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Some local residents 'appalled' by treatment of county employees

County logo. WTIP file photo.jpg
County logo. WTIP file photo.jpg

Human suffering has no place in the community or in the workings of local government, according to County Attorney Molly Hicken.

Hicken shared these sentiments during a meeting of the Cook County Board of Commissioners Tuesday, Oct. 8. In addition to expressing her views on how some county employees have been treated by their community members, Hicken shared an update on the process of what to do when the county administrator position becomes vacant next week. County Administrator Jeff Cadwell submitted his letter of resignation last month and is leaving Cook County to become the new administrator in Mahnomen County. 

The meeting Tuesday opened with a public comment period where local resident Hillary Freeman asked the board to consider adopting a zero-tolerance resolution that states the county board will not tolerate personal attacks on county employees. Freeman worked with Commissioner Heidi Doo-Kirk to draft the resolution.

Though the resolution does not mention Cadwell by name, it was presented during his last meeting as the county administrator. Cadwell’s resignation becomes effective on Monday, Oct. 14, and as of that date, without further action, there will be no one in place to answer to the many obligations created for the county administrator in statute, rule, county policies and in contractual relationships, Hicken said.

Regarding the administrator position, Hicken said one option is for the board to appoint an interim administrator. Another option is to make changes to the human resources department with regard to roles and responsibilities. The HR department could take on some of the duties that the administrator currently does, either temporarily or in the long term, according to both Hicken and Cadwell. A third option could involve forming a committee consisting of two commissioners and various county staff to discuss the future of county government locally and if an administrator fits into the future of the county. The committee could also play a role in communicating with any consultants the county may hire to assist with the process.

Doo-Kirk suggested the board stick to their timeline of speaking with county staff and department heads before making any decisions regarding the administrator position. Doo-Kirk pointed out that there is a special meeting of the county board this week on Thursday with all of the county’s department heads. If the board made a decision prior to that meeting it could break trust between staff and the commissioners, Doo-Kirk said.

After discussing the options presented by Hicken, the board voted to table the conversation until the Thursday meeting with the commissioners and county staff, including department heads from the county. This meeting starts at 1:15 p.m. in the commissioners’ room at the courthouse.

Related to this topic, a total of seven local residents spoke during the public comment period Thursday supporting the resolution and thanking Cadwell for his work as the county administrator. The resolution presented by Freeman and Doo-Kirk will be discussed again by the board, likely at their next meeting Oct. 22, as will the Speak Your Peace resolution the board considered in late 2018.

To hear more on this story, including audio from Tuesday’s meeting, listen to the file below.