Archive for May, 2015

Meeker County May 26, 2015 Work Session

Thursday, May 28th, 2015

By Ford Peterson, Dassel, MN  May 28, 2015

I welcomed the opportunity to attend the informal “Work Session” on Tuesday and ask questions with testifiers still in the room. It is a breath of fresh air to be able to see this administration taking steps to bring transparency to important issues related to county government, and provide a venue for feedback from the public. The press was missing, which is unfortunate. One disgruntled former employee narrowly escaped being escorted from the room! What drama!

The first topic of discussion was a proposal to add a Social Host Ordinance. Testimony from law enforcement was informative. My opinion, for what it is worth, is that government needs to stay out of the parenting business. Parenting is not a simple matter. A lifetime of “practice” is insufficient time to get it right. Likewise, to expect property owners to enforce laws is unreasonable. Property owners have little control over those who rent property. Tenants enjoy the “quiet use” of the property they lease. Expecting owners to hover down the street hoping to observe tenants in the act of violating “quiet use” is not appropriate. More laws on the books that charge good people with crimes will not improve our quality of life. More ordinances would create work for law enforcement, our courts, and county employees. It is questionable whether employees can be successful in rehabilitating the public’s parenting skill, or a land owner’s ability to control “quiet use” using tools like: violations, fines, criminal charges, and probation.  “Good government” should improve our quality of life.

Next on the agenda was a presentation of the Springstead Organizational Study. It appears that scope of this study was somewhat limited. An attempt to measure service delivery effectiveness was not included in the scope of study. The consultant’s assessment relied on interviews and an employee questionnaire. In my opinion, a “customer satisfaction survey” including only responses from employees falls short of a true assessment of an evaluation of effectiveness in the delivery of services by the county. Imagine how ridiculous such a study would be for a restaurant to evaluate their “customer satisfaction” using only responses from the wait and cook staff!

I welcome the study’s findings, and appreciate the opportunity to attend the meeting. Some actions have precipitated from the study and the public should applaud. Meeker County has a long-list of management issues, which I can only hope the Commissioners plan to address one-day.

Some on-going management issues between the auditor and treasurer are settled and a strategy in process for making it better.

The study addressed issues regarding how the commissioners interact with employees, each other, and the public. Reforms are needed, welcome, and applauded.

The study revealed that no county employee has been subject to a periodic review. Seriously? There has been no annual review of employees? How did this happen? Most private and public firms impose, at a minimum, an annual review of performance for every employee. Even the Board of Commissioners is negligent in this regard. Our Commissioners need to address the need for periodic review and the responsibility for this failure of good management practice placed at the feet of our County Administrator as a gross failure to impose this ubiquitous “best practice” in county administration.

The report was silent on the topic of “case banking,” a notion believed to improve efficient delivery of services. It also would improve how the employees interact with the public. Technology is the key to improvement, which takes time and thoughtful strategy.

No mention of the county’s use of unlicensed workers to manage guardianship issues involving parental and family custody rights. Parental and family rights are serious matters in need of serious reforms. Now I find these were outside the scope of study. Springstead presented no evidence that law enforcement was included in the study. I view this as a missed opportunity to start important reforms.

When asked to evaluate the work session, all I could say was it is a good start towards a very long process of reform. I welcome this as ‘step-one’ towards a new beginning in county administration. Godspeed!

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Minnesota’s Poultry Industry Solution for H5N2 Influenza

Sunday, May 3rd, 2015

By Ford Peterson, May 3, 2015

The May 1, 2015 Almanac on KTCA featured an editorial describing a need for a bonding bill to build a H5N2 Avian Influenza testing lab in Willmar. Allow me to make an observation.

Growing government is a serious problem in MN. Budgets are exploding out of control due to the expansion of government services. There are pressing needs. I get it. The poultry industry emergency we are witnessing provides some urgency to organize the turkey industry and minimize the explosive growth of government in the process.

Some have proposed that the Willmar testing lab is a priority. I will leave it to the experts to debate that need. Asking government to solve this turkey industry problem will add another layer of state government to the landscape. If there is a need, characterized in the media as an “emergency,” the best and highest use of government authority is to help the turkey industry to govern itself.

Adding another department to the Governor’s payroll will be permanent unless it is formed as a quasi-government service. These independent farms are too small to build a lab. They are caught off-guard after failing to form a cooperative funded and managed by the industry patrons who own it. This is the reason there are cooperatives. Coop members pay a fee to fund a process of administration that provides benefits to membership. Coop patrons consider the annual dues as a “tax,” but also have representation in the administration. Dairy, fuel, feed, insurance, are typical ag coops. These tightly focused coops serve member needs. Members pay a fee based on production. This is a perfect opportunity to see government assist industry in properly organizing themselves.

Rather than a bonding bill to provide another government service, consider the coop alternative. The cost of setup is insignificant as long as it results in establishing an industry funded and industry governed quasi-government entity that serves the needs of the industry. Properly established, this quasi-government will naturally serve the best interest of the public in the process, and eliminate the need for another department on the Governor’s payroll. There is a call for an insurance pool for producers to pool their risks and minimize losses—another perfect application for a coop.

To add economic elegance to the approach I am suggesting, the cost of turkey on the dinner plate will naturally include the cost of maintaining this quasi-government. Exported product will be properly loaded with these administrative costs. Why should MN taxpayers pay a subsidy for food exported to other states?

Minnesota’s rapidly expanding poultry industry has never formed its own organizing body. If the Industry comes to rely on Minnesota State government to provide inspection, testing, and insurance, this is tantamount to a needless business subsidy that saddles the Governor, and MN taxpayers, with the added obligation of managing the turkey business in MN.  State Government run business quickly grows into a boondoggle that fails to serve producers, consumers, and taxpayers.

Consider an emphasis on industry owned quasi-government cooperatives to solve this turkey industry emergency.