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Meeker Co., Minn., prepares for turnover in leadership

LITCHFIELD — When the Meeker County Board of Commissioners meets for the first time in January, there will be a whole new set faces in the board room.

All five commissioners were elected in November to their first term on the County Board.

It is an unusual event, said Meeker County Administrator Paul Virnig, who believes Meeker Co-unty is the only county in the state with an entire tu-rnover of commissioners.

On top of that, their county attorney resigned after being appointed as a district judge.

The current commissioners are expected to interview two finalists today for the job.

“One step at a time” is how Virnig describes the transition.

Although there will be some growing pains, Virnig said many of the incoming commissioners have been attending board meetings since they started campaigning for the job last summer and since being elected they have spent time asking questions and getting familiar with the county’s business.

“They’re doing their homework,” said Virnig.

At 1 p.m. Wednesday they will be sworn into office by the county auditor in the county board room in the courthouse and will meet with department heads to get an overview of activities and staff during a local orientation.

“It’ll take a little bit of learning,” said Virnig, but he added the new commissioners have a “good attitude” and he’s confident the transition will go well. “Change isn’t always bad.”

Even though there are five new commissioners who will take office on Jan. 7, there are 175 full-time employers and 50 part-time employees in the county, including department heads, with a long work history who will continue to do the county’s work and will serve as valuable resources to the new commissioners.

“We’re proud of our staff,” said Virnig. “We have a lot of experience here.”

He also said the county has a good financial picture, the tax structure is reasonable and the county buildings are in good shape and there are no major controversies or big building projects in the works. “Things are looking good,” said Virnig.

Redistricting may have had something to do with the turnover.

Virnig said each district was affected when maps were redrawn to reflect the shift in population.

Veteran Commissioners James Swenson, David Gabrielson, Wally Strand and Tim Benoit were all defeated.

Commissioner Roney Kutzke retired from the board and did not seek re-election.

The new commissioners are Beth Oberg, Dale Fenrich, Bryan Larson, Mike Housman and Mike Huberty.

The race between Gabrielson and Fenrich ended with a one-vote difference.

Virnig said the outgoing commissioners were taking the transition “in pretty good stride” and are busy taking care of end-of-the-year activities like approving the 2013 budget and levy and hiring a new county attorney to replace Stephanie Beckman, who was recently appointed as a judge in the Eighth Judicial District.

Virnig said the county received 11 applications. The selection committee narrowed that list down to six candidates that were interviewed.

The two finalists are Matthew Franzese, who is currently the Traverse County Attorney, and Anthony Spector, who has his own law firm in Plymouth and is also a part-time deputy with the Meeker County Sheriff’s Office.

The interim Meeker County Attorney is Angela Erickson. Neither she nor anyone else from the current staff applied for the job. “Nobody expressed an interest internally,” said Virnig.

The commissioners are expected to interview the finalists today but it’s not known if they will make a decision this week.

Whoever is hired will have until 2014 before needing to run for office. The current unexpired term ends Dec. 31, 2014.

Carolyn Lange

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

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