Howard Lake-Waverly Herald, Dec. 20, 1999

Wright County wary of rehiring employee at higher step

By John Holler

It seemed only fitting that Dec. 14 was the first day of the winter season that the county's highway department was put on alert to prepare for slippery roads and winter weather conditions.

While the weather outside was turning frightful, it was much better inside, as County Highway Engineer Wayne Fingalson pled his case to the Wright County Board to rehire a former employee at a higher pay scale at the board's meeting.

Fingalson came to the board asking to rehire Stuart Marquette as a highway maintenance person at Step 5 on the county's pay scale, claiming that his department continues to lose employees to higher-paying metro counties and that to keep employees, the county must up the ante.

Marquette, who had previously worked for the county until the end of April of this year, was at Step 3 on the pay scale and the board had a serious problem with rehiring him at a jump in pay.

"I don't think this is fair to our other employees," Commissioner Jack Russek said. "This sets a bad precedent for how we're going to handle these issues. If we approve this, we're telling people that, if they leave Wright County, they can come back at higher levels. I could see the people who have stayed here in the county being upset with that."

County Coordinator Dick Norman, who handles the pay range issues for the county, agreed, saying it sends "a really bad message to our current employees." The board agreed and tried to strike a compromise.

Board Chair Pat Sawatzke suggested offering a job to Marquette at Step 4 on the pay scale ­ a level he would have reached in mid-March anyway, and, as with other employees, leave the ability to move up to Step 5 on the pay scale after his six-month probationary hiring period ends.

The board unanimously voted to extend that offer to Marquette, enforcing its unwillingness to hire him at Step 5. Fingalson agreed to extend the offer, but cautioned the board that something needs to be done quickly or the county could find itself experiencing serious problems this winter season.

"We're very nervous about the level of service we can provide right now," Fingalson said. "We've been fortunate so far in that we haven't had any serious winter weather, but we know it is coming. As of right now, we're six people short in my department and, with our current pay scale, it's going to be difficult to fill those positions."

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