County’s HR director to become next administrator

Published 9:20 am Thursday, October 27, 2022

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The Freeborn County Board of Commissioners on Thursday announced the county’s Personnel and Human Resources director has accepted the board’s offer to be the next county administrator.

The announcement came after the board interviewed four candidates Wednesday and at the end of the day deliberated for an hour in closed session before making the motion to authorize Mike Humpal with South Central Service Cooperative to offer the position to Candace Pesch. Pesch accepted later in the day.

Candace Pesch

The action was not unanimous.      

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In addition to Pesch, the board interviewed Michael Harvey, who has 12 1/2 years of county government experience in Benton, Dakota and St. Louis counties; Pat Oman, who has 20 years of experience in city and county government as a city and county administrator, as well as economic development director; and Susan Miller, who has three decades of experience in city and county government, who previously worked as city and county engineer and who presently works with SRF Consulting Group Inc. leading their transportation and environmental planning team. 

Prior to Pesch’s eight years with Freeborn County, she previously had four years of experience within the federal government.

During her interview, Pesch talked about the knowledge she would bring to the role after eight years with the county. She said she is aware of the budgetary restraints already in place, has an excellent working relationship with all of the department heads and has taken part in labor negotiations for her entirety of her time with the county.

She talked about having a board and management team that trusts each other, which in turn reflects to the public.

“If everyone is moving in the same direction, it shows,” Pesch said.

When asked what she would need from the board to be a successful administrator, Pesch said she would need communication, transparency, honesty, clear directives and a strategic plan.

Regarding establishing effective communication with the board, she talked about having meetings, giving a weekly update and having meetings with department heads to find out their priorities and challenges.

She described herself as a person who if she says she is going to do something, she does it, and if she doesn’t know the answer to something, she knows who to go to to get things done. She said there needs to be a balance between accountability and micromanaging.

She also talked about the efforts she has taken part in to attract and retain employees and how some of these efforts are starting to pay off with the hire of a new attorney in the County Attorney’s Office and movement in the Sheriff’s Office with open positions.

When asked what her day-to-day schedule would look like, she said she already tries to walk around the county buildings at least once a week. She said she thought it was important to have open lines of communication.

At the end of the interview, Pesch asked the board what they saw as the biggest challenges for the next county administrator. In addition to the budget, 1st District Commissioner Brad Edwin said he thought another challenge was unifying the county staff.

Pesch she had already been looking at facilitators for that and also talked about how working on the strategic plan for the county will also bring staff together.

Pesch Thursday afternoon said she feels blessed to have been selected as the first female county administrator for the county.

“I am honored and extremely grateful for the support and encouragement that I have received already from our commissioners and employees,” Pesch said. “We have an amazing team here at Freeborn County who are all dedicated to ensuring that we provide excellent services and support to our citizens. I look forward to working with our county board and employees to continue to explore new opportunities for innovation, growth, partnerships and efficiencies for everyone in Freeborn County.”

The following are summaries of interviews with the other candidates:

Michael Harvey

Harvey, who has family from the community and presently lives in St. Cloud, said he would spend his first 90 days in the position learning about the county and its history. 

When asked about his management style and work expectations, he said employees would have job descriptions and be expected to follow them. He said he would expect things such as consistency and reliability and said he thought check-ins were important with the department heads.

When asked about his approach to dealing with difficult people, he said his philosophy is to always be kind and to remember that someone could have a worse day than you.

He said he has worked indirectly with lobbyists and as part of the Association of Minnesota counties regarding issues at the Legislature but it hasn’t been part of his role to work with them directly. 

Referencing his experience with controversial county issues, Harvey said he would find a way to balance needs while still maintaining a core trust, noting that difficult situations will always be there.

In his role with land services, Harvey said he has worked as assessor and recorder and has had many similar functions to a county administrator, working closely with the economic partnership there.

To be a successful administrator, he said he would need the board’s trust and respect. He said it is his role to carry out the board’s wishes once a decision is made.

He described himself as being organized, detail-oriented and friendly and said he planned to get involved in civic organizations in the community if selected for the position. Other qualities he said make him a good leader include friendliness and a genuine love for people.

Harvey said his experience in budgeting began as a treasurer in 4-H. As a department head at his most recent position, he had his own budget for the department and received positive feedback from his administrator about it. 

Regarding retaining and attracting employees, he said the county has to be present in the community at job fairs and other events and to emphasize all the county has to offer. 

“If we have a good culture they’ll stay,” he said. 

Some of the things he liked about the community included the lakes, parks and events such as the Freeborn County Fair Big Island Rendezvous. He also pointed out the county’s prime location on interstates 90 and 35 and said a drawback is the county’s demographic trends.

Pat Oman

Oman described having experience as city administrator in Moose Lake and county administrator in Mille Lacs County, and most recently as county administrator in Becker County.

He said he actually started in the private industry with Honeywell and also had experience in economic development in Carlton County.

In his first 90 days, Oman said he would be involved through reading the county’s policies, meeting with department heads and sitting down with commissioners to find out about their projects and initiatives. He said he would put together a cohesive strategy on what the board would like him to accomplish and how that would be measured.

He talked about the importance of committees and said solutions are often developed at committee levels before coming to the board. He said he likes to create an environment where constructive feedback can be given with department heads.

When asked about his approach to dealing with difficult people, Oman said it is important to communicate and to look at the origins of that person’s behavior. He said many times employees also benefit from a performance improvement plan.

He talked about when he was in Mille Lacs County and the county did not spend a lot on their roads. He suggested the board consider a local option sales tax, citing how successful it had been in other counties.

He said though people were initially against the proposal, through third-party analysis they found out that 60% of the revenue would be paid for by people not in the county.

The public changed its tune, and the board ultimately passed it with a supermajority.

Oman said he would recommend a comprehensive plan and said he has written a few and has been involved with others. The process looks at the county’s mission, it’s objectives of projects and involves both the public and staff.

He said he liked that the administrator position in Freeborn County included responsibilities for economic development in it and noted that this drew him to the position. He said he had several trainings in this area.

For him, creating economic development opportunities are about creating wealth, whether that comes in the form of jobs or tax revenue.

He also pointed out his experience working with legislators and said he is also a believer in working through organizations such as the National Association of Counties and the Association of Minnesota Counties.

He said his job is not to micromanage the departments under him but to complement their needs. He said he would expect them to be honest, have direct communication about expectations and provide new ideas each month.

When asked what set him apart as a candidate, Harvey said his experience as an administrator and his proven success in economic development help him stand out. He said he would get involved with groups such as the Kiwanis Club and reach out to townships and school boards. He has a policy to respond to someone the same day they contact him.

Susan Miller

Miller, who spent most of her professional career in government, previously worked for the city of Albert Lea and Freeborn County as city and county engineer. She said she left a few years ago to work for SRF Consulting and took over their transportation and environmental planning team.

She said in that time away, she said she realized she has missed being in public service.

When asked about her first 90 days if chosen for the position, Miller said she created a 100-day plan that included internal stakeholder outreach with department heads, staff and board members and external stakeholder outreach with cities, townships, development boards and other organizations. She talked about developing an internal operations plan to improve transparency and communication, as well as developing a strategic plan.

When asked about her approach to deal with difficult people, Miller said it is important to always maintain a level of respect, courtesy and empathy. Her job would be to listen, help educate and close the loop of any concerns raised.

Miller also talked of her experience with capital improvement plans, lobbying at the state and federal levels and her involvement with the National Association of Counties and the Association of Minnesota Counties. She said she has testified both before Congress and at the state level and has been aggressive at leveraging outside dollars for local projects.

She spoke of her experience with budgets and said she likes to use data and spreadsheets to track and forecasts to anticipate trends.

She said though she had little experience with labor negotiations, she will throw 110% behind learning more about the process.

When asked about economic development, she said so much of economic development relies on infrastructure. She also talked about having the right labor market and said she would meet with Riverland Community College in her first 100 days.

She said she thinks it is important to speak more about the positive things happening in the county and not just those things that are problematic.

Regarding her role as a leader of staff, she said she thinks it’s important to lead with empathy and accountability.  She also talked about arriving to work early and leaving late, having an open door policy, and the importance of getting out and walking around in the various departments.