Harris to train new county treasurer

Published 12:00 am Saturday, January 11, 2003

Ruth Harris is indispensable.

That's what Mower County officials apparently believe. Harris, who retired as Mower County Treasurer, will return to work as a consultant for the county.

David Hillier, 3rd District, pitched the idea to the county board at a recent meeting.

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Hillier, chairman of the county board's personnel committee, said new Mower County Treasurer Doug Groh needs "more training for the transitioning to county treasurer."

Who did Groh suggest train him? Harris.

At the recommendation of the county board's personnel committee, the commissioners agreed unanimously to pay Harris $35 per hour for up to 80 hours to help Groh learn the intricacies of the county treasurer's job.

Originally, the measure called for Harris to assist Groh over the next two months. However, Dick Lang, 4th District county commissioner, suggested a six-month period would be better.

Groh told the personnel committee he needed the training to complete required annual reports among other duties of the treasurer's office. Neither of the two staff members he inherited from Harris knew how the former county treasurer collected the information and prepared the reports.

During the 2002 election campaign, Harris criticized Groh for not having necessary financial experience. She also endorsed Lynn Koch, an Austin businessman, for the job.

Koch lost the election, Harris retired and Groh moved from the chief deputy auditor's position to county treasurer.

Also last Tuesday, Groh asked the county board for a leave of absence from his job as chief deputy auditor.

"This way, if he loses the next election for treasurer, he can return to the auditor's office as chief deputy auditor," Hillier said.

The last time such a request was made came four years ago, when Susan Davis, former chief deputy recorder, was elected Mower County Recorder.

She, too, obtained the county board's permission to receive a leave of absence from the chief deputy recorder's job to serve as county recorder. Davis also won the county board's permission to be able to reclaim her chief deputy recorder's job if she ever lost in a re-election bid.

Al Cordes, county human resource director, advised the county commissioners neither Groh nor Davis nor any other employee in a similar situation can have their sick leave "banked" under the county's employment terms.

Employees must either use it or lose it before they terminate their employment.

The paid-time-off, vacation and sick leave benefits are each separate entities with individual guidelines governing their use and accumulation.

Groh chose not to participate in the county's paid-time-off policy as an employee of the county.

In approving Groh's leave of absence from his former chief deputy auditor's job, the commissioners agreed to only "duly note" the number of hours of sick leave he accumulated at the time he left that job to become the county treasurer.

"There is no reinstatement agreement at this time," Hillier observed.

The issue of "banking" unused sick leave surfaced when long-time county officials and employees, including

Garry Ellingson, retired.

During his employment, Ellingson accumulated thousands of hours of unused sick leave.

By "retiring" and not quitting, Ellingson, as well as others in similar situations, were able to collect a portion of their accumulated sick leave hours in pay from the county.

In each case, the commissioners unanimously approved Groh's requests.

Lee Bonorden can be contacted at 434-2232 or by e-mail at :mailto:lee.bonorden@austindailyherald.com