Put county administrator talks front and center
Who’s the boss?
That is the million dollar question for Taylor County as elected and appointed leaders seek to find balance and learn from past missteps.
In a, at times harsh, review of the county’s handling of personnel matters leading up to the eventual resignation of former veterans service officer Shellie Shaw last summer, the focus repeatedly returned to the need to have a more formalized administrative structure in place for day-to-day operations. The report also called for additional training for board members focusing on what their duties are, and aren’t, under state law.
To their credit, board members and county department heads took part in more than four hours of training on Monday from attorney Jake Curtis of Attolles Law of Milwaukee, who wrote the report on behalf of County Mutual Insurance. Board members must likewise move with the same sort of haste to address the need for more formalized day-to-day administration of county operations.
Taylor County has historically kept significant power in the hands of the county board, primarily through the various oversight committees which review on a regular basis the operations of each county department with committee chairs working closely with department heads.
As with most things, the county’s decentralized management system works, until it doesn’t. In the county’s case, it worked passably so long as the generation of department heads, whose tenure of working for the county and with each other was measured in decades, was in place. In any organization there are the written codes in handbooks and job descriptions as well as the unwritten rules that are embedded in the workplace culture.
During times of employee churn and outside pressures, such as in the past several years, the unwritten rules become muddled and lost as newcomers look to what is written for guidance as the way things “should be.”
Taylor County supervisors must make addressing administrative functions a priority in the coming months. This could be as simple as formalizing a chain of command structure and truly empowering administrative coordinator/human resources director Nicole Hager. The county could just as well look to more major changes with the move toward a hired county administrator who has a significant amount of power outlined under state laws or to an elected county executive to oversee functions. The latter two options won’t come cheap and will bring about a major shift in the dynamics of county government.
It is time to take the hallway discussions on if or when the county will go to an administrator system and bring them into the board room and put them on an agenda. It is time for the county to have the tough talk about how to deal with day-to-day operations and take action sooner rather than later.