Archive for May 28th, 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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