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What will restructuring mean for Crow Wing County Community Services?

Crow Wing County commissioners got a fresh update on a restructuring that is changing its community services division.

The restructuring meant moving from nine supervisors to three division managers — Luke Simonett, Gwen Anderson and Sheila Skogen. Mark Liedl, interim community services director, and the division managers met with commissioners during Tuesday’s committee of the whole session.

Skogen said the department has a lot of people with years of experience who now wonder if those years of effort are being acknowledged. She often hears people say the county is trying to fix something that isn’t broken. Administrator Tim Houle said that isn’t what the county is trying to say.

“I think good work was done here every single day by the vast number of employees,” Houle said. “... No matter how good we are doing we can always, always do better. That’s what we are trying to do.”

Houle added the issue wasn’t about bad people or they wouldn’t have hired from within, but it was about bad structure. He said people were previously asked to labor in systems where they couldn’t possibly be successful.

Anderson, whose background was in the county’s health department, now oversees health, social services and the Retired and Senior Volunteer Program known as RSVP. Simonett, who worked in social services, is now overseeing employment and economic services and working with child support. Skogen is overseeing a newly created customer service division, which does in-take assessments and is looking to centralize data. Mark Liedl, interim community services director, said the tendency has been to look at things in a program mode. Someone may come in repeatedly looking for food stamps, but the real issue may be a chemical dependency problem keeping them from getting a job, he said.

Commissioner Paul Koering asked if people ever get off assistance. Houle said some who are senior citizens or those with developmental disabilities will need help until they die. But if the question is if able-bodied people on public assistance can be independent of services, Houle said the answer is yes as quickly as the county can do it.

Liedl, who noted he worked for a governor who championed welfare reform, said the county is working with Rural Minnesota Concentrated Employment Program. And he pointed to the county’s detoxification services, saying they identified people using the system three times a month and told them they need to go to a chemical dependency program.

Anderson said she feels RSVP should be pulled back into community services and an effort could be made to produce volunteers with individuals volunteering and having that experience help as they work toward a job. Simonett said staff members are coming up with great ideas through all the change. The change is stretching people into new roles and has included both tears shed and growth, Anderson said.

Koering said change is hard but obviously everyone is not comfortable with the restructuring with some concerned about getting information in pieces.

Veterans services are maintaining their own space and program area in what the county described as being sensitive to veterans’ concerns.

Now with three division managers in place and other previous managers taking pay reductions, community services is looking at the next layers of organization by creating coordinator positions. Program coordinators would not be union positions and would not have case loads. Commissioner Paul Koering said he’s heard concerns from staff who had heavy case loads before and previously supervisors helped with the workload. Liedl said supervisors will, of course, help.

Anderson said they are taking a fresh look at case loads, redistributing the work and closing cases to focus on more acute clients. Some cases where the clients were seen every other month can be referred to community resources and those cases staff said didn’t need to be open and can now be closed. At the county meeting, there was question if some of the cases should have been closed before but weren’t as case numbers were a measure of work. Houle said it’s a shift to an outcome-based approach with a goal of achieving the highest level of independent living. Houle said in the old structure departments didn’t always know what each other was doing. He pointed to a staff exercise creating an example of one family seeking services and a long line of staff members who would interact with the family representing various programs.

Koering asked how Crow Wing County could be responsible for a person who moved out of the area and how that could make sense given distances as far away as Mankato. Houle said certain cases, such as managed care insurance for senior citizens, stay with the county of residence by state requirement, probably created as a way to keep some counties from shipping their responsibilities outside their borders.

One question is how the county will measure success and how it will crunch data numbers. Houle said it should be based on the difference the county is making. Liedl said every year there is a radiothon to end child abuse and money is raised but abuse continues. The county has a one-year project in place aimed at bolstering family protection.

County Attorney Don Ryan said he’s heard a lot of negative and some positive about the restructuring. Positives include the intake assessment and coordinated case management. Ryan cautioned against measuring subjective human complexities in crime and social services by objective means and numbers. Even if numbers and costs go up related to taking children out of home situations, that doesn’t mean the county doesn’t have an obligation and responsibility for child protection.

In March, the county expects to narrow down a list of applicants to finalists for the community services director position. The county reported a new hire there will be expected to continue the restructuring work community services is currently doing.

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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