County board to continue discussion of hiring a county administrator at special meeting April 30

The impending retirement of Cook County Personnel Director and County Board Secretary Janet Simonen has propelled the county board into considering the possibility of creating an administrative position that could oversee all departments within the county. 

On April 15, 2013, the board and department heads held a special meeting to talk with three county administrators – Timothy Houle of Crow Wing County (pop. 62,500) and Brian Bensen of Sherburne County (pop. 88,499) in person and Trish Klein of Itasca County (pop. 42,763) on speakerphone. 

Timothy Houle of Crow Wing County said an administrative position will be successful if the administrator is perceived as taking the staff and board where they want to go, He recommended that the board have an annual retreat where they set goals. 

There were questions of whether a board retreat would be open to the public.  The administrators said, “You’ve got to get comfortable doing this stuff in a fishbowl. You’ve got to get comfortable living, working, and breathing in this fishbowl.”

Commissioner Jan Hall said theyneed to look at whether they can afford to have an administrator.

To which Trish Klein said, they need to look at whether they can afford not to. She said that in two years, she has probably saved Itasca County 20 years worth of her salary because they started going out for bids on jobs.

Cook County is similar to a corporation with a $17 million-a-year budget, said Timothy Houle of Crow Wing County and there’s no way a business of that size would not have some sort of chief executive officer.  He stated that more and more counties are moving toward hiring administrators or coordinators.

Another meeting is planned to discuss the concept of a county administrator or coordinator on April 30.