The Morrison County Board of Commissioners took the first big step in hiring a new county administrator, Tuesday.
After hearing proposals from two firms, the Board voted 4-0 in favor of working with David Drown Associates (DDA) Human Resources, Inc. to help with the hiring process. Commissioners Mike Wilson, Greg Blaine, Jeffrey Jelinski and Mike LeMieur all voted in favor of the hire. Randy Winscher was not present at the afternoon session, during which the vote took place.
The vote came after a morning Microsoft TEAMS meeting with Dave Magnani and Chandler McCoy of M&A Executive Search. The pair laid out their proposal of how the process would work if they were chosen to work with the county, and the Board asked several questions about their services. Gary Weiers of DDA was afforded the same opportunity via TEAMS during the afternoon session.
“I’m impressed with both of them,” Wilson said. “I could honestly take either one of these candidates and be very happy with them. I guess that, from listening to Gary, I feel more comfortable. With Gary, that’s (who) I’m going to work with. With the other one, I don’t think we’re going to be working with the gentlemen that (were) online with us today.”
Weiers — who said he owns property in Morrison County and was a county administrator in Rice County for 11 years — will lead the project. He has been working on executive searches with DDA for eight years, during which he has helped 80 counties and cities through the process. A total of four people from DDA — based in Faribault — will be involved in the process; three of whom have experience as county or city administrators.
In all, Weiers said the process will take about four months. That means the new county administrator — who will replace Deb Gruber after she vacates the position, Sept. 3 — will likely start in December.
“The reason I say four months is that, we advertise for about a month, and then people have to give notice, as well,” Weiers said. “A lot of times that’s at least a month. It takes longer than I think people would like to see it take.”
He went on to say that the time it takes to give notice at a current job, for example, is an “intangible” number that is out of the Board or DDA’s control
Magnani said M&A would likely complete the process in 30 - 45 days, though the Board was skeptical about whether or not that was a realistic timeline. Blaine suggested that M&A may not have been taking some of those “intangible” numbers into account when giving that seemingly brief timeline.
“The only way you get around that is if you’re hiring internally, or this person has no job,” Blaine said. “That was, I won’t say a red flag, but maybe was a concern from the first proposal this morning with the fact that it kind of rubs against the grain of how I’m looking at this and how I’ve stated this. I’m not interested in doing this fast. I’m interested in doing this right.”
Weiers said he and his team will complete the first, fact-gathering portion of the process within the next couple of weeks. That includes interviewing all five board members, county department heads and any other stakeholders identified by the Board. That allows them to create an accurate job description and profile for what everyone at the county is looking for in its next administrator.
They will then use that information to create a job profile and advertisement, which must be approved by the Board. By early September the job will be posted, and by the end of the month, the DDA team will have made contact with prospective candidates based on the applications it received.
When asked by Jelinski, Weiers said a typical search yields 20 - 25 applications. Of those, about 10 or 12 are chosen as semifinalists by DDA. Each of them will complete a personality index and a video interview that will be made available to all members of the Board by Oct. 11.
Blaine said, while he saw the value in the video interviews and personality profiles provided by DDA, this was one area in which he favored M&A’s process. That consists of a 23-point culture fit and assessment that is taken by board members, county staff and prospective candidates.
“(I like) the more intense tools that they use to really get at what makes these people tick and what their skill sets are,” he said. “I think they — at least from what they showed me this morning — that’s important to them, and they really want to drill deep, to have a better understanding.”
LeMieur said he initially felt the same way. However, he liked the more personal touch of the interviews with commissioners and the fact each of them would have access to the video interviews throughout the process.
“At first I liked to have that culture fit test or whatever,” he said. “But then, when the second firm came and said, he’s going to interview every one of us and department heads. ... I believe that’s the start of the process. So, to me, that took the place of that 23-point test. It’s actually more of a personal, one-on-one.”
In DDA’s process, by Oct. 19, the Board will have reviewed materials on the semifinalists provided by Weiers and his team and will select finalists. After DDA runs extensive background checks on each of the finalists, interviews would be scheduled for early November. Either Weiers or one of his team members would also be present for those conversations.
DDA also offered a 24-month guarantee, meaning if the chosen candidate doesn’t work out or leaves the position within two years, it will provide all of the same services again at no additional cost.
The entire package from DDA costs a flat fee of $21,000. M&A’s prices were similar, as it charges 20% the amount of the first-year salary of the eventual hire. Magnani said this usually falls between $22,000 - $28,000. They also offered a one-year guarantee on their hire.
“If, for some reason things don’t work out, we would re-do the search at no additional charge unless there were some out-of-pocket expenses,” Chandler said. “... The process would start over to some degree.”
LeMieur said, although he hopes it doesn’t come to pass, he felt DDA’s two-year guarantee was also a strong point in its favor.
Wilson said another aspect he liked about DDA was its experience working with clients in the area. Those include the city of Little Falls. It consulted with DDA — particularly, Weiers — in 2015 in a job search that resulted in hiring current City Administrator Jon Radermacher.
Blaine said that could be looked at two ways, as he had heard from commissioners in other counties that there tends to be a “musical chairs” within county administrator roles across the state. He said he was not particularly interested in a “recycled” county administrator.
Wilson tried to flesh out that issue during Weiers’ presentation.
“You do a lot of business with other people in the area and stuff, and you do business with us, you know, on other things; is that good or is that bad?” he said. “I mean, you just maybe hired somebody for Todd County, let’s say. Then do you go and try to get them for another spot? Or do you not do it that way? Do you only go after people that are looking for a job?”
“I would never go back to somebody that we were part of placing in a community or in a county and recruit them for your position there,” Weiers answered. “I just don’t think that’s fair to our clientele to do that. Now, that doesn’t mean that they don’t reach out to me, which is entirely different. Then I do actively engage them in that regard. We definitely try not to place somebody and then two years later help them move somewhere else.”
In terms of whether or not his familiarity with the area was a plus or a minus, Weiers said he thought it was a plus. He said that would only serve to benefit the county in his representation throughout the process.
Ultimately, while all four of the commissioners felt they could be successful in their search by going with either company, they all expressed at least slight favor toward DDA.
“I felt a real connection; much more,” Jelinski said. “Although the other people did a very fine job, I felt a different connection with (Weiers).”