‘We need them to come to work’
Commissioners enforce policy, all employees must return
By Anna Jauhola
As the Kittson County Courthouse opened for the first time in two months on Tuesday, May 26, the county board of commissioners agreed all employees should return to work.
“A week ago, we made safety precautions so we feel we have a safe work environment,” said Commission Chair Theresia Gillie.
The commissioners met in person, socially distanced, in the upstairs meeting room at the courthouse in Hallock. Commissioner Corey Wikstrom appeared by GoToMeeting.
Despite that, an employee requested to not return to work until June 1 when Gov. Tim Walz’s stay-at-home order lifted. Gillie said she visited with Keith Klegstad, assistant county engineer, and he said everything is going well in his office and there hasn’t been an issue for this employee to remain home for a little longer.
“The problem I have with it is if this person gets to do it, why don’t the other 15 or 20 other people get to do it?” Gillie said. “It’s kind of an all or nothing thing.”
Commissioner Darrel Johnson concurred, saying any employees who were set up to work from home were given that opportunity due only to the emergency situation.
“When that emergency is over, we can’t have everybody working from home,” he said.
Gillie mentioned the employee who made the request has underlying health conditions, but other employees are also facing the possibility of limited or no daycare. Administrator Eric Christensen said he has already heard requests from different employees to continue working from home because it has worked well over the last two months.
“It’s just too hard to make different rules for everybody,” Johnson said.
Commissioner Loren Younggren asked whether the board has the authority to ask for a doctor’s note to prove the employee’s need to stay home. And if that’s the case, he asked how any employee staying home is any safer than going to work if the employee’s spouse or family has contact with dozens of people a day for their job.
“How do we do it for some and not others? That’s a tough thing,” Gillie said. “We have office space and the taxpayers pay those employees. It is their job to serve the citizens of this county and to be available for the citizens. We need them to come to work.”
Christensen said the county’s policy for employees states if they are gone from work more than three days, they must present a doctor’s note. Employee policy does not allow for them to work from home, he added.
“So as June 1 rolls around, if the governor hasn’t made it mandatory that people work from home, what you have is a person who is not authorized to work from home,” Christensen said. “If they’re not coming to work for a health reason, and that’ll probably last more than three days, they’d be required to have something from a doctor.”
The board took no official action, other than to say all employees need to come back to work and they need to follow policy.
Christensen said the approximate cost for a company to execute an executive search for his replacement as administrator will be $20,000. He has spoken to two companies that will get him full proposals to him. The proposals usually include the cost of all the companies’ time and travel, which includes compiling candidate profiles, advertising, sifting through resumes, doing background checks, presenting information on all candidates and setting up interviews.
“Basically they do all the legwork,” Christensen said.
Johnson noted Shirley Swenson, who will serve at interim administrator, proposed foregoing an executive search to save that expense and instead give her a six-month probationary period.
“That’d be your guys’ prerogative to do so,” Christensen said, adding he had spoken with Swenson. “I certainly think she’s capable.”
Johnson asked if she’s qualified, to which Christensen replied, “It depends on what you want to list for qualifications.”
Qualifications set for the position when Christensen was hired included a four-year degree. Prior to his position, the county had an auditor/treasurer the public voted into office. His starting salary was $90,000 eight years ago and has incrementally increased to more than $100,000. He believes the county will continue to pay his replacement the same wage to find the right applicant.
The board also discussed hiring a separate information technology, or IT, person as Christensen helped handle many IT issues. They made no decision on the issue but agreed that position would likely cost the county at least $60,000 a year plus benefits.
Christensen will present more information on the executive search proposals at the Tuesday, June 2 meeting, which will be held in the upstairs meeting room at the courthouse in Hallock.