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County debate heats up over telecommuting issue

Commissioner Jan Hall
Commissioner Jan Hall

The state of Minnesota is moving toward what’s being called a “redesign” in government. Essentially it’s a way to combine services among counties to achieve cost savings and efficiency. So far human services departments have been the focus of attention.

A little over two months ago the Cook County board was asked by Human Services Director Sue Futterer, to allow her to relocate to Virginia, and use that location as her base of operation. She would still be in the county a good share of a week and telecommute the rest of the time. Her husband has recently become superintendent of schools in Virginia.

Anticipating such off-site management situations in the future, especially with a human services redesign pending from the state, commissioners agreed to give the alternate work arrangement a three month trial. Two of those months have gone by and Human Services employees were asked to evaluate the arrangement thus far. Commissioner Jim Johnson noted the positive response to the survey.

“The survey results were very positive with only two negative comments,” said Johnson. He added that department supervision did not seem to be compromised.

Board Chair Fritz Sobanja said he felt the county was being pro-active by facing what is probably an inevitable change for counties.

“This is going to happen in the future,” he said. “I honestly feel we’re paving the way for the future of the department.”

Commissioner Jan Hall disagreed. She has been outspoken against the county having any supervisory personnel living out of county. Commissioner Bruce Martinson said he knew of a number of counties who were moving toward the alternative work site model. Hall thought the model was not sustainable, too expensive and that the board needs a much more specific guidance policy.

“Lake County is moving this way, but they’re changing everything and keeping a supervisory employee in the courthouse, setting new policy,” said Hall. “We’re just saying, this will work fine we could be stuck with it for four years and thousands of dollars expense. This could all change with a new Governor.”

In the end the board decided to have Hall and Commissioner Bob Fenwick draft a policy regarding alternative worksite activity, while agreeing to extend the pilot period at least another three months, to be followed by a second employee survey.