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Wadena County board pays, but isn't happy

Errors in payroll prompted the Wadena County Board to authorize payments of funds to three county employees that were dispersed without board approval.

The issue of primary concern involved former highway engineer Russull Larson, who received $4,593 in accrued sick leave on Feb. 15 upon leaving county employment. Larson was not entitled to this payment, said County Attorney Kyra Ladd.

"I think we have to do it," said County Commissioner Mary Harrison about the motion to approve the payments to Larson at the July 19 board meeting. "I'm not in favor of it, but I don't see any way around it."

Harrison said it is more work than it is worth to try and get the money back from Larson.

Ladd said the employee who made the payments has been identified and the county is consulting a labor attorney in Brainerd to determine what, if any, disciplinary action should result from the error. She said making payments without board approval is a very serious issue, but the employee may have made a mistake in understanding process and procedure rather than committing a willful disregard for the rules. She said the board is in the process of taking measures to ensure these mistakes don't happen again.

The process of determining who is eligible for certain benefits is a complicated one, according to Ladd. She said employee classification depends on whether the individual is a department head, elected to the position or a union member. Ladd said people in the past received similar refunds and the employee may not have realized Larson was exempt from that type of payout. She said payroll makes disbursements all the time and mistakes can happen with the complicated nature of the personnel policy.