'Personality conflict' mars Jackson County Attorney pay discussion
Jackson County Attorney Tom Prochazka requested a salary increase and offered his reasoning for his requests via a letter.
JACKSON — The Jackson County Board of Commissioners on Thursday postponed setting the salary of Jackson County Attorney Tom Prochazka until its Dec. 21 meeting, after some commissioners expressed frustration with the way the discussion had gone.
During the meeting, Jackson County Administrator Ryan Krosch stated that Prochazka’s salary for 2021 was $98,874.83, and that the county attorney had requested to be moved up on the county’s step system such that his salary for 2022 would be $135,075.20 — a 36% increase. He also stated that Prochazka had indicated he would settle at $127,358.40 — a 29% increase.
Jackson County’s salary proposal, which was included in its draft proposed budget for 2022, was to give Prochazka a 6.6% raise in salary, or $105,497.60.
In an Aug. 20 email to Jackson County Auditor/Treasurer Kevin Nordquist, Prochazka wrote that BLUF (Bottom Line Up Front): “Any 2022 Jackson County Attorney salary setting below Grade 26 will be appealed to district court per Minnesota Statutes § 388.22 subdivision 3.”
Nordquist sent the email to Krosch, and commissioners referred to it several times during the meeting. They also referred to a 19-page email with 51 attachments, totalling 3,503 pages that Prochazka sent commissioners on Nov. 4.
Due to the language in the email and the letter, commissioners hired attorney Scott Anderson to represent them during Thursday’s meeting. Anderson characterized the language of the email as “... if he doesn’t get it, he’ll sue you. So you felt the need for some representation.”
Prochazka said wasn’t threatening to sue, and disagreed with Anderson’s characterization of his words.
“An appeal is a type of lawsuit,” Anderson answered.
“In all honesty, I don’t think the board appreciates the threat of being sued…. Am I out of line to say that or not? That really bothers me,” Commissioner James Eigenberg said. “... why couldn’t we have had this discussion without all that drama?”
Eigenberg also said, “We have to work through this personality conflict, and we will.”
Prochazka said he tried to have a discussion at an August meeting about his pay, but was shut down.
The Nov. 4 letter
Prochazka wrote in his letter to commissioners that “due to recent inaccuracies in the Board minutes and a history of the County Administrator misleading the Board, both verbally and in writing, a verbal presentation will not be provided in November as I have no confidence that such a presentation will be accurately documented going forward.”
As such, he stated he would only lay out his reasoning for a salary increase in writing, and would respond to written inquiries with written answers.
Chiefly, Prochazka wrote that the higher salary would better reflect his level of experience, the statutory duties of the county attorney position and the workload. He also quoted previous Jackson County Attorney Sherry Haley as stating Jackson “County’s current compensation plan is not competitive for hiring.”
Prochazka also cited higher pay rates in multiple other counties he felt were comparable to Jackson County, and noted that Haley had requested to offer a candidate with less experience than Prochazka a higher salary — less than a month before Prochazka was hired at a lower rate.
“This shows that the Board, as set forth below, has been taking advantage of the good will reductions of a hometown Jacksonite since April of 2020…” he wrote.
In response to a request for a performance appraisal, Prochazka wrote that “In accordance with Jackson County Personnel Policy Number 400, elected department heads are exempt from performance appraisals unless they choose to voluntarily participate. I do not volunteer to participate in any performance appraisal as an elected department head.”
Prochazka also wrote that he had worked in excess of Minnesota’s statutory minimum for work without overtime compensation, 48 hours, every week since he took over as county attorney.
Prochazka’s letter includes significant text devoted to Krosch, Jackson County’s first administrator since it opted to move away from the county coordinator position. The administrator title offered a more supervisory role to the position.
The text includes a reference to a time when Prochazka felt Krosch “dismissively described” his experience as 10 months, when he’d also had more than six years of experience with the federal government — “the over six years I served on active duty with the United States Air Force performing precisely the same duties just at a significantly higher level of government and at a greater level of personal commitment and sacrifice than Mr. Krosch has demonstrated at any point in his life (having never served anything greater than himself or his own pocketbook…”
Prochazka also stated he felt Krosch was “splitting his loyalties as a non-resident” of Jackson County, and noted that Krosch continues to collect paychecks from Nicollet County.
Krosch’s separation agreement with Nicollet County included six months of being paid his regular salary, according to the Mankato Free Press.
When Eigenberg asked Prochazka if he could work professionally with Krosch, Prochazka gave a description of previous events and then answered that given all that, “... I don’t know.”
“Ever since I stepped foot in here, (Prochazka) has been all over me and trying to get me out of here for no good reason,” Krosch said.
Throughout the meeting, commissioners expressed their frustration regarding the perceived tension between Krosch and Prochazka.
"I don't know, you can't just seem to play in the sandbox very well together, and I don't know what you need to do to get it fixed, but you're grown men, and God dammit, get it done,” said Commissioner Scott McClure.
Commissioner Don Wachal said he would potentially be open to a gradual increase in pay for the county attorney position to bring it up to the pay rates some other counties offer.
“Everybody loses when things go to court, and when people don’t talk to each other when they have to do the work,” Anderson said. “... ultimately, who loses is the public…”
“We’re going to make sure that doesn’t happen,” said Eigenberg, adding he did not want to go down that road with all its threats and allegations.
Commissioners agreed to continue discussing the issue.
During the meeting, a number of other issues arose, including Prochazka’s request to add two positions to the county attorney’s office to help with the workload, potentially to be paid for with American Rescue Plan Act funding. Prochazka also argued that because the Des Moines Valley Health and Human Services is not a county office, the organization would have to make a separate legal agreement contracting out legal services with the county attorney’s office.