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Getting out of the silos: Kandiyohi County to implement new organizational structure

Most people in rural communities are familiar with silos that are used to store things likes shelled corn and corn silage.

Thick silo walls keep the different contents in their place.

Typical county governments operate with their own type of silos — one for public health, one for family services, one for the auditing department, one for the recorder’s office, another for the assessor’s office and one for planning and zoning, etc.

Even though these silos are located next to each other in the same building and serve the same customers, people often must go from department to department to accomplish a task.

That system is changing in counties across the state — including Kandiyohi County — where a two-phase reorganizational plan is being implemented that will remove the walls of silos that should allow services to be provided in a seamless fashion.

Although a blueprint of “phase one” of the plan includes appointing the auditor/treasurer and recorder, other parts of the plan are being advanced even if the appointment issue isn’t accomplished.

Phase one includes literally moving walls and desks in the county’s downtown office building and cross-training staff to work across the departmental borders.

The goal is to create an all-purpose, one-stop information counter that could, for example, allow someone with a land issue to record a deed, pay taxes on the property and seek zoning changes all in one location. Currently a customer must visit three separate offices on two different levels of the building.

Yellow Medicine County

Yellow Medicine County dissolved their old departments in 2011, according to Janel Timm, who supervises the property and public services department. They merged them and reconfigured them into new service areas and staffed them with people who are cross-trained and have a “larger knowledge base” to answer the public’s questions.

In the past, those departments “had been very segregated or silo-type departments,” said Timm.

Once Yellow Medicine County moves into a new building that will allow the departments to have a centralized location it will make it even easier to deliver services, she said. “We’re trying to utilize our people the best we can.”

Meeker County

In Meeker County they still have defined departments but Administrator Paul Virnig said the elected office-holders — they still have a separate auditor, treasurer and recorder — are housed close together, which allows them to cooperate with providing services. A shared clerical worker who works across multiple departments also helps tie the work of the separate departments together.

Kandiyohi County

Phase two of Kandiyohi County’s plan involves blurring the lines between the family services and public health departments, which serve many of the same clients and are located on the same floor of the Health and Human Services Building.

Last year Ann Stehn was named as overall director of both departments, which is expected to lead to the eventual merger of the two departments.

The county is also working to increase shared employee duties and services with the community corrections department and Veterans Service Office, which are also located in the same building.

Committees made up of county staff are in the process of working out details for this internal reorganization and how employees can “more effectively work together across departments in this building,” said Stehn.

“We’re trying to break down some of those barriers between our silos,” she said. But it doesn’t necessarily mean the silos are going to become one big silo.”

The end result should be more efficient use of staff and delivery of service to clients.

Making these changes isn’t easy.

“It’ll take courage,” said Dave Unmacht, a consultant who led Kandiyohi County’s redesign study. “This is hard work. This isn’t easy.”

But Ummacht said the work will be worth it because there is potential “for great rewards.”

Carolyn Lange

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

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