Voters in Marion County will decide whether to hire a county administrator who will oversee many administrative and operational issues, primarily being done now by the county clerk’s office.
Because an administrator has no authority over elected officials, one challenge present in every county that has an administrator is enforcing policies and procedures while gaining cooperation from those elected to office.
While voters ponder the question, the commissioners are just as conflicted as their constituents.
Commission chairman Randy Dallke is leaning toward a “no” vote; Commissioner Kent Becker is a “maybe,” and Commissioner Dianne Novak is in favor of the hiring of an administrator.
Initially, the county administrator position came up when both Novak and Becker first came on as commissioners.
Even though Dallke said Novak wanted the commissioners to vote on this issue, he thought the voters should decide. It was unanimously decided, though, to put the question on the November ballot.
“It would be a substantial increase in taxes for this position,” Dallke said. “Not only will an administrator be hired, but he or she will have people doing the legwork.”
Dallke said he thinks at least three people would need to hired, and those would include someone in personnel, a financial person and maybe even a secretary.”
While researching other counties with an administrator—specifically, Harvey and Butler counties—Dallke said they did add people.
“In my estimation, this would mean one or possibly two mills, to have this position,” he said.
Giving up power
Novak said she believes a county administrator would do more than being another salary.
“I think it’s about commissioners giving up power and control,” she said. “I also think it’s about having a skilled, unbiased professional bringing information to the table so we can make well-informed decisions.”
Novak said an administrator would be about prioritizing and designing a well thought out plan with fair and balanced policies that everyone can live by.
“I really would like to see county government operate more like a business,” she said. “I think kicking this old can down the road would stop if we had a county administrator.”
With an administrator, Novak said, commissioners could start making decisions of distinction for the future success of Marion County.
“Finally, I think it’s about building a team to work together and have one common goal,” she said. “I always like to say: ‘One team, one fight.’ We have to work together and be on the same page, and I think a county administrator could do that.”
Becker said he doesn’t expect a lot of new staff being added if the vote is for a county administrator.
“(When becoming a commissioner) I thought it was time for the county to think about it and when it came to a vote, I can live with the decision either way,” he said.
Becker said he can see advantages of having one, but added that compared to other counties, Marion County is small.
“There’s only one county about our size that has an administrator, and that is Russell,” he said. “They have a lot of oil income.”
Even though one of the other commissioners doesn’t think it will be a big expense, Becker said he thinks it could be a “sizable expense” to hire the right person.
The benefits of having an administrator could be in creating efficiency that actually are cost savings so the position pays for itself based on organization of the different departments, he said.
“It’s about being able to create enough efficiencies between the departments and commissioners and working seamlessly with more being accomplished,” Becker said.
Dallke said another issue when voters consider an administrator is to remember that county government is not like city government.
“The city controls everything,” he said. “In county government, we have five elected people, and as court cases have proven, elected officials run their departments. They can do basically what they want to do while trying to work with the county commission in keeping budgets under control.”
Dallke said most of the departments already do that.
“That means five departments we work with on personnel hiring and we are already doing that as of today,” he said. “The larger the county, financial-wise, it would be good to hire an administrator.
“The county treasurer is doing their job and watching the county’s financial situation, and we have an auditor doing an excellent job of watching, who has written up our treasurer three or four times on different issues,” he said.
Dallke said he’s not sold on the idea for Marion County at this time.
“As we see in other cities and other counties, if we get a good administrator, a good person who does their job and is conscientious, then that’s a plus,” Dallke said.
“It all depends on the person, what the financial stress is, and if they can save the county money,” he said. “I just want the public to know there is a potential mill increase in taxes just for these positions.
The most important thing a voter can do, Becker said, is to make sure they are informed about issues and people on the ballot.
He said he hasn’t been around a county administrator, making it difficult to know what the disadvantages would be.
“We can’t live without school superintendents, but could live with a lot less superintendents,” he said. “The one thing we don’t want is another level of bureaucracy with nothing getting done.”
As a commissioner, Becker said he and the other two commissioners probably do a few things they don’t need to be doing.
“The scope of what the county commissioner should be doing encompasses only three things: set policy, hire department heads and administer budgets,” he said.
“The whole key is getting the correct job description and then finding the right person,” he said. “The cost for an administrator could be anywhere from $130,000 to $150,000, with benefits.”
Novak said Marion County has quite a large budget, and there are a lot of county issues.
“As commissioners, we meet once a week, and for only four to five hours,” she said. “Where is the efficiency and effectiveness that can be done in four to five hours?”
Novak questioned what business can even operate like that.
One reason it works, she added, is because we have “very good employees.”
“My feeling is the only way to be successful is hiring someone outside the county,” Novak said. “Someone with one goal in mind, and that’s being successful with the future of Marion County.”
If the voters say “yes” to having a county administrator, the commissioners said they would look for a company to assist them in the hiring process.
In addition, all three commissioners have heard from constituents about going to a five-member commission if the administrator position should not be favored by voters.
Dallke, Novak and Becker agreed that a five-member commission was a good idea and something that should be discussed.