Hiring freeze faces first challengeSheriff requests to fill two vacancies in county department WORTHINGTON — One week after Nobles County Commissioners enacted a hiring freeze in all county departments, excluding essential employees, Sheriff Kent Wilkening brought forth two requests to replace positions during Tuesday morning’s board meeting.
By: Julie Buntjer, Worthington Daily Globe
WORTHINGTON — One week after Nobles County Commissioners enacted a hiring freeze in all county departments, excluding essential employees, Sheriff Kent Wilkening brought forth two requests to replace positions during Tuesday morning’s board meeting.
Wilkening is hoping to fill a night sergeant position in the sheriff’s office that was vacated due to a retirement, and a full-time jailer post also recently vacated.
Board chairman Marv Zylstra reminded Wilkening of the county-wide hiring freeze, but Wilkening — armed with the state statute clarifying what constitutes an essential employee — said the sergeant’s position is needed.
“You’re going to open up the county to more liability and lawsuits,” Wilkening said. “I’m the sheriff. I’m trying to cut this liability down by having a night sergeant.”
Wilkening said while he has “very capable deputies,” he has a young crew and needs someone to supervise and give direction as needed. The night sergeant position was created six years ago to do just that.
“Six years ago we didn’t have a sergeant, and we probably weren’t in the financial position we are now,” replied Commissioner Diane Thier.
Commissioner Vern Leistico asked if Wilkening planned to fill the position from within, or if he would look outside the county. Wilkening replied he would do both and then choose the best candidate for the job. If that meant hiring from within, he assured the board he would be coming back with a new request to fill the position that person vacated.
“I wouldn’t have any problem moving a deputy into a sergeant, but I would have a problem replacing a deputy because that would go against our hiring freeze,” Leistico said.
Zylstra said the county doesn’t want to cut positions, but it faces challenges in balancing the budget. Wilkening replied that the governor has said that public safety should be the last thing to look at when determining where cuts can be made.
“In this case, (public safety) is the first thing to be looked at,” Wilkening said. “You knew for a long time that this budget stuff was coming up, because you’ve been hearing it and hearing it. I’m asking you to let me hire this supervisor.”
“A freeze is a freeze,” Thier then said.
Zylstra also said while state statute addresses essential employees, it doesn’t say how many a county has to have.
Ultimately, the board moved to table the discussion at the request of Wilkening. The reason given was to allow the two commissioners absent from Tuesday’s meeting — Gene Foth and David Benson — an opportunity to weigh in on the issue before the county board voted on the matter.
“If we had all five of us here, it still may go down the tube,” Leistico said. “I would just as soon wait until the other two are here.”
The same reason was given for tabling the vacant jailer position. Wilkening said that position is mandated by the state.