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Douglas County panel sticks with administrator

As Douglas County prepares to replace administrator Ann Doucette next year, the administration committee split on a vote to go with an administrative coordinator, which would give the county board more authority over the position.

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Government Center in Superior, Wisconsin. Jed Carlson / 2019 file / Superior Telegram
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SUPERIOR — Douglas County is going to stick with an administrator when county officials start the search to replace current administrator Ann Doucette.

Doucette notified officials in March that she was signing her final contract with Douglas County and would be stepping down at the end of her 1-year contract. She’s served as a part-time administrator since 2017 when she stepped in to fill the vacancy left when former administrator Andy Lisak was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer and decided to retire. Prior to that, Doucette had retired after serving many years as Douglas County’s finance director.

“We’re looking at probably an eight month process to replace an administrator,” said Douglas County Board chairman Mark Liebaert.

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After hearing concerns from supervisors about whether the county should have an administrator or administrative coordinator, Liebaert asked the administration committee to consider those options Thursday, May 5.

A county administrator coordinates and directs all administrative and management functions of county government, including appointing department heads subject to county board confirmation and developing the county’s annual budget. An administrative coordinator has less authority to act unless granted by the board.

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Prior to 2003, Douglas County government operated under an administrative coordinator.

“I’m hoping we go with an administrator,” Liebaert said. “There’s still a chance we can do it part-time. Ann has talked about that. If they were in-house, like a department head, they could be three days on administration and two days on taking care of their department.”

Supervisor Alan Jaques expressed concern about the county board taking on more responsibility for taking on matters related to human resources if the county were to go with an administrative coordinator.

“I’m certainly not an HR person,” Jaques said.

Doucette said human resource issues takes up a considerable amount of her time and are growing in complexity.

“I would just suggest that if you have a part-time administrator, you look at an HR director position,” said Linda Corbin, human resources manager for the county.

Supervisor Nick Baker said if the county is going to have a human resource director, an administrative coordinator would be a good option.

“I don’t like the idea that an administrator can keep everything to his chest and not tell us anything,” said Nick Baker, after recounting the public uproar after a popular veteran services officer was fired by Lisak. “He can do anything he wants. He’s god … I think we should have a little more authority and control.”

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Jaques said if the county board isn’t satisfied with the work an administrator does, the board has the authority to get rid of them.

“I’ve seen it under administrator and administrative coordinator,” Supervisor Pat Ryan said. “We really didn’t have any issues … it depends on the person in there.”

Ryan, an advocate for veterans, acknowledged difficulties in working with Lisak but said an administrator is the better option.

“With an administrator, a lot of decisions can be made, and the county board doesn’t necessarily know about it,” Supervisor Rosemary Lear said. “With a coordinator, the county board’s involved more. They get more information. I feel that we really need more information.”

Baker said while Doucette has been an excellent administrator for the county, he was still concerned that another individual may not work as well with the board.

Baker made a motion to hire an administrative coordinator, which was seconded by Lear.

The committee split 3-4 to defeat the motion. Baker, Lear and Supervisor Joe Moen voted in favor of an administrative coordinator, but Ryan, Liebaert, Jaques and Supervisor Sam Pomush voted against it.

A second motion favoring an administrator was unnecessary because the county already has an administrator, Douglas County Clerk Sue Sandvick said.

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“It does show that we’re concerned so I think we’ll have to be more involved in the choice,” Liebaert said.

Shelley Nelson is a reporter with the Duluth Media Group since 1997, and has covered Superior and Douglas County communities and government for the Duluth News Tribune from 1999 to 2006, and the Superior Telegram since 2006. Contact her at 715-395-5022 or snelson@superiortelegram.com.
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