Ward County wise to implement human resource department

Ward County’s plan to restructure its human resource responsibilities into a new department is a wise one.

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.

Given the county’s less-than-spectacular history with HR and employee retention, this decision on the surface appears to be a legitimate effort to improve on a county government weakness.

Furthermore, the commission postponed advertising for either proposed position 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. Once again, this demonstrates good faith on the part of the county.

Perhaps most importantly, Houmann advised the commission against keeping a mixture of staff between the auditor’s office and the new human resources department. Houmann is correct. In a county lacking professional management – a la a county administrator – great power is invested in the auditor position despite the position not demanding a rounded administrator background or expertise. The departments must end up entirely separate and independent for even the appearance of legitimacy. HR has defined responsibilities in concept, and those responsibilities should not fall under the thumb of an “auditor.” Even in a county the size of Ward County, that is patently absurd. HR must remain independent and must encompass supervision of the auditor’s office – not being subservient to it.

Additionally, Houmann asserted that HR needed the staff effort. Given the importance of recruiting and maintaining employees and history of questionable relations with employees, Houmann’s thoughts ring true.

Ward County has done well with budget issues. There is no reason to believe the county won’t be able to address this issue skillfully.

As well they should. Ward County taxpayers deserve better than they have gotten from this county commission. They should get better, or they should move on from this county commission to one with more interest in what’s good for the public.