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County starts admin search over; interim Holte shows interest in position

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Winona County Government Center

Winona County is back at the starting line in its search for a county administrator, but it may have a viable candidate in plain view.

After the only remaining candidate dropped out last week, the Winona County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday looked to start the process over, discussing the possibility of being more hands-on and learning about one likely candidate they already know quite well.

Interim administrator Maureen Holte said she’ll likely apply for the administrator job she’s been serving in temporarily the past nine months.

“I desire to be a county administrator someday,” Holte said, when prompted to talk about how she felt about serving in the interim position for a couple more months as the search starts over. “But I will serve in the capacity you need me to.”

Her interest might determine the direction the board takes in finding a new pool of candidates. A few commissioners said they’d like to conduct the search themselves so the county didn’t have to pay for outside help. There isn’t money budgeted for the search, but Finance Director Pat Moga said the county could use funds put aside for the administrator’s salary, since it isn’t being used.

So far the county has trimmed the search price tag by using help with the process from Olmsted County. Holte said the total cost hasn’t been calculated, but did say the county didn’t pay to have finalists come for interviews.

Commissioner Jim Pomeroy said commissioners directly taking on the workload might also help the process go quicker. Commissioner Marcia Ward said she would like more control in the search. But Holte noted that if she applied, which she intends to, it would be best to hire an outside firm so there wasn’t any perception of favoritism if the board chooses to play a more active role.

Either way, Holte said, she would remove herself completely from the process as soon as she applies.

Ward supported considering Holte first, rather than searching outside.

“Let’s look internally,” Ward said. “We’ve got somebody … who’s demonstrated she always puts the county number one. I think we have to give careful consideration that we can promote within.”

Commissioner Steve Jacob said he’d rather hire an outside firm.

“I would certainly want to look at a broader pool than just one,” Jacob said. “I don’t want to be unfair to Maureen, but I don’t want to be biased, either.”

So with a few options on the table, and some that need some legal clarification — like whether the board is allowed do the search itself — the board tabled discussion until next week when County Attorney Karin Sonneman can put together a legal opinion.

“I think it’s something that needs some review,” Sonneman said. “I think (being hands-on) has merit if you want to do something like that. But let’s get all the procedures and process (reviewed). I would caution you from jumping into that.”

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