Commissioners conduct annual review of elected officials’ salaries

By Jennie Zeitler, Staff Writer

The Morrison County Board has begun the annual process of reviewing salaries for the four elected county officials: recorder, auditor/treasurer, sheriff and attorney. The four officials appeared before the Board at a planning meeting Nov. 13.

County Administrator Deb Gruber had already put in the commissioners’ hands a packet of comparison information gathered from similar surrounding counties.

County Recorder Bunny Johnston will retire Dec. 31. It has been recommended that current Chief Deputy Recorder Eileen Holtberg be appointed as the interim recorder. In the event of that appointment, Johnston requested that Holtberg be given a salary commensurate with her 22 years of experience in the Recorder’s office.

Auditor/Treasurer Russ Nygren, who has been with the county since January 1987, appealed to the Board for their consideration of the fact that there was no change in his salary after he took on the treasurer’s duties in January 2010.

“Bunny received $6,000 for the year that she had the treasurer’s duties,” Nygren said.

County Attorney Brian Middendorf pointed out that by Minnesota statute 338.18, the Board’s main considerations when setting elected officials’ salaries are the duties and responsibilities of the official in question.

“Experience and qualifications have already been determined by the voters,” Middendorf said.

Middendorf explained that he has some duties which are unique to Morrison County.

“We have prosecution contracts with every city in the county,” he said. “We are one of the few offices that prosecutes for every jurisdiction in the county.”

He is also on-call 24 hours a day, seven days a week, all year long, something he does not assign to any assistants.

Next year will be his 15th year in the Morrison County Attorney’s office, and his seventh year as county attorney. Middendorf did not receive any increase in 2012.

His current salary of $98,925 is below the 2012 average of $105,823 for attorneys in surrounding counties. His requested salary increase of 4 percent equals $102,882, still well below that average, he said.

“If the Board is gracious enough to grant that increase for 2013, I would agree to that salary for 2014 as well,” Middendorf said.

Sheriff Michel Wetzel has been with the county for 29 years, longer than any other department head; 10 of those years as sheriff. His office is the largest in the county with 67 employees and a budget just below $5 million.

“Where others wear a suit and carry a pen to work, I wield body armor and a gun. The threat to my personal safety did not end when I left the patrol division,” Wetzel said.

He pointed out that when the elected officials were included in the county’s compensation plan in the past, he was at grade 42. His present salary is less than that grade’s compensation.

“I’m requesting a 4 percent salary increase for 2013 for $102,150,” he said.

That 2013 salary would bring him even with the 2012 average salary for area sheriffs with his tenure.

“I encourage open lines of communication with the Board,” Wetzel said, “and would like that to continue and improve.”

“We are moving through the procedure and requirements outlined in Minnesota statute regarding the setting of elected official’s salaries. The issue will be discussed again during the Dec. 11. planning session and is scheduled to be brought before the Board for action Tuesday, Dec. 18,” Gruber said.