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UPDATE: County turns to Plan B in coordinator search

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news Morris, 56267
Morris Minnesota 607 Pacific Avenue 56267

Stevens County's top candidate to fill its coordinator position has declined the job offer, and the commissioners will conduct second interviews with two other finalists on Monday.

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Michael Brethorst, a Veterans Affairs administrator and former Administrator for the City of Barnesville, was the first choice to succeed Jim Thoreen, who is retiring at the end of May.

The board voted Tuesday to offer the job to Brethorst, who declined the offer. The board is scheduled to meet in a special session on Monday, May 10, to re-interview finalists Marc Dennison and Rhoda Smith. Smith is scheduled to meet again with the board at 1:15 p.m. Dennison is set to meet with the board at 2 p.m.

After voting to make Brethorst an offer, the board also voted to offer Brethorst standard benefits packages, and to negotiate a salary in the range of $79,820 and $81,500.

In his interview, Brethorst told the commissioners he would require a salary at the top end of the advertised range, which was between $70,300 and $81,500, to consider taking the position.

Brethorst said his current salary with the VA is higher than the top end of the county's advertised salary, but that "I feel that county government, city government, is my calling."

The other finalists, who were interviewed last week, are:

•Jordan Zeller, of Big Lake, who is Community/Economic Development Director, East Central Regional Development Commission.

•Rhoda Smith, of Donnelly, who is Vice President of Student Affairs at Northern State University in Aberdeen, S.D.

•Victoria Holthaus, of Richmond, who is Finance Officer, Clear Lake/Clearwater Sewer Authority.

•Marc Dennison, of Darien, Wis., who is Village Administrator, Clerk and Treasurer, Village of Darien.

The full county Board of Commissioners and county department heads sat in on the interviews. County Attorney Charles Glasrud asked the prepared questions. The candidates were allowed to ask questions of the board and department heads.

Here's are brief recap of the interviews, in the order they were conducted:

•Zeller grew up on a farm in Chippewa County and said he wants to work in rural areas and help develop them.

"I'm not a fan of the big city," he said.

Zeller said he has management skills from his years in radio broadcasting and as an administrator in the City of Clarkfield, and he has economic development and budgeting experience. He also said he delegates.

"I hate micromanagement," Zeller said.

Developing solid relationships with the commissioners, with other local governments and county residents will be important. It's also what Zeller said is one of his strengths.

"I'm a personable person, and I can work with just about anyone," he said.

•Smith has 20 years experience in public administration, and said she wants to continue that career in a place she calls home.

"I'd like to give back to the place where I live at this stage in my career," she said.

She manages 40 people in her current job and is responsible for about one-third of an $8 million budget. But she also considers herself an approachable, open person.

"I believe in management by walking around," Smith said. "I have an open door; people see me. I'm a collaborative person, but I will make decisions when I have to."

Smith said she's a proponent of advancing technology use in the county - it's helping rural communities connect with each other as well as to metro areas - but that technology needs to be a complement to interpersonal relationships, Smith said.

•Holthaus stressed her experience as a financial director for the City of Richmond and in her current job are vital at a time when state and local budgets are in tough shape.

Holthaus has spent considerable time working with budgets, and long-range planning is important because budgets are so tight, she said.

Technology also is a critical component for governments and that it needs to be used more and developed. Smart investments in technology can help county operations work more efficiently, Holthaus said.

Holthaus said one of her first objectives as a coordinator would be working to get to know and understand each commissioner and what goals they want to reach.

•Dennison has a masters degree in public administration but that he really learned how it all works once he was on the job in Pine Island and then in the Village of Derian (Wis.). It is, foremost, about building relationships with people, he said.

"That's where you get your experience," he said.

Dennison said that, as a coordinator, he would work as a guide for other employees and develop open lines of communication.

"Hire the best person for the job and let them do the job," he said. "It's not my job to micromanage."

Dennison said he has worked in many roles in local government.

"I think I have the experiences with which I could be a good coordinator," he said.

•Brethorst cited extensive administrative experience both at the local and federal levels. He also said his military training and service are a benefit to him.

"I know what it is to be a leader," he said.

Describing his leadership style, Brethorst called himself an "inclusive person" who believes in giving the public and county staff plenty of input into decisions.

"If not, you're asking for trouble," he said.

Brethorst said he has the ability to prioritize and that "I see the big picture relatively quickly."

He has budget and human resources experience and believes that he has the ability to present information so that the public can grasp complex issues.

"Making sure Joe Citizen understands what it's all about," Brethorst said.

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