Kleindl officially hired for county's top job
WILLMAR -- Larry Kleindl was officially appointed Tuesday as Kandiyohi County's future county administrator.
The Kandiyohi County Board of Commissioners unanimously approved a plan to phase Kleindl into the county's top job during the next 11 months.
Under the proposed plan, Kleindl will continue to hold his job as the family services director while at the same time learning the ropes for his new job from longtime Co-unty Administrator Wayne Thompson.
Thompson's last day on the job will be June 30, 2007.
Kleindl officially takes over July 1, although he will begin some duties now and is scheduled to move into Thompson's corner office in the Health and Human Services bu-ilding and assume the day-to-day re-sponsibilities as county administrator this November.
Kleindl said he is "excited to get to work" and is looking forward to working with department heads in the county as well as other agencies in the county.
"I'm very grateful the board had confidence in me to do this," said Kleindl. "I'm confident I can do the job."
The action Tuesday to appoint Kleindl was not a surprise but did contain a bit of drama.
In January, during an interview with the media and with Kleindl and Thompson present, County Board Chairman Dean Shuck said that a decision had already been made to hire Kleindl. The announcement, which was front-page news in the West Central Tribune, was made even though the board had not discussed or voted on Kleindl's appointment at a public meeting.
The Tribune questioned whether the county had violated the state's Open Meeting Law by reaching that decision outside of a public meeting.
On Tuesday, prior to voting on the plan to appoint Kleindl, the commissioners underwent an hour-long training session on the Open Meeting Law from Scott Anderson, an attorney with Ratwik, Roszak & Maloney.
The training session was the result of a gentleman's agreement reached by Anderson and the Tribune's attorney to resolve a dispute between the county and the Tribune over whether the County Board and its administrator had violated the Open Meeting Law.
Anderson walked the commissioners through the basic steps of the law.
He said the purpose of the Open Meeting Law is to "prohibit actions being taken at a secret meeting," to prevent public bodies from "dissolving into executive sessions" and to assure the public's right to be informed and heard. He told the board that the law creates a "presumption that all meetings of governing bodies, including county boards, are open to the public."
Anderson also discussed when it was appropriate and not appropriate for elected officials to discuss business outside of a public meeting. He said one-on-one discussion between board members is OK as long as it's not done to avoid a public discussion or to forge a majority decision in advance. He advised the board to limit discussions that take place outside of a public meeting in order to prevent the appearance of violating the law.
In response to a question by Thompson, Anderson said a county administrator can talk to board members about county issues but should not act as a "conduit" or be the "key linchpin" by passing along information from one board member to another. Doing so could violate the law, he said.
After the presentation, the board members gave their take on the process to select Kleindl.
Commissioner Harlan Madsen said he didn't want to "pick on" Shuck, but said he was "surprised" to read the Tribune article in January that a decision had been made to hire Kleindl when action had not been taken. "It was disconcerting to me," said Madsen.
Shuck said the incident was "mostly my doing" and that he "misspoke" during the interview. He said he was "jumping the gun" in saying a decision had been made even though he knew the board intended to hire Kleindl.
Some of the commissioners mentioned a brief conversation they'd had regarding appointing Kleindl and a salary range for him. Dennis Peterson said at one time he thought the county should advertise for the job. He said it was a "foregone conclusion" that the board unanimously supported Kleindl. "He's done a good job," said Peterson of Kleindl.
The commissioners then reviewed three options for filling Thompson's job, including conducting a nationwide search and posting the job internally to find and interview candidates.
The final option Thompson presented was to appoint Kleindl, bring him on the job now and gradually give him more responsibilities until totally taking over the reins July 1, 2007.
Thompson said his decision to stay on the job longer than he originally anticipated was because of complicated issues involving the county's purchase of land and buildings on the Willmar Regional Treatment Center campus. The closing date for the transaction is Jan. 16.
Madsen questioned the preliminary plan to have Kleindl continue to act as family services director until mid-March, when a new director will be hired, while at the same time doing much of the county administrator work. He said he hoped there would be flexibility in that arrangement.
The plan approved Tuesday set Kleindl's new salary as administrator at $93,975. He currently makes $87,181 as the family services director. Thompson, who is the highest paid county employee, makes $116,667. Thompson has been county administrator since 1977.
Kleindl said he is a quick learner and a good listener and has the energy to "take the county in the right direction." He said he intends to learn as much as he can from Thompson and has been doing his "homework" to prepare for his new job.
He currently oversees a $13 million family services budget, which accounts for one-fourth of the county's total budget.
One of his first duties in his new job will be to help put the 2007 budget and levy together this month and present it to the County Board on Sept. 5.