Saturday, February 9, 2008

Duluth Budgeteer Weighs in on the Alan Mitchell Appointment

Our View: Where's the logic?

Budgeteer News
Published Friday, February 08, 2008

What are five of the seven St. Louis County commissioners thinking?

We refer to the five — Dennis Fink, Bill Kron, Mike Forsman, Keith Nelson and Steve Raukar — who voted in favor of hiring former (defeated in last year’s election) County Attorney Alan Mitchell to serve as interim County Administrator at a salary of $2,605.50 per week. In addition to his generous salary, Mitchell will receive full health-care benefits, a county car and compensation for his daily trip from his home in Hibbing.

Granted, the position of County Administrator is important. The county employs approximately 2,000 people. It has a massive budget.

It also has two deputy county administrators: Lisa Potswald and Gary Eckenberg, both whom applied for the interim position along with Mitchell and at least one other person.

Let’s ponder this. Here are two people who have been assisting the current county administrator (Dana Frey, who’s leaving for a job in Bosnia) with all the tasks of running the county for years (Eckenberg for more than four years, Potswald for two and a half).

If the commissioners find the two deputy county administrators so incompetent, then their next step should be to fire both of them. Obviously, they can’t do their jobs, otherwise the board wouldn’t have needed to hire an attorney to do the administrator’s job.

Then there’s the money.

At the county’s current pay scale, we understand that it would take a new county administrator nine years to reach what they’re paying Alan Mitchell to fill in until someone suitable is found. St. Louis County has never even had a county administrator stay long enough to earn that kind of money.

Why would you not save yourselves some money, at least in the interim, and appoint one of the existing deputies — who likely is competent, otherwise he or she would have been fired before, we assume — to fill the position until you’re ready to hire someone permanently?

It boggles the mind.

Here’s the clincher: Mitchell also has agreed not to apply for the permanent county administrator post as part of the agreement.

Huh? Do they want us to applaud that?

If he’s that good — so good that Commissioner Forsman started recruiting him as soon as he heard Dana Frey was leaving — then he darn well ought to be allowed to apply for the job.

Thumbs down to the fabulous five who voted for this gross misuse of taxpayer funds.

And kudos to Commissioners Peg Sweeney and Steve O’Neil for sticking to their guns and voting against this blatant cronyism.*

* Cronyism is defined in the American Heritage Dictionary as “favoritism shown to old friends without regard for their qualifications, as in political appointments to office.”