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Wright County News

Posted on: April 24, 2020

County Board Asks for Review Process on Hiring or Backfilling Open Positions Due to COVID-19

As with most weekly agendas for the Wright County Board of Commissioners, on the April 21 agenda was a pair of consent agenda position replacement requests. Given the size of Wright County, having position turnover in the numerous county departments is a constant cycle.

Commissioner Darek Vetsch asked that one of the position requests be removed for discussion, reminding residents that position replacements aren’t being handled as they typically have been given the changes that have accompanied COVID-19.

While he wasn’t singling out a department or a specific position, he wanted to be clear that the county is scaling back new hires or backfilling vacant positions due to the uncertain future of the economy – in Wright County and the entire United States.

“It’s not just this particular position,” Vetsch said. “I just want to make sure that we’re understanding these position replacements that have been coming up for a variety of departments. I want to have a discussion collectively. We’re not necessarily replacing them right now. We should have a discussion, because when we come out of this smoke or fog or whatever you want to call it and what the economics of all this is going to look like, some of these positions will be put on hold. Will our construction still be the same? Are our workloads still going to be the same or remotely different? I want to make sure that if we’re replacing (these positions) that we have another chance to discuss it when we come out of the situation that we’re currently in.”

Wright County Administrator Lee Kelly said that process is already underway. Several positions that have been vacant are going to remain so and the county has adopted a policy about staff who aren’t working their full work schedules using Paid Time Off (PTO) or a Voluntary Leave Without Pay program for hours they miss.

That word has been passed along to department heads to assure that there is no confusion about where administration and the county board stands on attempting to keep expenditures in check during this unprecedented time. 

“We’re looking at all positions,” Kelly said. “The discussion with administration and the board’s comments is that, before we’re filling them, we have discussions with some of the departments that have open positions. Some have agreed already to hold. We’re looking to get through the entire list. My thought would be that you could approve the position, but to be clear in the understanding that’s not guaranteeing we’re filling it now.”

Vetsch added that the potential impact the pandemic could have on county resources is a critical concern and that, when the dust settles from COVID-19, there may be significant changes in how county personnel are utilized – both within departments and across departmental lines.

“One of my biggest concerns is, in a downturn in the economy if we get there – I hope we don’t – but, if that is the case, the positions that we allocate and the need for different positions may come up,” Vetsch said. “That’s why I’m looking that there may be a need to look at reallocation of those positions into different departments. That’s the reason I’m fearful when approving these positions that we’re setting fair expectations for the departments.”

Board Chair Christine Husom agreed that COVID-19 has changed the landscape of how the county functions and how its resources are allocated. It is change that was forced onto the county by something that couldn’t have been projected at the beginning of the year.

“Things are popping and are changing positions perhaps,” Husom said. “Our needs are changing – things that we would not have anticipated two months ago. As we move forward, when administration is working with our departments, we need to know that they may not be filled for a while.”

The board approved moving forward with the process associated with position replacements with the understanding that, until it is deemed that there is a dire need for a specific position, the actual hiring of those employees will remain on hold.

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