Posted on

Taylor County is facing an administrative leadership challenge

It is time for Taylor County’s elected supervisors as a full county board to bring back consideration of a county administrator to oversee day-to-day operations and interaction between county departments.

In the next few months, Taylor County will undergo a major change in day-today leadership.

Public health director Patty Krug has announced plans to retire this winter as has human services director Liza Daleiden. Commission on Aging director Nathanael Brown left to pursue new opportunities earlier this month.

Perhaps the largest change to come is the announcement from county human resources manager Marie Koerner who plans to retire in mid-2022. Combined with department heads who have left in the past few years, these county staff leaders have served the people of Taylor County for many decades. This wealth of institutional knowledge and dedication will soon be gone and with it there will be a leadership vacuum among county departments.

Taylor County has a proud tradition of having an intentionally decentralized county government with policy setting power in the hands of independent oversight committees and day-to-day management left up to each department head. Taylor County also has a tradition of “working managers” who, in addition to supervising their staffs, are working alongside them to get the job done. In addition to managing budgets and grant paperwork, the health director is giving shots at the flu vaccine clinic and the aging director has to fill in to deliver meals to homebound seniors. In a small county, there is little room for those who want to sit behind a desk.

The system has worked, based largely on the talents, commitment and cooperation of those in departmental leadership roles. However, the system has shown signs of strain and raised questions among elected officials and the general public about who is in charge of this $38 million a year business.

The decisions of individual departmental oversight committees often have significant impact county-wide, yet only the handful of supervisors serving on those particular committees have any say in decisions reached. Other than an annual report, or when something major comes up making it to the county board level, there may be very little formal interaction between a committee’s action and the full county board. At the same time, the workers in that department interact daily and work alongside employees in other departments.

Policy making is only one part of county government. The management of county departments on a day-to-day basis rests on the department heads. Under the county’s current system, department heads exist as co-equals and autonomous from each other. The tendency for this sort of system to fracture into squabbling kingdoms, each jealously guarding their resources without any vision as to the good of the whole, has to this point been held in check by the moral authority of Koerner and other long-time department heads, backed by their long-term relationships with the county board. It takes time for those relationships to grow and for leaders to develop on their own. This is time the county does not have.

A team is more than just a collection of good players. To come together and succeed any team needs a leader to keep them pointed in the same direction, to develop strategy and ensure efforts are being made to advance the whole rather than working against each other. A leader is also there to address issues that develop and handle them administratively before they have a chance to fester and grow to the point of needing county personnel committee involvement.

Change is good, and the generational shifting of leadership roles is inevitable. At this time of change Taylor County’s elected leaders should take the opportunity to develop a more formal administrative leadership process on a day-today basis.