NEW ULM - Brown County commissioners unanimously approved a resolution Tuesday to renew a consulting services contract with Madden Galanter Hansen, LLP, of Plymouth for assistance as needed in dealing with union labor matters.
The contract for 2013 had a 3.2 percent hourly rate hike, from $124 to $128/hour for basic labor relations services and from $129 to $134/hour (3.9 percent) for arbitration and administrative representation.
Madden Galanter Hansen, whose attorneys specialize in employment and labor law, has represented Brown County for the past 14 years.
Commissioners approved an initial contract with the firm Nov.4, 1998 and renewed annually through 2012.
Rates in previous years were $122 an hour from 2009-2011 for basic labor relations services and $127 an hour for arbitration and administrative representation.
Before commissioners voted on the resolution, Brown County Auditor/Treasurer Marlin Helget suggested rejecting the contract.
"We can use in-house expertise like many counties do to save taxpayers' money," Helget said.
"Are we experts?" asked Commissioner Jim Berg.
"We have county attorneys and labor negotiators," Helget said.
"There is a special area of expertise we don't have," Commissioner Dick Seeboth said.
"It could be a chicken and egg thing - bringing in other people to negotiate," Helget said. "I'm concerned about saving money."
Brown County Assistant Auditor/Treasurer Jean Prochniak asked if it was fair to give labor negotiators a 3 percent pay hike.
"Brown County employees work hard helping keep Brown County healthy and growing," Prochniak said. "Getting a zero percent pay raise is a slap in the face."
Commissioner Scott Windschitl said many county employees get annual step pay hikes.
Berg said some places offer employees no medical benefits.
"Consider the package deal. Compare apples to apples," Berg said.
Brown County Deputy Recorder Marea Mohr said hiring county staff for labor negotiations would keep more money in Brown County.
"I'd like to stay with this firm," Seeboth said. "These people know what's happening around the state."
In other action, commissioners:
Approved a $1,044 Minnesota Department of Human Services (DHS) LexisNexis Accurint software grant award from October 2012 through June 30, 2013 to help counties find relatives and families with adoption and permanency foster care issues.
Agencies will be allowed to use the same software for income maintenance, child support and other departments via an office support supervisor computer.
Counties that have had the software on a trial basis find it very helpful in locating relatives of children where family members have lost track of one another. It is not uncommon that these relatives who have moved out of the area are capable and willing to help out when the Minnesota family can't care for their children anymore. The software program allows agencies extensive uses for other purposes.
"This gives us lots of information on people. It's amazing," said Family Services Director Tom Henderson.
Child and Family Supervisor Tom Sandberg said the software is "an incredible search engine" that tracks people in many ways including mortgages, traffic violations, vehicle registration, Medical Assistance and child support. He said it's secure and will allow the county to avoid paying online search fees.
Heard Sandberg's 2011 Maltreatment/Out of Home State Statistics report.
"Child maltreatment numbers are down," Sandberg said. "We're preventing maltreatment from happening by being proactive in keeping children and families out of the system."
Henderson said Sandberg, who recently had state supervisory level training, is a regional leader on the subject and the county program helps children and cuts costs.
County lay board member Judy Kuester said she was concerned about vulnerable adults.
Adult Social Service Supervisor Barb Dietz said the State investigates adult cases if it happens at state-licensed sites.
Kuester asked how long it takes for the State to investigate such cases.
Henderson said whoever licenses a facility investigates it.
Sandberg said all violations are forwarded to law enforcement within 24 hours, by law.
Approved replacing a severely rusted culvert in the open ditch of County Ditch 33 with used concrete at a cost of $12,000 installed.
(Fritz Busch can be e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org).