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Wadena County Commission: Pearson recognized, paralegal job on hold

Wadena County staff and board stand in recognition of Jordana Pearson as she receives a certificate of appreciation from the Department of Human Services Direct Care and Treatment Division/Mental Health and Substance Abuse Treatment Services as a top county partner. Michael Johnson/Pioneer Journal

County staff and commissioners took a moment to recognize Wadena County Human Services employee Jordana Pearson during the regular county board meeting March 19.

Pearson was recently honored with a certificate of appreciation from the Department of Human Services Direct Care and Treatment Division/Mental Health and Substance Abuse Treatment Services as a top county partner. Her name was brought forward by a DHS staff member to be recognized as a strong collaborator, who has gone above and beyond the call of duty to assist those she serves.

This is the first round of this recognition. Supervisor Mike Willie said Pearson was chosen as one of 43 in the state as a candidate for the honor.

Human Services finances

Human Services Administrative Supervisor Amie Gendron went over monthly statistical reports for the month of February. The report showed Food Support (SNAP) with 779 cases; Minn. Family Investment Program with 71 cases; Diversionary Work Program with 3 cases; General Assistance of 107 cases; MInnesota Supplemental Aid cases at 118; 123 cases for Group Residential Housing; and 920 cases for Medical Assistance. Total MAXIS and MNsure cases were down over 100 cases, to 2,724 cases. The reductions seen were a positive, Gendron said, and could possibly be attributed to more people getting their own insurance.

Gendron also presented the year-end budget showing use of 96 percent of the Human Services funds.

Leskey noted that in Gendron's department, there is a required submission of 32 major reports covering the four calendar quarters. DHS commended the department for perfect performance in meeting financial reporting requirements for 2018.

Comprehensive re-entry

WCHS has been working with a design team to develop a comprehensive re-entry position to address mental health issues in the criminal justice system. In a January meeting, commissioners approved the position as a one-year temporary position. Such a job description did not seem to garner many qualified applicants willing to take a job that may not last beyond a year. It was approved as one-year position, as a funding source for the position was not in place beyond that trial period.

This position has been identified as a need by Human Services and law enforcement to address issues of mentally ill and chemically dependent individuals in the criminal justice system. Region V+ AMHI obtained a grant though Sourcewell to fund part of this effort for 2019.

Human Services supervisor Mike WIllie and director Tanya Leskey came before the board again to request that the position be reposted without the one-year language. Their intent was that this be a full-time permanent position.

Willie said the cost to the county for 2019, would only be about $9,300 using the grant.

Commissioner Sheldon Monson made it clear that he wanted to see regular reviews of the position to see the effectiveness. Willie said quarterly reports would be presented.

Commissioner Jim Hofer noted that after the board visited the Crow Wing County facility to speak about their comprehensive re-entry program, it was clear that a quality person in that role was the key to success of the program.

Sheriff Mike Carr also spoke in favor of the position.

The board approved removing a temporary label, making the comprehensive re-entry position permanent, with regular reviews. The position would be reposted as such.

Paralegal update

During a previous special meeting, county commissioner Bill Stearns brought up the idea of a paralegal coming on board that could be a sort of liaison between Human Services and the county attorney's office, someone that could work directly with Human Services to present court ready documents to the attorney's office. This seemed a good fix with an identified "philosophical difference" between these departments.

Hearing the request, Leskey brought forth such a position request and commissioners tabled the topic, citing that now was not a good time.

Of most concern about the position was that it was labeled as one that reports to Human Services. Commissioner Sheldon Monson was opposed, saying they should report to the county attorney.

Leskey's response was that the paralegal would be performing work related to the attorney's office, but the work would be done for Human Services. The position description included "Provide delegated legal services to Human Services including but not limited to, the areas of CHIPS, juvenile delinquency, guardianships, and commitments. It was "under the direction of Human Services and advisement of the county attorney."

"I can not support this as is," Monson said.

Leskey said that if the board wanted the position to receive reimbursement through DHS, it had to be a Human Services employee.

Commissioners also heard from County Attorney Kyra Ladd who said that if a qualified candidate were hired in this position it "sounds great." However, she was involved in current hiring and found that many applicants for an assistant county attorney were not qualified and would require training. She feared that a position with similar requirements, but much lower pay would not likely lead to a qualified applicant in that position either.

"I'm not in a position to train someone," Ladd said. "I don't have the time or resources to train another employee."

Leskey and Ladd were on a conference call with Carlton County to discuss how their program works, as they have a similar setup. They found it was working well in that county under the description Leskey presented.

Commissioner Jon Kangas felt the county had some deep issues to resolve before acting on a new position.

"This is just getting out of hand," Kangas said.

Leskey responded that in Carlton County this acted as a bridge between departments, she felt the same would be true here.

Commissioner Chuck Horsager said he was in favor of the position but after hearing concerns he felt it was not the perfect timing.

Leskey was disappointed in the response, noting that she was directed to find out more, she did the research, found a successful plan and yet the commissioners were stymying the progress.

Commission chair Bill Stearns agreed that they needed a quality person for the position and felt that now would be good.

"If we could find someone with experience ... there isn't a better time to do this," Stearns said.

Commissioner Jim Hofer said some $60,000 had been spent between two studies, each pointing out concerns between Human Services management and the county attorney. He explained that looking for answers has been costly and so will the solutions.

"We're not going to get out of it free of charge," Hofer said.

Motion was approved to table the paralegal discussion until April 9 board meeting.