Temps rise over debate on hiring deputies

A board action to hire three full-time deputies in the sheriff’s office, led to a bit of a disagreement in leadership techniques between Todd County Commissioners David Kircher and Randy Neumann at the commissioner’s May 3 board meeting.

The board action read, “Due to the increased workload, the need to fill open shifts and provide adequate law enforcement coverage for the safety of the citizens of Todd County, Sheriff Asmus wishes to hire three full-time deputies. Sheriff Asmus is anticipating that there will be two deputy sheriff positions open soon due to one retirement and one resignation and wishes to avoid overtime issues and short shifts for the high activity months of summer.”

Kircher asked what would happen if the positions did not turn into resignations and retirements?

“Are we stuck?” he asked.

Sheriff Don Asmus said that one resignation has already been received and the other is tentative with a June 30 expected date.

The third position would be to help with the extra workload.

Chair Barb Becker said that Asmus had brought the request previously, but that one was not until June.

Kircher said, “I would not have approved this. This is catching me all by surprise. I am not in favor of hiring in ‘anticipation of.’”

He asked about the severance packages and about the 90 day rule which he said they apparently no longer do when hiring.

Asmus said that they had considered the cost of the severance packages, but that covering the overtime would be very expensive, too.

Neumann said when they were talking about the sheriff’s department, it meant the health and safety of citizens if they were lax on it.

Asmus said that he has received requests for more coverage, but hasn’t been able to provide it because they don’t have enough staff.

“You are speaking to the choir. But I thought that you hired part-timers to cover the overtime issue and we still have overtime,” said Kircher.

Asmus said they have four part-timers who all have other full-time jobs so it is difficult to schedule them for more hours.

“We have given you approval to take care of the overtime with part-timers, but it never reduces it,” said Kircher.

Neumann said he assumed it was the same way when Kircher was sheriff.

Kircher said that was very likely so, but to hire another deputy would be $100,000.

“I have heard other commissioners say that their constituents are getting taxed out of the county,” said Kircher.

When he had held a district meeting recently, Neumann said the people in attendance had no problem with hiring another deputy to improve safety.

“Maybe you should have a district meeting and talk to your constituents,” suggested Neumann.

Kircher fired back, “I don’t need to have a district meeting to talk to my constituents. That accusation is uncalled for!”

As quickly as it heated up, the discussion smoothed back out when Commissioner Rod Erickson asked about the part time employees.

Asmus said the problem was that Todd County trained them and then they moved on to full-time positions elsewhere.

After further discussion, it was approved, with Kircher casting the dissenting vote, to post in-house and advertise for the three positions, provided the second resignation comes through.

In other business,  the board:

o Approved acknowledgement of Benson Air Ag, Inc. of Benson for spraying tent worms in Todd County in 2016 and that the public be notified within 48 hours prior to spraying. Kircher wanted to make sure it was just “acknowledging the request” that the board was not approving the spraying.

o Awarded the contract for bituminous highway construction project work at various locations to Hardrives, Inc. of Rogers, based on their low bid of $3,034,940.39. 

o Approved an abatement of $322 for Robert Kottschade. Homestead was removed on Kottschade’s parcel for the 2015 assessment because value notices and tax statements sent to the property address were returned by the post office. Envelopes were marked “vacant and unable to forward.” Kottschade said he has continuously occupied this parcel. 

o Heard a presentation on South Country Health Alliance from CEO Leota Lind about working with legislators on bills related to the procurement process which hurt them. They received a hearing in the Senate, but not at the House, said Lind.

She said they didn’t get to where they needed to be, but were continuing to work and make improvements to their service.

They had a net income of $1.6 million in 2015. Currently they have capital and surplus assets of $30 million.

They set aside $1.8 million  should their rates not be sufficient. This would cover any potential loses.

Enrollment did shrink by about 2,000 members. PMAP declined, but Minnesota Care increased.

They began Healthy Pathways as a new program in 2015 to help fill gaps in mental health services and they are continuing to introduce new initiatives in 2016.

“We didn’t stand still, we continued to pursue and improve services,” said Lind.

o Dr. Quinn Strobl from the Midwest Medical Examiner’s Office presented the 2015 summary. There were 129 deaths with eight coming to her office for autopsies. There were also 46 death scene visits.

When she reported that 88 cremations were approved by her office, Kircher asked if they had to approve the autopsies?

Strobl said that they did because only on TV could they reconstruct a body from an urn full of ashes. When they reduce a body to ashes, they need to have made sure before hand that it was a natural death.

It is a statutory requirement, but she said that Kircher and others probably would never know this because the funeral homes just take care of getting the notification and approval.

o Heard a report from Julie Ring, Executive Director for the Association of Minnesota Counties. With her was Jake Sieg who is the Lac Qui Parle Auditor/Treasurer Coordinator who served on the workgroup to talk about problems with County Program Aid (CPA) and how it is distributed amongst the counties.

They talked about the formula for the CPA and how hard it has been for counties to budget because they never know how much, if any, CPA they will receive from year to year.

To decrease the volatility they are asking for a five percent cap on decreases. In the past, CPA could jump or decline by 20 percent in a single year.

A letter in support of the new formula with funding to make it happen was approved by the board.

Ring said that AMC’s support of it only exists if it holds the counties harmless.

“I would not ask them to move the formula forward without the additional funding,” she said.

She said that the goal of “improving” the formula was to have something solid in place for at least a decade.

“We don’t want to have to turn around and do it again in a couple of years (because it is hard work),” she said.

o With Neumann voting against it, the board approved the request for Health and Human Services to recruit and hire a nursing supervisor to fill the position left vacant by the resignation of Heidi Brings.

Neumann said he would like to see restructuring done in HHS before they fill the position. He said more research was needed on this. He also reported that he had received a letter - he assumed from an employee, but it wasn’t signed - expressing concerns about this. He said he wanted the employees to know he was listening.

o Held a discussion on the payroll position which is currently being supplied by two emergency placements, one of whom is full-time in the highway department and has had to split her time between there and payroll.

County Attorney Chuck Rasmussen said he felt like they were putting the cart before the horse because the idea had been to have a coordinator in place to help with the decision on what to do with this position.

 No decision has been made.

o After discussion, the board approved establishing a county coordinator/human resources position with Kircher opposed.

o The board also approved advertising for the position, with Kircher opposed.

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