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No administrator yet, county votes 3-2 to re-advertise the job

It's back to Square 1 in the search for a new Becker County administrator.

The County Board of Commissioners voted 3-2 Tuesday not to hire either of the two finalists for the job and to re-advertise the position.

That was bad news for Becker County Auditor-Treasurer Ryan Tangen, one of the finalists. The other was Ron Moorse, city administrator for Afton, Minn., which is located east of the Twin Cities and is home to nearly 2,900 people.

The two went through two rounds of interviews and were selected from a field of several dozen applicants.

Board Chairman Larry Knutson was joined by commissioners Gerry Schram and Don Skarie in opting to re-advertise.

Commissioners Barry Nelson and John Okeson voted against that motion. Nelson said he wanted to hire Tangen.

Willis Mattison and Ruth Bergquist spoke at the open forum at the beginning of the meeting "about the need for more candidates," Nelson said. "Not that they (Tangen and Moorse) weren't qualified, but there were not enough candidates."

The board originally intended to interview three finalists, but FEMA engineer Robert Bezek opted out when he was not allowed to participate in the final interview via the Skype online video system.

Later in the meeting on Tuesday, Tangen resigned from his position as interim county administrator, suggesting that the board find another member of the management team to fill that role until a full-time administrator is hired.

He thanked the board for the opportunity to serve as interim county administrator and apply for the full-time position.

"It was a very difficult decision for me to make, as the auditor-treasurer position is very important to me -- it meets my core values," he told the board.

Tangen has an accounting background and started his career with the county as its treasurer.

With a busy election season fast approaching, Tangen said he will need to devote much more time to election work.

He said he would "resign all interim duties at this time ... to ensure that the (hiring) process does move forward, you need to have someone commissioners have confidence in, in that position."

Knutson thanked him for his help during the interim process.

Nelson urged the board to hire a job placement firm to find candidates for the administrator job.

"A firm could find the first round (of applicants), present us with the finalists and do extensive background checks on finalists -- we do need to do an extensive background check on the finalists," he said.

Okeson agreed.

"If we could hire a head-hunting firm to do it, so be it," he said. "We've struck out, so to speak, a few times."

Knutson agreed, saying he had been "thinking along similar lines myself."

Skarie and Schram also agreed, though Schram was concerned about the cost.

Nelson said he didn't have any cost estimates, but believes there is enough money in the administrator's budget to cover costs, since the position has been vacant since Tom Mortenson resigned under pressure Aug. 30.

"We need to give them some latitude, but I'd like to see a fairly quick turnaround," in hiring for the position, Nelson said.

The county moved forward on hiring an aquatic invasive species coordinator, awarding the contract to RMB Environmental Laboratories of Detroit Lakes. Several employees will be involved, but Lakes Mentoring Program Coordinator Moriya Rufer will be the point person for the county.

Her immediate focus will be on the threat of zebra mussel infestation with the return of open-water boating this spring.

The board also approved a redistricting plan that will pit commissioners Okeson and Schram against each other in the coming election, and create an open district in the city of Detroit Lakes.

And they heard a forestry report from new county natural resource management director Martin Wiley. He said the county has fallen behind in its timber program in several areas, including aspen.

The county now earns about $300,000 a year from timber sales. A properly managed timber program would bring in as much as $1 million a year and would result in healthier forests in the long run, Wiley said.