Becker County commissioners handled some thorny personnel issues Tuesday involving turnover at the county Department of Motor Vehicles office.

Commissioner Larry Knutson, in particular, was upset with how Becker County Auditor-Treasurer Mary Hendrickson has been overseeing the DMV office.

“This has been an ongoing, long-term situation,” Knutson said. “Absolutely, something needs to be done.” Two county DMV employees -- one of them a close relative of Knutson’s -- recently resigned their positions, citing ongoing management problems, he said. An angry Knutson pushed strongly to end auditor-treasurer control over the DMV office.

“You can cut the tail off a snake, but it will grow back,” Knutson said at Tuesday’s County Board meeting. “You have to cut off the head, and that’s what we have to do.”

High employee turnover has been an ongoing problem at the DMV office, he added. “If you don’t have proper management and supervision, it’s hard to keep good employees, because other employees are allowed to slack,” Knutson said.

WDAY logo
listen live
watch live
Newsletter signup for email alerts

“A couple employees came to me awhile back,” said Commissioner Richard Vareberg. “We didn’t do anything about it. They were good employees, and we lost them.”

To some extent, Hendrickson has been stuck playing the hand that the County Board dealt her, said Commissioner Barry Nelson. “To Mary’s credit, she tried the system and it didn’t work,” he said. “Us continually trying to staff that office at a part-time level has added to the problem with turnover,” Nelson said. And with pandemic-related slowdowns at the state DMV office, “the state has not been doing their job, so the pressure on us is higher,” Nelson added.

For her part, Hendrickson said she has been trying to make the best of a bad situation. “When I assumed this job in 2015, we had an on-site supervisor (in the county DMV office) who left in 2016,” Hendrickson said. “I’ve tried to make it work without an onsite supervisor for the last four years.”

RELATED: See other Becker County Board stories

The DMV, which handles license plate tabs, driver’s licenses, auto registration paperwork, and a host of other responsibilities, “is probably the busiest, most stressful department in the county,” Hendrickson said. “I feel the employees are burning out.” Changes in the state-run system have added to the difficulties, she said.

The county DMV has been working with two lead agents and no supervisor, largely as a result of an earlier personnel conflict in that office, and that needs to change, Nelson said.

“We have to move forward with a licensed DMV supervisor,” he said. If the county wants to change the chain of command structure later, it can do so within the constraints of state statute, he said.

And there are some constraints: The County Auditor-Treasurer must be the director of the county DMV office, and is required by statute to manage the funds that flow in from the county DMV office, said Becker County Administrator Mike Brethorst.

He noted that other counties and cities have different systems. Hubbard County has an independent contractor run its DMV office, as does the city of Hawley, Brethorst said. Otter Tail County has turned a regional DMV office over to the city of Perham to run, he added.

Becker County Commissioner Ben Grimsley said the county may want to hire fewer part-time and more full-time staff at the DMV.

“The test has shown, and it’s a multi-year test, we need full-time employees there. The turnover has been horrendous,” Grimsley said.

He urged the board to leave the existing management structure intact.

“I support leaving Mary (Hendrickson) in charge of this,” he said. “She knows it best. Her expertise should be there, and we’ll see how it works with a supervisor there.”

Commissioner John Okeson agreed. “We’ll monitor it, and if there are still problems, then we’ll look at restructuring,” he said.

“I will not, as a commissioner, support anything at DMV that Mary or her assistants have control over,” Knutson said. “That’s just the way it has to be.”

The board voted 4-1 to hire a DMV office supervisor, fill a vacant half-time clerk position, and continue having an employee in the Auditor-Treasurer's Office work part time in the DMV office. Knutson cast the opposing vote.