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County administrator fails to understand mission

In the recent opinion editorial by Timothy Houle, Crow Wing County administrator, “County Government Spending... The Rest of the Story,” our union workers and their lawsuit is discussed. I would like this opportunity to address the issue.

Paul Harvey once said, “Like what you do, if you don’t like it, do something else.” Harvey’s comment applies to the current situation in Crow Wing County, and in many local governments in Minnesota. Nowadays local governments are acting more and more like big corporations — cutting back on services, concentrating resources at the top and downsizing workers. Local governments are not businesses; they do not turn a profit and they do not have investors or shareholders. Instead, local governments provide essential services to citizen-taxpayers who are stakeholders in the community. Stakeholders expect top notch services that keep communities secure, and provide a safety net to friends and neighbors.

To Administrator Houle’s credit, he mentioned the many excellent accomplishments Crow Wing County stakeholders can be proud of, such as its achievement awards from the National Association of Counties. He also recognized the important contributions of county employees. However, Houle sounds more like a corporate executive interested in the “bottom line” than a county administrator. He proudly proclaims that he oversaw a reduction in the county’s workforce of 38 full-time positions, and is eager to phase out employee step increases.

Teamsters Local 320 represents 125 community services employees and they are unhappy with current actions of Crow Wing County. The county has unilaterally denied many employees their contractually obligated step increases, which is a direct violation of the Public Employment Labor Relations Act, (PELRA). The law clearly affirms that once a contract expires the conditions of employment, including pay structure, remain in effect until a new labor agreement is negotiated. County employees depend on this additional income to support their families; they were promised it, and have earned it!

Still, Administrator Houle claims he wants to move the current employee pay structure to a so-called “pay for performance” system, but in Crow Wing County there is already an annual performance evaluation in place for its employees. This move is nothing more than one in a series of concerted efforts to cut employee compensation. The unintended consequence of this move is to make county jobs less attractive to good employees. If these efforts continue, employees who love their jobs may have to find new employment, thus causing overall service delivery to suffer.

Paul Harvey’s saying, “Like what you do, if you don’t like it, do something else”, certainly applies; if employees no longer have a competitive job environment, then retention and performance will eventually suffer, and if Administrator Houle wants to act like a corporate executive, then, he should find a job on Wall Street!

BRIAN ALDES is principal officer of Teamsters Local 320.