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Nobles County's new policy to allow telecommuting for some positions

“There’s probably 80 to 90 people who will not be able to do telecom, versus the people who can.”

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WORTHINGTON — Workforce shortages, union negotiations and the loss of two employees prompted the Nobles County Board of Commissioners to pass a telecommuting policy that will allow some county employees to work outside the office.

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The motion passed 3-2, with commissioners Justin Ahlers and Bob Paplow dissenting.

“I struggle with this,” Ahlers said, thanking the committee that worked on the policy. “I see the need for telecommuting, but yet I also don’t want to treat employees differently (from each other).”

“I understand where you’re coming from, but by the same token, the people that work in the jail, they work nights and holidays. A lot of people don’t,” said Commissioner Donald Linssen. “We’re already treating them different.

“We are having a hard enough time as it is hiring people,” he added. “... I think this is a fact of life we are going to have to live with.”

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Two employees have already left county positions in order to take telecommuting jobs.

“There’s probably 80 to 90 people who will not be able to do telecom, versus the people who can,” said Paplow, who added he’d gotten a lot of phone calls on the subject.

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Commissioner Gene Metz, who sat on the Negotiations Committee and task force that worked on the telecommuting policy, said the county would not have gotten through union negotiations without going to arbitration if it had not agreed to look at telecommuting.

“We looked at this pretty hard over six months,” Metz said.

They reached out to 17 other counties, examined their telecommuting policies, chose the one they felt was closest to meeting the needs of Nobles County, and then altered it to fit better.

“There are going to be some tweaks to this down the road, but this is what we have today, and what we think is best for Nobles County,” Linssen said.

“It is also a fact of life that we are not going to recruit the people we need without telecommuting,” Metz said.

Paplow pointed out that a lot of the telecommuting was a result of COVID-19, and said he had no problem with people working from home for COVID-related reasons.

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“We have to do everything possible to try to get people hired and to keep people,” said Linssen, who was concerned about losing more employees due to lack of a telecommuting option.

“How many employees are we going to lose because we accept this?” Paplow asked.

Commissioner Bob Demuth Jr. said telecommuting was on the table prior to the pandemic, for about 10 years.

“The workforce has changed,” said Sue Luing, human resource director for Nobles County. “They’re looking for more life balance, they’re looking for positions that give them more flexibility.”

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Nobles County Administrator Bruce Heitkamp said that while he was cynical when he started investigating telecommuting and asking other administrators about it, he found that some places had seen productivity increases too. He also cautioned that it will make administration and supervision “a lot more difficult,” but said he’d meet with supervisors to talk about accountability too.

In other news Tuesday, the board:

  • Recognized Teresa Pomrenke, public health nurse, for 21 years of service, and congratulated her on her retirement.
  • Accepted a ballot drop box grant of $5,490 from the office of the Minnesota Secretary of State, to be used for a wide-angle camera and video storage, along with installation costs, for the ballot drop box already in place at the Nobles County Government Center.
  • Approved two requests for tax abatement through the Nobles Home Initiative, one for Marco Ramos for two parcels in the Cecilee Addition in Worthington, and another for Tannar and Katie Heronimus for a parcel in Adrian.
  • Agreed to promote a legal secretary to a legal assistant.
  • Accepted a $7,500 County Veterans Service Officer Operational Grant for veterans' services.
  • Approved the hiring of Christian Schmitz as a permanent member of the IT team. His position is funded by grant dollars from Workforce.
  • Received the Nobles County Highway Department's 2021 annual report.
  • Heard that the Minnesota Department of Transportation had attempted to do the traffic study at the Crailsheim Road-Oxford Street intersection, but it was then under construction. MnDoT will return to do the study, potentially next week.
  • Approved the sale of a 2015 Dodge Ram to Rock-Nobles Community Corrections for $14,000, and replacing it with a heavier truck for Nobles County Public Works.
  • Accepted a decommission bond from Fenton Power Partners I, as part of the development of a wind farm. The $1.07 million bond will offset decommissioning costs for its wind towers should the company go bankrupt.
  • Adopted a resolution detailing the division of $1 million originating from federal American Rescue Plan Act funds between 11 communities in Nobles County.
A 1999 graduate of Jackson County Central and a 2003 graduate of Augsburg College, Kari Lucin started writing for newspapers in Minnesota and North Dakota in 2006. During her time as a reporter, she covered beats including education, watershed, county and agriculture, and frequently wrote about health and science. She has also served as an online content coordinator and an engagement specialist at various Forum Communications properties. She was a marketing assistant at Iowa Lakes Community College in Estherville for two years, where she did design work in addition to writing and social media management.

Lucin is currently a community editor with the Globe of Worthington.

Email: klucin@dglobe.com
Phone: (507) 376-7319
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