Vernon County announces pick for administrative coordinator but will pay two salaries for the remainder of the year

Editors note: This is a much longer article than usual because it summarizes four years of county meetings in an attempt to give our audience a deeper history of decisions that were made in Vernon County government that preceded this point. For your convenience we have placed a timeline of meetings and decisions with links so you can jump to sections without the need to scroll to that section. These subsections are in chronological order after the top story, starting with the creation of the county administrator position in the fall of 2020.

County Board hires Cassandra Hanan as administrative coordinator to replace county administrator

Vernon County announced at the May 16th County Board of Supervisors meeting it has hired Cassie Hanan as the county’s next administrative coordinator. Hanan comes to Vernon County from La Crosse County where she worked in local government. Hanan and the Vernon County Human Resources Office provided us with this statement following the announcement.

I’m honored that Vernon County has entrusted me to serve as its next administrative coordinator. This opportunity is truly a dream come true. I grew up in La Crosse as the oldest of 12 children. Public service has been a passion of mine since I was a child. I attended the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse and earned my degree in public administration. I have spent the last 11 years working in La Crosse County, for both the village of Holmen and the town of Campbell, most recently as the clerk/treasurer/zoning administrator. I have experience in a variety of different government functions including elections, budgeting, utilities, human resources, planning and zoning, and emergency management.

I enjoy working on a variety of projects and always strive for positive relationships with both the public, and my peers. I have three boys at home, Eli-14, Nolan-11, and Cooper-5. We enjoy getting outside as much as possible whether we are hiking, biking, kayaking, etc. I also enjoy cooking and baking, which is a necessity when you have three growing boys that love to eat. I am excited for this new role and look forward to serving the residents of this beautiful area.

The county set Hanan’s salary at $105,000 as a coordinator but will also pay outgoing county administrator Cari Redington her salary of $134,000 for the rest of the year, even though her employment with the county ended in March. The county also increased the pay of Amy Oliver, who took on the job Interim county coordinator in addition to her duties as a grants officer, while the county searched for someone to hire as the permanent coordinator. Oliver will be paid about $4,000 extra for taking on the role of interim coordinator during the search period between March and June. Oliver was also one the finalists for the coordinator job but will go back to her role as grants officer with the hiring of Hanan.

The bottom line for the county is they will pay $20,000 a month for the rest of the year for its top manager spot, essentially paying for two people for the rest of the year even though only one is employed. How the county ended up in that situation is not easy to explain and involves a long and winding road of decisions over the last four years. To explain that series of decisions, we have to go back in time a bit.

Vernon County government underwent some major reforms under previous county board leadership including previous county board chairman Justin Running. Running was elected as Vernon County board chair in April of 2020, and later left when he was elected as City of Viroqua mayor in the spring of 2022. Those major changes included:

  • Creating and hiring a county administrator
  • Downsizing the county board from 29 supervisors to 19
  • Reducing/combining the number of standing committees

Creating/hiring the county’s first administrator

The first major change the county decided to implement in 2020 was to create the county administrator position. Every county is required to have one of three types of executive that carry various levels of authority and responsibility. In the state of Wisconsin under statute 95.18 counties have three types of administrator to choose from: county executive, county administrator or an administrative coordinator. All three types are attempts to move away from the form of government Vernon County has always operated under, that is being both the legislative and executive at the same time. A UW-Extension information sheet describes the three choices as “The clear progression is a diminishing of county board administrative functions, and greater specification of administrative authority in one of the three county administrative position options.”

  • A full county executive is elected, and is considered a coequal to the county board, answering to voters.
  • A county administrator is not elected but hired by the board and answers to the board. A county administrator is responsible for the day to day operations of county government with department heads answering to them. A county administrator has the authority to appoint all the non-elected committee members. In Vernon County the elected committees include Conservation and Education, Infrastructure, Human Services and Veterans and Vernon Manor Board of Trustees.
  • An administrative coordinator authority is less explicit. Department heads do not necessarily answer to a coordinator nonetheless state statute 59.19 states: “The administrative coordinator shall be responsible for coordinating all administrative and management functions of the county government not otherwise vested by law in boards or commissions, or in other elected officers.”

Historically the Vernon County Board of Supervisors did appoint a county coordinator every year at their organizational meeting as required by state law, but it was viewed as largely a ceremonial title and was not a true coordinator. Some years they placed the title with the solid waste administrator or the county clerk, and other years with various county department heads. The change to an actual administrator came after numerous meetings and months of discussion at various committees about the pros and cons of creating the position. County leadership had discussions with other counties who already had administrators to gather input. Running and the majority of the board expressed a desire to hire professional management and centralize decision making. Previously, county department heads reported to their oversight committees and budgeting was handled by the finance committee with the county clerk compiling the budget from numbers submitted from department heads.

In the end, the board approved the creation of the county administrator position at their Sept. 15, 2020 meeting by a roll call vote of 23-6. The no votes included Kyle Semke, Garrick Olerud, Mike Leis, Frank Easterday, Gail Muller and Shawn Redington. Maximum pay was set at $120,000.

After a search and interviews of candidates the board hired Cari Redington to fill the spot. Redington happened to be the sister of then County Board Supervisor Shawn Redington (District 19) who was later defeated in an election and is no longer on the board. Cari Redington came to the county with an impressive resume having worked nationally and internationally in the private sector. She spent more than 15 years in several senior-level positions with Warner Brothers Entertainment Group, Disney Consumer Products, Samsung Global Strategy Group and Accenture. She had been living in the Los Angeles area but happened to be escaping the pandemic by staying with family in the Hillsboro area at the time the county was trying to fill the the new administrator position. The county officially hired Redington in December of 2020 at a salary of $120,000. Total cost of the position with benefits came to $154,148.

County committees consolidated

Under Running’s leadership, In July of 2021 the county legal affairs committee agreed to consolidate most of its standing committees, going from 16 committees down to six. The next month the full board of supervisors approved those changes in six separate resolutions. Here is a list of those changes.

  • Law Enforcement and Emergency Management Committees was consolidated under the Public Safety Committee.
  • Human Services and Veterans Services Committees were consolidated under the Human Services Committee.
  • Tourism and Economic Development and Economic Development Loan Committees were consolidated under the Tourism and Economic Development Committee (Later changed to Economic Development).
  • Administration, Legal Affairs/Land Sales, Personnel, Information Technology and Buildings and Facilities Committees were consolidated under the Administration Committee (now the General Government Committee).
  • Highway, Zoning and Solid Waste Committees were consolidated under the Infrastructure Committee.
  • University of Wisconsin – Extension and Land Conservation Committees were consolidated under the Conservation and Education Committee.

Board of supervisors downsized

The third structural change to county government was a downsize of the board of supervisors from 29 to 19 in October of 2021. The county was already in the process of redrawing district maps as required by law every 10 years following the federal census. Districts are adjusted every 10 years to account for population shifts and to keep districts equal in size. Several county board supervisors brought forth the idea of downsizing the board, an idea that had been brought a number of times in the past. Maps were drawn with alternatives of 19, 23 and 25 districts.

The pros and cons of downsizing were discussed at length at a number of meetings at both the Legal Affairs Committee and at the Board of Supervisors in the summer of 2021. At one of those meetings, then Supervisor Garrick Olerud presented a spreadsheet of 10 similar sized counties and pointed out that Vernon County had a larger board than most other counties by comparison. Some Supervisors felt the smaller board would create more competition and others felt it would water down representation. A summary of that discussion was printed in the Vernon County Times on October 18, 2021.

The reduction in board districts was approved while approving the redistricting maps. Supervisor Dave Eggen made an amendment to the resolution to approve the tentative redistricting map to reduce the number of seats from 29 to 19. That amendment passed by a vote of 15-12 with Beitlich, Strudthoff, Nickelatti, Rae, Bringe, Henry, Clark, Easterday, Yttri, Sullivan, Muller, and Mitchell voting no. The redistricting maps were then approved by a vote of 25-2 with Supervisors Strudthoff and Clark voting no.

A couple of more changes that are worth noting is that long time clerk Ron Hoff retired from County service in 2020 after holding that office for 18 years. Jody Audetat, a long time assistant of Hoff’s, whom he endorsed, won election to that seat in the November 2020 election.

Goede elected board chair

In the spring of 2022 when former board chair Justin Running left to take his seat as Mayor of Viroqua, the county board chair seat was now vacant. With redistricting and downsizing there were a lot new faces on the board. John Pedretti in District 6, LaVon (Spanky) Felton in District 7 , Charles Jacobson in District 11, Sandy Schweiger in District 15 , and Paul Wilson in District 16 were all first time board members. At the April 2022 organizational meeting a number of incumbent board members threw their name in to take on the chairs seat including Lorn Goede, Alcyann Taylor, Ole Yttri, David Eggen and Mary Bringe. Under board rules the board votes and eliminates the lowest vote getter in each round until one candidate achieves a simple majority. The record of the voting shows in the first round of voting Goede received 6 votes, Taylor 7 , Yttri 2, Eggen 3, Bringe 1. Bringe was eliminated. Second round of voting saw Goede get 9 votes, Taylor 7, Yttri 1, Eggen 2 . Yttri was eliminated. Third round of voting saw Goede get 12 votes, Taylor 6, Eggen 1. Goede won by a simple majority and was elected as county board chair.

Administrator picks committee members for first time

In that same April 2022 meeting, the county administrator appointed supervisors to some of the committees for the first time. This had traditionally been done by the county board chair, but state statute gave that authority to the administrator for all committees not required to hold elections. The board still elected supervisors to those committees which included the Conservation and Education, Infrastructure, Human Services and Veterans Affairs, and the Vernon manor Board of Trustees. Redington, would however, for the first time appoint supervisors to Finance, General Government, Health, Public Safety, and Economic Development committees. This marked a major shift for the board, and some supervisors commented they were not aware the administrator had statutory authority to pick some committees. Redington explained the process she developed at the time for making her selections to committees with the goal of making sure each supervisor served on at least one committee and meeting with supervisors individually to get their input on where they wanted to serve so she could best utilize their skills and expertise. The board did still retain approval authority over Redington’s choices and voted to approve her picks in that April 2022 meeting.

Finance manager hired

The county would later (June 2022) create a finance manager (Bobbi Johnson) and began to consolidate budgeting and bookkeeping functions under Redington. That meant moving some the functions from the clerks office that had previously handled those functions to the finance office. These management changes were undertaken to move the county closer to its long-term goal of getting a better handle on it’s bookkeeping and budget process. The county finance committee has been discussing the possibility of adopting better budgeting processes like Priority Based Budgeting (PPB) for a number of years. The county has been running a structural deficit, sometimes as high as $2 million, on a budget of about $25 million. The deficit grew more in recent years when the county jail lost a contract to house state inmates that brought the county close to $1 million in annual revenue. The county has used various ways to make up for those deficits year in and year out by using various reserves like the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds or cash reserves in various accounts, but has been discussing how to close that gap to make sure revenues match expenditures for a number of years.

Business as usual, centralization continues

Throughout the summer of 2022 and into the fall things seemed to be progressing with the centralizing of management and the new committee structure. The finance committee brought in other counties in Wisconsin that had successfully transitioned to Priority based Budgeting and presented committee members with the pros and cons of the approach. The feedback from that work indicated it would likely take four to six years to transition to that process. Discussions around the topic included the possibility of hiring an outside firm with expertise in PBB to help the county make that transition. Discussions also took place around the need to update the county’s outdated enterprise computer system, that was over 35 years old, to integrate functions such as accounting and payroll across numerous departments.

The new finance staff began consolidating bookkeeping and budgeting in coordination with department heads. Consolidation of some functions across all departments were pursued, including centralization of printers. Redington worked with IT staff on a countywide initiative that would later reduce printers from about 103 individual printers to about 30 centralized printers/copiers that would be more secure through a switch to personalized badge system. The process would also centralize purchasing of equipment and paper to realize more cost savings.

During this time the county agreed to sell its old highway shop in downtown Viroqua to a developer for a housing project (a process that is still underway). The county applied for a $1.2 million grant for a storage building for the emergency management office and hazmat team. They completed a wage study and adjusted the employee wage scale. The county also used some of the federal ARPA funds to increase wages front line health workers and passed a raise and cost of living increases for non-union employees to help stop employee losses. At one point human resources director Serena Inman reported to the board that the county had lost over 150 employees to other employers. In August 2022, the County Board adopted a proposal brought forward by new finance manager Johnson to collect a $25 per vehicle county wheel tax that was estimated to bring in about $650,000 to the county. The tax would be administered with almost no cost to the county as it would be collected by the state DOT when vehicles are registered.

Supervisor resigns due to conflict of interest

Lavon (Spanky) Felton won election in the spring of 2022 defeating Nathaniel Slack for the county board seat in District 7. Felton then resigned in June because of a state statute regarding conflict of interest. Under that statute any person serving as a representative cannot do more than $15,000 worth of business with the entity they are serving. The issue had been the topic of discussion and various committees and at the full board meetings in the months following his election. Felton is the owner of all three car dealerships in Vernon County and his businesses do a considerable amount of business with the county in the form of wrecker services, vehicle repair and auto sales. Those transactions easily exceed that $15,000 limit. County corporation counsel Nikki Swayne reported to the board, and Felton, following his election that she had checked state statutes and consulted state officials and confirmed that Felton would either need to resign his seat or divest himself from control in his businesses. Swayne told Felton and the board the statute was a criminal statue and it was up to the individual representative to decide how to handle compliance with the statute. Felton said he tried to find ways of keeping his seat by limiting the amount of business he did with the county but that was not feasible, and, therefore, decided to step down.

Some Supervisor’s voiced their opposition to the resignation. Supervisor Dave Eggen (District 8) voiced his opposition at one board meeting about the statute at a later meeting when a replacement was named.

“I am sure all of you, like me, watched the Gubernatorial debate last week,” Eggen said. “Tim Michels the challenger for the governor, he was asked, how are you going to side step your conflict of interest with your $5 billion annual business he does with the state, and he said quite simply, my staff and I have put together a plan to put all of my business dealing with the state into a trust. So you can do $5 billion dollars in business but you can’t sell a couple of squad cars and a few pickups without getting called on the carpet. I am still upset about that whole thing.”

October 2022 board meeting full of action – two elected officials resign – District 7 supervisor replaced

Oct 18 Board meeting – discussion of resignations and appointment of District 7 supervisor

The October Board of Supervisors meeting was a meeting filled with lots of action.

Board Chair Goede announced a replacement for Supervisor LaVon (Spanky) Felton (District 7) who resigned from the board due to state statute regarding conflict of interest. Felton’s seat had been unfilled between June and October, but Goede announced he had found a replacement for Felton at the October, 2022 meeting. He appointed Mary Meehan-Strub to fill the District 7 seat. Nathaniel Slack who had run for the seat spoke during public comment at the meeting and said he had contacted Goede about serving in the seat since he had already run and provided letters of support from people in the district. Supervisor Alycann Taylor asked Goede why he chose Meehan-Strub over someone who already run for the seat. Goede said he had talked to Slack but since the voters had rejected Slack in the election he decided to start over with a “clean slate” and if voters wanted someone else in the next election they could choose someone else. Goede said Mehaan-Strub was a retired attorney and very qualified to serve. The board approved the appointment by a voice vote.

County Clerk Jody Audetat announced she was leaving the county for other employment (Audetat was later replaced by Jerry Pedretti who was appointed by Board Chair Goede and approved by the board in November of 2022).

Goede announced that Register of Deeds Marilyn Hauge was retiring. Hauge was later replaced by Lindsey Formanek who was appointed by Governor Evers. Formanek had been working in the register of deeds office prior to her appointment.

County audit reveals long list of weaknesses

October 18, 2022 – Melanie Lendosky of Johnson & Block delivers audit report to Vernon County board of supervisors

The county received its yearly audit report at that October meeting. That audit report contained what the auditor characterized as “fairly significant deficiencies” in county bookkeeping and management. Melanie Lendosky with the firm Johnson & Block delivered the report to the board and summarized the firms findings.

Every unit of government is required under Wisconsin law to have an outside auditor examine their financials every year and submit a report on the audit to the state Department of Revenue. The report was based on 2021 financials and Lendosky outlined what she called five “material weaknesses” which she said are the “most severe” kind of finding for an audit.

Material Weaknesses reported include:

  • 1. Reconcile cash
  • 2.Reconciling subsidiary ledgers for tax certificates receivable and delinquent special assessments held in trust
  • 3.Material audit entries
  • 4.Segregation of duties
  • 5.Preparation of financial statements
  • 6.Preparation of schedules of federal and state awards.

Lendosky went on to review a summary of the material weaknesses in the counties financial systems and bookkeeping procedures. Lendosky said these weaknesses were “not new” to the board and has been reporting them to the board for a number of years.

“The top ones are the ones we are considering material weaknesses,” Lendosky said. “Meaning they were enough that your financials would have been materially wrong had we not made changes or we didn’t, I guess, find the issues.”

“Cash was reconciled throughout the year. However, when we came to audit in December, it was not, by hundreds of thousands off.”

Melanie Lendosky – Auditor – Johnson & Block

“Cash was reconciled throughout the year,” Lendosky said. “However when we came to audit in December, it was not, by hundreds of thousands off. What had happened, at least my understanding of it is, you guys had been changing in accounting, or accounting staff. Which meant you had department heads that were able to make journal entries into the system. By nothing intentional, but entries were made into the system that affected cash that shouldn’t have.”

Lendosky said an employee error in reconciling checks caused the county to lose records for checks from an extended time period and forced employees to go back and manually reconcile checks for that entire time period.

“I am not exactly sure all of why it happened here but outstanding checks are marked each month as cleared,” Lendosky said. “Sometime throughout the year somebody went in and cleared them out. So there was like no record of them. They tried to work with the software to restore them, but unfortunately the system didn’t get restored properly. So between that and the changeover in accounting there were multiple errors in the cash rec problem. So between Bobbi and Michelle and myself over at Vernon Manor we spent literally hours upon weeks trying to go through and figure out what went wrong and what happened. So that is the main reason the audit got delayed.”

Lendosky said county personnel, at the time in October of 2022, were still in the process of restoring those checks and it would still take some time to complete that task.

“The second weakness is a repeat from last year,” Lendosky said. “We had to make some significant journal entries just reconciling the tax rolls getting the revenues where they needed to be.”

The third weakness Lendosky cited had to do with the large number of “material audit adjustments” made to the county financials.

“We had I believe a little over 90 entries that we made to the financial records to get them adjusted to where they needed to be,” Lendosky said. “Some of them were pretty significant.’

A fourth weakness in Lendosky’s report is what she called segregation of duties.

“Right now with a county of your size and with you rearranging the duties in your finance office there is a lot of overlapping duties,” Lendosky said. “So it just opens up the risk to fraud. Hopefully with the finance department and getting things sorted around, maybe this can be at least minimized in the future.”

Lendosky explained two other weaknesses that many counties have which are preparation of financial statements and preparation of the schedule of federal awards has to do with the auditing firm having to prepare those items for the county.

“This is one that most of our clients have,” Lendosky said. “There are just many changes in accounting standards, for one it is not feasible to keep up with it, so a lot of times its just easier.”

Lendosky went on to summarize other issues the county should correct that may not be material weaknesses but have been repeated issues the audit has pointed out for a number of years. Things like reconciling other cash accounts. Lendosky said there are a number of these accounts in various departments that are not being monitored closely enough.

“They are accounts that again are just not on the books,” Lendosky said. “I think they are all being reconciled, its just that the activity running through that cash account isn’t always on the books. It eventually makes it there when they withdraw it out of that bank account and put it into the general checking of the county, but that initial deposit in some of these accounts aren’t being recorded on the books.”

Auditor recommends continued centralization

Lendosky also talked recommendations to help solve the issues outlined in their report. Lendosky recommended that the county continue to develop centralized accounting systems, process manuals and purchasing and resource management.

“Its just to the benefit of the county that everything continues to make a step more toward centralized ,” Lendosky said. “You guys have heard me harp on this for years upon end about getting centralized accounting. I don’t want to not acknowledge what you have done to make a step in the right direction. You guys have hired an administrator. You’ve created a finance department. You have what I would call a financial manager now. The biggest next step is to support those individuals in that department, because there are going to be a lot of tough things coming down the pike that, when you start pulling control from individual departments, they’re not going to like it. It is because everything is run so decentralized. This process when we began I tried to tell you, its not going to be an easy process. When you start pulling control, it’s hard. And it is incredibly hard and I have had lots of conversations with the administrator and the financial manager, they try to take a step forward and they get shoved three steps back. So the biggest thing for you as a board now is, you have made these decisions, meaning you want to support centralized accounting, you want to have things so your record keeping is better so you guys get better financial reports, the next step is going to be for you guys to truly support that. And probably make some hard decisions in keeping everything as centralized as possible. Your accounting now has the expertise and knowledge I think, again I don’t work daily and I didn’t do the hiring but on the face of things it looks like you guys have the knowledge base you need. Now its a matter of supporting them to try to get these controls we are talking about, implemented, so that as you go forward you can even better financial records and you can fully rely on the information your are being given when you go to set your budgets. So again, its going to be a difficult process, it always is. But you are, I think, making some good strides.”

You guys have hired an administrator. You’ve created a finance department. You have what I would call a financial manager now. The biggest next step is to support those individuals in that department, because there are going to be a lot of tough things coming down the pike that, when you start pulling control from individual departments, their not going to like it.

Melanie Lendosky – Auditor – Johnson & Block

Lendosky said in other counties she has worked with the first couple of years of transition is often hard. Lendosky went on the say some of the issue was that some of the processes were previously under control of elected personnel and that kind of arrangement is not always the best arrangement for continuity.

“With this cash reconciliation you had change over in accounting (moving from the clerk’s office to the finance office),” Lendosky said. “And you had changeover in elected positions. The hard part is this information was being tracked by these elected positions, and if that has the option of changing over every four years, that’s like, if you run a business, every four years you are going to change the accountant. Most people wouldn’t want to do that. You want your knowledge base to stay. Now you cant guarantee someone will stay in accounting but hopefully you can cross train in that department and set up process manuals. So when people do turnover, these centralized accounting systems we are talking about, its all documented. So hopefully anybody else can step into that and keep that part of your county going. Right what happened is, it kind of got dropped. People didn’t know how pieces of it were supposed to be done and pieces got dropped. So hopefully by getting the right people in the right places, nobody will be up here next year reading the same thing to you.”

Lendosky also mentions “lapsing funds” as an issue for the county. She said the county has over 90 of them and lacked central monitoring but they are being tracked in individual departments.

“There are not a lot of checks and balances that revenues and expenses are being accounted for in the same fund,” Lendosky said “Some of these funds are creating pretty heft accumulated balances. My caution with that is if it is grant money, with grant money of you get it and you are supposed to spend it.”

Lendosky said lack of monitoring could lead to compliance issues, and if the money is tax levy money, the county should be asking if that is the best place to keep those dollars. Lendosky said the county needs more oversight because the an audit is not as likely to prevent fraud as internal controls are.

“One thing you have to understand as a board is the auditors aren’t going to catch fraud,” Lendosky said. “I don’t want that to be a surprise to you guys, but were not. That’s not why you hire us as an auditors. Where it’s going to get caught, is your staff. It’s your department heads. It’s an employee that sees something and goes … that doesn’t seem right. Or, they (an employee) are charging stuff on a credit card but I know we don’t use that in this office. That type of stuff. But when you don’t have controls (centralized management and accounting) that people know that people are checking, there is more risk for fraud. So yes, when things are this messy or when we have this many journal entries, or when we have this many management letter comments, it doesn’t make me sleep real easy at night because it is …what else is out there that we are missing? And that is why it is really important that you take this stuff seriously. I mean I would love to say that I am going to catch everything, but there are 99 funds we kind of have to do things on a risk basis.”

Employees paid outside payroll system

Finally Lendosky refers to the discovery that some employees had been paid using vendor checks rather than being paid through the payroll system. She said the situation is ongoing and the finance office is in the process of trying to rectify the situation.

“General gist of it is that in 2020 there were some employees that were paid with accounts payable checks,” Lendosky said. “It should have went through payroll. The issue isn’t whether it should have been paid. I think the discussion has to be, you have IRS, WRS ramifications with that and how you want that to be handled. So again, that longer you want probably the bigger the issues and penalties you are going to have.”

Lendosky did not specify what department made those payments but urged the board to give the finance department guidance on handling the situation.

State Department of Revenue threatens to send own auditors

Lendosky reported that the audit was so difficult and found so many things that needed to be corrected, they were late getting the report to the state.

“Your other report is your regulatory report to the Department of Revenue,” Lendosky said. “That was filed and amended a couple of times throughout our process of the audit. Your audit as you can tell is being issued a lot later than we would normally like to. Normally we would like to have audit issued in the end of July because that is when the Department of Revenue requires it.”

Lendosky would later comment that the report was so late the Department of Revenue essentially demanded it.

“The Department of Revenue basically said you will send the report or else. We just had a lot of extra time buried into this audit. It does not look good when we issue an audit in October. If we are not meeting deadlines, we had some pretty nasty emails coming from DOR (Department of Revenue) saying…file it or else we are going to send our own auditors in. We are going to start penalizing your state aids. So it does matter.”

Melanie Lendosky – Auditor – Johnson & Block

“The Department of Revenue basically said you will send the report or else,” Lendosky said. “We just had a lot of extra time buried into this audit. It does not look good when we issue an audit in October. If we are not meeting deadlines, we had some pretty nasty emails coming from DOR (Department of Revenue) saying…file it or else we are going to send our own auditors in. We are going to start penalizing your state aids. So it does matter.”

County administrator Redington clarified for the board the this audit was from 2021 which was before the creation and hiring of a finance department and a finance manager and there is progress toward correcting some of the concerns Lendosky raised.

Supervisor Martha Olson asked Lendosky if it is common for a county government to have over 90 lapsing funds that were accumulating balances. Lendosky said it depends on whether or not a county has centralized management and monitoring of accounts and it comes down to if someone is monitoring what is going and out of accounts. Lendosky said Vernon County does not have that now but is moving in that direction.

“I would think that would be an accounting nightmare to keep track of all of those,” said Olson.

“Yes it is, and I think that is why you have what is happening.” Lendosky said. “It’s that it is not being monitored because you guys (the county) were so decentralized that each of those departments are just kind of monitoring their own so of course, if it was yours, if you have levy (tax levy) money that goes in and it is not necessarily being tracked real close, of course you are going to keep it. Because then you can use it for future expenses if the budgets get cut. I am not saying that is what is happening, it’s things that, it needs to be looked into.”

Redington would later talk about those funds in the same meeting during a budget update saying those funds are being examined closely and if there is excess money in some of those accounts they are being used for budget requests rather than use new tax levy money. Redington said those funds are part of the reason the structural deficit had been cut from about $2 million to about $1 million.

County Board votes to eliminate county administrator position

October 18, 2022 – Vernon County board of supervisors discussion and vote on eliminating county administrator position

Perhaps the biggest item on the county board agenda in that October 2022 meeting was a resolution that would change the top management position for the count from a county administrator back to an administrative coordinator. The item had appeared late on the agenda and there had been no committee meetings about changing the management structure.

When item 11-C was brought to the floor, Goede introduced the item by saying the board had not reviewed how the change to having a county administrator was going.

“I guess what brought this up is that it has been a couple years now since we have had our administrator,” Goede said. “Is there any comments? Do we like it? Don’t we like it? What do we like about it? Do we like this structure that we are headed for? Just a general discussion on it and whether we want to move to a county coordinator or a county executive? What have been our experiences? Anyone want to speak to it?”

Supervisor Dave Eggen (District 8) immediately made a motion to go into closed session. No one entered the closed session other than board members. Redington did not attend the meeting. Following about a 45 minute closed session Supervisor Will Beitlich (District 1), who is the Vice-Chair of the board, was the first to comment. Beitlich said he had been chair of the personnel committee and part of the selection process when Redington was hired.

“When we chose the administrator I was the chair of personnel,” Beitlich said. “Justin (Running) was county board chair and he came to personnel. I don’t know, somewhere along the line, maybe I didn’t do enough research, but they recommended this middle administrator. That’ s what was recommended to us. Being I live close to La Crosse County, I knew they had an executive one, I knew I wasn’t in favor of that. What I didn’t know was all the duties an administrator had by state statutes. That came out after the fact that we were in the process of looking for an administrator. That may be due to some negligence on my part, not asking or exploring that situation. But if I had went the direction that I think I should have went, this administrative coordinator would have been more to my liking. I’m just telling you how this got there. We were kind of thinking that maybe somebody else had done all the exploratory work on this, and maybe they had and maybe they hadn’t and that is what they liked. But we were commissioned to look for an administrator, so that’s what we did and here we are today.”

Supervisor Eggen did later say he felt “It was long overdue” that the board visit the topic but did not add any more specifics.

The board amended the resolution to be effective April 1, 2022. The resolution, as amended, passed with 11 yes votes and six no votes. One supervisor was absent and Supervisor Mary Henry abstained because she was on vacation and phoned into the meeting but was not able to hear all of the discussion. No votes came from Supervisors Meehan-Strub, Olson, Easterday, Jacobson, Taylor, and Yttri.

A couple of issues arose out of passage of the resolution that became the topic of a number of meetings at the General Government Committee in the months that followed. One problem that surfaced after making the change was that Redington was under a contract that had been signed in April of 2021, but the term of that contract began January 1, 2022 and would run through December 31, 2023. By approving the resolution that stated the administrator position would no longer exist after April 1 of 2023, the county essentially eliminated Redington’s position as of April 1 but would still be obligated to pay her the rest of her contract through the end of 2023.

Redington did leave her employment with the county at the end of March and has since been appointed by Governor Evers to research and policy division administrator with the Wisconsin Department of Revenue. Subsequent meetings in various county committees confirmed the county will continue to pay her salary for the remainder of the year.

Open meetings complaint filed with district attorney

Another issue arose from the October 2022 board meeting surrounding the use of a closed session to discuss the structure of county government. Supervisor Henry would later file an open meetings complaint with Vernon County District Attorney Tim Gaskell. She said that she felt the closed session was improper because the exception to the open meetings law used to go into closed session stated it was a discussion about performance. But the discussion when the vote was taken following the closed sessions was not about performance but about the general structure of county government.

Henry reported that she subsequently met with Goede, Gaskell, Corporation Counsel Swayne and fellow board member Alycann Taylor to discuss the open meeting issue, but no findings have been issued from that meeting. We also reached out to the county board chair, the district attorney’s office, the county clerk and the Vernon County corporation counsel to get a report on a determination as to whether the closed session was properly held, but we have not received an answer at this time.

Employees voice opinions on decision to eliminate administrator – October 19

Over the next several months, through the end of 2022 and into the spring of 2023, the General Government Committee would be tasked with restructuring the upper management of the county following the decision to eliminate the administrator position and go back to an administrative coordinator. Those meetings centered around whether the county would go back to the old way of management with a coordinator in title only, or have a stand-alone administrator with real management responsibilities. The restructuring topic would be on General Government agendas at nearly every meeting with the committee holding two special meetings just to hammer out what the management structure would look like.

October 19, 2022 – Vernon County General Government Committee meeting

On October 19, the day after the board voted to eliminate the administrator position, the General Government Committee met. Although the specific item of administrator was not on the agenda, it is the committee that the administrator reports to and several board members as well as county personnel spoke out about the decision. Phil Hewitt is Vernon County highway commissioner and voiced his disagreement with the decision.

“From a department head point of view I always had a great rapport with the county board,” Hewitt said. “The highway committee and my buildings committee have always worked well, but I think when I was on the committee that we hired, and voted to have an administrator position, from my personal opinion and the dealings, and the direction we went with highway and buildings and grounds, I think it was a good move. I think we may have made a mistake with the board yesterday. Just my opinion.”

Finance manager Bobbi Johnson also spoke in favor of the administrator position.

“I am still relatively new here,” Johnson said. “I have worked under both administrations, both elected and non-elected. You get more done with with a non-elected administrator. You don’t have several different personal feelings in place. Where I came from we had an elected mayor, and not all departments were held responsible. Following ordinances and following policies and procedures. As a newer department, and what we are going through, we are going to very much need that kind of support. What I’ve seen from the board and my personal opinion, my career off the table, my personal opinion, it is very hard to have 19 people have their emotions and personalities involved in their decisions. But when it comes to the organization and making the right decisions as a whole and proceeding with correcting a lot of the issues with our financials going forward, you are going to have to think more like a business manager.”

Amy Holte, who is the county’s grants officer, and would later be named the interim county coordinator, shared her concern about the decision.

“I also just want to express my disappointment in the decision that was made yesterday,” Oliver said. “As a department head I would have loved for the decision to be …hey lets get more feedback from the rest of the department heads. I’ve always felt very supported by Cari. I thought we were taking great strides in really creating some efficiency and unification among county departments, and I think this decision is going to take us steps backwards. I really wish feedback would have been taken from each department head before any action was taken.”

The General Government Committee would meet again on November 2 and again county board supervisors voiced their opposition to the decision, Supervisor Henry, who had phoned in while on vacation on the day of the vote but had to abstain because of a bad connection, voiced her frustration.

“You know when you think back,” Henry said. “Everybody who is up there (on the committee) knows how many meetings it took to get an administrator. And we had more committees and granted, its been slim lined, but we had how many meetings. That was a big process. That was about a year. Then all of a sudden, boom, its gone.

The General Government Committee did hold a special meeting just to talk about the management structure and the change back to a coordinator on November 22. The meeting was heavily attended by county board members and supervisors. No action was taken but a general consensus emerged that some supervisors, and specifically chairman Goede, felt committee assignments should be under the control of the board chairman. Redington reviewed the process that she presented to the board during their organizational meeting back in April that included getting input from every board members on their skills and where they wanted to serve. Redington also reminded the committee that her choices were subject to board approval and they had the ability to reject them. The committee requested that the Human Resources Director draft a job description for the administrative coordinator that reflects this feedback for review at the next General Government Committee meeting.

General Government Committee charts a path forward – January 3, 2023 special meeting

General Government Committee held a special meeting just to discuss the county coordinator position and how to realign the top management structure of the county on January 3 , and again on February 1. At the January 3 meeting Redington would make a statement clarifying the terms of that contract and that she would not be taking the administrative coordinator position since her contract was for the county administrator position and she was not a part of changing the contract. The statement would make clear that she intended to continue her employment as administrator, but the county needed to make a plan to transition to the new structure with a coordinator. Redington read the following written statement:

Vernon County signed an employment contract with me for the role of county
administrator and in Section II of this contract, it states that the duties and powers of
this role are set forth in Wisconsin law, including Wisconsin Statute 59.18. This
contract makes no mention of a position other than county administrator. The term
of this contract is January 1, 2022, to December 31, 2023.

There has been no discussion or mutual agreement on changes made to the
current contract between Vernon County and me for the role of county administrator.

To date, I have not at any point been in negotiation with anyone representing
Vernon County or the Board of Supervisors for the role of administrative coordinator.
I have been asked individually by supervisors to consider the role of administrative
coordinator and while I genuinely appreciate the positive & supportive feedback that I
have received, my response has consistently been that this would not be a fit moving
forward. On the record, I wish to make it clear and transparent that respectfully, but
without reservation, I will not apply for, nor will I accept appointment to the role of
administrative coordinator.

I am committed to the residents and staff of Vernon County, and it is my goal
to facilitate an effective and professional transition of the administrative role and its
duties in whatever organizational design the board wishes but that must move
forward in an expedient manner.

No one on the committee commented following that statement, but the committee did go on to lay out the role of the coordinator that would need to be hired. During both the January and February meetings the committee came to a compromise on one the main points of contention, committee appointments. The committee agreed that committee assignments would made by the board chair but they would work in collaboration with the coordinator. The description also clarified the coordinator would have direct supervision over non-elected department heads and be responsible for their reviews and work with the departments home committee on hiring and firing decisions.

General Government Committee hammers out new coordinator duties – January 3, 2023

At that January 3 General Government meeting, the committee also hammered out a detailed job description for the administrative coordinator position and how their duties will interact with employees, department heads and the board of supervisors. The duties closely matched those of the previous administrator position with the exception of committee appointments. In the end the committee described that process as the coordinator working in collaboration with the county board chair with final decisions up to the chair. The coordinator will still develop and present the budget with the finance director, negotiate contracts for the county in collaboration with corporation counsel and the board, supervisor department heads and do their reviews, hire and fire.

Supervisor Kyle Semke asked county administrator Redington her feedback on the job description and if anything should be changed or changed based on her experience.

“I think the job description is good. I think a lot of thought went into it. I think the job description and the ability of the individual to perform in it will be as strong as the board’s support of it.”

Cari Redington – Former Vernon County Administrator

“I think the job description is good,” Redington said. “I think a lot of thought went into it. I think the job description and the ability of the individual to perform in it will be as strong as the board’s support of it.”

Coordinator oversight, executive committee discussed

One of the issues the general government committee discussed that grew a bit more contentious than the others was the issue of oversight of the coordinator and how they would interact with the board. Chair Goede brought forth the idea of a separate executive committee that would oversee the coordinator. The county had an executive committee previously, before the committees were combined, and that was the committee the administrator reported to. The General Government Committee was later designated as the administrator’s home committee after the committee reorganization. General Government Committee Chair Alycann Taylor asked Goede to outline his idea and who would be on an executive committee.

“The purpose of that committee generally would be to support the coordinator,” Goede said. “With suggestions, problems, whatever might come from the different departments. It might come form the departments heads. To bring to the committee, just a flow of information more than anything else. It’s probably a work in progress is probably what it will be.”

Committee chair Taylor asked Goede for more specifics.

“The purpose of this committee is to have essentially a home committee for the administrative coordinator position,” Taylor said. “My understanding, is to help give direction, support, training now, is that the intention? There has been a lot of discussion on lines of communication, feeling like there needed to be a different avenue of communication to the board of supervisors.”

One model for the executive committee discussed included chairs of the larger committees. Human Services, Infrastructure, Finance, General Government and the board chair. The question was then asked if they vice-chair should also be on the committee as well as the chair of Vernon Manor Board of Trustees. It was pointed out, Supervisor Beitlich is currently the chair of both the Education and Conservation Committee, the Public Safety Committee and serves as vice-chair.

“I am trying to understand this,” Henry said. “How is this going to look any different than this committee (General Government Committee) now?”

“I can see this committee being say Bobbi (finance manager) has an idea and discusses it with the coordinator, and they bring it to the executive committee and say ‘hey, what do you think about this?” Goede said. “Let’s discuss this. How would this work? Just mainly an information …..”

“Couldn’t you do that now?” asked Henry.

How?” asked Goede.

“Couldn’t she bring it to the general right now?” asked Henry.

“The whole county board wouldn’t be involved in it that way,” Goede said. “When you’re General Government you have a your General Government meeting and certain people show up. Some do and some don’t. This way, the information would flow a lot better in my mind.”

My feeling is you have the same people representing again that we have here,” Henry said. “I think if you have another layer you want to have to this committee, but this really leaves out a lot of county board people now on two committees.”

“Who does it leave out? Goede asked.

“I’m not on any of these,” Henry said. “There is a lot people not here that aren’t on any of these (committees).”

“But your chair (Beitlich) is,” Goede said

“And he is on two (committee chairs),” Henry said “And he is vice chair so he’s got a voice of three there.”

“And he would have your voice,” Goede said.

“Maybe,” Henry said. “Maybe not.”

“But that’s what I am saying,” Goede said. “There are people that come to the monthly meetings and their committee meetings that don’t get the information. They don’t talk to the right people.”

“Who are those right people?” asked Henry. “Let’s just get to that. The people that put that resolution together (to eliminate the administrator), and that’s why were here.”

Taylor pointed out that one of the main reasons the chair and the board decided to revert back to to a coordinator rather than an administrator was to give the chair the ability to appoint committees and rather than create a set structure perhaps the best solution was to let the chair appoint the committee.

“I think you are going to have to flesh out who will be on that committee and what that will look like,” Taylor said. “Am I missing something? I think that is the whole reason we are here is because it felt like the chair person and supervisors didn’t want the administrator to make appointments to committees. So this is the committee you want to create as the board chair. So, I don’t know where to take this discussion. I don’t think its open for a group discussion. You need to decide who you want on this committee and what it’s going to look like.”

“I guess the reason I thought of doing it by board rules is that it takes the opinion of the chair and administrator out of the hands of the chair and administrator and puts it directly in the hands of the supervisors,” Goede said. “That was the goal I was going for.”

Supervisor Mary Bringe said the makeup of the committee will need to come from the chair and be an executive decision. Supervisor Kyle Semke asked if another committee was just duplication.

“It almost seems like this committee (executive committee) would possibly be overstepping the work of all the various home committees,” Semke said. “Is that going to be effective and productive? I would have to say no.”

Semke agreed that the chair will need to decide the make of an executive committee if there one but questioned the need to one.

“Each individual committee still reports to the board as a whole,” Semke said. “And what they do, whether it be in the form of a resolution, or anything, nobody is left out of the loop. Yet, I can understand you want more transparency on the information being passed around. I get that, but maybe we need to just better ourselves as supervisors to collaborate and work with one another. Whether it be telephone or email, to get the information we want and need. Rather than have another committee…”

“I think with this new job description its going to be your (Goede’s) responsibility to work very closely with that new coordinator,” Henry said. “Because you are going to have coordinator and new personnel (director), and you wanted the power to do that, you’ve got it now. You’ve got two people that have resigned, or are not interested. So you have really put yourself in a control position, and you are going to have to work very closely on half and the boards half, to have communication, and I would say weekly. At least meeting weekly to get this transition flowing that is now in motion.”

Supervisor Paul Wilson pointed out that part of the reason for the change back to a coordinator was for the board to have more checks and balances on an administrator.

“Instead of going after Lorn,” Wilson said. “He did this so he could appoint, there is also the other part, a major thing it changes is the administrative coordinator answers to the board. Currently, we get along. Cari has been good. That part is good. Picture if we are not. We have surrounding counties that the administrators in charge have taken advantage. A simple one is COVID work at home policies….The boards can’t do anything. All we did is switch so they answer to the board. There is that level of checks and balances.”

“My point has always been if we wanted to change this,” Henry said. “This conversation should have happened in committees. That’s always been my point. And the process should have been very clear and very transparent. And the end of a contract it got very convoluted and how it was done and in the middle of a contract. I don’t mind looking at this. It was always’ lets give this a try’ but it’s the process and the transparency that has been an issue.”

“I came into the middle of this,” Wilson said. “But talking to past supervisors it seems like they were under the assumption it was going and administrative coordinator type of position. If there was confusion in the past, coming into this with other past supervisors and listening to conversations this isn’t anything new that just blew up out of nowhere. This is something that had been talked about.”

Goede explained his reasoning for wanting the change.

“I just want to say to that the fact that Cari has appointed committees,” Goede said. “No complaints. As far as her job performance, no complaints. But if there was complaints. If we did end up with dissension, with a county coordinator it will be a lot easier to correct the course of action because the only course of action with a county administrator is basically to hire or fire. There is no real guidance, a county executive or administrative person doesn’t have to take any advice from anybody after they get elected.”

“Well that’s a little, they are still employees of the county that went through performance management and performance reviews,” Taylor said. “If they are not performing then it goes to a vote of the board of supervisors. So I hear that to a point, but to say that we have no control over anything is not actually fully accurate.”

Redington clarified procedural issues that would have to happen moving forward. The board rules would need to be approved by the full county board. She also pointed out that in the administrators contract there is a performance review requirement.

“That includes setting goals with the committee on annual basis,” Redington said. “It includes a stipulation that all performance reviews should be written. So contractually there is some pretty prescriptive language for performance management. So the board really does have options, and you will continue to have options with the coordinator other than continue on the current path or fire. The committee should be engaging with that person setting goals for that person, those are organizational goals as well. Because the person is just implementing the policies and vision of the board…it only really goes sideways when there are policy issues or vision issues of the board. That role is really meant to stay true and execute.”

“And to be clear this administrator did have solid goals set and annual performance review made,” Taylor said. “And would be due for another today.”

“Seven years ago when I joined the county board we have a part-time personnel director and no county administrator,” Supervisor Dave Eggen said. “And the county functioned and we’ve changed. We’ve done a dramatic shift.

No action was taken on forming an executive committee in January and at a later General Government meeting on February 1, Supervisor Taylor asked Goede if he still wanted to pursue the idea since there had been no action, or he wanted to let the General Government Committee be the new coordinators home committee. Goede said there were a lot of opinions on that, but “if its not needed” or redundant then leave oversight with the General Government Committee and the county board chair.

General government discusses coordinator job description/duties, drafts resolution to send to the board – February 1, 2023

Discussion on administrative coordinator position starts at 2:30

At that February 1 meeting the General Government Committee agreed to pass a resolution to empower the coordinator with similar the statutory authority to what an administrator has but without the committee appointment authority.

Some supervisors were still questioning the need to fill the coordinator position at all moving forward and suggested going back to the previous form of management. Supervisor Dave Eggen asked why there was a rush to have an administrator at all.

“I’ve spoken with some board members who are wondering what is the rush to replace the administrator?” asked Eggen. “What are some things that aren’t going to get accomplished without an administrator?”

“Overseeing department heads and moving the organization forward,” said Taylor. “How do you propose we fill the void? Are you going to be a director of department heads?”

“We used to have a strong county clerk’s office,” Eggen said. “It worked for many years. In tandem with the county board chair. I’m just regurgitating some conversations I have had. Why don’t we back off a little bit.”

“I think we have heard hugely form department heads that is not the path they want to go,” said Taylor.’

“That’s really stepping backwards,” said Supervisor Ole Yttri.

“But I’m talking about board members,” said Eggen.

“Board members don’t work here,” said Taylor.

“But they have input,” said Eggen

“We were tasked with moving forward with this position,” said Taylor. “So are you proposing we stall?”

“Yeah,” said Eggen.

“Is that a motion?” asked Taylor. “Do you want to vote on that?

“I don’t think that is in the county’s best interest,” said Supervisor Kyle Semke.

“That’s a board decision not a committee decision,” said Yttri. “That’s going backwards.”

“It’s almost as if you are saying to award these duties back to the clerk,” said Semke

“That’s not a check and balance,” said Taylor. “If the clerks office is an elected official, this has nothing to do with Jerry, it’s not the person it’s the position. There is not a check and balance. There is no ability to monitor performance or anything if it is an elected official. It is setting the county backwards.”

“This was a discussion I had with some other board member,” said Eggen. “We added a finance manager and full-time personnel director in the last few years. And we have a full-time grant writer. And what is it, we have an administrator, we want them to coordinator just exactly what?”

“They are like the CEO driving the efforts of the county,” said Taylor. “I feel like you are taking a huge step backwards from what has been moving the needle forward.”

“The finance manager needs someone that can help them through this process and work with all the department heads,” Yttri said.

“Department heads need consistency and leadership,” said Taylor. “And that does not come from siloed committees. It comes from an administrator.”

The county board chair doesn’t have the time,” said Yttri.

Goede asked if the state statutes states any form of the three types of administrator means department heads report to them.

“When I spoke to Ronnie Hoff (former county clerk) he said that statute belongs in the county clerk’s office,” Eggen said.

“No,” said County Corporation Counsel Nikki Swayne. “That’s not true.”

“This committee was charged with taking the change,” said Taylor. “And figuring out how to make the change. So here’s where were at. We developed a job description. We need to get this to the county board floor.”

“What organization do you know that has a $30 million budget and doesn’t have a CEO or administrator leading those decisions?” asked Supervisor Mary Henry. “Just please tell me because I don’t know of one, and what you are saying, David, is going back to where we were. And our fiscal review was not good. So why would we want to go back to that old way of doing things? We wanted to make the changes to get this organization on priority based budgets and we had a lot of reasons to have an administrator.”

The committee then discussed a process of appointing an interim administrative coordinator to fill in between Redington leaving by April 1 and hiring a new coordinator.

The committee passed a motion by unanimous voice vote to send a resolution to the full county board that would be drafted by Corporation Counsel outlining the duties of an administrative coordinator along with a job description.

The General Government Committee would discuss the issue one more time on March 1 and then send the issue to the full county board on March 28. At that meeting some supervisors including Eggen again raised concerns about refilling the administrator position at any level. Taylor introduced the resolution to the board floor.

County board discussion and approval of administrative coordinator job description – March 28, 2023

Discussion on administrative coordinator position begins at 37 minute mark

“After many months of meetings,” Taylor said. “Gathering feedback from supervisors, department heads, all of those who took the time to show up and offer their feedback. What is in front of you is the result of that collaborative work. We felt it prudent in the last general government meeting to present not only a job description but a resolution clearly outline this role. This resolution was written as a committee….everyone in general government created this resolution. Nikki (Corporation Counsel Swayne) just put it on paper. We did that because we are on a timeline now. We have an administrator, based on a decision this board made, is ending April 1. So to delay would create a gap that is unnecessary and actually not in the best interest of the county.”

“I have a contrary perspective,” said Eggen. “I’m on general government and I am extremely frustrated with the process, and I’ve tried to speak to it in the past but the words didn’t come out right. I’ve noticed with county government, when the ball starts rolling down the hill it gets so much momentum we cant stop it or slow it down. But this resolution I just received in my packet. I haven’t read it and it hasn’t been approved by our home committee. And there are some things in here I simply disagree with. Like its a newly created position. Its not really a new position because we used to give that title to Ronnie Hoff. There are a lot of things that have changed since I gave my comments at general government. At the last county board meeting I brought up that I was not aware of a lot of things that were moving and Cari put it in perspective when she said not to worry about having two administrators under the same roof. I think most of us, a lot of us dropped the ball and we didn’t talk to Cari. We didn’t do any exit negotiations or anything and her door has been open up there. I thought she might be interested in the new position, she told us she’s not. I wasn’t really sure how some of this was going to pan out but some of you with more administrative experience, you’ve got it.”

Eggen went on to explain his concern was over having two administrative salaries in the same calendar year.

“I can’t believe any of us wants that,” said Eggen.

Eggen gave some comparable counties that gave the administrative coordinator title to various departments and paid a monthly stipend. Eggen proposed tabling the resolution and send it back to committee.

“Because I haven’t look at it and what I have looked at isn’t right,” said Eggen “We need to take a pause. Go through the end of the year , we are going to upgrade someone as our administrative coordinator. Go through the end of the year and assess how did the year go? How much damage actually happened? Can we survive?”

Redington clarified that the general government committee had approved the job description at the January 4 meeting and that was recorded in the minutes. She also clarified that at the February 1 meeting of the committee made some minor modifications.

“So this has been reviewed by the committee multiple times,” Redington said. “They did a thorough job on January 4, passed it, and looked at it again on February 1.”

Eggen then made a motion to table the resolution for 30 days. Motion was seconded by Supervisor Paul Wilson.

Supervisor Will Beitlich said the resolution came from corporation counsel and needed to go back to the committee. Goede said there was no salary included.

“This is the position you asked to be created,” said Taylor. ” We had multiple meetings. We said at general government we wanted to bring this to a resolution. Should we have a special meeting before the board meeting? No. I’ve captured everything you all have said and we can move forward at the board meeting. And now again, again, you have moved the goalposts, on people who have worked months to provide you exactly what you said you wanted. And here we are. To your point Dave, you’re right, it cost the county money. It took three years of research and planning and development to create an administrator position. We received a resolution on a Friday night, and we voted on Tuesday to eliminate the position. It didn’t go through committee. There was no discussion. We didn’t talk to the administrator. We didn’t talk to department heads. We talked to no one. And not it’s, oh, it’s gonna cost us money. Yeah it does when you don’t vet and plan and have good leadership on a major change, that’s what happens. So we took that lesson and created a lot of planning and structure and listened to every single person who showed up, and we put it in front of you. And that’s still not enough. And yeah, I am frustrated because I think it is unfair, but I also think you are putting the county at risk to have this gap in services”

To your point Dave, you’re right, it cost the county money. It took three years of research and planning and development to create an administrator position. We received a resolution on a Friday night, and we voted on Tuesday to eliminate the position. It didn’t go through committee. There was no discussion. We didn’t talk to the administrator. We didn’t talk to department heads. We talked to no one. And not it’s, oh, it’s gonna cost us money. Yeah it does when you don’t vet and plan and have good leadership on a major change, that’s what happens.

Alycann Taylor – Supervisor

“I want to applaud Alycann and the committee,” said Supervisor Rod Ofte. “Dave, I feel bad for you but I have seen this three times and I am not on the same committee. I have had input, she (Taylor) has listened to, she has called to clarify and as the finance chair if we don’t clean up our act and have checks and balances and one person that can keep all the departments together, while reporting to Lorn, this would probably be the biggest mistake we have made in my eight years on the county board if we don’t get this done. You sit in a finance meeting and talk about long-term planning and we talking about processes, we are halfway there right now. We are broken because we don’t know…we have an auditor warning us of all kinds of things, but are we going to take action by going back to the old way? I strongly support it and I think it’s extremely important and I applaud Alycann the way she did get everybody’s input and making this happen.”

Supervisor Semke clarified for the board the resolution on the floor was a hybrid of the county administrator duties and a county coordinator.

I have had input, she (Taylor) has listened to, she has called to clarify and as the finance chair if we don’t clean up our act and have checks and balances and one person that can keep all the departments together, while reporting to Lorn, this would probably be the biggest mistake we have made in my eight years on the county board if we don’t get this done.

Rod Ofte – Supervisor

Eggen again asked for a delay.

“My frustration goes back to taking a pause because I wasn’t fully aware,” Eggen said. “And that’s my fault but I was trying to find somebody to blame. I’ve thrown our legal counsel under the bus on numerous times, because going back to the meetings we had when I asked for a date to implement this new change, that was six months ago, and I was told April 1. Well I should have been told December 31. I am a dairy farmer by trade and I am not an attorney and whoever put the resolution together that we voted on, there should have been a little more research to give us a better directive. So I am back to saying the committee really needs to vet this a little more we need to table it for 30 days or pause it.”

Eggen again suggested naming another employee as coordinator and reassessing at the end of the year. Goede suggested naming an interim coordinator and trying it for a few months with the option of combining positions to save money.

“What is the clerk or personnel director not dong that an administrator could do?” asked Goede. “I think its a discussion us being responsible to the taxpayers should have.”

Taylor pointed out the next general government meeting was already to take the next step in the transition process to appoint an interim coordinator with the hope they could work with the outgoing administrator and more delay jeopardized that plan.

“And I am sorry Dave (Eggen) you weren’t aware of what you all voted on,” Taylor said. “It was clear on the date of April 1. It was written down.”

From the approach of a county board member, I don’t think that majority of us are really going to want to support the double salary for the remainder of the calendar year.

Dave Eggen – Supervisor

“From the approach of a county board member,” Eggen said. “I don’t think that majority of us are really going to want to support the double salary for the remainder of the calendar year.”

Redington gave the board a list of accomplishments and savings from having and administrator that “outweigh the salary of the administrator.”

“Your structural budget deficit has been cut in half from $2 million to $1 million,” said Redington. “We put a finance team in place that is going clean up your audit. They were just put in place to 2022 will be the first year they are overseeing the audit. That’s important for our grants and our intergovernmental revenue. We are looking at ARPA dollars and planning so they provide long-term benefit to the county like getting a new financial system, things that will have long-term impact not just leave the county with a bill that they have to continue to pay.”

Redington said that by changing the community development position to grants officer the grants officer managed $2.4 million in grants to county residents that otherwise would not have been dispersed. Redington said that by looking over all county positions and combining positions when possible and letting some positions fade out the county went from 291 positions in 2021 to 270 in 2022. That has allowed the county to give raises and retain and recruit for a smaller staff.

“So when we talk about the expense or benefit of having someone in this role,” Redington said. “I would say you are being vert shortsighted if you look just at the salary. Look at the bigger picture. Look at the ecosystem of the county and benefit of professional management.”

“I have been very vocal on it and upset with this resolution (to eliminate the administrator) from the very beginning,” said Supervisor Mary Henry. ” Because of the disruption, the lack of transparency of how this was done. And it was one at the last minute. And the trickle down, ripple effect that it has given our employees, department heads, our whole association as a whole. Of mistrust, we have lost more employees that I can think of other than 25 years ago when there was huge disruption in Human Services. We were tasked, we were voted, to be forward thinkers, and great amount of time was spent on why we need an administrator. To elude past issues.”

Henry encouraged the board to move forward with the transition.

I’m sorry I don’t want to be emotional but we have lost some longevity in employees,” Henry said. “And in my opinion a very strong administrator. And we have stepped backwards and now we are trying to make amends with a mess that you created when you voted yes, and it’s a mess. And yes the taxpayers are paying for it. Every one of you are paying for it. I’m paying for it, but we cannot be shortsighted in the cost of it because it’s done. It’s a big mistake that you are going to have to eat. Meanwhile we need somebody guiding this ship, and just to put it on somebody to the end of the year is a mistake.

Mary Henry – Supervisor

“I’m sorry I don’t want to be emotional but we have lost some longevity in employees,” Henry said. “And in my opinion a very strong administrator. And we have stepped backwards and now we are trying to make amends with a mess that you created when you voted yes, and it’s a mess. And yes the taxpayers are paying for it. Every one of you are paying for it. I’m paying for it, but we cannot be shortsighted in the cost of it because it’s done. It’s a big mistake that you are going to have to eat. Meanwhile we need somebody guiding this ship, and just to put it on somebody to the end of the year is a mistake.”

Eggen then suggested making the county clerk and the personnel director co-administrators. Taylor pointed out that both of those people were new to their positions. Eggen pointed out that the finance duties had been removed from the clerks office.

“So is that your beef with this Dave?” asked Semke. “The supervising and direction of the finance manager. Is that your beef with this resolution? You want a coordinator that is going to prepare the budget, implement it, oversee it, but not have any authority to oversee the finance department? That’s unrealistic.”

“My beef is that I fully didn’t recognize that we were going to end up with two administrative salaries in a calendar year,” said Eggen.

“Shame on us Dave,” said Semke. “Shame on all of us. We made that decision in that meeting, April 1. We all take responsibility”

Shame on us Dave. Shame on all of us. We made that decision in that meeting, April 1. We all take responsibility.

Kyle Semke – Supervisor

“Rather than shaming lets recognize we are fallible and make mistakes,” Eggen said. “I’m going to quit believing our corporate counsel.”

Finance Director Bobbi Johnson asked the board in a co-administrator scenario, “who do I answer to? How to manage my day to day?”

Johnson said given the counties financial issues that was not an ideal scenario.

“Given what Melanie (auditor) has presented over the years in your audits,” Johnson said. “Being in the clerks office obviously was not a help to the finances of the county. So you need to look at that too.”

Given what Melanie (auditor) has presented over the years in your audits. Being in the clerks office obviously was not a help to the finances of the county. So you need to look at that too.

Bobbi Johnson – County Finance Director

“I think that is a very unfair statement,” said Goede. “We have a completely different clerk than we had before. And a lot of things that are on our audit are still on our audit after two years.”

“I have said this before in different avenues,” said Taylor. “This is not about the person in the position. This is about the position in general. If you want solid checks and balances for an organization, and a business, and this is a business, taxpayers business, you need to have good checks and balances and having this triangular approach, finance, clerk signs checks …administrator… is the best risk management. I will tell you, if this was a private sector business and we received material audit findings, like we have year after year, I have have heard some of the attitude ‘well its always been that way so whats the big deal’. If this was the private sector, two things would happen, you’d be bankrupt, or you would be fired. And we, who are responsible for the money of our constituents, continue to have this attitude that …well its always been that way. That is not us being responsible. If you want to have solid risk management you have good checks and balances and this model does that. This is not about Jerry (County Clerk Pedretti). And I would say with elected officials, we cannot address performance issues because they are elected.”

If this was the private sector, two things would happen, you’d be bankrupt, or you would be fired. And we, who are responsible for the money of our constituents, continue to have this attitude that …well its always been that way. That is not us being responsible.

Alycann Taylor – Supervisor

Redington clarified the audit information and noted the county created the finance department at the end of 2021 so the last audit the county heard was from the year prior to the creation of the finance department.

Martha Olson pointed out the question she asked during the audit about how many credit cards the county has and they could not answer that questions.

“Her (the auditor) statement was the importance of maintaining an administrator,” said Olson. “And I have to agree, and Cari you have done a wonderful job in bringing this to light and I think you have made accomplishments and I think we need to continue with those accomplishments for the taxpayer benefit.”

Goede asked how many credit cards the county has.

“See, we still don’t know,” Goede said. “Does that answer your question Martha?’

“That’s we have to continue having someone who oversees all departments,” Olson said.

“I think I could figure it out in about 20 minutes,” said Goede.

Semke again pointed out that if the board did not approve the resolution the general government committee crafted, all their work would have been for nothing and the committee drafted what the board had asked for. Goede said the short time the board had to review the resolution was an issue. That sparked a discussion of when the resolution had been delivered to board members. The meeting was held on a Thursday and Taylor said the resolution was sent from the county attorney to the clerk on Monday. Some board members said they had gotten the resolution the previous week in their regular packet and some said they didn’t see it until the day before or the day of the meeting.

Supervisor Meehan-Strub suggested taking a 30 minute break to allow everyone to review. Following that break the measure passed on a unanimous 19-0 vote. Supervisor Henry thanked the county management team for their service.

“I would just like to note,” said Henry. “That Cari and Bobbi and Serena (personnel director), our three top that worked together to get our finances and our organization moving forward. I want to acknowledge your hard work and perseverance that you have committed to us. And I am very sorry we have lost some of our employees on that team, but thank you.”

Vernon County Grants Officer Amy Oliver was appointed by the General Government committee on March 1 to be interim coordinator until someone is hired permanently. The full board of supervisors would approve her appointment at their March 28 meeting.

Oliver would also apply to be the full-time administrator and was a finalist for the position, but the committee and the county board would ultimately chose Hanan, who is expected to assume her duties with the county on June 26.

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  • Thank you for this robust local reporting! I knew the county had major governance issues, but am surprised it is this bad. Will there be any accountability for this? Why are any of the board members still in office?

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