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County Board debates possibility of surveyor becoming an appointed position over elected one

WILLMAR -- Starting next year, Kandiyohi County residents may not be electing their surveyor.

Instead, the individual would be appointed by the five-member County Board of Commissioners. Kandiyohi County is one of just five counties in the state that still elects the surveyor.

"We're the minority in how we do it," said County Administrator Larry Kleindl, who said making the change to an appointed position is relatively simple. The commissioners need only pass a resolution, which they appear poised to do at their next meeting on Feb. 16.

The issue of whether to appoint or elect the surveyor has been toyed with for nearly two years. During a brief discussion Tuesday, the commissioners praised current surveyor, Duane Bonnema, and expressed unanimous support for moving to an appointed position.

"I really think it's the way to go," said Commissioner Dean Shuck.

Commissioner Harlan Madsen said the county is "very pleased" with Bonnema's work and efforts to bring new technology into the office. "We've moved light years under his leadership," said Madsen.

Appointing, rather than electing, the surveyor guarantees the person is selected on the "merits of the qualifications" rather than the popular vote, said Commissioner Richard Larson.

"We're very pleased with the work you're doing," Chairman Richard Falk said to Bonnema, who attended the board meeting.

Kleindl said he and Bonnema have been working together on a plan to make the transition, including maintaining his existing compensation schedule.

In other discussion Tuesday, the commissioners are considering making a change to how the county provides snowplow service for some townships.

In five townships, the county plows the roads; in seven townships the county hires private contractors; and in one township there's a 50-50 split between county and private snowplow services.

Eleven townships hire their own snowplow contractors.

In an attempt to better utilize the county's staff and equipment and provide better service, Public Works Director Gary Danielson said the county needs to prioritize roads and consider not plowing roads for townships and not serving as the middle man.

"We don't necessarily have to be in the snowplow business," Danielson said.

Townships that currently hire their own contractor like the flexibility of when roads are plowed.

Commissioner Dennis Peterson, a former township supervisor, said having the county manage the program is "worth every penny that it costs" townships.

Danielson said there are "pressures on the county to be as efficient as possible and spend as little money as possible and still provide a really good service."

By concentrating on county roads, he said his department could reduce staff, reduce equipment purchases and handle snow emergencies better.

The commissioners were reluctant to sign onto the proposal until the issue had been discussed with township leaders.

Letters will be sent to townships introducing the idea, with feedback expected at the countywide township meeting scheduled for March 10 in Willmar.

Carolyn Lange

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

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