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County consultant talk gets personal

Criticism over the appointment of Mike Gibson as Wadena County's human resources consultant last year isn't only about whether the county can afford the position, it's about Gibson personally, according to the chairman of the county board.

"From my area, half of it has been about the person," Chairman Dave Schermerhorn said about criticism in District 5. "They are not looking at the position."

Schermerhorn's comments were in response to Commissioner Ralph Miller saying his opposition to the position was not about Gibson. Miller also stated the seriousness of the opposition among his constituents.

"I'd probably need to put bars on my doors to prevent a lynching at sundown by my constituents," Miller said, describing the reaction in District 2 if he supported hiring someone to fill a human resources or coordinator position.

Schermerhorn said commissioners need to be aware whether people's stance is against the position itself or the person. Schermerhorn has no idea why the people in his district are personally against Gibson, he said. He was not around when certain issues occurred.

"But all I have heard it's not the position, it's the person," he said about constituent feedback. Gibson said the personal opposition to him goes back to his pushing for a county transit system.

The discussion occurred after Gibson announced he was in the final hours of his 1,000-hour contract. Gibson reiterated the opinion he presented at the Jan. 6 board meeting when he said Wadena County needs to establish a human resources or coordinator type of position.

"This is a $20 million corporation and you don't have an in-house overseer," he told commissioners. "I think that's a big mistake."

Gibson signed a professional services agreement with the county last March on a 3-2 vote after a Jan. 24, 2008, motion to appoint Gibson met with disapproval from some county residents. His responsibilities included researching whether the county needed a human resources person, coordinator or administrator as well as wage negotiations, personnel policies and issues, working on the county's master plan to deal with building space needs and seeking out economic improvements in the county's operation.

If the county decides to follow his recommendations and create a permanent position, Gibson will not take it, he said. He would help the county hire someone to be what he described as a "coordinator with a global view" who understands all the county departments.

"You need a special person for this position," Gibson said. "Someone that understands numbers, that understands people, that can communicate."

The general public has not had an opportunity to understand what is going on, he said. But he has received numerous phone calls saying the county needs this position. Commissioners need to educate their population.

Gibson said it is interesting that Miller and Commissioner Rodney Bounds, who both opposed Gibson's hiring during their races, won tight elections this year. He said they need to listen to those who supported them and those who didn't.

Bounds said a lot of Minnesota counties have two new commissioners this year. People are concerned about the way counties are run and they want change.

Gibson countered by saying this trend didn't just happen on the county level.

Commissioner Lane Waldahl, who voted against the professional services agreement with Gibson last March, gave some tentative support for the position.

"I think I'm on the verge of [saying] we need someone in here because of the money that is saved," he said.

Waldahl's biggest concern is whether the county can afford it, he said. He knows Gibson has said that tough economic times are when the county needs this kind of position, but he's not sure.

Commissioner Bill Stearns expressed his support for the position.

"I think we've seen the value of a human resource person," he said.

Schermerhorn said he's been in favor of Gibson's position.

"I've made no bones about that," he said. "I still am in favor of it."

Since Gibson was nearing the end of his contract Schermerhorn asked him if he needed extra time to finish up anything he is in the middle of completing.

He is available at the county's request to review, the highway department 49ers union contract when it's complete, Gibson said.

"Otherwise I can be out of here, too," he said. "I want to do whatever's honorable."

The county will get one last bill to bring it to the end of his contract, he said.

Gibson plans to be on the agenda for the board's Feb. 3 meeting.