Looking for the right fit, Crow Wing County commissioners unanimously agreed that Tim Houle is their first choice for administrator.
The board Thursday agreed to begin negotiations with Houle, currently Morrison County administrator in Little Falls. A standard background check and other information will be complete early next week. The board is expected to vote on the matter at its regular Tuesday session.
The board's choice came after another round of interviews Thursday with Houle and fellow finalist Duane Hebert, administrator at Barron County in Wisconsin. Houle and Hebert met with the board and with department heads.
County Attorney Don Ryan said he understood why they were the final two candidates. Both offered to lead a change for the county, looking at efficiencies and service, but part of the board's consideration was the style of the change, be it evolutionary or revolutionary.
Ryan said a telling moment came when he asked Houle why he was the best choice for the job. Houle said he planned to stick for the long run. Houle said people want public money used wisely and to be treated with respect. Ryan said Houle offered a stability the county needed.
Summarizing feedback after the interviews, Tami Laska, human resources director, said department heads believed Houle was the best fit, with a wide knowledge of county government. Houle stressed customer service, focusing on common ground and open communication. Hebert was described as direct, articulate and energetic with a definite vision.
Commissioner Doug Houge said it was a tough decision. Houge was impressed by Hebert's innovative ideas, but said Houle aligned well with the county. Commissioner Dewey Tautges said Hebert had a more abrasive style while Houle could bring people along and be effective. Commissioner Rosemary Franzen said Houle was a better fit and the right choice.
By his own admission, Hebert has been a sometimes controversial figure in Barron County. Hebert said 10 percent at the county government do not want change, which makes it more difficult for the vast majority who do work together. Hebert said it is difficult to change things without creating controversy, which is the stuff of headlines and front-page stories, while good news is buried in the back.
Board Chairwoman Rachel Reabe Nystrom asked Hebert about his leadership style using the example of former administrator David Hamilton, who once went to a three-person public health management team and told them to pick which one of the three would be jobless. Nystrom said that action caused considerable stress, and while she is interested in change, she said morale is a key factor as well.
Nystrom said Hebert was charismatic and a brilliant administrator, but his response to a question about how he has changed and may do things differently after five years on the job struck her when Hebert said one change in approach would be to treat the change-resistant 10 percent more harshly.
"That's not an answer I was comfortable with," Nystrom said. "For this job I think we need a strong leader, but I think we need someone with a deft touch. You don't perform surgery with an ax."
RENEE RICHARDSON may be reached at email@example.com or 855-5852.
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