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County Administrator Mel Ruppert announces retirement

WORTHINGTON -- Nobles County Administrator Mel Ruppert decided to step down from his position and retire, according to a press release issued at the start of Tuesday's meeting of the county board of commissioners.

Board chairman David Benson said the retirement is immediate, and said Ruppert had cleaned out his office prior to Tuesday's meeting.

However, Ruppert will be available to county commissioners on an as-needed basis as the county transitions toward to a new leadership approach. Late Tuesday, it was learned he will continue to collect his full salary and benefits as county administrator for an unspecified period of time. Benson said those details have yet to be worked out.

The press release detailed Ruppert's employment with the county for the past 32 years.

He began as a chief deputy auditor/data processing coordinator in 1981, worked as the court administrator for a time and then became county coordinator/administrator in 1994.

"Mel reports that while he has always held the best interests of Nobles County at heart, after 32 years, the time has come where he would like to devote more time to his personal rather than professional life," the release states. "The county board recognized Mel's many achievements over his years of service, especially his efficient fiscal management of the county in good times and bad."

Commissioners voted 4-1 to accept Ruppert's retirement, with Commissioner Diane Thier casting the vote in opposition. Ruppert was not at Tuesday's meeting.

Benson said the administrative committee met at 8 a.m. Tuesday -- an hour before the board meeting -- to inform staff in the administration office of the changes.

A 1 p.m. meeting was also conducted Tuesday to deliver the news face-to-face with all county department heads.

Ruppert's position has been under scrutiny for several months after a complaint was filed last fall by four county employees that he contributed to an adverse work environment.

In early March, commissioners met in closed session for nearly two hours to discuss Ruppert's performance evaluation.

There were never any public comments made about that evaluation, other than that the proceedings were recorded and would be maintained on file.

"I feel very confident in the department heads and elected officials as we move forward," Benson said. "I think a strength that we have in the region is we have county administrators in three of our four adjoining counties --Pipestone, Rock and Jackson --that we can draw on."

During Tuesday's meeting, commissioners voted unanimously to pursue talks with former Association of Minnesota Counties liaison Toni Smith to help with vision about the future of Nobles County administration.

More information about Smith will come forth during a special county board meeting slated for 9 a.m. April 10. Benson requests all department heads attend that meeting.

"I want to involve the department heads as much as possible," Benson said. "I hope to hear some of their viewpoints on how we should move forward.

"We could hire a new (county) administrator, but I think we've been missing (department head) input for a long time," he added.

Commissioner Marv Zylstra voiced support for bringing Smith in to help with the visioning process.

"I think it's a wise investment," Zylstra said. "We're at that fork in the road and we need to sit down (and talk)."

Julie Buntjer

Julie Buntjer joined the Globe newsroom in December 2003, after working more than nine years for weekly newspapers. A native of Worthington, she has a bachelor's degree in agriculture journalism. Find more of her stories of farm life, family and various other tidbits at

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