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Selecting a county administrator

Under state law, a county administrator is appointed by a county board and serves at the pleasure of that county board.

The process that county commissioners use to select an administrator can vary from county to county.

Kandiyohi County Commissioners recently announced that they intend to hire Family Services Director Larry Kleindl as the new administrator, after County Administrator Wayne Thompson retires.

The county did not post the county administrator job internally to allow other county employees to submit applications nor did they advertise for applicants outside the county. There is no requirement in the law, and Thompson said the county is not required to do so.

Kandiyohi County's employee handbook states that new positions or vacancies "shall be open to all persons who meet with reasonable standards" set by the County Board. The handbook goes on to say that vacancies, whenever possible, "may be filled on a promotional or lateral basis from among the present employees, giving first consideration to qualifications for the job."

The Tribune contacted a half-dozen Minnesota counties that have hired an administrator or coordinator within the last five to six years. Some followed strict personnel policies regarding advertising for job openings and interviewing applicants, but not all the counties advertised for the position.

When the county administrator job became open in Blue Earth County, Dennis McCoy was asked if he was interested. McCoy was the deputy administrator at the time and had worked for the county for 20 years, including a stint as the director of the family services department.

About "midway" through the process -- before he had decided whether he wanted the job and before the commissioners and decided they wanted him for the job -- McCoy said he and the commissioners discussed their mutual expectations, priorities and concerns at a public meeting.

James Thoreen, the coordinator for Stevens County, had held that job for five years, from 1988-93, before taking a job in Chisago County. When the job in Stevens County became available again, he was rehired.

Even though Stevens County Commissioners knew him well through his previous service to the county, Thoreen went through an interview process with the commissioners at a public meeting. Thoreen said he did not know if other candidates were also interviewed.

Trish Harren had worked as the victim services coordinator in Roseau County before being asked by the county commissioners there to apply for a newly created position of county coordinator. Other candidates were also interviewed.

Harren said she's glad she went through the interview process and was "hired in a fair and equitable way." She said the process assured her she was being hired because of her "competency" and not because of "who I knew."

John Chattin, who had worked in city government, was hired as Swift County's first coordinator in 2001 following a search by Swift County.

Later, Chattin was given the added job as coordinator for Yellow Medicine County. Yellow Medicine County did not interview candidates for that job. The arrangement involves a contract between Swift and Yellow Medicine counties to share the coordinator position.

Dana Frey had an eclectic career in the private sector and state and international government before being hired as administrator for St. Louis County two years ago.

Because of his previous work with the Metropolitan Inter-County Association, Frey said, he was known to the St. Louis County Commissioners when he responded to their advertisement for an administrator. The process included interviews with the commissioners at a public meeting, as well as one-on-one interviews with each commissioner.

David Hamilton worked in the private sector and in Canadian government before taking the job as administrator for Goodhue County nearly six years ago in an "open competition." He said a half-dozen candidates were interviewed during public meetings.

The process of searching for and hiring a county administrator or coordinator can be complicated.

Thoreen has worked in four counties, served as the Beltrami County auditor and worked for the Association of Minnesota Counties before returning to Stevens County. Based on his experience, he said, the typical hiring process for top county positions involves local, regional and sometimes national searches for candidates. He said, however, county commissioners can choose other options.

The Blue Earth County Board did not seek outside applicants. Problems in other counties had made some commissioners "a little bit leery of outsiders," McCoy said.

Chattin said Swift County has a detailed policy for the recruitment of personnel that says all positions are posted in-house and externally.

Roseau County's employee handbook has specific language about the hiring process and states that all positions will be advertised internally and externally. Harren said she works closely with the county attorney to make sure the hiring process is carefully followed.

Under the St. Louis County policy, all positions are posted internally and/or externally. Frey said senior level positions are widely advertised. He said a board resolution is required there to move a department head to a new department.

Carolyn Lange

A reporter for 35 years, Carolyn Lange covers regional news with the West Central Tribune.

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