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Nathan Bowe, Forum Communications, Published September 27 2012

Becker County 4-H coordinator’s pay cut

DETROIT LAKES, Minn. – Action by officials with the University of Minnesota Extension Service has made Becker County commissioners so angry that they are withholding payment for the newly hired 4-H coordinator position.

But the state 4-H director says the university did nothing wrong and followed the proper procedures, the same way it always hires Extension employees.

The county pays for the 4-H position, but the coordinator is a state employee and is paid by the state.

Becker County Commissioner Barry Nelson said district Extension officials essentially walked all over the county search committee, thumbing their noses at established procedures.

He said he is sorry that the new 4-H coordinator, Kari Hendrickx, has been caught in the middle of the fight. She was one of the finalists and is qualified for the job, he said. But the interference from regional Extension officials was unprecedented, he said.

“They took two people off (the county search committee) and added two people,” he said. “That someone from Moorhead,” where the district Extension office is, “changed our search committee is bizarre.” Two county members were later put back on the committee, but the two new Extension members also stayed on.

Nelson said at one point, Ellie McCann, regional 4-H program director in Moorhead, said, “Send me your top picks, I’ll decide who we hire.” He told her that was not acceptable.

He was especially upset with Tamie Bremseth, a regional Extension employee who is director of Youth Development Operations, who he said refused to accept the committee’s recommendation.

Bremseth declined comment. McCann was in a meeting and did not return a phone message Wednesday morning.

“It says in the contract that ‘Becker will hire with the involvement of the Extension committee,’ ” Nelson said. “That’s why I made the motion to suspend all pay to the university, because they broke the contract.”

Dorothy McCargo Freeman, associate dean and state 4-H director, said the proper hiring procedure was followed.

“The university brings in applicants, they are reviewed by the search committee, who are then asked to submit some of their preferences, based on (the applicants’) strengths and weaknesses,” she said. After finalists are selected and interviewed by the committee, the university makes the hire, she said.

“We have to make the decision on the hire. We are held responsible to that,” she said.

“We are disappointed that the process is in question,” said McCargo Freeman. “We will continue to work with the Extension committee and the Becker County Board in trying to resolve this issue.”

The county pays 100 percent of the cost for the position – $65,550 this year for salary and fringe benefits, travel, training and enhanced programming, as well as payroll and accounting services. Because the county is footing the entire bill, it should have the final say, Nelson said.

Nelson said commissioners will talk to the Association of Minnesota Counties about pushing for legislative changes to make 4-H coordinators employees of the county, not the state.

Nathan Bowe is the editor of Detroit Lakes Newspapers.

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