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Letter to the Editor: County board knows jurisdiction/control statute

The State Auditor Rebecca Otto in her recent audit report found that the Hubbard County Board of Commissioners are not in compliance with state statute by removing wording relating to "jurisdiction and control" of the Heritage Living Center Board in the 2007 amended Heritage by-laws. Documentation in County and Minnesota Department of Employee Relations (DOER) files clearly shows that the county commissioners and the county attorney were fully aware of the state statute but approved the amended by-laws nonetheless.

The original bylaws adopted in 2001 Article V, section 3 reads in part: "The Board, under the jurisdiction and control of the Hubbard County Board of Commissioners pursuant to Minnesota Statutes section 376.55 through 376.60." The bylaws were revised/amended in April 2007. There was no changes made to Article V, section 3. It was not until the bylaws were revised/amended in September 2007 that wording was removed. So why was the wording removed?

In 2007 Hubbard County found itself in a predicament relating to pay equity rules. The county faced fines, penalties and having to treat the Heritage Living Center employees (particularly the female gender) with comparable compensation and health benefit subsidy with the courthouse employees unless they could provide evidence to the DOER that the county commissioners did not have jurisdiction and control over the Heritage Living Center board.

Several rewrites occurred attempting to get the right language in the bylaws. The rewrites always contained the original wording of Article V, section 3 concerning the "jurisdiction and control" by the county board. These rewrites were repeatedly rejected by DOER. Handwritten notes found in the county's file contained the following comments:

• On May 21, 2007 a DOER staff member following a phone conversation with Jack Paul, then Hubbard County coordinator, wrote "Talked w/Jack and said I didn't think Heritage could be independent due to Article V Section3 ... under jurisdiction and control of the county board." In the next rewrite, the verbiage of Article V, Section 3 was eliminated.

• In another handwritten note, the county was cautioned about the potential for human rights lawsuit if this action was viewed or interpreted as the county saying they were doing this do avoid paying equity for women. It was also pointed out that the present by-laws said that the chair and vice-chair of the Heritage Board had to be the county commissioners.

Originally Heritage Living Center board membership consisted of eight individuals, two commissioners and six community persons, all appointed and removable by the county board. However, to get a favorable results from DOER, Article IV, "Membership and Meetings," of the final adopted amended bylaws was reworded so that the six community persons would be appointed and removed by the Heritage Living Center board. Also, eliminated was wording that the commissioners had to serve as the chair and vice-chair. However, it is worthy to note, that the commissioners have continued to serve in these positions.

It is the workers (predominantly female) and their families at Heritage Living Center that have paid the ultimate sacrifice because of the county board's action. While some of the workers are unionized, giving them some protection, it is the non-union group that was most victimized. The non-union workers, hired as Hubbard County employees, trusted that the county commissioners would treat them as equals to the non-union workers at the courthouse.