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Former VSO considers helping county

John Lombard

In the ongoing soap opera that has become Hubbard County's Veterans Service Office, a starring character whose face was missed will likely reprise his role, just as they do on daytime TV.

John Lombard, who retired two years ago, said he would be willing to help the county through a vacancy in the office if the price is right and it doesn't affect his retirement benefits.

But he said the county asked him for help months ago, before current VSO Dave W. Konshok tendered his surprise resignation in December. Konshok, who is leaving to pursue other interests, is done Jan. 15.

"They had contacted me several months ago and I said I would consider, I would talk to 'em about it," Lombard said.

He spoke to county board members Tuesday afternoon on the phone after it was learned the employee tapped to become the interim VSO, Chief Deputy Recorder Darryl Hensel, indicated he would not apply for the permanent position.

Hensel will help out in the interim, but he's needed in the recorder's office, where he was on temporary loan. That office has just experienced a retirement.

"I can't really spare Darryl right now," County Recorder Nicole Lueth told the board. "My office is falling behind."

Lombard, meanwhile, worries about making up for his absence.

"Coming back in there after two years, I know a lot of things have changed in two years," Lombard said. "You see this stuff on the news. Both Emergency Management and the VSO have changed.

"To have to go back in there and pick up two things and get up to speed just for a short period of time, it'd be very stressful," he admitted.

County board members said it makes no sense to train Hansel for a position he's not interested in filling permanently.

"We should take some time to look at other options before posting" the vacancy, board chair Lyle Robinson said.

"How do you advertise if you don't know what you're advertising for?" questioned commissioner Cal Johannsen.

The county combined the positions of Emergency Management Director and Veterans Service Officer several years ago, which prompted Lombard's early retirement. He's only 64.

Lombard forged strong ties to the veterans' community, but he said training to stay current with the two jobs got to be too much. Like Konshok, Lombard frequently asked for help.

"I know you've got to be there to get both jobs done because if you're not you get behind real quick," Lombard said.

Konshok's frequent absences from the office led to growing frustration and complaints from veterans who began attending county board meetings every time the office was listed on the meeting agendas.

Konshok, an Air Force reservist, is scheduled to be deployed to Afghanistan this summer, which necessitated bringing Hensel in to fill the void.

Board members discussed whether the Emergency Manager duties should be split off and assigned to the Sheriff's Department as other counties have structured the position.

"Let's take the tornado king position and give it to Jack (Paul, county coordinator) and the state would have to pay half his salary," Robinson suggested.

But the state will only fund up to $16,000 for an emergency manager. Paul will earn $80,794 this year.

Robinson has viewed both positions as forms of economic development, so he wants someone in the combined job or both jobs to be working at obtaining grant funds to bring into the county.

"Beltrami has brought in $1 million. Here in Hubbard County we got $16,000," he said, shaking his head.

Robinson maintains the immediate area doesn't have the workload to support elevating the VSO to full-time. Vets tend to visit the office nearest them, whether it's in Walker, Bemidji or Park Rapids.

"It should be based on workload, not the number of vets we have in the county," he said.

Commissioners worry there would be little outside interest in filling a half-time VSO without paid benefits if the positions are split.

"I'm inclined to drag our feet" until the county resolves what to do with each position, commissioner Don Carlson said.

Board members will consult with neighboring counties to see if they could share a VSO or an Emergency Manager.

Sarah Smith

Sarah Smith is the outdoors editor. She covers courts, business and breaking news in addition to outdoors events.

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