DETROIT LAKES – The Becker County Sheriff’s Office is deeply concerned about the loss of technical support for officers on patrol and in the office, and for correctional officers in the jail, following the recent resignation of two-thirds of the Becker County Information Technology Team. .
The employee exodus from Becker County is largely due to the management style of new Becker County administrator Pat Oman, according to interviews with a number of past and current county employees. Oman became the administrator of Becker County on December 14, just over six months ago.
For its part, Oman says the talk of an exodus is overblown and the county is simply losing retired people or better career opportunities elsewhere. “They leave for good reasons,” he said in an interview. “We wish them good luck.”
“Our concern is public safety,” Becker County Sheriff Todd Glander said in an interview. “If we’re not running on all cylinders, we feel it, one way or another.”
According to Glander and Chief Deputy Shane Richard, who has been embroiled in numerous technical issues with the sheriff’s office, these four seasoned IT staff members have kept the county running at full speed.
They “were very helpful in helping us when we had problems here,” Glander said. Law enforcement relies heavily on technology, with the jail’s computer systems, dispatch center, police car computers, law enforcement radio systems, and technology linking the sheriff’s office to the state law enforcement, other counties and cities, and the county attorney’s office. , among many other examples, he said.
Technical issues, big and small, often arise in any work environment, including law enforcement, and county IT staff help out daily, Richard said. The little things are one thing, but “we have critical systems”, he added. “When we have a failure, we need someone who knows our systems here, someone who can basically jump in and fix the problems.”
The situation is made all the more frustrating for the sheriff’s office as one of these seasoned computer troubleshooters wanted to stay on after initially quitting, but was not allowed to.
The county’s six-person IT team includes a GPS specialist and a software developer, who both stay on, but work in a separate area and generally stay within their areas of expertise.
The four experienced troubleshooters left. Network guru Brent Hanson left in February, and IT staff member Ron Sprafka eventually followed suit. Supervisor Stacie White has also resigned and will leave early next month.
That left IT staff Joni Pace, who was on the county’s IT team for 11 years, and was particularly involved in IT issues involving the sheriff’s office (her great-grandfather was a county sheriff ).
She declined to be interviewed for this story, but Sprafka said Pace felt overwhelmed being alone in the office when she submitted her resignation.
She quickly thought about it and tried to rescind her resignation, but Oman refused to allow her to do so. “Your request to rescind your resignation is denied,” Oman wrote to him. “Your last day with the county will be what you originally requested in your resignation letter, which was June 29.”
She is welcome to reapply, along with anyone else interested in the position, Oman said in an interview.
This lost opportunity was hard for the sheriff’s office to swallow. “We (the county) have hired two new IT people, but they’re brand new,” Richard said. “It’s not their fault. There’s no way to change your entire IT department and expect things to work.
In his resignation letter, Pace praised White, the IT director.
“To Stacie: I’ve never had a more hardworking or more ethical boss,” Pace wrote. ” We have acquired then a lot has been accomplished over the past six years and you have continually pushed and encouraged us to do more. You led by example and set a strong work ethic and expectation for all of us, and I’m so proud of the team we had and the work we did. We often don’t understand everything that goes on behind the scenes of IT – we manage 60 servers, 8 locations, 350 users, etc. … There is a deep infrastructure that is constantly being updated and improved, along with day-to-day support and forward thinking projects. Also, Stacie, thank you for creating an amazing team atmosphere. Although neither of us had ever done anything together outside of work, inside of work we were a tight-knit team and family that cared deeply about doing a good job and serving the people of the county.
IT staff member Ron Sprafka said the IT department had had a tough few years, especially during the major disruption caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. “We have achieved miracles during this period,” he said. But instead of appreciating, IT staff felt they were being criticized “for not doing more,” he said.
“I loved my job and the people I worked with, especially my immediate IT team,” he said.
His departure, he said, “was the culmination of outright abuse and disrespect by some members of the (county’s) board of directors for years,” he said. he declared.
It didn’t help when Brent Hanson left the county IT team in February. “A network administrator is really hard to replace,” Sprafka said. And the county administration was making it harder, not easier, to find a solution by taking over the hiring process and not letting IT people get involved, even in writing interview questions for candidates, he said.
At that time, Sprafka let himself be recruited by a headhunting firm and now works for a Fargo company.
Resignations from Veterans Services
The two-person Veterans Services Office, including award-winning Veterans Services Officer Lauri Brooke, is also quitting. She has served with Becker County Veterans since 2006.
Brooke, an Army veteran, put it tactfully: “I have a military background and I think you should follow the direction of leadership, but I wasn’t comfortable with the direction that I took. was offered,” she said in an interview. “A lot of good people who feel like they haven’t been listened to are out now, and a lot of good people are staying hoping the environment improves for them.”
Brooke, 61, is passionate about helping veterans and said she would have liked to work for Becker County for another four years, but couldn’t in the current environment. She will be finished by early July unless, she says, the county administration forces her to leave early, as she did with her longtime office manager, Mary Lou Schmit, and others. .
Brooke, at least, landed on her feet and took a job with the Disabled American Veterans organization in the Twin Cities, with the option of working from home.
Oman put a positive spin on the loss, saying the county will now be able to have a veterans service officer and a part-time veterans service officer, both qualified to help veterans. “When one window closes, another opens,” he said.
The board goes into crisis management mode
The county council concocted a contingency plan for the information technology department on Tuesday, but not without controversy.
“I am at a loss for words,” Commissioner Barry Nelson said. “What we’ve had lately is hard to swallow. … Cybersecurity is vital. I think we have a very difficult road ahead of us, to say the least. We need to get a written policy to improve employee retention and improve employee relations – we need a policy to not let things get out of hand the way they can. You have to retain good employees. We need to show them the value we think these employees have.
To provide IT support, Commissioners eventually agreed to outsource twice-weekly on-site support and 24/7 remote support to Morris (Minn.) Electronics, a reputable technology company that has been providing backup support to the Becker County IT team for years.
“It’s absolutely necessary,” Nelson said, “but I want the current chairman (Commissioner Larry Knutson), not the administrator, to sign the contract…I trust you, Larry.”
It was agreed that the president and administrator would sign the contract, providing oversight for any future changes.
Even so, the commissioners initially rejected the proposed contract due to concerns about potential costs and future obligations. “The contract lacks detail,” commissioner Ben Grimsley said. “I don’t understand who will come here and the pay rates.”
Oman said he was comfortable moving forward without the contract. “We don’t need a contract with them – we can do what we have done for the last 10 years,” he told the stewards.
But later in the meeting, Nelson said he couldn’t just let it go and brought it back.
“We have a critical need right now,” he told the board at one point. “You don’t know how critical that is…we need them (Morris Electronics) right now in this transition period – we need to get them on board.”
The commissioners reconsidered and unanimously approved the contract.
Things are tough in Becker County, and it could end up costing taxpayers dearly, said Teamsters Local 320 business agent Roger Meunier. There are currently three union grievances in arbitration, and he expects each to cost the county an average of $15,000 when resolved.
“Becker County is not a great place for employees right now,” he said in an interview, adding, “Over fifty employees have left since January 1 of this year. Many of them are simply fed up with the leadership’s inability to lead.
Oman said exit interviews show the majority of departing employees are not unhappy with the county, but are instead looking to improve their careers or retire.
The county’s hiring process has been successful, he said, and the current total number of employees is 320, with 24 vacancies.