Right time for change in Lac qui Parle County as it reorganizes departments
Lac qui Parle County begins the new year with a reorganization in the courthouse. The county has its first county administrator. It recently combined the recorder and assessor offices to become the land records office, and appointed a new auditor/treasurer.
MADISON — The time for change couldn’t be better in Lac qui Parle County, where it begins the new year with a reorganization in the courthouse.
Jake Sieg, who had served as county auditor/treasurer, is now the county’s first administrator.
Along with appointing Sieg as county administrator effective Jan. 1, the County Board of Commissioners appointed Angie Djonne to serve as auditor/treasurer.
The two actions follow a reorganizational change made last fall. The commissioners combined the duties in the assessor and recorder offices and created the land records office. They appointed then-assessor Lori Schwendemann to serve the combined duties as land records director.
In all of the changes, the timing mattered as things aligned up well, according to Sieg. He said the County Board of Commissioners for a number of years had been discussing making the progression to an appointed administrator structure and combining offices.
When former county recorder Josh Amland resigned to accept a position in private industry, the commissioners moved forward with creating the land records office and combining the recorder and assessor office duties.
Schwendemann had experience in the assessor’s office since 1990, and as assessor, had the skills needed to take on this new and expanded role, Sieg said.
The county was likewise fortunate in having an experienced staff member ready to take on the auditor/treasurer duties. Djonne started her employment with the county 20 years ago, and has progressively taken on more responsibilities, he said.
"One of the good things to come out of it is it really opened our eyes to how we could be short-changing one thing or another by the way we were running things."
- Jake Sieg, Lac qui Parle County Administrator
Sieg had served as auditor/treasurer/coordinator since shortly after having been elected auditor/treasurer in 2007. But no year was like last year in terms of the duties that fell on that office. It served to show the importance of the reorganization that has taken place.
Sieg said the last year was a very challenging one. The duties of overseeing elections grew three-fold last year, as a presidential primary was conducted separately from the primary in August and general election in November. And no different than election officials in many neighboring counties, he reported that the public’s view of elections last year “made it a tough year.”
And of course, the COVID-19 pandemic brought many additional challenges for the county beginning in March, most of which commanded Sieg’s attention and time as the auditor/treasurer/coordinator.
The new responsibilities were too important to give anything less than full attention. The distribution of federal coronavirus relief funds required a great deal of time and effort to make sure it was done right, he said.
Handling the many duties meant he had to put other responsibilities on hold at times, and it took him away from a variety of projects.
“One of the good things to come out of it,” he said, “is it really opened our eyes to how we could be short-changing one thing or another by the way we were running things.”
The new changes have already shown their value. The administrator said he is able to devote more time to making certain the $250,000 in state pandemic relief funds for businesses are distributed to where they can do the most good. Applications for those funds are more than double the amount available, he said.
There’s been on and off progress over the past three years toward developing a long-term facilities plan for the county. Now, there’s the time to focus on moving this forward without being pulled away to other duties, he said.
The move to a county administrator position provides the county with a clear organizational chart and lines of responsibility. With a staff of 80 full-time persons, the county government represents a fair-sized organization in terms of managing operations, he said. Having a central administrator represents the same management structure as is relied on by most businesses with CEOs, or schools with superintendents and cities with administrators.
Sieg said the transition has proved seamless, and that’s despite the continued challenges of dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic. The timing and alignment for it all proved right, he said.