Many new faces, some new roles.

Polk County government is undergoing a period of some big changes in administration.

    The county will be getting a new administrator next month when Chuck Whiting, most recently the city administrator at Faribault, will come on the job. He and Jack Schmalenberg, who will mark 41 years as a county employee in November… most of that time as its top administrator, will work together for the balance of the year before Jack begins his retirement.

    The overlap will allow Jack, whose position was expanded from that of county coordinator to county administrator in January 2011, to pass on the knowledge that he has acquired during his time at the front of operations and for Chuck to get his feet on the ground.

    It was about a year ago that longtime county Auditor-Treasurer Gerald Amiot retired… after 44 years with the county. With the creation of a Taxpayer Service Center, the duties of auditor-treasurer are now shared by Michelle Cote, whose responsibilities and title have changed from county recorder to that of director of property records, and by Robert Wagner, whose responsibilities have been expanded from county assessor to director of assessments services.

Melding of staffs
    The Taxpayer Service Center involves a melding of the Auditor-Treasurer, Assessor and Recorder offices into a location where residents can record property and other documents, check on property valuations, pay their property taxes and more in one single stop. Some extensive cross training of staff has been a part of the change to Taxpayer Service Center. Michelle Snyder was hired in 2010 to be the immediate supervisor of staff in that new department. Her hire followed the retirement of Vickie Hughes, who had been a specialist in the area of tax computation during the 38 years that she had worked for the county auditor-treasurer.

    The reorganization needed to create the Taxpayer Service Center also included the development of a Finance Division that works directly under the county administrator. Ron Denison’s role of lead accountant in the former Auditor-Treasurer’s Office has increased in that new division to director of finance.
More changes
    • Jon Steiner’s role as Environmental Services administrator was expanded to also include management of the former Solid Waste Department after it was merged into Environmental Services in 2010. The merger followed the retirement of Willard “Bill” Wilson, who had been facilities manager of the Waste to Energy Incinerator at Fosston and of the municipal solid waste, demolition and ash landfills located near Gentilly.
    • Barb Erdman moved from a sergeant’s position and an administrative role in the Sheriff’s Office to that of sheriff when she was elected to succeed the retiring Mark LeTexier in January 2011.
    • Sarah Reese is the new director of Polk County Public Health, succeeding Sheri Altepeter, who left the position about a year ago to pursue other career interests.
    • Cam Fanfulik became executive director of the Northwest Region Development Commission, based in Warren, when Leon Heath began his retirement last summer after 20 years as the director and 32 years with the agency. The RDC serves seven counties in northwestern Minnesota, including Polk.
    • Phillip Greer has become executive director of Tri-County Community Corrections, the agency that operates the new 214-bed jail, the Red River Valley Juvenile Center and the Probation & Community Services programs for Norman, Red Lake and Polk counties. He succeeded Susan Mills, who retired in November 2011 after 25 years in the top position and a total of 35 years with TCCC.
    • Linsey Stadstad, who grew up at Manvel and had previously worked at Altru Hospital in Grand Forks, is the new county human services director. She succeeds Tangee Bouvette, who took a job with the City of Grand Forks this spring.
    • Catherine Johnson has succeeded Robert Melby as executive director of the Inter County Community Council, based in Oklee. Melby retired last May after 34 years with that agency, which includes eastern Polk County in its service area.
    • Shauna Reitmeier, who grew up in Crookston, has assumed the position of executive director of the Northwestern Mental Health Center operations that are based in Crookston. She succeeded Dan Wilson in that capacity on May 29.
    • Kristina Johnson became the new 4-H Program coordinator for Polk County on June 7 filling a position that had been vacant for several months following the resignation of Emily Esperson last fall.

    With all of the above activity, a new era of administration is coming into place. While a lot of years of experience and knowledge has been or soon will be lost, there is opportunity for new people to focus on the ongoing goal of doing things even better and more efficiently in our fast-changing world of technology. And these new administrators — like all of us in government — will be asked to do that in spite of the dwindling revenues needed to accomplish them.

    Thoughts expressed in this column are those of the author and are not necessarily a reflection of the opinions of the other members of the Polk County Board.