Council: Open up the process

BLUE EARTH – Blue Earth City Council has rejected the recommendation of the Senior Center board to name the interim director to the position permanently.

Linda Jahnke has been interim director since Middy Thomas went on medical leave in August. Thomas retired from the position last month.

Councilman Glenn Gaylord did not want to accept the board’s recommendation because other city positions are open to applications from the public. He wanted the position posted.

“I think that makes good sense,” agreed Councilman John Huisman.

Mayor Rick Scholtes wanted to know if the salary for the position could be lowered.

A new director would start at a reduced rate from the former, saving $8,422 per year, said City Administrator Kathy Bailey.

The former director was making about $31,000, Bailey said, while the new director would make about $22,000.

Scholtes figured the new wage to be about $10.60 per hour.

“One of our lower wage jobs,” Bailey added.

She explained that there is a point system the wages are based on, so they can’t change much. The position is also considered full-time, so whoever holds it is eligible for full insurance benefits.

Huisman didn’t like the designation of “department head” for the job, since the senior center director has no employees serving under her. He wanted to know if the position could be assigned to another department, thereby finding wage savings.

Even if the job was put under another department, the center would need someone running day-to-day operations, Scholtes said. That person’s pay wouldn’t go down, but the other department head’s would go up with the added responsibilities.

“That’s what we have these boards for, to make these decisions,” said Brod, even though he was in favor of opening up the position for applicants.

“The problem with these boards, they get emotionally attached to the people they’ve been working with,” Gaylord said. “We’re here to do the right thing.”

“If you hire someone now, without taking applications, you’re setting a precedent,” said Councilman John Gartzke.

A motion was made to open up the position for applications, then the council discussed who should do the interviews, the senior center board or the council.

“By taking it back to that board, they’re already biased,” Gaylord said.

He was the lone dissenting vote on an amendment to have the senior center board conduct the interviews and recommend the top three candidates to the council.

The motion to open the position up for applications passed unanimously.

In other old business, the council decided to terminate a contract with CBS Squared. The firm had been directed to redesign the public works building but came back with an estimate double the budgeted amount.

At the March 17 meeting, the council directed Public Works director Jamie Holland to talk to the firm and give it a better understanding of the city’s budget. Holland reported Monday that CBS Squared said it is working on something, but Holland hasn’t seen anything yet. The city has received a bill for the original work, Bailey added.

“We gave them a chance,” Gaylord said.

“We need to get something moving if we want to do something this year,” Holland said.

In other news, Scholtes said a wetlands deal with the county is hung up over a question of whether the Army Corps of Engineers has jurisdiction.

The Corps is involved as a condition of a grant received for the project, explained Linsey Warmka, director of Faribault County Development Corporation.

The city has been working on deals to create the North Industrial Park at the northwest corner of the intersection of Interstate 90 and Highway 169. In December, the council learned the area contained wetlands. The only way the city would be allowed to develop the land is if it established new wetlands elsewhere or purchased wetlands credits. The council decided to purchase wetlands credits from Faribault County, but the deal is stalled because of the question with the Army Corps of Engineers.

City Engineer Wes Brown sent a letter to the Corps on Monday, trying to get clarification and emphasize that the wetlands deal is crucial to moving the North Industrial Park project along. The council directed Brown to send a copy to Congressman Tim Walz in the hopes he can get involved.

The council directed City Attorney David Frundt to draw up the agreement for payment on the wetlands deal and have it ready to go as soon as the Corps’ role is solidified.