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Still in limbo

Wadena County Auditor/Treasurer Judy Taves said last Thursday she has every intention of returning to her job at the Wadena County courthouse - when she allowed to do so.

"It depends on when the board lifts those sanctions," Taves said. "Right now I am locked out of my office."

Wadena County Attorney Kyra Ladd said Taves can return to the courthouse anytime she wants.

"There is nothing from the county's perspective that is preventing her from being here," Ladd said.

Taves left the courthouse following a Board of Commissioners meeting Sept. 12 in which Commissioner Chuck Horsager had the duty of making six motions, at the recommendation of St. Cloud lawyer Dyan Ebert, on behalf of Teamsters Local 320. All six were passed in open session by the board. Ebert is retained by the county as a labor attorney to handle grievances. Allegations that Taves had created a hostile working environment prompted the action.

Since Sept. 12, Taves has been working from her Wadena home "as much as she possibly can."

Taves said at the present time she is locked out of her office.

One of the motions the board approved at the Sept. 12 meeting was that the auditor/treasurer be relocated so as not to be co-located with employees in the auditor/treasurer's office. County Engineer Ryan Odden was given the responsibility for supervising employees in the office during the investigation into the union's grievances against Taves.

Ladd said last Wednesday she knows Ebert has hired an investigator to look into the grievances.

"I think it's important to move this along," Ladd said.

Does Taves, who was elected in 2014 to a four-year term, want to return when the grievance allegations are resolved?

"The short answer to that is 'yes, absolutely.' I consider it an honor and a privilege to serve as the auditor/treasurer," Taves said. "I take my responsibilities very seriously, I do my very best, I have always looked forward to work every day, and so I look forward to returning, but all that depends on when the sanctions are lifted."

Taves had no comment to make on what kind of action the board took Sept. 12 in regard to the portion of the meeting that dealt with grievances by the union. Ladd brought up the idea of a closed meeting at the time but did not insist on one, nor did anyone else.

"I wasn't hired by the commissioners or by Kyra Ladd," Taves said. "I was voted in. I've spent my entire professional career in a trusted position."

Taves is also being represented by an attorney.

"I take my job very seriously, and I've really struggled with this," Taves said. "This has been hard for me not to be able to come."

For the union employees of Wadena County, the goal is very straightforward.

"Not such a stressful working environment," Union Steward Greg Malone said Tuesday.

In other board news

At the Tuesday, Oct. 10 regular meeting, Bob Johnson of the State Auditor's Office gave Wadena County a "clean" report on its financial statement.

Such a report is an auditor's opinion which reflects an unqualified acceptance of a county's financial statements. Johnson told the board as of Dec. 31, 2016, the county's net position was $62,813,000, up nearly two percent from the previous year. The county had an unrestricted general fund balance of $4,176,000. Wadena County had a cash balance of $5,227,000 as 2016 ended. Johnson pointed out the State Auditor's Office recommends counties have a cash balance on hand to cover six months of operation. Wadena County's cash balance would cover operations for 8.2 months.

The board also approved the "re-startup of the I.T. Committee Charter Tuesday.

Deana Malone was given permission for an expenditure of $404 for notices in four county newspapers about a redesignation of trails meeting from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Oct. 25 at the Menahga Public School. The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources did a forest classification and road/trail study in 2007 in both Huntersville and Lyons State Forests. At that time, more than 60 miles of roads, 55 miles of motorized trails and 18 miles on non-motorized trails was classified for "limited recreational vehicle use. The DNR is now reviewing the trails to see what is working and what can be improved.

Designation ensures the trail will receive funding for maintenance, signage and mapping.

Also Tuesday the board approved a proposal by Kyle Davis to replace a fence owned by Wadena County west of the Wadena fairgrounds with a vinyl fence that will allow access to the county fairgrounds from the 40-room hotel Davis and his investment group are planning to build on Highway 10 between the Los Jalapenos Restaurant and the fairgrounds. Wadena County Attorney Kyra Ladd pointed out Davis will also need permission from the city of Wadena. The existing chain link fence, suitable for restraining livestock, will be taken down in the spring of 2018 and used on other county projects.

Shane Lisson, a solid waste attendant employed by Wadena County, was moved from part-time status to full-time status. Lisson's hours will be increased from 28.5 to 40 per week.

Cindy Pederson of Wadena County Public Health received approval from the board to have Vercon Construction proceed with contracting and a schedule to complete work on Phase 2 of the service's $96,900 remodeling project.