, information from the unions and from [management consultant] Mike Gibson indicated that the unions and labor attorney would not trigger the 'me too' clause of the union contracts" if the board set the county officials' salaries on the same Hay System wage scale equivalents as the other employees were on. The board agreed to that, and the salaries were set for 2011. The elected officials had asked for a 7 percent raise, but they agreed to increases that were less than that, so as not to trigger a union grievance.

Stearns said, "In 2012 they came in together again and it appeared to me that they were all in agreement, and at that point Mr. Carr did not indicate to the contrary."

Carr said, "I was going to ask for my 2011 salary for 2012 and I told Lane [Waldahl] that."

Stearns replied, "It appeared to us that you had all met and made a collective agreement."

Carr retorted, "You're wrong on that."

Ladd then asked the commissioners to listen to the board audio tapes from Jan. 4, 2011, and Jan. 20, 2011. She said, "Some of the statements being made here today are not factually correct. A motion was actually made to try to set 2011 and 2012 salaries by Mr. Bounds, and Mr. Stearns said we couldn't do that. Three of us asked for 7 percent, we didn't get it, but the sheriff got 6.4 percent. Our request in 2011 was rejected. I think it's only fair that you go and listen to the tapes."

A few moments later Ladd added, "There are some remedies available to me, and I can dispute my salary, and the only way I'm going to waive that is if you agree to listen to those tapes ..."

Commissioner Hillukka said, "I talked to Mr. Gibson and asked him to help me remember what happened. He suggested we listen to the tapes."

Bounds said, "I think we should do what Kyra said and listen to the tapes and get the facts."

After a few more minutes, the board voted to table the re-setting of the three remaining officials' 2012 salaries until Feb. 7, and to hold a special board meeting on Jan. 24 to listen to the audio tapes from Jan. 4 and Jan. 20, 2011. The payroll issue was postponed.

Other important matters were handled at the Jan. 19 meeting. Also appearing before the board were the Rev. Del Moen and Wendy Molstad from the Wadena Long Term Recovery Committee.

The Wadena Long Term Recovery Committee is a citizens' committee that was formed in August 2010 to deal with the aftermath of the June 17 tornado.

Moen told the board, "We were given some guidelines, we've operated for 16 months. ... We met with tornado survivors, got their input, to see if they wanted help, made some determination of their losses, made connections with other agencies. One of our big jobs was to meet with clients, and we raised funds - over $600,000 from the generosity of the public - our funds were held by a 501(c)3 organization, the Otter Tail Wadena Community Action Council, we've made regular financial reports. We are now at the point of determining how much longer we should go."

Moen and Molstad told the board about some of the needs the group had dealt with, and explained that there were some needs left, but not enough money to fulfill them. The Long Term Recovery Committee asked Otter Tail County for funds, and were promised $28,500, if Wadena County would also contribute some funds.

The board voted to donate $8,250 to the Long Term Recovery Committee, if the City of Wadena would match that amount with a similar donation.

Following the vote, Paul Anderson, a member of the committee, said, "Thank you for your decision. As county commissioners you should be extremely proud of what's been accomplished in your communities."

Another important matter was handled at this meeting. For some time, commissioners and department heads have been discussing how to provide Human Resource services for the county without hiring a new employee to perform those functions. Last fall, the board contacted the National Joint Powers Association, based in Staples, about the possibility of providing those services on a contracted fee basis. On Jan. 19, Sue Nanik from NJPA appeared before the board with Deanna Skov, director of the Planning and Zoning Department, on behalf of the county management team.

Nanik and Skov presented a proposed agreement from NJPA to the board for the provision of Human Resource services for a six-month trial period, from Feb. 1 to July 31, 2012, at $25 per hour. NJPA advertised for bids from qualified independent contractors and selected a person to provide the services for up to 48 days, for a maximum of $9,600, during the six-month period. They outlined the types of services that would be covered under the agreement, and the services that would be extra or considered special projects. The contractor selected to perform the services has 17 years of experience in large organizations providing Human Resources services, and holds bachelor's, master's, and Ph.D. degrees in appropriate fields.

Waldahl, who represents the county at NJPA meetings, said, "This is a pilot program for NJPA, and there is a lot of interest from others. This could really go."

The board voted to approve the agreement with NJPA and begin the services on Feb. 1 with a meeting with the management team to outline their needs.

Also at this board meeting, a fee public hearing was held from 10:30 to 11:05 a.m. to hear testimony about fee changes requested by the county's Geographic Information System (GIS) Department and by the Highway Department. No one gave testimony. After the board closed the hearing, the commissioners voted to approve the fee changes.

Gina Dahms from the GIS Department appeared before the board to request that new county plat books be prepared and printed. The board voted to hire Rockford Map Company to prepare the information for the books, and will request quotes for the printing of the books. The books should be ready by June 1, 2012, and are expected to cost $25 each.

In other business, the board:

• appointed Tom Fitzpatrick as the county's new labor attorney for 2012. Fitzpatrick will provide legal consulting and labor negotiation services at $150 per hour.

• learned that the building across the street from the Courthouse will be vacated by Kennedy & Nervig law offices, and would be available to the county if the space is needed.

• approved revised 2012 revenue and expenditure figures.

• Approved a temporary 3.2 malt liquor license for R&J Horse Sales.

• denied a request from Kevin Stensrude to transfer excess sick leave time to Cindy Stensrude's sick leave account.

• appointed Bill Stearns to the City of Wadena Steering Committee for long term planning.

• approved a request to exceed maximum vacation hours for employee Deb Mursu.

• approved changes in committee appointments for 2012 for all county commissioners.

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