Department heads, board say transition will be tough

Published 12:00 am Thursday, February 15, 2001

The effects of Freeborn County’s likely loss of its top administrator are sure to be far-reaching, but county officials disagree on what areas of government will suffer most.

Thursday, February 15, 2001

The effects of Freeborn County’s likely loss of its top administrator are sure to be far-reaching, but county officials disagree on what areas of government will suffer most.

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&uot;The county’s going to be at a loss because Gene is leaving,&uot; said county Finance Manager Bill Helfritz. &uot;Any time there’s change it causes disruption.&uot;

The board of commissioners will discuss hiring options and interim solutions at its next regular meeting on Tuesday.

&uot;It’s obviously going to be difficult for us as a new board and a young board to go look for a new administrator and go without one for a while,&uot; said first-term commissioner Mark Behrends.

Three of the board’s five members started serving in January, and the other two were elected in 1998.

&uot;I think it’s going to make it tough on us,&uot; said freshman commissioner Glenn Mathiason.


&uot;A transition period could be a couple of years by the time you get someone to fill the position and they become proficient at it,&uot; said County Administrator Gene Smith, who is waiting for final approval of his employment with Dunn County, Wis.

County policies and procedures do not address hiring a new administrator, but other hires have been done on a recruit, interview and select basis, Smith said.

The county board will have to decide how to structure the candidate search, and whether to use an executive search agency, he said.

&uot;They have a lot of choices to look at very quickly,&uot; Smith said. &uot;A lot of what I will do is offer the kind of guidance I have in the past to steer them, to help them to make these decisions.&uot;

Freeborn County will have a harder time recruiting a county administrator because of its reputation of not getting along, Smith said.

&uot;Relationships in Freeborn County have been discussed in other areas of the state,&uot; Smith said. &uot;I think that Freeborn County has to present itself as a challenge. What we have here is not unique in that it has never happened before. I think there are people in our profession that look for challenges.&uot;

Without knowing what the job market is like for administrators, Mathiason said Freeborn County could be competitive in finding a replacement for Smith.

&uot;I just think there’s enough things going for the county, I guess I would look at it as easier to find somebody than having a problem,&uot; he said.

Freeborn county will be able to find good quality candidates, and change is good, said Commissioner Dan Belshan.

&uot;I don’t think it will set the board back,&uot; he said. &uot;In fact, I know new blood is good, fresh blood and lots of energy.&uot;


The transition could effect ongoing issues like courthouse and economic development, but it shouldn’t, Smith said. The administrator is only one component in large projects like that, he said.

&uot;We have a number of people who are involved in those projects specifically who are intelligent, competent people,&uot; Smith said. &uot;We will continue to offer them advice and suggestions.&uot;

Some projects Smith was heavily involved in, like economic development, might not get the same attention they did under his watch, but the daily operations of the county won’t be seriously affected, Helfritz said.

As administrator, Smith supervised all appointed department heads in the county.

&uot;He is a good administrator and he let people do their jobs, so they know their jobs,&uot; Helfritz said.

&uot;Certainly we will miss some of his leadership and his skills, but we have a good number of department heads that work together and get together regularly,&uot; Altfillisch said.

Even though department heads have relied on Smith to bring their concerns to the county board, they will be able to reach the board in his absence, he said.

&uot;I think any time you lose a top administrator it leaves a void,&uot; said Public Health Director Lois Ahern. &uot;Certainly, none of us are looking forward do seeing him go, but I think we as management and the county board will be able to work through this.&uot;

The county’s daily operations will be minimally affected because department heads are very good at their jobs, Smith said.

&uot;There is no question that in any period of my absence the departments of this county will continue to provide the same excellent service they always have,&uot; he said.

Because of his experience, Smith has been a ready repository of information on board history and county policies and procedures for the county board of commissioners. But Smith said the information is still available to the board through department heads and other employees.

&uot;Both the new administrative officer and the board need to realize that the information is still there,&uot; Smith said. &uot;They may need to look a little harder.&uot;