In a shake-up of land services departments, the Crow Wing County Board Tuesday approved a reorganization plan.
County Administrator David Hamilton recommended the changes, including reorganizing the planning and zoning department under a land services director. Planning and zoning has been a source of concern for years, with issues relating to customer service and internal makeup. The county went from a department head to a team management approach before Hamilton became interim planning and zoning department head. Hamilton has been serving as director of land services on an experimental basis.
Hamilton said a primary issue for customers and staff is consistency. In his report to the board, Hamilton stated that without the right leadership in place planning and zoning will continue to flounder from crisis to crisis.
The land services director, a department head position, is envisioned with broad authority. The director would manage planning and zoning and coordinate the lands and parks department, the surveyor's department and the solid waste department. The director also would serve as liaison with organizations like lake associations. For Hamilton, the move puts all land-based operations into one cohesive group.
In addition, the board supported Hamilton's recommendations to move Kristin Hansen, assistant planner who has been handling the planner's duties since Bonnie Finnerty resigned, to county planner. The assistant county planner position would be eliminated. Hansen is expected to become certified for the position. As a long-term goal, Hamilton suggested a master's degree in planning would be obtained.
"I believe it would be in your best interest to proceed," Hamilton said of the plan.
Hamilton said the department heads serving under the land services director would still be able to address the board directly. As retirements come into play, Hamilton said there may be an opportunity to examine if a department head is needed for some of the positions as budget money remains a pressing issue in the future.
"I have grave concerns about this model," said Don Ryan, county attorney. Ryan said it will take a truly unique individual to be the planning and zoning manager, as well as coordinate other department heads and work with the public. To get the quality of work the board wants with the multitude of tasks represented is unrealistic, Ryan said.
"I think you put too much duty and too much responsibility in one entity," he said.
As for the overall report about restructuring, Ryan said a lot of it had merit and he agreed with many items. With a new administrator coming on board who may have a different vision, Ryan suggested the board take time to consider options such as a land services coordinator before it took action. Another option could include Cass County's model of combined departments under environmental services, Ryan said.
Commissioner Dewey Tautges agreed, saying the problems weren't in the land department or the surveyor's department.
"Planning and zoning is our main focus," Tautges said. "We've got to straighten that out before anything else. You are absolutely right Don. Fix the things that are broke. Let's leave the good things alone."
Commissioner Paul Thiede said he couldn't disagree more. Thiede said the board has embraced Hamilton's leadership team approach and this was a step in that direction.
The board voted, with Tautges opposed, to create a land services director position and proceed to find qualified candidates. The vote moved Hansen to county planner and revised the planning and zoning department structure.
County Auditor Deborah Erickson said she needed to review the budget to determine if this move met the board's 3 percent budget increase it approved last year. The board agreed to that budget review.
RENEE RICHARDSON may be reached at email@example.com or 855-5852.
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