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Crow Wing County Board approves community services retructuring plan

A plan to restructure Crow Wing County Community Services was approved on a 4-1 vote Tuesday.

Earlier this month, Mark Liedl, interim community services director, presented the county board with 46 recommendations for the department, which includes social services and public health.

Liedl’s recommendations included restructuring to reduce the number of top-level supervisors to three. There are 11 supervisors in the department.

Commissioner Paul Thiede asked Liedl if specific language on various recommendations was limiting, such as using programs developed by other counties such as Blue Earth.

Liedl said he tried to make recommendations broad enough to allow for flexibility.

Liedl said the Blue Earth County model is one others are following as a leader in family preservation. That isn’t to say Crow Wing County hasn’t been doing things as well such as the family collaborative, Liedl said, adding the effort was in looking at doing it better and using models for staff to follow. Thiede asked about a recommendation to bolster collaboration efforts with community groups such as Circle of Parents. Liedl said it’s tricky to write such a report and not offend someone but he was in contact with that particular group. It didn’t mean, Liedl said, that the county shouldn’t work with Bridges of Hope or Lutheran Social Services.

Leadership, Liedl said, is what’s important and the county can be far more effective as a community leader. In terms of collaboratives in the community, Thiede asked if it is productive if it comes down to a turf war.

“I think we get beyond the turf battles if we lead correctly,” Liedl said.

Commissioners also asked about a recommendation to integrate community corrections within community services. The county is part of a joint powers group with neighboring counties in Central Minnesota Community Corrections. Thiede said he wanted to be clear in his mind the recommendations weren’t imposing other models on the goal of improving collaboration with community corrections. Liedl said he was thinking of co-location of offices in a relocation and he didn’t mean to say corrections would be supervised by community services.

Administrator Tim Houle said in many respects it was about integrating disciplines so the left hand knew what the right hand was doing and creating a culture of supportive accountability around people using the county services. The road map Liedl created could help the county board as it looks for a new community services director.

One recommendation calls for building a stronger network of family foster homes in order to use that option to a greater degree when out of home placement of a child is necessary. Thiede said he didn’t see any supportive material to show what data Liedl used to make that determination. Liedl said he had friends who called a few years ago to be foster parents and they were told the county didn’t need any more families. Other counties are finding that foster family resource essential, Liedl said.

Commissioner Phil Trusty said he sees benefits in restructuring but was looking for more input from staff once the proposal was released. Trusty said he was disappointed in the number he received, indicating people either liked what Liedl recommended or they didn’t want to say anything.

Houle said he thought if there were concerns, such as those which were voiced with community corrections, the county board would have heard them.

“I have really been flabbergasted about the lack of response,” said Commissioner Rachel Reabe Nystrom. “I thought there would be a lot of chest beating and all sorts of things and I really have not heard it.”

Liedl said as interim director some of the suggestions were implemented and it also indicates the frustration level with how things are done now. He said people in the department care about what they do to help people.

Restructuring was considered the priority. He asked the board to list their priority and suggested it may be a good question for candidates for the director’s job.

One of the goals for restructuring is to have an intake and assessment division to consolidate intake for health, social services and income maintenance programs for better customer service rather than be program centered.

County Attorney Don Ryan said he didn’t have a huge disagreement with the majority of Liedl’s recommendations. Ryan said that integrated approach or central access didn’t just come up now and was part of county talks in 1996. In the past, Ryan said, if someone came in to public health for a service, qualified for it and were offered food stamps, they were criticized for thrusting welfare on people. So the integrated approach is not without controversy.

Thiede said integration was not sales.

“We are not building programs,” Thiede said. “We are building people,” building people’s self-esteem so they feel better about themselves and fully integrate into society.

The board voted 4-1, with Trusty opposed. Trusty said he had trouble passing all the recommendations with so many questions remaining, including how the county will get progress reports. Monthly and quarterly reporting was discussed.

Houle suggested the next step was to move forward with the recruitment process for a new director.

RENEE RICHARDSON, senior reporter, may be reached at 855-5852 or Follow on Twitter at

Renee Richardson
Richardson is a Pacelli High School graduate from Austin, Minn., who earned an applied science degree from the University of Minnesota, Waseca, with an emphasis in horse management. She worked extensively in the resort industry. She received an associate’s degree from Central Lakes College, where she was editor of the Westbank Journal student newspaper, as well as a summer intern at the Dispatch. She graduated from St. Cloud State University summa cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in mass communications and interned at the St. Cloud Times covering business while attending SCSU. She's been with the Brainerd Dispatch since 1996.
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