Christensen resigns top county job

 By Anna Jauhola
The search for a new county administrator began this week after Eric Christensen tendered his resignation at the Tuesday, May 19 commission meeting.
“There’s no easy way to do this, so I’ll just read it out,” Christensen said to the board before reading his resignation letter. “It is with some sadness that I am submitting my letter of resignation from my position as county administrator. I have truly enjoyed the opportunity I have had to be a part of Kittson County for the past eight years and consider myself lucky to have been able to work with such a dedicated staff.”
Christensen was the first person hired in the administrator position created after Marilyn Gustafson retired as county auditor/treasurer in December 2012. He began on Oct. 1, 2012. His final day will be Friday, June 19. He accepted the city administrator position at North Sioux City, S.D.
“What if we say no?” asked Commissioner Leon Olson, to laughs from the board.
In his letter, Christensen noted the accomplishments achieved since his arrival including new door security and cameras, a new generator, and remodeled upstairs meeting room, social services, law enforcement, assessor, county administrator and court administrative offices.
The commissioners accepted his resignation, with regret, before entering a closed session to discuss the performance of an employee, Shirley Swenson, in the finance service office. The closed session lasted approximately 30 minutes because the board also discussed Christensen’s thoughts on his succession plan.
In open session, the commission appointed Swenson as interim administrator. Over the next month, she will train with Christensen and her position will be effective June 20. The board also approved a $12 an hour temporary pay increase until they hire a new administrator. Swenson currently makes $29.89 per hour.
The board also approved Christensen to get quotes from talent companies to do an executive search for a new administrator. The board authorized Christensen to accept the low quote to start the search as soon as possible. In 2011, when Gustafson announced her retirement, the county hired Springsted, Inc., which put out the search for her replacement. Similar to that search, whatever company the board hires will seek candidates, do thorough background checks, tests and initial interviews to weed out the competition, Christensen said.
Then, the board will receive the best candidates and detailed packets on their experience.
This search is not figured into the 2020 budget, Christensen said, which means the board will have to do a supplemental budget.
“I just want to say publicly that it has been an honor to work with Eric,” said Kathy Johnson, county social services director. “As the first administrator Kittson County has had, I’ve appreciated your style.”
She said Christensen has been supportive, giving direction and letting each department head handle their departments appropriately. She told the board she’s concerned about how the county will handle IT, or information technology because they have had “instant gratification when we have an IT problem” during Christensen’s tenure. She also hopes the board will get started quickly on budgeting before Christensen leaves and he said he will be working with department heads on that prior to his departure.
In other business, the board:
• Approved reopening the courthouse in Hallock to the public starting Tuesday, May 26. As the stay-at-home order was lifted on Monday, May 18 and restrictions were loosened for businesses, the board agreed reopening the courthouse, with restrictions and precautions in place, was the best move. Although many employees have been working from home, the board said they will return to work unless they have a COVID-19-related reason not to. These will be handled on a case-by-case basis. Each office has a plexiglass barrier on the counter, the county has a decent supply of hand sanitizer and stations available for each entrance, and all employees have a mask and will wear it when dealing with the public. If people are still uncomfortable coming to the courthouse, they can drop payments or correspondence in the permanent dropbox at the southwest door (No. 7), or call with questions.
• Approved a tax abatement for Robert Carr, Carr Construction, who is building a twin home on the south side of Hallock. The abatement will last over the next 10 years and the county will pay up to $7,500. Carr will pay his county taxes in full each year, but the county will then abate the taxes.
• Approved a new countywide tax abatement policy, which can help stimulate economic growth.
• Accepted the low quote for dust control from Knife River Materials of $34,742.75. This will be applied to County State Aid Highway 25 in Caribou Township.
• Approved a utility permit for Wikstrom Telephone Company to its fiber optic cable expansion. They plan to install the cable in various locations northeast and straight west of Lancaster, north and west of Lake Bronson, west out of Halma, and northeast of Hallock. Commissioner Corey Wikstrom abstained from the vote.

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