By Anna Jauhola
Seven employees and one former employee visited the Kittson County Commission meeting on Tuesday, July 18 to voice their concerns regarding proposed changes for certain positions within the courthouse.
In recent weeks, the commission has held workshops during which they can discuss items but cannot take action. A major discussion has centered around the auditor/treasurer and financial officer positions, as they have begun to work with David Drown and Associates on a wage study. Currently, the administrator also holds the auditor/treasurer duties for the county. The commissioners are considering placing the auditor duties with the financial officer and renaming that position chief financial officer.
“What was suggested was not to use the job title we had, but to do a chief financial officer position and assign the duties of the auditor under that position,” said Administrator Brian Buhmann. “The recommendation was to rewrite the job description to cover the chief financial officer description.”
The board approved developing a job description for a chief financial officer position, which would replace the current financial accounting specialist description.
“From that discussion we also had the discussion of having a chief financial officer assistant under her to train and for succession planning for the candidate when they appear ready to leave,” Buhmann said.
The group attending the meeting questioned in chorus whether that position would be posted and if anyone is able to apply. Buhmann said, “Anyone who is qualified can apply, I would assume.”
The group said they’ve been hearing rumors about the new positions being created for specific employees.
“It’s just nice to be open and honest with communication. I think that’s why we’re all here today because you hear whispers, you hear rumors. It’s just nice to have more open communication and not have things done in the dark,” said Alyssa Gustafson, deputy assessor.
Commission Chair Loren Younggren asked what the group felt they’d been left in the dark about. Gustafson said the new positions – including the creation of a chief financial officer, adding an assistant and the interim administrator. She questioned how long the interim administrator, Trish Herran, will be interim; will the job be advertised since she’s only interim; and if the duties are changing, will there be a reduction in her salary?
Buhmann said the administrator position will be posted likely by the end of September. Younggren said they don’t know how or where they will advertise for the position yet, however. Commissioner Theresia Gillie added hiring an interim allows them to get through the budgeting process as the budget has to be set by the first commission meeting in September.
“After that, we’ll have more air and it’ll have to be posted,” Gillie said.
The commission hired Herran as the interim administrator on Tuesday, July 11. Her official start date iss Monday, July 31. Younggren gave some background after employees attending the meeting stated they received an email simply stating Buhmann was leaving, to be replaced by an interim administrator, with no other information.
Younggren said Herran applied when Buhmann first applied for the position in 2021, but decided to stay in Mower County, Minn., after receiving a package deal from that commission. As Buhmann accepted another position in Cass County, Minn., earlier this month, Herran was also searching for another position.
“So instead of being without an administrator for six months, we knew the background on this person and with all the things we’re heading into with the budget, and bonding, and collective bargaining, we took an opportunity to secure her as an interim,” Younggren said. “We did it quickly, but it’s not like we didn’t have background and didn’t do background checking on her.”
Deb Costin, former payroll services, said she’s concerned about the budget with the additional staff duties. The commission just hired an information technology (IT) director, an interim county administrator, plans to split the auditor and treasurer duties which increases the CFO salary, and plans to hire an assistant to the CFO.
Younggren said these changes won’t add much to the budget. He said replacing Marco with an in-house IT director will be “almost a wash.” The assistant to the CFO isn’t a new position, as they will be cross trained to assist in taxpayer services, which has been down an employee for some time. And, the interim administrator’s salary is the same as Buhmann’s right now – $115,000.
Costin also pointed out the county implemented an administrator position – combined with auditor/treasurer – in 2012 and asked why they’re separating the auditor and treasurer positions again.
Buhmann said the complexity of the two positions is driving the conversation.
“Just the demands of doing the elections coming up and being the administrator,” he said. “Right now, the administrator’s going to be in charge of doing the comp wage study, which is looking at all the wages and all the new job descriptions you’re going to have to fill out. The bonding that’s coming on. The special projects to follow up through the capital improvement plans.”
He added the board is “evolving a lot of the job descriptions,” which is something David Drown and Associates will also help with. Eventually, that process will involve all employees assisting with rewriting their job descriptions. For example, the deputy assessors will sit down together and write a basic description of their duties.
As David Drown and Associates works on the wage study, the commission will review the four-table salary schedule, possibly revise it into a one-page schedule and remove the working class.
Gustafson asked whether the wage study will be completed before the county hires a permanent administrator. Gillie said the study won’t likely be done until next year.
Gustafson emphasized she and other employees would really appreciate more open communication from administration and the commission. She and others voiced their concern at seeing more turnover – they’d rather see a long-term administrator, considering Herran will be the fourth administrator in the last six years.
“That would be our goal too – to avoid turnover,” Younggren said.
The employees in the room encouraged the commissioners to visit their offices, even if it’s just to check in once in a while. The commissioners likewise encouraged employees to call them if they have concerns.
By Anna Jauhola