Wright County commissioners battle in District 2 contest

Wright County Board incumbents Rose Thelen and Pat Sawatzke both survived a primary against two challengers to advance to the general election.
A 2010 redistricting plan put the two county residents and commissioners into one of the county’s five districts this election.

Pat Sawatzke
Pat Sawatzke

The Monticello Times asked the District 2 county board candidates to submit their biographies and answer these questions:
1) The 2012 election will bring sweeping changes to the Wright County Board of Commissioners. What will be your No. 1 priority when working with the new commissioners?
2) What is your position on collaborating with other counties to more effectively deliver human services?
Sawatzke: Family:  Wife, Michelle and children Morgan (18), Grace (16), and Henry (9);  Education: Master’s Degree in Business Administration (MBA), St. Cloud State University; Occupation: Wright County Commissioner and Owner/Operator of River City Signs;  Years in District: Lifetime resident of Monticello; Community/Civic involvement: Member and Past President Monticello Rotary, Member Monticello Chamber of Commerce, President of the Monticello Center Court Club (local youth sports organization); Contact: 763-295-3311.

Rose Thelen
Rose Thelen

Thelen: Family: Daughter, Rain Salk; Education: St. Cloud State University, BES, with emphasis in social work and psychology; Occupation, Wright County Commissioner, District 1; Gender Violence Institute co-owner/operator; Years in County: 17; Community/Civic Involvement: Wright County board appointments on 19 boards, commissions, task forces; Contact: 320-558-4535.
Question 1
(New Board)
Sawatzke: My top priority will be to work with the new commissioners to continue to provide necessary and valuable services to the citizens of Wright County in an efficient manner.  I have served as your local commissioner since 1991.  Over that time, Wright County has proven to be one of the most efficient counties in the state.  Wright County citizens enjoy a per capita county property tax levy that is 19.4 percent lower than the statewide average. In addition, according to the Minnesota State Auditor’s most recent county rankings report, Wright County is 85th of 87 counties in the state in overall per capita expenditures. Despite our low taxes relative to other counties, Wright County provides impressive services to its residents.  For example, we are one of only a small number of counties in the state that has all our county roads paved.  Another example, our public safety staffing and facilities are among the finest in the state. Forging a good working relationship with the new board members is important.  All votes will certainly not be unanimous, if they are then some members are not thinking for themselves; however, we need to work together for the benefit of the entire county.  My history on the board indicates that my fellow commissioners appreciate and respect my work.  All three retiring commissioners that work with me and my opponent endorse my election stating, “Each of us has worked with Commissioner Sawatzke for a number of years.  We respect his approach.  He is a strong advocate for issues that he feels are important to Wright County.  He works to help maintain a Wright County that all of us can be proud to call home.”  I will continue to build positive relationships with fellow commissioners because it is important to being an effective county commissioner.
Thelen: County commissioners are prohibited by the Minnesota Open Meeting Law from informal meetings with more than two commissioners to discuss anything related to the “job.” For that reason, I would like to schedule one or a series of legal facilitated “workshops” for January, where we can all get together to learn. If the board wishes, we could have regularly scheduled workshops (some counties have a monthly workshop). We could study big-picture or up-close county issues, commissioner day-to-day functions, ethical communication, governance approaches and other areas of interest; invite guests at different times to provide their perspective on the topic. I would also like a workshop with city, county, township and school board officials.  A workshop would be a good venue to download what we know and want to know about the job; to identify what we all could use help on. We employ a lot of people at the county with amazing levels of expertise who could be tapped. Using a workshop model, we can develop mechanisms for planning, evaluation, collaborations and other opportunities that will position us to innovate for the future. These were opportunities I didn’t have as a new commissioner. I mean no disrespect; I learned a great deal from my fellow commissioners, individually and as a group in regularly scheduled board or “committee of the whole” meetings, but these contacts were infrequent.  There were no group learning opportunities to explore ways of thinking and acting individually as commissioners and as a board.  Getting together in a workshop would be an enhancement and an exciting opportunity for new ideas and change. It will be the start of “business-as– not–usual.”
Question 2 (Collaboration)
Sawatzke: Collaboration with other counties is essential for delivering many human services related programs (social services, income maintenance and public health) in a cost effective manner.  This cooperation with our neighboring counties can often provide for economies of scale that we are not able to replicate by ourselves. By working together on select projects, we are often able to provide critical services to our citizens across numerous counties without regard to geographic boundaries.  Collaboration benefits clients by utilizing increased participation numbers, which provides for an expanded and more versatile service delivery system.  The benefits are not restricted to only the consumers of the programs. The taxpayers also benefit.  If done correctly, collaboration results in less bureaucracy and lower administrative and overhead costs.  This is of course due to the fact that multiple counties can share one administrative system rather than each county providing their own. Wright County currently participates in numerous collaborative efforts with adjacent counties to provide human services related programs to our citizens more efficiently.  The Central Minnesota Mental Health Center, Wright/Sherburne RiverRider, Central Minnesota Jobs and Training Workforce Center, and the Area Agency on Aging are a few examples.  Collaboration is not and should not be limited to only human services.  Wright County participates in joint ventures with other counties, as well as cities, townships and schools within our county, to better provide various services to our citizens in a more cost-effective manner.  When appropriate, we need to continue to do so.
Thelen: I support a collaborative approach if it is done right; if not, it can become bogged down and add another layer of administrative complexity and inefficiencies). A collaboration can be an effective means of pooling resources, streamlining and improving services; eliminating redundancies and unnecessary bureaucratic and practitioner steps, and ultimately provide a better return on the taxpayer’s investment.  For the effective delivery of human services, collaborations need to have clear evidence-based and client-focused outcomes in mind. To that end, the Minnesota Association of          Counties (AMC) and the Minnesota Association of County Social Service  Administrators (MCSSA) developed a redesign model that became state law in 2009. It lays out standards, principles and measurable outcomes for counties to combine on one, some or all services, while allowing flexibility for counties to retain local control. The law also provides an avenue for innovation by allowing waivers from mandates if a county or collaborative identifies a more efficient way of    achieving an outcome. To participate, counties must go through a lengthy planning process to organize themselves as Service Delivery Authorities (SDA). Wright County Human Services (WCHS) is currently in the process of becoming an SDA. I am confident, given the commitment and level of expertise of our current administrator, supervisors, and staff as well as the intensive planning process that AMC, MCCSA and now WCHS are engaged in, that needed reforms and efficiencies will result. As a Wright County Board representative to the AMC Health and Human Services Committee I will remain closely involved in assuring the success of this endeavor.