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Wright County Board divided over jail administrator pay
July 26, 2010

By Ivan Raconteur
Editor

WRIGHT COUNTY, MN – The hiring of employees caused a split among members of the Wright County Board Tuesday.

The personnel committee recommended hiring nine employees.

The recommendations included hiring two corrections officers (due to retirements), one deputy sheriff (due to an employee leaving to take another job), one legal secretary (due to an employee leaving), one information systems specialist (due to a promotion), one senior office support specialist (due to an employee taking another position within the county), two financial worker positions (due to employees taking other positions), and one temporary mechanic to cover a medical leave.

“I don’t know when we are going to stop hiring,” Board Chair Dick Mattson said, in response to the recommendations. “They (in the private sector) are laying people off and cutting wages. How are people who are laid off going to pay their taxes? That’s where our revenue comes from.”

Commissioner Elmer Eichelberg said some of the proposed hires are to fill vacancies, and others involve jobs that protect county residents.

“I know there is a huge anti-government sentiment out there,” Commissioner Rose Thelen commented, “But I don’t think it behooves us to cripple our agencies so they can’t serve our residents.”

The personnel committee also recommended forwarding discussion of the starting wage for Pat O’Malley, who was offered the position of jail administrator following the retirement of Captain Gary Torfin, to a personnel committee of the whole meeting.

“Why don’t we just get this out of the way?” Commissioner Pat Sawatzke said, noting that all five commissioners were present, just as they would be during a committee of the whole meeting.

“I think every member of this board has the greatest respect for Mr. O’Malley,” Sawatzke said. “We are not promoting the office clowns; they are the star employees. The question is, what is the starting wage?”

Sawatzke said O’Malley is paid $67,058 now, and, based on county policy, he would receive a $2,650 raise immediately, another $1,743 raise in January, and another $3,219 raise on his anniversary date.

Sawatzke said this is equivalent to an 11.5 percent raise in O’Malley’s first year in the new position.

Sawatzke said O’Malley is asking for a starting salary of $83,000, which would be a 16 percent increase.

“Isn’t 11.5 percent reasonable?” Sawatzke asked. “Folks, we’ve got a policy, it has been in place, let’s put this thing to bed.”

Sheriff Gary Miller, who is O’Malley’s supervisor, said the county’s past practice has been to follow the recommendations of committees.

“I don’t think this is the time or place to discuss this,” Miller said.

He added that the proposed starting salary would “be a pay cut” for O’Malley.

“We should have the opportunity to present our case to the board as a whole. I ask that the board does what the committee recommended,” Miller said.

He added that he does not believe that the county’s policy has been firm and consistently enforced in the past.

In the end, the board agreed to forward all of the personnel committee’s recommendations to a personnel committee of the whole meeting.

Appliance recycling day set for Aug. 18

The board approved a request from Environmental Health Officer Bill Stephens to waive the $20 fee for major household appliances during a special collection day at the Wright County Compost and Recycling Facility, Wednesday, Aug. 18 from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Stephens said the county has conducted county-wide clean-up days for electronics the past two years.

This year, instead of electronics, the goal is to target large appliances, such as refrigerators and freezers that may be behind garages or stored in sheds, as well as those that have been dumped along roadways, in woods, or along streams.

Sawatzke said the schedule would prevent many people from participating, and asked if it was a program for senior citizens and the unemployed.

Stephens replied that the proposed schedule would allow the use of Sentence-to-Serve labor to help with the unloading of vehicles, and would facilitate participation of a vendor who would provide three or four workers to help with the program.

He said if there is a need, the board could consider a second collection day sometime this fall.

Medical examiner’s report reviewed

Dr. Quinn Strobl, Wright County’s chief medical examiner, presented her annual report for 2009.

Her office investigated 377 deaths in 2009, a slight increase from 2008.

A total of 225 cremations were approved.

Nearly 30 percent of the deaths required a scene investigation, and 57 autopsies were performed, slightly more than the previous year.

Sixteen of the autopsied cases died of natural causes. The majority of these were the result of atherosclerotic heart disease, with the youngest victim being 41 years of age.

Twelve people died in motor vehicle crashes, including five who were drivers intoxicated with alcohol.

Sixteen deaths were attributed to suicide.

Odds and ends

In other business, the board:

• announced a public hearing at 7 p.m. Tuesday, July 27 in room 120A at the government center regarding permit renewal for the Rolling Hills Landfill.

• heard a report from Darrin Lahr, routing lead for CapX2020, regarding a Monticello-to-St. Cloud transmission line project. Lahr said the company is in the process of contacting the 130 affected landowners regarding right-of-way acquisition.

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