County Board moves begrudgingly on new jobs

‘We feel like we’re further behind’ — county seeks added HR help

 

August 4, 2023



It’s budgeting season for local municipalities, and one week after the Carlton County sheriff’s office requested five new staffing positions, the county board heard another staffing request, one that would increase the human resources office from two to three full-timers.

After some consternation, the board unanimously advanced the proposal during its committee of the whole meeting Tuesday in Carlton.

“I can’t figure out how we keep growing,” commissioner and board chair Dick Brenner said. “It bothers me a lot.”

Carlton County HR oversees the county’s 355 full-time regular staff and another 20 or so seasonal staff, county coordinator Dennis Genereau told the board. Faced with more rapid employee turnover, responsibilities associated with staff training and oversight have grown too big for two people.

Genereau proposed reconfiguring the HR staff to include a director, generalist and a newly proposed assistant.

“We never go home at the end of the day feeling like we’ve gotten everything done, in fact most of the time we feel like we’re further behind than when the day started,” Genereau told commissioners.

The proposed assistant would cost $69,510 annually, including benefits. The existing staffers would be slid into generalist and director positions, with annual raises ($11,724 and $8,550, respectively) going to each based on new job classifications. All told, the reorganization would cost the county $89,749.

“The goal wasn’t to get pay raises, it was to get work sorted out,” Genereau said, responding to a question about the pay increases.

“The costs are coming home to roost,” said auditor/treasurer Kevin DeVriendt, who seemed critical of positions added historically through grant funding that ultimately ends while growing the government.

Genereau acknowledged the “two-edge sword” of grant-funded positions, but said he didn’t want to be responsible for people not getting or pursuing grants.

“I see things our board does that are very forward thinking and recognizing of the world evolving,” Genereau said, later adding that the HR assistant and the other salary increases would be covered with existing funds and not by adding to the levy.

Formerly an attorney with the county, Genereau gave an impassioned plea to commissioners about the need to expand the HR office.

As it stands the county does the “bare minimum” in new employee orientation and ongoing safety training, Genereau said. Federal and state requirements only become more involved, meaning things only ever get added to the HR plate with nothing ever taken off.

“It’s just a lot that goes into maintaining a staff that has to be done on a repeating basis all of the time,” Genereau said.

He noted one requirement, in particular, that continues to grow, related to post traumatic stress in law enforcement. The legislature is requiring staff entitled to the benefit to go through a more rigorous process, and HR will ultimately be responsible for managing that process, Genereau said.

“We just seem to have more people who are more aware of their rights with respect to accommodations and with respect to issues,” Genereau said, speaking in general about employees.

The county’s personnel policy also “lacks any substance to speak of and needs to be updated and made more robust,” and the HR office has not had the time, Genereau said, adding that he’d like to fortify safety trainings and orientation trainings for all employees — things the staff has been prevented from doing since it’s generally consumed with existing responsibilities.

Genereau presented job descriptions for the three positions. He also noted how the added HR hire would allow him to turn his coordinator focus onto strategy, like developing a long-term capital plan for county buildings.

Genereau also struck a chord on more rapid staff turnover, and the need to be more active in the recruitment process of new employees, including having an HR representative in every hiring interview, something that does not happen now.

Other counties are undertaking signing bonuses and artificially inflated salaries outside of a person’s job classification, “behaving more like private industry,” Genereau said.

“We have not done any of that, we have stuck to the script,” Genereau said. “The concern we have is that it’s not going to continue to work.”

In requesting five staff last week, three for the new jail and two for the sheriff’s office, Sheriff Kelly Lake noted newfound difficulties in hiring and retaining employees.

“We usually have long-term staff and not a lot of turnover, but we’re starting to see turnover,” Lake said.

As hiring for public employees becomes more dynamic, “we’re going to have to do the same,” Genereau said. “Basically, HR staff is going to have to be doing that.”

In the end, the commissioners were swayed.

“If you don’t know what you’re doing, you get in big trouble,” commissioner Marv Bodie said, referring to HR’s role in state and federal reporting.

“It’s cleaning it up a little bit,” commissioner Susan Zmyslony said. “I’m hoping it allows us to find efficiency in other places.”

The board asked Genereau to check his work by having an outside contractor grade the HR job classifications prior to a formal vote. The soonest the board would vote to reconfigure the HR office would be at the 8:30 a.m. Tuesday County Board meeting at the transportation building in Carlton. If not then, the vote would likely come up at the 4 p.m. Aug. 28 meeting.

Editor’s note: This story was originally published Aug. 3 and updated Aug. 8 to correct erroneous salary information included in the original report.

 
 

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