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County thinks outside the box: Unique approach to open positions

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Shared services will likely be the solution – at least in the short-term – to a couple of department head openings at Becker County.

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Tuesday morning, Becker County commissioners talked about how to fill the auditor-treasurer position left vacant by Ryan Tangen’s departure, and the human services director position left vacant with Nancy Nelson’s departure.

The commissioners agreed that the positions need to be filled, but to what capacity is still in question.             

Auditor-treasure

Legislation is in the works that would give the county the option of lumping the auditor-treasurer-recorder offices into one, thereby creating one supervisor position. That’s not saying the county has to go that route, but it does allow for the option.

Commissioner Barry Nelson said the option needs to be looked at to see if it will be a cost savings to the county.

Until then though, there is the question of who is the go-to person for those in the auditor-treasure office.

While the position has been an elected one in the past, the county is looking to make it an appointed position instead.

County Administrator Jack Ingstad said the person who takes over the position needs to be highly qualified because they will be working with a $50 million budget and managing local elections, to name a couple of the larger duties.

“They can’t just come in and take it on,” he said, adding that someone with a CPA background would be helpful.

To show that the county board doesn’t have anyone in mind it wants to appoint, Nelson said he’d like to see a search committee made up of commissioners, county staff and some people from the community to get as much outside input as possible.

In the meantime, the staff in the auditor-treasure’s office has questions that may need answers that no one in-house can give them.

“They need a go-to person and we need to know if there are issues,” Ingstad said, adding that if there are problems in the departments, the administrator and commissioners need to know rather than sweeping them under the rug because there isn’t a supervisor there.

“I’m comfortable in the quality of our staff,” he said, but he also knows what happens when you lose your leader, he added. “I think we’re putting a lot on our employees up there.”

So the commissioners looked at contracting on an as-needed basis with both former Auditor-Treasurer Ryan Tangen and the Clay County Auditor-Treasurer Lori Johnson. Staff members have already called and sent emails with questions as needed, but the county formalized it with the contract.

Ingstad said that Tangen was concerned about contracting with the county because he doesn’t want it to be perceived that he’s trying to do both the county job and his new position with the Detroit Lakes School District. But, he also said he would help with the transition as needed.

Ingstad said he also checked with the county attorney’s office and it is legal for the county to contract with a former auditor-treasurer.

Nelson said in his eyes, appointing an auditor-treasurer is more important now, and the combining of that office with the recorder’s office is secondary.

Commissioners plan to discuss the issue further at the next county board meeting in April.

Human Services

With Nancy Nelson gone, the county is looking at exploring the option of sharing director services with neighboring counties. Clay, Becker and Otter Tail counties have expressed an interest in a regional director.

“We think it is a good option,” Ingstad said, adding that he has gotten “mostly favorable response” from the supervisors in human services that he has approached about the idea.

While the status of Otter Tail County’s direction isn’t clear yet – the director there is part time because he has taken a state position, but continues to work part-time for the county for now – Ingstad said Becker County needs to contract with Clay County for services or hire someone, because a director is needed as soon as possible.

Nelson said he was in favor of contracting with Clay County because the move “migrates us to the same system.”

The board gave Ingstad permission to negotiate a contract with the Clay County Human Services director for the interim period until something final is decided.

Follow Pippi Mayfield on Twitter at @PippiMayfield.

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