County questions

Daily Herald editorial

Mower County commissioners voted this week to hire an outside firm to evaluate staffing in county financial offices. It was a vote that raises many questions about why such an extraordinary expenditure is necessary.

Commissioners decided this week to spend as much as $47,500 to have an accounting firm study county staffing levels. Commissioners (with the exception of Jerry Reinartz, who voted against the expenditure) apparently believe that an outside evaluation will help the county’s case if it encounters future legal action related to personnel matters.

The first question to which commissioners owe taxpayers an answer is: What information will an outside firm discover that isn’t already available to elected leaders and staff? Do county officials not have access, at any time they choose, to historic information about how many hours have been worked in each department and by whom? Do they not have the ability to analyze and understand that data? Can they not, guided by the able lawyers in the county attorney’s office, compile whatever report or summary might be needed to bolster their case against whatever complaint they fear might arise? Again, what can an outside firm do that the county can’t do on its own?

Taxpayers might also be forgiven for wondering why and how elected officials and staff have put the county into a position where this extraordinary expenditure is needed. What purpose do personnel managers and in-house lawyers serve if not to help key staff and commissioners avoid the kind of situation the commissioners now fear?

A majority of commissioners have already answered “yes” to the question of whether the county needs to spend as much as $47,500 to dig into its own staffing practices. The biggest question that taxpayers should now expect commissioners to answer is, “How did we get into this situation?”

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