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Bounds and Hillukka will lead Wadena board in 2015

At the first meeting of the year held Jan. 6, Wadena commissioners elected Rodney Bounds chair and Dave Hillukka vice-chair for 2015. Bounds said that he was not surprised by his election since he

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At the first meeting of the year held Jan. 6, Wadena commissioners elected Rodney Bounds chair and Dave Hillukka vice-chair for 2015.

Bounds said that he was not surprised by his election since he had been approached a few weeks ago about whether he was willing to serve.

Several county employees were surprised by the election of Hillukka as vice-chair, since that choice did not follow the customary rotation of vice-chair duties. Normally, it would have been Jim Hofer's turn to serve as vice-chair. Hillukka served as chair in 2013 and as vice-chair in 2012. It should not be his turn to be chair again until 2017. Bounds served as chair in 2011, so his election as chair for 2015 fits the pattern of serving every fourth year. There was no discussion by commissioners about the election results.

Since it was the first meeting of the year, the board was required to set the salaries of the county's four elected officials: attorney, auditor-treasurer, sheriff, and recorder. This process took just over an hour.

County Attorney Kyra Ladd and Sheriff Mike Carr requested and received raises of 5.5 percent by unanimous vote of the board, to help make up for their not requesting raises in 2014 or 2013, and Carr not requesting a raise since 2010. All county employees except the elected officials received raises worth a total of 6.9 percent over the three years of their contract (2013, 2014, 2015), plus longevity step increases.

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Both Ladd and Carr remain on the middle to low end of the salary range compared to other Minnesota counties. In 2015, Ladd will be paid $95,697, or $46.01 per hour. Carr will be paid $87,037. Ladd has served as county attorney since 2006, while Carr has served as sheriff since 2007.

County Recorder Soli Henriksen requested and received a raise of 5.5 percent by a board vote of 4 to 1, to help make up for having the lowest salary of all Minnesota county recorders. In the past few years, the board has awarded her salary increases to reduce the gap between her pay and other recorders' pay. She is still the lowest paid even after the 5.5 percent increase. Henriksen has served as county recorder for nine years.

Auditor-Treasurer Judy Taves was elected for the first time in November, after serving two years as an appointed auditor-treasurer. Taves asked the board to grant her the same 5.5 percent raise as the other three elected officials, but three of the five commissioners (Bounds, Hillukka, and Sheldon Monson) refused to do so.

Commissioners Bill Stearns and Jim Hofer supported Taves' request, and spoke on her behalf, but the other three commissioners would not be moved. In the end, after voting against a raise of 5.5 percent and a raise of 4.5 percent, commissioners voted 3 to 2 to give Taves a raise of $1,000, or 1.5 percent. She will be paid $67,000 in 2015, and remains the lowest-paid county auditor-treasurer in the state.

Taves told the board, "I'm really disappointed. I came here with a lot of experience. I think I'm worth the money I ask. People from all over the county thank me [for the improvements I've made in customer service]. I was elected by the whole county."

Hillukka replied, "It's nothing personal."

The board has also refused several times to fill the two vacant positions in Taves' Auditor-Treasurer's Office.

All four county officials ran unopposed in the November 2014 election and were elected to serve four-year terms.

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In other business, the board:

• Approved renewal of 11 routine public health contracts for health services in the county, including early childhood screening at county elementary schools and sanitarian services.

• Appointed Hofer and Munson to the Community Corrections Executive Board.

• Approved the reclassification of the Jail Administrator position from Grade 55 to Grade 56, and approved recruiting for the position, which was vacated by Tom Speed on Dec. 31 after 33 years of service to the county.

• Decided to extend the deadline from Jan. 9 to Jan. 30 for subcontractors to review bid documents and submit bids for work on the Courthouse Remodeling project.

• Expressed concern that County Coordinator Curt Kreklau has not completed and submitted to the board any official minutes of board meetings in several months. Kreklau has no clerical help in his office, and has had to ask employees in other offices to transcribe the minutes of meetings from CD recordings. The other employees have plenty of work already and have not had time to do the transcription work. Kreklau had budgeted $50,000 to hire an administrative assistant in 2015, but commissioners deleted that amount from Kreklau's budget request. Commissioners and Kreklau agreed to discuss the minutes issue further and try to find a resolution.

Related Topics: WADENA COUNTY BOARD
Rob Port is a news reporter, columnist, and podcast host for the Forum News Service. He has an extensive background in investigations and public records. He has covered political events in North Dakota and the upper Midwest for two decades. Reach him at rport@forumcomm.com. Click here to subscribe to his Plain Talk podcast.
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