Murray Co. names 4 administrator finalists

SLAYTON — Murray County’s four finalists for the newly created county administrator position come from four different backgrounds related to public service.

Finalists were chosen by the county board at a special meeting on Tuesday. They were announced to the media Wednesday morning after consultant Gary Weiers of David Drown and Associates based in the Twin Cities verified the accuracy of biographical information to be used in a county press release.

The four remaining applicants have professional experience focused on administration of health and human services, public administration management, education administration, and parks and recreation management.

Listed by alphabetical order, the finalists include Cass County Director of Health, Human and Veteran Services Thomas Burke; former Halifax County, Virginia, Administrator James Halasz; CoinYou.co Director of Education Molly Malone; and Wright County Director of Parks and Recreation Marc Mattice.

Burke has served in his current position for nearly two years. Prior to that he served for 19 years as Aitkin County director of Health and Human Services. He has bachelor’s and master’s degrees in social work.

Halasz was Halifax County’s administrator for six years, after serving for 12 years as deputy city manager/ACM in Staunton, Virginia. Before that, he was village manager in Paw Paw, Michigan for five years. He holds a bachelor of arts degree and a master’s in public administration.

Malone has served in her position at CoinYou.co for one year. Prior to that, she served as academic director for Maximo Nivel for 18 months and as a section services manager for the Minnesota State Bar Association for almost three years. She holds a master’s in business administration and a bachelor’s degree in international relations and Spanish.

Mattice has held his current position in Wright County for 21 years. Previously he was the recreation director for the city of New Ulm and assistant recreation director for the city of Winona, each for one year. He holds a bachelor’s degree in parks, recreation and leisure services.

Weiers, a former county administrator himself, presented the board with six candidates that he and his company ranked as well-qualified. Along with written documentation, commissioners watched video presentations from each applicant that lasted up to eight minutes.

In order to observe legal guidelines for data privacy, Weiers instructed board members to use numbers that he assigned to each of the six applicants when ranking their top three choices.

Commissioners were then polled one at a time. Of the six, one did not rank in anyone’s top three, while another only made the top three with one board member out of five. Based on that, Weiers recommended narrowing the field to no more than four.

Further discussion took place as to whether to interview all of the remaining four or only three. The highest scorer made all five lists and was first on three of them. Two more each scored a first place and two second-place rankings.

The fourth choice also made three lists but was always ranked third. Weiers advised the board that narrowing the field to either three or four would strongly reflect preferences of all five commissioners. He noted that if both options seem suitable, he recommends going with more finalists instead of less in case anyone might decide to withdraw at some point later in the hiring process.

Commissioners James Jens and Lori Gunnink then said they favor including all four because they were impressed with their third-ranked possibility. Jens said his third place person could end up being his first choice for county administrator depending on the results of interviews scheduled for June 27.

Commissioner Dave Thiner made a motion to interview only three on the basis that the top three scorers offered enough of a choice. The motion was second by Commissioner Jim Kluis but voted down 3-2 in a roll call vote with Jens, Gunnink, and Commissioner Dennis Welgraven voting against.

A second motion to conduct four interviews was then passed by commissioners on a voice vote.

The June 27 interview schedule will begin with morning meetings open only to each of the finalists and Murray County’s department heads (not to commissioners, the news media, or the public). The afternoon interviews with the full board will be conducted as an open meeting. Written comments from department heads will be reviewed by each commissioner.

The choice for administrator will conclude a search process that began in December with the resignation of former Murray County Coordinator Aurora Heard. After considering options, the board decided this winter to realign the county management structure by hiring an administrator to directly supervise all department heads (both elected and appointed).

A coordinator, by contrast, only serves as a link between individual department heads and the board.

Murray County will become part of the long-term trend toward administrators among Minnesota’s 87 counties. Almost two-thirds of them currently employ an administrator rather than a coordinator or a traditional county auditor who functions more as a board clerk and cash flow advisor, according to the Minnesota Association of County Administrators web-based directory.

At the end of Tuesday’s meeting, commissioners expressed confidence that they’ll be able to hire an administrator who will successfully carry out the administrator role they’ve envisioned.

“With the six we considered, I didn’t see anyone who appeared not to be qualified for the job,” Jens said. “They were all very good.”

Before adjournment the board voted to pay reimbursement for interview expenses to each finalist at a cost not to exceed $500.

“We have to consider that three of them won’t get hired,” Thiner said. “It’s important that they know we’re taking the process seriously. We want them to come and provide us with four good options.”