Blue Earth hires center director

BLUE EARTH – After months of debate, Blue Earth City Council has hired Linda Jahnke as permanent director of the Senior Center.

Jahnke has been the interim director since the former director Middy Thomas, went on medical leave in August. Thomas died in May.

Since then, the council refused twice to honor the recommendations of the Senior Center board of directors and name Jahnke to the post.

On Monday, the council again debated the issue, which had Marty Cassem, president of the Senior Center board, asking some pointed questions.

The board first called on Dan Woodring, director of Interfaith Caregivers, and asked him how much it would take for his organization to take over running the Senior Center. Woodring said about $15,000 annually.

Councilman John Huisman figured it would be less expensive to pay Interfaith the $15,000 than pay a director.

Councilman John Gartzke pointed out that Thomas was making more than $30,000 while Jahnke would make more than $20,000.

Mayor Rick Scholtes acknowledged Interfaith would be able to do different things for the Senior Center, but he questioned whether making such an abrupt change might be too much.

“I don’t feel the person they are recommending has the qualifications,” said Councilman Glenn Gaylord. “I think we had qualified people who applied for the job and didn’t get interviewed. We have a chance to take the Senior Center and go to another level if we get the right person in the job.”

Huisman pointed out the previous city administrator evaluated and scored the candidates by herself, and others agreed that was not the way to do it.

“Score it, narrowing it down to the final three should’ve been done by more than one person,” said Scholtes, then reiterated that the Senior Center board still recommended Jahnke.

“The board got personally attached,” Gaylord said. “You have to step back [and be impartial]. We have to hire the best people we can. I read through the applications. Two people were very qualified. Look at their applications and compare.”

“Some of you think you know how to run the Senior Center when you’ve never been there,” Cassem said. “The gal who’s running it has been there over a year. She knows what she’s doing and we like what she’s doing. It’s been running as normal and we don’t know why you want to change it.”

Cassem challenged Gaylord’s desire to hire someone with a college degree, when the job description calls for a high school diploma and two years of administrative experience in social programs focusing on seniors. The pay is less than $11 per hour.

Gaylord said some of those people might want to stay in a small town, but can’t find jobs here.

“You don’t give them a chance, those are the people who will leave,” Gaylord said. “To say because you’re educated that you’re not gonna stay in a job – that’s ridiculous.”

Councilman Russ Erichsrud said Jahnke is coming up with activities such as “Bring a Friend,” which drew 35 people for dinner one day. She has also met with St. Luke’s Care Center of Blue Earth to see if the care center could provide meals. Right now, the center has a two-month verbal agreement with Parker Oaks in Winnebago; getting the meals to Blue Earth can be difficult in the winter.

Gaylord recalled that Thomas would open the Senior Center when Interstate 90 was closed due to winter weather. He questioned if Jahnke would do the same.

“The police have a key; I have a key,” Cassem said. “I’d be willing to come up. It’s not a big deal.”

Cassem reminded the council that other boards recommend people for positions, such as the library.

“The council needs to hire department heads and needs to make the final decision because the buck stops here,” Huisman said. “This is one of those occasions I’m not comfortable with [the Senior Center board’s] recommendation.”

“Let’s decide what to do so they can go forward, Linda can go forward,” said Councilman Dan Brod.

The board voted 5-2 to hire Jahnke, with Gaylord and Huisman dissenting.