Commissioners relent, won’t hire administrator
Editor and publisher
In a striking reversal, county commissioners voted 2-1 last week to rescind their controversial decision of three weeks earlier to hire a county administrator.
Commissioner Dianne Novak made the surprise motion despite also having made the original motion to create the position, the idea of which was rejected by 55.3 percent of voters in a non-binding referendum a year ago.
Randy Dallke, who opposed Novak’s original motion, agreed to rescind it. Kent Becker, who favored the original motion, cast the lone vote against reversing it.
Novak’s motion came after concerned citizens, some of whom already had left the meeting, spoke out against hiring an administrator.
“I don’t understand why we’re pushing for an administrator for the county if the people already have voted against this,” spectator Patricia Nystrom said. “If you are as concerned about the budget as you say you are, how are we going to pay for the administrator?”
Novak responded with a full-throated defense of the administrator position.
Paying consultants to look into the county’s waste transfer station and its employee pay scale and contributing money to the now-disbanded Marion County Economic Development Corporation were “$91,000 down the toilet,” Novak said.
“All the money we’ve been spending on roads is just down the toilet,” she said. “Do you want to spend that money on an administrator or on these sorts of things?”
Another spectator chimed in: “We want YOU to become wiser.”
Novak, who had just criticized the county’s reliance on consultants, replied she had planned to bring in a consultant to help structure the position.
The topic vanished from discussion for nearly an hour before Novak unexpectedly returned to it at the end of the meeting.
Not citing public concern but rather what she said was lack of support among commissioners, she moved to overturn the previous action.
After a brief discussion of parliamentary procedure, Dallke quietly agreed, with Becker opposed.
In between, commissioners discussed but came to no resolution on a range of other issues, including whether county employees should receive — or already had received — Christmas bonuses.
Dallke suggested a $150 bonus, then an additional day off with pay to be used during the next six months.
“I’ve had quite a few phone calls about why we didn’t address this,” Dallke said.
Becker suggested a $100 bonus for everyone but elected officials.
Novak countered that employees already got half a day off with pay on New Year’s Eve and free flu shots and soon would be having their pay scales re-evaluated.
“I think that’s a nice bonus right there, especially with our budget,” she said. “Back in my day, we got a canned ham and were happy with it.”
Clerk Tina Spencer questioned whether seasonal, part-time, and former workers would be eligible.
Others questioned the “hidden cost” of accounting for additional time off.
Spectator Tom Britain said it would be illegal for elected officials to get the bonus and criticized Dallke and Becker for accepting bonuses last year.
Comparing them to former economic development director Theresa Huffman, who has pleaded guilty to misusing government funds, he urged them to return the money and asked: “Are they above the law or what?”
In the end, commissioners decided to postpone discussion until a future meeting. However, the topic was not discussed at Monday’s subsequent meeting.