Following a sometimes heated discussion over the hiring of a human relations manager for Barton County, the County Commission Monday morning voted to table the matter until its next meeting June 20.
However, it was a discussion that might not have taken place since it was not on the original commission agenda. Commissioner Alicia Straub asked for the agenda amendment after reading in the county’s newsletter that two commissioners and County Administrator Richard Boeckman had talked about the issue.
Straub said the item went so far as to suggest an individual for the job and a salary of $70,000.
“This should be an open discussion,” Straub said. “I thought things were already decided outside a public meeting.”
Straub met with staunch resistance to even bringing the matter up Monday from commission Chairman Don Davis. He said he felt it better to talk about any possible action at a later meeting or study session.
He was also adamant that no decision had been made.
Complicating things was the fact that Boeckman was absent due to a death in the family and Commissioner Jennifer Schartz was gone due to an emergency. Davis said it was he who contacted Boeckman who in turn contacted Schartz about the job and a candidate was mentioned, and this interaction was mentioned in the newsletter.
“This is partly my fault,” Davis said. “We didn’t get together and plan this.”
“We’re putting the cart before the horse,” Commissioner Homer Kruckenberg said. The county is embarking on a challenging budget year two of the key figures needed for the HR conversation were not present, making it difficult to get the entire story.
This didn’t stop the conversation from taking place.
“The county provides a lot of services to the citizens of the county,” Davis said. “We owe the employees of the county the representation they deserve.”
Davis said he believes an HR manager should be a priority, because right now, Boeckman is handling those duties. “He’s not planning on staying with the county forever. We need someone in place to do the job when Richard is no longer here.”
But, “we have to review our budget first,” Commissioner Kenny Schremmer said. “We owe the taxpayers that.”
Kruckenberg agreed. “I see no reason to rush this.”
Straub said she attended a county employee meeting and brought up the idea. When posed the question about either a new HR manager or raises, she said most of the employees she visited with said they would rather have the raises. “Benefits don’t make house payments and benefits don’t put food on the table.”
Also, she noted that if the $70,000 was available it could be better used to divvy up among the staff. Over 200 employees, that would amount to $350 raise each.
She stressed, however, that the idea of raises was strictly hypothetical. “I didn’t promise raises.”
Sheriff Brian Bellendir said he’d spoken with several elected county officials and department heads who support the idea of a HR person. “But, first let the department heads submit their budgets. Then we can decide if we can afford it.”
Road and Bridge Director Dale Phillips said raises should be looked at first. “HR is very important. Something needs to be done in that area.”
Human resources involves insurance, other benefits and sundry personnel-related matters. It was the feeling of many county officials present that the county should first look to dividing the duties up among existing personnel.