Commentary: Set angst aside; let Wabasha County workI applied and was appointed to serve on the Wabasha County Government Study Commission. I have been GSC secretary, attended all but two meetings since March 1 and spent many hours researching and reading related information. I took this appointment seriously and have tried to remain neutral and dedicated to the charge.
By: Shirley Anderson, The Republican Eagle
I applied and was appointed to serve on the Wabasha County Government Study Commission. I have been GSC secretary, attended all but two meetings since March 1 and spent many hours researching and reading related information. I took this appointment seriously and have tried to remain neutral and dedicated to the charge.
The judge’s direction clearly states the “commission is to conduct its study in an objective way, eschewing personal or partisan biases,” and “The commission’s purpose is not to review the performance of any current employee, but rather to study the form of county government.”
It goes on to say members’ personal likes or dislikes of current individuals are not relevant to the commission’s duties.
To remain neutral, I approached our charge as if a new county had been formed in Minnesota and our commission was being asked to determine what type of government this new county should have.
To do that I felt we would base decisions on several factors including but not limited to population served, demographics, state regulations and mandates, economic environment, technology, how work is done in today’s world and tasks to be accomplished. By approaching it this way, history of what had happened would not be reviewed and likes and dislikes of current individuals would not be relevant.
Although the court had not requested an interim report, the GSC drafted a lengthy one and a press release. While it was never openly discussed, it’s my belief that publication of these documents was carefully planned to occur immediately prior to the primary election.
After reading the first draft letter, I questioned the need to include “zingers” about individual board member’s performance. This letter was rejected and followed by the interim report, which went on to be approved by a 7-6 vote.
When you read this document, you know that the content is not related to types of government. Instead, it is a performance review of three commissioners and conclusions drawn are based on “highly consistent survey and interview response findings.”
The day the commission voted 7-6 to approve the interim report, two Wabasha County department heads sent emails questioning the interview process stating they felt they had been misled by the GSC. They had not been given time to prepare and went into the interview assuming they were going to be asked their opinion about type of government structure. They said the questions focused on commissioners, strategic planning and the former administrator.
These two emails created enough concern that release of information to the public was put on hold until the GSC could meet to discuss it.
I talked to the two department heads. Both expressed their opinion that the interview had little if anything to do with government structure.
They commented that they were asked if the interview could be recorded. They learned that their comments went on to be transcribed and made public information; the transcription did not include the questions asked, only responses. They stated that they felt their comments ended up being used to create a report intended to review and condemn the performance and actions of three county commissioners and they were not comfortable with that.
I have learned that at least four out of 12 of Wabasha County department heads want all this ongoing conflict to stop so that they can come to work and get their job done without all the friction and negativism. I have good evidence to believe this is the opinion of the majority of department heads.
A special meeting of the GSC was scheduled for Aug. 2; a guest speaker had been invited. Prior to this meeting, a 30-minute meeting of the GSC was scheduled to approve a press release. here was no further discussion of the interim report and the press release was approved with modifications.
Since that meeting, excerpts from the interim report have been published. The focus in whatever has been printed is a review of the performance of three commissioners.
I have reached these conclusions.
1. I agree with the county attorney when he said the public wants the GSC to make a decision; the public doesn’t really care. The GSC could force a referendum, I believe that’s a poor decision. If it takes the GSC over 6sixmonths and extensive study to make a decision, how can we possibly expect the public to be adequately informed to make a decision on the issue with a vote?
2. Another discussion point is whether to go from five to seven commissioners. The rationale is that more people involved in decision-making could result in better decisions. I suggest the rationale is to affect the current majority board. As the auditor/treasurer stated Aug. 2, with redistricting and an election there is a possibility there could be complete turnover. It is also possible that rather than changing the current majority, it could increase the majority — the current 3-2 majority could become 5-2 or 4-3. Increasing the number of commissioners to fix the problem is flawed thinking; elections are the way to fix unhappiness with the current Board.
The public was unhappy with the board in the last election and the vote indicted that. Changes will continue over the years; that’s just part of our election process.
3. The department heads want to go forward; I believe the commissioners want the same. The public is sick of all this as well. The efforts of the GSC only keep the fires burning and, in my opinion, are disruptive to the staff and the public.
At our second meeting, Richard Devlin, Olmsted County Administrator was our guest. One of my questions was “What can an administrator do that a coordinator could not do?” His answer was “actually probably nothing.” Remarks from Ramsey County Manager validated that there may be nuances of difference. She emphasized the importance of communication, people skills, and teamwork as being critical to success.
4. A coordinator has been hired. I sincerely hope that everyone involved will work with Bridget Hoffman to welcome her and work toward her success and that there will be no effort on anyone’s part to work toward her failure in the job. Based on what I’m hearing and witnessing, I am nervous about this.
5. To recommend yet another change in government structure at this time would add more disruption. It has been stated by more than one commission member and more than one time that several types of government would work. The skills of the person, in my view, are more important than the title.
6. With all my years of facilitator, quality improvement and mediation training, the first step is to identify the root problem. The root problem is not the type of government; the problem is communication, respect, anger. A change in type of government will not fix these problems.
Until all parties involved are willing to accept the challenges we face and look at them as opportunities for improvement, we will not be better off in Wabasha County. It’s time for healing and productivity, not disrespect, condemnation and negativism.
After serious deliberation, I have submitted my resignation from the GSC. I have concluded that the commission’s actions, strategies, and intentions to date are not consistent with the direction of the court, they are not what I had volunteered for, and they are not consistent with my personal values. I cannot continue working on something that in my opinion has created more harm than good.