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County has confidence in choice of Kleindl

WILLMAR -- Confidence in the qualifications and leadership experience of an existing employee is one of the reasons why the Kandiyohi County Board of Commissioners chose not to advertise or seek outside candidates in selecting a new county administrator.

It was announced last month that the County Board intends to hire Family Services Director Larry Kleindl when the current administrator, Wayne Thompson, officially submits his resignation this summer.

The commissioners did not advertise, either internally or externally, for the position. There is no requirement that they do so.

State law doesn't require it and the county's own policy on employee recruitment says "whenever possible vacancies may be filled on a promotional or lateral basis from among the present employees."

Commissioner Richard Falk said it's good business policy to promote employees. He said the commissioners have the responsibility of "hiring good people" and that Kleindl definitely fits that description.

"He's just outstanding," said Falk, adding that the county's process for selecting a new administrator is one that's "been tested throughout time."

The decision not to seek outside candidates didn't come automatically for the board, said Thompson.

"I discussed different possibilities with them," he said, including suggesting the names of other county administrators that he thought might be interested in the job here.

"I would never say they weren't open-minded," said Thompson. "I've had some very frank discussions about it with them. They've been very open-minded about it."

Those discussions took place in one-on-one conversations between Thompson and individual commissioners. The issue has not been discussed at a public meeting. An official vote to hire Kleindl isn't expected until later this year.

In an editorial published Jan. 24, the West Central Tribune criticized the county for not discussing the issue at a public meeting and for reaching a decision outside of the public eye, which could be a violation of the state's Open Meeting Law.

The matter has taken its toll on Kleindl, who worries that his credibility and qualifications will be unfairly questioned.

Kleindl said he's worked hard in the Family Services Department, a job that he said he dearly loves, and is eager to work for the county as administrator. "No one will outwork me," he said. "I'll put my heart and soul into the job."

He said treating people "with respect" is one of his greatest qualities and his desire to help create a "bright future" for Kandiyohi County is a main motivator for him. "I love this county," he said.

Thompson said given Kleindl's education and experience with corrections and family services, the commissioners "feel very comfortable" with Kleindl, who manages a budget of more than $13 million in the Family Services Department.

Thompson said other top county positions, including department heads for the public health and corrections departments, were filled by promoting existing employees without conducting competitive interviews.

He said sometimes the commissioners choose to promote from within the ranks and sometimes they don't. County Board Chairman Dean Shuck said in a previous interview that it's expected the commissioners will advertise for candidates to fill Kleindl's position as family services director. Kleindl went through an interview process before he was hired as family services director.

Thompson said news that the commissioners intend to hire Kleindl for the job should not have been a front-page story until July, after Thompson submitted his resignation and after the commissioners discussed the issue at a public meeting.

He said the topic got "rushed" when he decided it would be fairer, and beneficial to the county, to let Kleindl have a say in who was hired as the human resources director, who works closely with the county administrator.

But Thompson said it may have been a mistake to do that, because it meant Kleindl was invited to participate in that hiring process before the commissioners "had a chance" at a public meeting to formally discuss hiring Kleindl as county administrator.

"It did get way ahead of us. There's no way to fix it now," Thompson said.

If he had to do it over again, Thompson said he and the County Board chairman should have hired the new human resources director. Then, the process to name a new administrator could have been delayed "until there was an appropriate time to start conducting some public meetings."

He said, ideally, he would like to have retired before Human Resources Director Marilyn Johnson, so that Johnson could have led the process to hire a new administrator.

Thompson said there's still work to be done before Kleindl takes over the job, including an official vote and settling on a salary.

Carolyn Lange

A reporter for more than 30 years, Carolyn Lange covers regional news with the West Central Tribune.

(320) 894-9750