Still no county decision on SHIP position

Published 11:15 am Wednesday, May 5, 2010

The Freeborn County commissioners still have not made a decision about the Statewide Health Improvement Program coordinator position grant, an issue on which they have been deliberating for the past three meetings.

“I’m wanting it to be resolved as quickly as possible,” Freeborn County public health director Lois Ahern said Tuesday after the weekly commissioners’ meeting.

SHIP is a grant that started in February and will end in June 2011. Ellen Kehr was hired for the 22-month position in February. The controversy stems from her being the only person interviewed, and a subsequent call by citizens for making the job open to all candidates.

Email newsletter signup

At this point, some feel the coordinator hiring process should start over, while others think a county policy change is sufficient and Kehr should continue. The commissioners, though, have debated the legality of the hiring based on the grant’s wording.

The matter was on the agenda for Tuesday’s meeting but was pushed to the next meeting, May 18, because the board would like County Attorney Craig Nelson’s advice. The commissioners was hoping Nelson would have had time to look at the grant and the county’s hiring practices and give them an opinion Tuesday.

Nelson did not have time to thoroughly look over the grant — there has been a homicide trial over the past two weeks — and said he would answer any questions he could. The board then asked him questions, and he was only able to answer some of them.

“I haven’t had a lot of time to look at the grant,” Nelson said. “I’m pretty unfamiliar with it.”

Commissioner Dan Belshan said he was wondering if the position could be reopened and advertised as a contract position.

Nelson asked the board if they have read the grant because he understood the position could have been hired without their knowledge.

“In the grant itself it calls for a county health staff person to be hired by the county administrator or director of the department,” Nelson said. “I’m uncertain as to what authority the county board actually has.”

Nelson read part of the grant to the board that said each county needed to hire a full-time equivalent position for the grant. He said he would still like time to look over the grant before they made a decision.

“The grant is complicated,” Nelson said. “It doesn’t give a whole lot of authority to the county board other than to authorize the project, which has been done.”

He said he didn’t want the board to take an action such as reopening the position and then to change their minds. He would be able to talk with them in a couple of days but will have to wait until their next meeting.

Commissioner Belshan said he had researched how other counties had used their grant and Freeborn County was the only one that interviewed one person. Nelson said he didn’t know how all the other counties used their portion of the grant.

“Each county has its right to be individual and go about how it wants to implement this project within the parameters of the outline of the document,” Nelson said. “Some counties may be implementing this differently.”

Board Chairman Chris Shoff said he thought the whole process has been convoluted, and the main issue is their hiring practices and how they can rectify them and move on.

Commissioner Glen Mathiason read from a letter everyone on the board received, and he agreed with the letter. The letter was from Susan Adkins, project coordinator for the nine counties in southeast Minnesota who received the SHIP grants. He read that she wrote in her letter not to start the process over.

“We’d just be going backwards,” Mathiason said. “I don’t want to start the process over.”

The commissioners then decided to wait until the county attorney has time to look at the grant more closely, and they will try to make a decision at their next meeting.

Commissioner Belshan asked if Nelson could look into whether it was right for the county to have no written contract with a temporary service, and Nelson said he would look into that.

In other action, the commissioners:

Heard from County Engineer Sue Miller, who withdrew the Highway Department’s resolution to seal coat County Road 14. She said this comes after talking with representatives from Alliant Energy who said the road will be used extensively for the Bent Tree Wind Farm project. The department will plan to seal coat the road when there will be less traffic.

Approved a $52,000 grant to help about 10 income eligible families with their mandated sewer system replacement. The Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources awarded the grant to the Freeborn County Environmental Services Department.

Approved County Administrator John Kluever making a template for development agreements for large wind conversion systems. He said having a template would help save time because it would have all the information needed for a project developer for future wind farms.

Related Stories:

County mulls rehiring health position

Should health job hire have been public

Belshan takes a stand on health position

Editorial: It’s time to act on SHIP issue