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Crow Wing County interim community services director recommends restructuring

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Brainerd Dispatch
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Brainerd MN 506 James St. / PO Box 974 56401

Crow Wing County commissioners heard a recommendation to restructure the Community Services department, reducing the number of top supervisors.

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The recommendation came from Mark Liedl, interim director. Liedl provided the board with a 39-page report and inch-thick appendix of supporting documents. He was tapped to serve as interim community services director in March and provide an assessment of the department.

Tuesday he told the county board the supervisors were remarkable for their willingness to share ideas and try new approaches. Liedl praised staff, saying many were outstanding and had the sort of talent that was refreshing to see — especially in younger people.

He suggested going from nine top supervisors to three. Liedl suggested adding program managers and lead workers to provide a way for bright staff members to advance and gain upward mobility. He recommended going from a program-based service model to a one that focuses on the client or customer.

Liedl presented pages of recommendations and when asked what was most important he said, “I don’t think anything happens without restructuring.”

Liedl said he went to 14 different counties and met with 19 other social services directors, looking at ways to deliver services. His recommendation was to move to an integrated, customer service approach that was pro-active in solving problems.

People coming through the doors often have multiple issues and the current structure doesn’t facilitate working across specialties to address the problems people are facing, Liedl said.

In his report, Liedl said too often a person with multiple challenges — unemployment, mental health, chemical dependency or raising children in a safe environment — get separate services based on program area and staff may be unaware a single person is getting services from other programs. As an example, Liedl pointed to a financial worker who may take repeated applications for assistance from someone suffering from a mental illness while a mental health worker may not be aware of the individual to provide services that could lead to employment.

His recommendations to the board were to move to a customer focused delivery rather than one focused on programs. He said there are opportunities to integrate financial staff, social workers and health care employees, an approach he brought to a restructuring in Land Services.

Liedl said the public health nurse providing services for a young pregnant woman may look at what other needs the woman may have at multiple levels and integrate those services in a way to be proactive, possibly heading off out of home placement costs years down the road.

Looking at the county’s spending on services, Liedl said the county may not be as efficient as it could be and the data collected should provide a better understanding of spending and how Crow Wing County compares to others in the state.

“The department has not had a consistent, transparent practice of analyzing spending practices in depth and reporting such budget data to the county board in a regular manner,” Liedl reported.

Listed in his report, Liedl stated:

• The department expends more than $121 million annually. The county levy funds $7.5 million of that.

• From 2007 to 2010 spending on direct aid and purchased services for clients increased by 19 percent. Personnel and administrative costs increased by 23 percent.

• On a per capita basis, the department ranked 49th from 84 counties in total spending and in per capita administrative costs ranked 32nd and in per capita levy costs ranked 39th.

• Compared to other counties of similar size, Crow Wing County spends significantly more on out-of-home (OHP) placements of children. Spending through the first half of 2012 was double that of Blue Earth and Otter Tail counties. Liedl reported the number of children in OHP was triple that of Otter Tail County. The other two counties spent more in family preservation efforts and foster care instead of OHP, Liedl said.

Commissioner Paul Thiede started his remarks by saying he is a very unemotional man. Thiede said Liedl’s reputation had some reacting with fear and trepidation when he was made interim director. There was a challenge to step up and be creative, Thiede said. Now, he said, it was delightful to see people taking ownership in what the county is doing.

Thiede said the trust he has in the information coming forth from the department is greater today.

“I think there is just a real advancement” he said of the feeling of ownership in community services by everyone. Before, Thiede said, it was hard to take ownership over something they really didn’t understand.

Liedl said moving to a management approach based on data, transparency and communication transforms the culture. At first, Liedl said, staff members wonder why they have to do all the extra reporting and think they don’t have the time but in the end it shows how much they do and empowers them to feel better about their job.

Administrator Tim Houle said Liedl’s data assessments were stellar and reasonable people may disagree where the data takes them. Houle said he expects good discussion about that for a more informed debate.

The report and recommendations will be back before the board in two weeks, although commissioners noted they may not be ready to act on every idea at that time. Liedl planned to meet with staff Tuesday to present the report to them.

RENEE RICHARDSON, senior reporter, may be reached at 855-5852 or renee.richardson@brainerddispatch.com. Follow on Twitter at www.twitter.com/Dispatchbizbuzz.

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