Ward County to create new HR department

Ward County will be seeking a director for a new human resources department but not right away.

The Ward County Commission examined proposals Tuesday for replacing Colleen Houmann, human resources coordinator, when she retires Feb. 28. They supported hiring a human resources director and a staff person who would work part-time as payroll technician in the new department and part-time as senior accountant with the auditor’s office.

The commission postponed advertising for either spot, though, until obtaining more information about how to best set up the new department. A meeting has been set for Feb. 14 to visit with a human resources specialist with the North Dakota Association of Counties about the process.

Commissioners expect finding an HR director could be a long process but hope to fill the other position more quickly.

The second position would be similar to Houmann’s current position in that she performs human resources duties but also assists the auditor’s office. The human resources position is now under auditor supervision. Another auditor’s office employee also assists with payroll currently.

Houmann advised the commission against keeping a mixture of staff between the auditor’s office and the new human resources department. While it may be necessary to do so to get through this year, she suggested the commission budget next year for a separation and possibly add a third person in the HR department.

“The workload is there. I can’t emphasize that enough,” she said.

The commission also agreed to continue this year with the its policy for annual evaluations of department heads that provides for each commissioner to do a separate review. Last year, the commission decided to review separately rather than meet in an open meeting with each department head as had been done in the past. The commission plans to reconsider the policy once an HR director is in place and can provide guidance on a future evaluation process.

The commission accepted the recommendation of Mark Schrader, juvenile detention administrator, to increase the number of full-time positions in the department from six to eight while eliminating four of six part-time positions. The four part-time positions are vacant.

Schrader said it is difficult to fill the part-time positions, creating frequent vacancies and requiring the department to spend an inordinate amount of time and money recruiting and training staff.

The cost of making the shift to more full-time workers should have minimal impact on this year’s budget, but it could help bring the department into compliance with standards for youth detention centers. Schrader said Ward County has operated on a waiver because it is not always able to have the required male and female staff on duty to oversee both boys and girls.