by Sarah Squires
Former Winona County Soil and Water Conservation (SWCD) District Manager Tim Terrill was terminated because he didn’t possess the skills and knowledge for the job, the district’s attorney confirmed Tuesday.
Ann Goering, SWCD attorney for personnel matters, also confirmed the existence of several complaints made against Terrill, but declined to note the specific nature of the complaints. Under Minnesota law, the specific nature of a complaint against such a public employee becomes public information if the employee is disciplined.
Goering said that a complaint that did not result in disciplinary action was lodged against Terrill in 2009, and that a second complaint was made in August 2010. In an e-mail to the Winona Post Tuesday, Goering said that the most recent complaint was investigated, and that Terrill was terminated effective December 31, 2010.
“The basis of the [termination] was that the Board of the SWCD determined that the position of District Manager needs to be held by an individual with a technical understanding of the programs performed by the SWCD and with managerial skills and experience,” Goering stated in Tuesday’s e-mail. “It further determined that Mr. Terrill did not possess those skills and experience.”
District staff were told to address inquiries about Terrill by stating that he is no longer employed by the SWCD. Terrill departed shortly after a SWCD meeting on December 17 that was closed to the public in order to discuss complaints made against a district employee. He was placed on administrative leave effective December 17, and told that he must refrain from performing any duties on behalf of the SWCD.
The termination of the district manager comes during a time of upheaval at the SWCD, after the Winona County Board pulled funding for the agency for 2011. The County Board, in its decision to cut the SWCD 2011 funding request from $109,000 to $0, said the SWCD’s unreserved coffers had swelled to nearly $400,000, deemed an inflated figure for such a small agency. Terrill did not attend the County Board meeting to defend the district’s funding request, an action that at least one SWCD supervisor said should be addressed during the December 17 closed meeting.
Additionally, a survey conducted by the Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources (BWSR) showed perceived problems with Terrill’s job performance. The survey queried partner agencies on a variety of issues, and although it did not include specific questions about management, several respondents opted to identify specific issues in space to provide further comments.
“The district manager does not add value to the district,” wrote one respondent. “His incompetence and lack of support of the other staff is difficult for partner organizations, such as ours.”
The Winona County SWCD was founded more than 70 years ago, the first in Minnesota and the second in the nation. And while the district is facing budget cuts and other issues, its leaders are looking ahead to find ways to collaborate and evolve to deliver the best conservation services possible.
At a meeting held earlier this month, frank discussions between SWCD supervisors and Winona County Administrator Duane Hebert showed both tensions between the two organizations, and a desire to find a way to mend them.
When County Board members voted to cut the SWCD funding for 2011, they also stated that it might be the push that the SWCD needs to look seriously at collaboration with the county to help reduce overhead expenses. The potential for shared staff, such as the new water planner position that will be shared between the County Planning Department and the Whitewater Joint Powers Board, were suggested.
During a recent SWCD board meeting, District Supervisors discussed the possibility of forming a committee to work on the relationship between the SWCD and the county. Hebert said that a better plan would be to form a Joint Powers Board that would have decision-making power, and that the county was not interested in joining another committee that would not be able to take action.
Hebert also said that county leaders understand that the SWCD should continue to be located with the National Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), and that the County Board was not talking about full consolidation between the SWCD and the county’s related Planning Department. But, he said, the county has personnel, finance, management and administrative resources, and those things could potentially be located offsite.
The SWCD Board is expected to discuss how to move ahead with a potential committee or Joint Powers Board to work with the county during its next regular meeting, scheduled for Wednesday, January 12, at 9 a.m.