Back in 1976 Cook County floated a referendum to establish a county administrator position to help streamline and re-organize county government. The issue failed. Since then the laws have changed and there’s no longer a need for voter approval. Currently, 32 of Minnesota’s 87 counties have administrators and 26 have county coordinators and according to Jim Mulder, executive director of the Association of Minnesota Counties, the list is growing. Mulder addressed commissioners at the county board meeting on Tuesday, “The county auditor’s job has expanded and the job of board members has also changed. The board’s job is to make the decisions and they need someone to carry out those decisions, someone to make it happen.”
Mulder added that as government takes on more local responsibilities and staff, the changes in human relations responsibilities – or HR – has made the elected officials job more complicated. Mulder said it was not too long ago that county boards met once or twice a year to set road and bridge budgets – and that was it. He said today the focus is shifting away from county, city and school as separate entities to the community at large.
“In Cook County you’re dealing with cities, towns, schools, the Grand Portage Band, the Forest Service, DNR and a foreign government,” he said.
Commissioner Jan Hall said she didn’t want an administrator standing between board members and department heads. Commissioners currently have specific liaison responsibilities with county departments. Mulder said the county administrator model allows the board to set up specific duties for the position. He added that the county coordinator is a less well defined position and can become a catch-all.
Commissioner Jim Johnson added that the success of an administrator position starts with the hiring process. Mulder said it would be best if the board worked with his association as a hiring consultant. He added that ¾ of the counties with administrators have them on a contract basis which forces commissioners to make regular performance reviews.
Commissioner Bob Fenwick questioned Mulder saying, “Is an administrator a good thing for us to do financially?”
Mulder said that is was and counties that have hired an administrator have kept them and increased their responsibilities in economic development and community relations – both areas that have financial paybacks for the county.
Mulder warned commissioners saying the decisions they will have to make won’t get any easier, especially as the state grapples with increased budget woes. He said the county will suffer more cuts from the state, which is facing a $3 to $5 billion shortfall in the next biennium.