SUTTONS BAY – A Leelanau County commissioner took several people by surprise – including some board members – when he submitted a request to add two new departments to the county.
They were even more surprised that the request, presented by District 1 Commissioner Rick Robbins, was approved, despite the fact that it did not include any information on why the two departments were needed or what their purpose would be. financial impact on the county budget.
Robbins, who is serving his first term on the board, added the call for an independent human resources department and an independent finance department as a late addition to the May 11 executive session agenda. . This included creating a job description and salary range for both positions, a search for candidates, board interviews, training and building planning and logistics, with the departments ahead. be in place by January 1.
It was approved along party lines, with Robbins, Debra Rushton, Melinda Lautner and William Bunek, all Republicans, voting “yes”.
A week later, the request was amended to say that commissioners will “explore” the creation of the two departments, with a study carried out by the board of commissioners as a whole, rather than the finance committee. It was approved by 5-2, with Commissioners Robbins and Lautner voting against.
The potential creation of the two departments will be discussed at a plenary session of the Council of Commissioners at 1:30 p.m. on Monday and 1 p.m. on Wednesday. Both meetings will be held at the county government center and will be broadcast live.
Also on the agenda is an update on the US Federal Economic Stimulus Plan of the President’s signed bailout. Joe Biden in March. The county expects to receive $ 4.2 million under the plan.
Contacted by the Record-Eagle, Robbins said the county was growing and the addition of the two department heads was proactive.
“It’s long overdue,” Robbins said. “Ten years ago the council should have looked at it. Why review it in five years?
Patricia Soutas-Little said Robbins’ proposal is a solution looking for a problem, that the reorganization of departments is done when something goes wrong.
“Why would we create two new departments and spend a lot of money doing it if there is no problem? Soutas-Petit said. “Coming to a meeting with a late addition that was never discussed and that has nothing in terms of hard data and saying that we have to grow over time… that’s no reason for creating two new ones. departments.
About 21,800 people live in Leelanau County, according to the US Census Bureau. This is an increase from the 14,000 people who lived there in 1980, but the number has remained stable over the past 20 years.
Robbins said he heard that since the pandemic population in the county has increased by 3% with people from out of state moving here, although he is not sure where he heard it.
With the county generating more property tax revenue, these departments should be in place, saying “this is a piece of the puzzle”.
Robbins also said the extra chores were too much for the clerk’s office.
“It’s just to the point that it’s more than what a person should be doing,” Robbins said.
In County Leelanau, human resources related tasks are carried out by the administrator’s office, with benefits managed by the clerk’s office. Financial tasks are also carried out in the clerk’s office.
The county will begin its budget process soon and Clerk Michelle Crocker plans to ask for an Assistant Clerk in her office to take care of normal clerk duties such as courts, elections and marriage licensing. The office had no issues with finance or human resources related tasks, she said.
Leelanau County Administrator Chet Janik agreed, saying he was not aware of any issues or challenges.
“There were no grievances or complaints,” Janik said.
The financial impact on the budget of creating two new departments is not known, Janik said.
“It’s difficult because we don’t have any proposals,” he said. “We have no documentation, no paperwork. It was just an idea that was put forward without any consultation with the clerk or myself.”
Janik said a rough figure for two directors and one support person would be around $ 250,000 to $ 280,000 per year, depending on the compensation of other high-level directors and county support staff.
Robbins said he was doing his own research and said that while he didn’t have anything concrete, Janik’s numbers were too high. The county may not need a full-time finance officer and there are already support staff in place, he said.
Crocker said the request to add staff normally comes from department heads and must be approved by the board, Crocker said, adding that in the past the board has been unwilling to add more staff. ’employees because of the cost. This request came from a commissioner, she said.
“It’s not a normal procedure,” Crocker said.
Lautner said she supported the proposal to add the departments, although the positions could be part-time. There will also be retirements over the next two years and setting up new departments before that date would be helpful, she said.
“The time is right,” Lautner said. “We’ve been very lucky for several years with Michelle being able to juggle and keep all the balls in the air. But it’s not fair that one chosen one has so much on her plate.”
Soutas-Little and Commissioner Gwenne Allgaier said they knew nothing about the proposal until it was added to the agenda at the start of the May 11 meeting.
The proposal included no data, no interviews and came as a total surprise, at least to the three Democrats on the board, Allgaier said.
“Reorganizing departments without having talked to employees, looked at workflows or studied issues… not only is it unprofessional, but you lose the trust of the people working for the county,” Allgaier said.
Lautner said questions about the reorganization were raised in the fall, so she guessed that a commissioner would eventually come up with such a proposal, but she wasn’t sure when.
Robbins said the county “lacked a few policies here and there” that should have been put in place by a human resources department. He cited an anti-racism resolution approved by the board in August that was spurred on by a former highway commissioner’s use of racist slurs just before the start of a public meeting. The resolution has no accompanying policy.
Robbins said a handful of employees told him they didn’t feel comfortable going to Janik or Crocker with their HR concerns.
Leelanau County employs 128 people, including 112 full-time, according to information from the clerk’s office. Five years ago, the county had 123 employees, 109 of whom were full-time.
Benzie County has a population of approximately 17,800 and approximately 110 people are employed in the county government. Benzie recently hired Katelyn Zeits to fill a position that combines the roles of Director of Human Resources and Finance. The county is in the process of hiring a new administrator as Mitch Deisch plans to retire at the end of August.
Kalkaska County has a population of approximately 18,000, with 141 county government employees, 62 of whom are part-time or seasonal.
Clerk Deborah Hill said it is difficult to compare salaries for the highest positions among different counties of the same size because each county has its duties divided a little differently. In smaller counties, administrators often wear multiple hats.
Hill, who also serves as a director, is a prime example. Human resources related tasks are carried out in the Clerk’s office, who also has a Deputy Clerk. Some financial tasks are done in the clerk’s office – payroll and accounts payable – while several other tasks such as the annual audit are outsourced to an accounting firm, she said.