News Release - I have been asked by the media to respond to several questions in relationship to the Personnel Committees proposal and recommendation to remove the HR Director responsibilities from the current County Clerk, Lolita Olson. As a matter of full disclosure, I felt the need to inform you, the county board members, of my decision to comment.
Lolita Olson, County Clerk, was given additional responsibilities of Administrative Coordinator and Human Resources Director after the reorganization of the county administration. During this process of reorganization, I talked with Lolita about the new responsibilities she will incur. I advised her that she will do well, and she has, however, things will go relatively smoothly for her until some county board members disagree with her actions or the way she does business. It is apparent to me that time has come.
If the proposal from the personnel committee is true, I have not seen any documentation in any minutes anywhere, however, I have heard from the ones that would know. I must comment on their proposed action. I have been the Sheriff for over 26 years and have been involved with the county board and most of the committees, so I do have a working knowledge of how the process should work. Additionally, I have gotten to know all of the county board members over these many years and the majority of county elected officials, department heads and employees. I say that to say this, as a 26 year Sheriff, people confide in me, good or bad that is the way it is, so I can confidently speak as to the frustrations of county employees. Before I begin to say what I believe is happening at the county administration and county board level, I must tell you that I believe the actions or proposed actions are from a minority of county board members. I am not sure that all county board members understand or comprehend what is actually taking place.
The proposed reduction of the County Clerk’s responsibilities as HR Director is more involved than just, as some county board members say “she is overwhelmed”. There is much more to the story. This all started as a direct result of the actions of the new Finance Director. Lolita Olson started receiving complaints from others that work for the county about the interaction between themselves and the finance director. I will not share the specific complaints as this would be the responsibility of those who are complaining and the HR Director. I hold no ill will against the finance director, this is not a personal attack it is only about professionalism and adhering to the Core Values that the county board has directed all employees to follow.
Some county board members believe that the current strife and stress currently in place in the ranks of county employees is just a power struggle between the County Clerk and the finance director as a fight to retain or gain power. There is also a belief from some that the Finance Committee gave direction and instruction to the new finance director in an effort to control costs and elected officials and department heads do not like it. I believe neither of these are correct and only stated to minimize the conflict. Speaking for myself, and I believe others that manage budgets believe the same way, we do not mind review, control or questions in regards to expenditures within our departments. It is not “what the finance director does, it is HOW it is done”.
We at the Sheriff’s Office can no longer trust the finance director to adequately represent the sheriff’s expenditures to the Finance Committee. On several occasions, the finance director has purported false information to the finance committee and to other county employees in regards to expenditures of the Sheriff’s Office. This has the effect of creating a toxic environment within the ranks of county employees. This poisonous atmosphere created only goes to undermine the efficient and effective operation of the county that the taxpayers expect. The finance director’s communication skills appear to be confrontational, intimidating and malicious rather than effective professional communication skills, which would develop inter-department cooperation rather than division. The actions of the current finance director I believe undermines Washburn County’s Core Values
It is my recommendation that the county board initiates an independent complete and full investigation into the actions of the finance director’s before proceeding in removing HR duties from the County Clerk. The county board needs to gather all information from any employee of this county in reference to the complaints against finance director. It is my belief that a decision to remove these duties before looking into the catalyst of the recommendation would be premature.
As I stated earlier I hold no ill will against the finance director, however, I cannot stand by and let the county board or anyone else doubt our County Clerk, Lolita Olson’s abilities. Especially when the issue at hand has not been thoroughly investigated. Lolita, even though overwhelmed at times, has been professional, exhibits exceptional communication skills and she is dedicated, and she is exceptionally qualified. To arbitrarily dismiss these good qualities would be pejorative.
In closing, let me say that being an elected official or a department head can be and is at times a thankless job. I am very sympathetic and understand the dilemmas that you face. No matter what you do you are wrong in someone’s eyes. On the other hand, we sought those responsibilities and so it is up to us to the right thing for the county and its employees.