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Fri, May 18th, 2001
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Boyum and Underbakke confused over Engineer’s dismissalBy John TorgrimsonMonday, May 21, 2001

Former Fillmore County Commissioners Donald Boyum and Robert Underbakke say they are as confused as the next person when it comes to the county’s decision not to renew the contract of County Engineer Steve Voigt.

Boyum and Underbakke, who both served on the Highway Committee, worked along side Voigt up until the first week of January.

But within a few weeks of a new County Board and Highway Committee being installed, Voigt was being informed that his contract would not be renewed.

Both Boyum and Underbakke said they were surprised at the speed in which this all took place.

Boyum, a Peterson farmer who was defeated last November for re-election as First District Commissioner, said that when he was on the board he thought Voigt did a great job.

“I hope this isn’t a personal thing between the Engineer andCounty Board members,” Boyum commented. “Since this has come out (Voigt’s dismissal), a lot of people have asked me what is the real reason he is being let go? I tell them, ‘I don’t know,’ because when Bob (Underbakke) and I were on the Highway Committee we thought he was serving the county well.”

Underbakke, who stepped down after 12 years on the County Board last year, agreed. “I wasn’t aware of any problems going on,” he said. “I am curious as to what reasons there were behind this decision.”

Boyum acknowledged that Voigt ran his department differently than his predecessor, but thought that it was a positive change.

“There was definitely a change in management styles (from the previous Engineer). He’d (Voigt) have these weekly meetings and talk to the guys and then let them go do their work. I liked his management style,” Boyum remarked. “I thought he did a great job with the floods, and, at the time, the county board told him that that was the number one priority. He and Larry Hunt (Emergency Management Director) sure got the county a lot of money out of it.”

Boyum was critical of some of the new board members, and their approach to gathering information. “I don’t see how you can be a county commissioner and, in 4 1/2 months, never be in the county engineer’s office. How can you make management decisions, in this case dismissing an Engineer, if you haven’t asked the right questions and gathered all the information?”

When asked whether aligning the Highway Department staff with the Bjorkland Compensation Study was the right thing to do, Boyum said it was a mistake, a decision that he was a part of at the time.

“You have to pay what the market dictates. The loser in this, with consultants picking up the slack, is the county, as well as the townships. Because the townships rely on the county to do the engineering for township roads and bridges,” Boyum explained.

Underbakke concurred, saying that Voigt’s department was short-handed, with one person retiring and two Engineering Technicians going to Rochester.

Boyum said that at the time of Voigt’s being hired, his participation on several state organizations, which would require him being in St. Paul on occassion, was viewed as a positive thing by the county board.

“As far as his going to meetings, his involvement on state organizations were part of his qualifications. That was a plus for hiring him,” Boyum recalled. “Keep in perspective that Voigt is a salaried employee. He gets paid the same amount if he works 10 hours or 100 hours a week. His taking six hours off for meetings per week wasn’t measured against a normal 40 hour work week. I’ll bet he was putting in 50 to 60 hours a week on top of that.”

In the end, both men had an unsettled feeling about the whole affair.

Boyum said that he would never have voted to oust Steve Voigt. “Steve was always open to suggestions, but he wouldn’t accept demands. He was his own man.”

“I am disturbed by this,” Underbakke said. “Steve has to be frustrated with not being given a reason as to why he is being let go. I guess I question the ethics of the whole thing.”

By John Torgrimson

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