County hires new court administrator

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, January 17, 2001

Freeborn County will have a new court administrator with a resume that impressed commissioners — but a price tag that caused some dissension.

Wednesday, January 17, 2001

Freeborn County will have a new court administrator with a resume that impressed commissioners — but a price tag that caused some dissension.

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The Freeborn County Board of Commissioners approved the hiring of a new court administrator Tuesday, after 3rd District Judge John Chesterman appeared with Shelley Ellefson to recommend the board hire Denise Kinman.

Kinman was far and away the best candidate for the job, they said. All 22 judges in the district approved the recommendation.

Kinman now works for an independent consulting firm in Bethesda, Md., but should be able to start work in Freeborn County in less than a month.

Commissioner Dan Belshan opposed the hire, saying that Kinman was being offered too much money. She is from out of state, and will have to familiarize herself with the Minnesota system, he said. She was offered an annual salary of $54,996.

He said Kinman’s recommended starting salary was unusually high and moved she be hired two steps lower on the pay scale, a difference of about $3,000 annually.

Commissioner Glen Mathiason questioned whether Kinman would accept a lower salary. Kinman had indicated that was as low a salary she would accept, said County Administrator Gene Smith.

Kinman’s references also indicated that she was very adaptable, and could apply her knowledge to new and different situations, Ellefson said.

&uot;She also has national-level experience with a court administrative-related consulting firm,&uot; she said.

Commissioners voted to authorize Kinman’s employment at the original pay scale, with Belshan dissenting.

&uot;With the recommendation she comes with, I feel comfortable,&uot; said Commissioner Dan Springborg. &uot;If you want the best, sometimes you have to pay for it.&uot;

Kinman will replace former court administrator Chuck Kjos, who left the county for another job.

In other county news:

— Freeborn County may stop sharing an assessor with Faribault County. Commissioners voted to continue contracting with Faribault County for services, terminable in 60 days, while they decide.

Freeborn County Auditor/Treasurer Dennis Distad, the acting Assessor’s office department head, recommended the board promote a staff person to office supervisor with the eventual goal of appointing them assessor.

&uot;I strongly feel that Freeborn County needs its own internal county assessor,&uot; Distad said.

&uot;The arrangement we have now is the least costly; the question is does it provide the best service,&uot; Smith said.

No one in the assessor’s office is certified as a Senior Accredited Minnesota Appraiser, necessary to be a county appraiser. But there are employees who, once certified, would be good at the job, Distad said. As local residents, they would be more familiar with local people and land than a contracted assessor.

Promoting internally would cost slightly less than recruiting an external assessor, something that the county has historically had trouble doing anyway, Smith said.

In the absence of an assessor, the four county appraisers in the Assessor’s office have picked up administrative duties and commercial appraisal, Distad said. Traditionally, assessors handle commercial appraisals, and it is doubtful that current staff would be able to appraise a large commercial structure.

&uot;We don’t have a commercial appraiser as such right now,&uot; he said.

The lack of commercial reassessments is affecting property tax distribution in the county, he said.

&uot;I think if we were to go in and redo all the commercial property in Freeborn County, we would see increased values,&uot; he said.

Finance Manager Bill Helfritz reminded board members that increased commercial tax income wouldn’t increase the 2001 levy, it would only reduce the obligation of other taxpayers. If business paid more, residential and agricultural property owners would pay less, he said.

— The board defeated a motion made by Belshan to eliminate all games on county-owned computers. Belshan dissented.

It is already against policy for employees to play computer games during scheduled work time, Mullenbach said.

&uot;I think it’s probably rest and relaxation for someone on his break,&uot; he said.

The management team has opposed removing games because of the time and effort it would take, Smith said. Further, the team maintained it is supervisory management’s responsibility to monitor computer use, and games provide relaxation and some degree of training on employee breaks.

Springborg hesitated before voting against the motion, saying it sounded good at first, but that he hadn’t thought about the cost involved in removing the games.

&uot;I do agree that games should not be played, that it would be very inappropriate during work time,&uot; he said.

Springborg said he would rather see employees take breaks away from their workstations. But would it would be better to have a policy against game playing than remove them from county computers.

&uot;I think people are for the most part responsible enough, and the managers are responsible enough to enforce that,&uot; he said.