A subject of concern within the Wadena County government that arose in 2016 is still one that lacks resolution deep into 2019.
Wadena County commissioner Jon Kangas was charged with working with County Coordinator Ryan Odden in February to improve working relationships between Wadena County Human Services and the Wadena County Attorney's office as well as Wadena County Law enforcement. Kangas said after months of conversations since then, he's not sure what the next step is to resolve this.
"Ryan and I have met multiple times and with multiple parties over the months since we've been given this assignment, and listened to other people who agreed to share their experiences and concerns regarding Wadena County Human Services," Kangas said. "I don't know what happened but after several months we seem to be at a standstill. I'm bringing this to the entire boards attention as i do not know how to procedd from here, yet I continue to get concerns brought to my attention on a regular basis. I believe the environmental scan, the latest DDA report and other reports show a history of mistrust of county employees and I am concerned that this needs to be brought to some kind of resolution. I've discussed my concern several times with Ryan. The board has been aware of this for years and finally I'm just going to throw out there the question ... is there any liability for not addressing these concerns in a timely manner?"
Commissioner Bill Stearns thanked Kangas for refreshing his memory on the subject. Commissioner Sheldon Monson suggested that a work session may be in order to discuss the topic further.
"If (Kangas) feels there is still unresolved concern, it should be addressed for the well-being of the employees," Monson said.
Kangas gave a brief history of the issues, which includes:
June 2016: An environmental scan was authorized to address employee concerns.
2017: Local law enforcement approached board members with a letter of no confidence against the Human Services director. At that time, the letter was not made public, instead it was to be resolved internally.
Dec. 2018: Human Services director Tanya Leskey approached the board to discuss working with Sand Creek, a workplace wellness consulting firm, to help resolve conflict between the Human Services and attorney's office.
Employee comfort level and communications efforts between Human Services and the County Attorney's office since the environmental scan appear to be poor, Susan Herreid, a consultant with Sand Creek, said during that December meeting. Herreid attended the meeting with Leskey and offered her opinion and offered services to the county to facilitate improved conversations. One example Herreid referenced was that Human Services staff expressed anxiety in taking calls from the County Attorney's office.
"When people are talking about fear in contacting another work group, that they need to utilize, feeling demeaned and shamed for questions and comments, that's what really concerns me because I think that gets in the way of a very important work that needs to get done," Herreid said in Dec. 2018.
Dec. 2018: The days following that meeting, County Attorney Kyra Ladd responded in writing, disputing some comments made about her unwillingness to cooperate with improving relations.
"Any assertion on the part of the Director that my office is refusing to meet with her and/or her staff is patently false-she simply does not like the message/content from some of these meetings, which is consistent with the results of the environmental scan," Ladd wrote back in Dec. 2018.
Jan. 2019: The latest DDA report was released to the board outlining ongoing concerns.
March 12, 2019: Wadena Chief of Police Naomi Plautz addressed the board representing local law enforcement and explained that nothing has been done to resolve the issues since the 2017 letter, and the same concerns still exist.
March 19, 2019: Tanya Leskey addressed the board along with a room full of Human Services staff, some who spoke in support of Leskey and the department as a whole. Leskey shared details over and over showing how Wadena County Human Services were meeting and exceeding standards of service to county residents.
Later that same day: Kangas received data from the DHS website showing Wadena County was not meeting standards.
"So we have two seemingly conflicting presentations. That alone raises concerns," Kangas said.