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County board welcomes new HR service provider

All five members of the Wadena County Board of Commissioners, plus department heads Char West, County auditor/treasurer; Paul Sailer, director of human services; and Ryan Odden, county engineer; met with newly contracted Human Resource Services provider Cheryl Goettig at 1 p.m. on Feb. 24.

The purpose of the 75-minute meeting was for commissioners to introduce themselves to Goettig, discuss the mechanics of her contract with the county, and go over expectations for the various services they wished her to provide.

Goettig is currently scheduled to work for the county for 48 days between Feb. 1 and July 31, 2012.

Goettig was hired by the National Joint Powers Alliance (NJPA), Staples, to provide contracted human resource services to Wadena County for a certain number of hours per month. The venture has been called "an experiment" and "a pilot project." It is something new for NJPA and for Wadena County. According to Commissioner Lane Waldahl, board liaison to NJPA, several other counties are interested to see how the contracted HR services provider works out, and may want to do something similar in the future.

Wadena County does not have an employee who is educated and experienced in delivery of human resources services. For the last few years, Mike Gibson has served the county as a management consultant and provided limited human resources services on a case-by-case basis as requested by county department heads. Gibson recommended to the county that a person be hired to supply human resources services, and declined to be considered for such a job himself.

On Feb. 24, Goettig told those assembled for the meeting that she has been working since Feb. 1 on updating the county's personnel policy manual, to ensure that it complies with recent regulatory changes. She met with the county's management team and discussed with them the direction that the personnel policy manual revision should take. She has gone through about one-third of the manual so far.

Goettig told the board that she would be on site at the county every Wednesday, working out of the county commissioners' boardroom. She said that the location was convenient and close to the county auditor/treasurer, who has most of the current county records that Goettig might need.

Commissioner Rodney Bounds asked whether Goettig would be available to meet with employees who wished to speak to her via an open-door policy, or whether she preferred that appointments be scheduled. Goettig said that she did not believe that it was part of her contract to meet with employees. This began a discussion that lasted about 45 minutes about the scope of Goettig's work for the county. The discussion was not resolved regarding whether employees could meet with Goettig.

Bounds and Waldahl advocated strongly that such meetings be included in Goettig's services. A check of notes from the Jan. 19 board meeting where NJPA Director Sue Nanik appeared before the board to discuss the nature of Goettig's services confirmed that board members requested this service be included in the contract.

Goettig said it was her understanding that her services were to include work on the policy manual, training of department heads, support for department heads, and other administrative duties, and did not include meeting with employees individually. She said, "I'm here to help department head staff, not work with employees. I don't have any authority with employees, and I'd be wasting my breath."

Commissioner Dave Hillukka asked Goettig the same question, but in a different way, and Goettig responded, "I didn't believe I was hired for that role, to be one-on-one with employees, but to help the management team, and to train them."

Goettig was also asked whether she would be part of the labor negotiations team, to work on the new 2013 contracts for the county's bargaining units. She said she did not believe that was part of her contract either. But Waldahl and Commissioner Bill Stearns did. Paul Sailer said that the management team recommended that she be part of the negotiations team along with attorney Tom Fitzpatrick and two commissioners.

Goettig agreed that it was possible she could serve on the negotiations team and that she had experience with labor negotiations. The board approved a motion to discuss with NJPA whether her contract included this.

Goettig was asked whether she could provide performance reviews for department heads, who currently do not receive any evaluation. After some discussion, she agreed that she could serve as a clearinghouse for evaluation forms completed by other employees, collate them, and present the results to the board if asked to do so regarding particular department heads.

Elected officials are not subject to performance reviews by the county board. County Engineer Odden is on a four-year contract, and annual reviews would not affect his position. Sailer and his department work on the state's Merit System, and are not subject to county performance reviews. But other department heads -- e.g., public health director, planning and zoning director, solid waste director, etc. -- could be evaluated via a system of standard forms completed by peers and subordinates, if that were to be decided in the future.

Toward the end of the meeting, board chair Ralph Miller said in response to a question that it will be brought up with NJPA whether Goettig will meet with employees who wish to discuss problems.

Waldahl said, "I think there's a lot of needs out there, more than we realize. Each employee should have some one they can go to, to ask where to go and what to do with their problem ...."

The Feb. 24 board meeting was adjourned at 2:15 p.m.