New Murray County commissioners take office

By Jim Muchlinski

SLAYTON — At its 2019 organizational meeting on Tuesday, the Murray County Board went through a partial changing of the guard.

Two newly elected commissioners, Jim Kluis of Slayton and Dennis Welgraven of Fenton Township in southern Murray County between Iona and Chandler, were both sworn into office at the start of the meeting. They joined incumbents James Jens, Dave Thiner and Lori Gunninck, all of whom are serving terms that will expire in 2021.

Kluis unseated his cousin, Glenn “Corky” Kluis, by a vote of 591 to 320. Jim Kluis said he ran for commissioner because of the opportunity to contribute to progress throughout Murray County.

“It’s very important that we all work together to make Murray County a better place,” Jim Kluis said. “County officials play a major role. I ran for the board because I think there’s more that we can do.”

He added that the overall goal for the best possible local quality of life carries over into many topics associated with county government.

Some of the examples include roads, economic development, environmental management, law enforcement, libraries and historical resources. Counties also have opportunities to partner with other local units of government and private organizations for initiatives that help local schools and health care services.

Welgraven was elected in a district that includes five townships south and west of Slayton by a margin of 502 votes to 218 for Sarah Rylaarsdam. He replaced former commissioner Gerald Magnus, who did not seek re-election.

Magnus was the first person who encouraged Welgraven to run for commissioner in February 2018. Welgraven has prior local government experience as a Fenton Township Board member.

“Gerald told me he wasn’t running and that I’d be a good replacement,” Welgraven said. “I talked to my wife and she was supportive. What clinched it for me is that several friends said I should run.”

Like Kluis, Welgraven said he’ll serve on the board with a goal of bringing the different county departments as well as stakeholders together to work toward shared goals whenever there’s an opportunity.

“We should look ahead in ways that will move the county in a positive direction,” Welgraven said. “Many good things should result from that. One result I’d like to see is more economic development. It would help everyone if we can bring more jobs to Murray County.”

Also at Tuesday’s meeting, commissioners fine tuned their road map for the hiring of either a new county coordinator or a first-ever county administrator.

Former County Coordinator Aurora Heard resigned effective Jan 6. Plans formed last month had called for the hiring of an interim coordinator until a permanent top-level management employee could be hired.

After inquiries with four potential interim coordinators, the board opted to keep the temporary team of County Human Resources Director Ronda Radke, Economic Development Director Amy Rucker and Community Relations Coordinator Christy Riley in place throughout the interim period. They will continue to perform routine daily administrative tasks on behalf of the board.

Gunnink, who spoke with potential interim coordinators, said none of them were available. The level of compensation did not become an issue.

“I talked to them and we didn’t get any takers,” Gunnink said. “One of them was on the way to New Mexico.”

She added that Murray County won’t incur any additional personnel cost by continuing with the three-member interim arrangement, which means a savings to taxpayers compared to paying someone to come aboard as interim coordinator.

“All three (Radke, Rucker and Riley) have volunteered to accept the additional responsibility,” she said. “That’s one of the reasons to move forward with the hiring process as soon as we can.”

The board Jan. 15 agenda will include a presentation from the Association of Minnesota Counties in regard to structural options in county government. The board will also hear a report from consultants David Drown and Associates of Minneapolis about the hiring process and its likely timeline.

Commissioners also authorized Highway Engineer Randy Groves to continue discussions with the Sunrise Terrace Nursing Home about parking limitations on Ironwood Ave.

The county has been asked to consider designating spaces to be reserved for Sunrise Terrace. Groves said that step would amount to private parking on a public street. Ironwood Avenue is within the Slayton city limits, but is designated as a Murray County road.

“If parking is allowed, it needs to be available to the public,” Groves said. “It would be better if employees (of Sunrise Terrace) could be encouraged to use the north parking lot.”

Groves said future discussion will include looking at the possibility of a two-hour parking zone. It will also involve a review of handicapped parking, which appears to go beyond what’s required under state guidelines.

“There could be options that lead to more convenient parking when visitors need it,” Thiner said.

“A two-hour limit would keep people from parking there all day.”