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Something smells fishy


Fri, Apr 6th, 2001
Posted in

Monday, April 2, 2001

A lot of people have been asking me why the county is dumping the county engineer, Steve Voigt. "What has he done wrong?" they ask, implying that there is some smoking gun somewhere that would point to malfeasance or insubordination or some such offense that gets employees fired today in these here United States.

While I have yet to hear of any smoking gun, most people I have talked to seem to think there is something fishy with the way the county board has handled this.
The first sign that the public had that something was awry came on February 20 when the county board decided to advertise to hire a county engineer. This sent a pretty clear message to the incumbent engineer that he had better starting cleaning his desk.

The motion was made by Commissioner Duane Bakke and seconded by Marc Prestby and approved unanimously. What was unusual about the motion was the fact that there was no discussion on the matter. Considering the fact that the county board can’t purchase a roll of toilet paper without a debate of some sort, the silence on this issue speaks volumes. It was obvious that the commissioners had been talking to each other out of school. While this is not necessarily a violation of the open meeting law, (more than two commissioners meeting at one time requires an open meeting with prior public notification), it does indicate that there were at least a lot of mini-summits going on behind the scenes.

At the time of the motion, Prestby, as well as Commissioner Randall Dahl, had been on the job as commissioners a little over one month, and while this might be enough time to get one’s butt settled into a chair, it’s probably not enough time on the job to begin evaluating employee performance with any degree of accuracy. Given the two new commissioners’ skittishness in voting on a range of issues over the first month, the certainty in which the two voted to advertise to hire a new county engineer can only be described as remarkable.

At the March 13 county board meeting, the commissioners voted unanimously to terminate the county engineer. Because Voigt is still on a probationary contract the board did not need to show cause. A higher standard would have required that they document the reasons for termination and show, in measurable ways, how the employee failed to meet the terms of their employment. One can only assume that over the past year the county board, or the Highway Committee, or the Personal Committee has been telling Voigt where his performance has been coming up short and what is expected of him.

One former highway employee that I have spoken to believes that Voigt is gettting "a raw deal." "He's (Voigt) being blamed for the county’s inability to keep enough technicians because the county can’t compete on pay in the marketplace. He is then being blamed for having to hire consultants to fill the void."

Other people I have talked to believe that there is a personality conflict between Voigt and some workers in the highway department, as well as some members of the county board. And that’s the reason he is being let go.

Another former highway worker, commenting on Voigt’s dismissal told me, "What do you expect. Every commissioner thinks they’re a highway engineer."

Wrongly or rightly, Voigt, who moved his family from Lyons County nearly a year ago just in time for some of the worst flooding on record in Fillmore County, will be looking for other work come May 14.

By John Torgrimson

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