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Personnel committee to decide county's next step

Severson says priority is filling HR director's job

Published: Tuesday, Sept. 24, 2013 5:24 p.m. CDT

Now that Grundy County is without an administrator and a human resources director, the priority is to get those positions filled.

"We do need to call a special Personnel Committee meeting to discuss what we need to do from here and that will be a committee decision," said Vicki Geiger, Personnel Committee chairwoman, on Tuesday.

The committee needed to see what happened at the full board Monday, she said.

In a special meeting Monday, the Grundy County Board voted to move forward with Human Resources Director Dan Hoppe's termination and to request the resignation of County Administrator Chris Wittkamp.

Hoppe was terminated earlier this month by the Personnel Committee and days later Wittkamp quit without notice. Hoppe was on the job about six months and Wittkamp five.

Board Chairman Ron Severson said previously it was Wittkamp's recommendation to fire Hoppe and that she did so without him knowing. Upon her resignation, he said he had a plan to bring Hoppe back. Shortly after, the special meeting was called.

Grundy County State's Attorney Jason Helland told the board Monday the committee was never given the authority to hire or fire employees at the new board's first meeting in December. Helland said when the full board approved Hoppe's salary, it ratified the committee's hiring, but the firing needed to be done by the full board.

The board went into an executive session to discuss the matters. Severson wanted to hold the discussion in open session, but he was voted down 12 to 5.

"So much for transparency," said member Dick Joyce as the board went into executive session. Joyce voted against the executive session.

After a lengthy closed session, the board voted 11 to 5 – with one abstaining – for Hoppe's termination or acceptance of a resignation letter. Teryl Lundeen, Jim Ryan, Doug Boresi, Dick Joyce and Severson voted against his termination. Frank Halpin abstained.

The board then voted to request a resignation from Wittkamp, who – after a meeting last week with Severson, Geiger and John Almer – wrapped up some things and then left without notice. Severson said Monday "she walked out."

The board wants an official resignation.

The vote was 12 to 4 – with one abstaining – to request this. Deb Warning, David Welter, Chris Balkema and Geiger voted against asking for her official resignation.

Wittkamp was not present in the board room Monday, but some officials said she was present in the lobby during at least the start of the meeting. Wittkamp did not return a call Tuesday by press time. She said last week she could not work with Severson and that he did not support her as county administrator.

After the meeting Monday, Severson said the priority is to get a new human resources person as soon as possible, and then the administrator position would be looked at. He said Tuesday the county has some leads on potential human resources coordinators and was making contact with them.

Geiger said the Personnel Committee will re-evaluate the situation the county just went through and discuss what would be best for the next administrator position, whether it should be full-time or part-time.

LOSING HOPPE

Personnel Committee member Ann Gill was the lone vote against Hoppe's firing when it was done at the committee level. But in the mean time, she said, some new information came to her attention that warranted her to change her mind.

She did not comment further on what that new information was.

"Anyone who knows the things Dan Hoppe did good knows he did it very good, but a few things came to light that were very important," said Gill after the meeting.

Gill said it is disheartening that the county is in this situation again after losing former county administrators Dan Duffy and Shawn Hamilton and Human Resources Director Denise Kasper and then spending money to find Hoppe and Wittkamp.

"Is it all the employees? No. The bigger common thread here is if we don't have leadership at the county board level, how can we get anything done and how can we get people to want to work with us?" asked Gill.

Prior to the executive session Monday, Hoppe spoke during public comments. He told the board he was told by Wittkamp and Chris Balkema his services were no longer needed, but he said he was not given a reason for his termination.

Geiger has said previously Hoppe was told by her, Wittkamp and Balkema their concerns with his performance. Hoppe said Monday Geiger always gave him high praise, as did the committee vice chairman, Almer.

“If my job performance was so bad, or behavior so awful that the most extreme measure had to be taken, why was I not afforded an opportunity to be made aware and correct?” he asked.

Speaking as an individual, Jim Wright, a former board member and current Board of Health member, spoke in favor of Hoppe, as did Severson. Severson also read a statement from Board of Health Chairwoman Joan Harrop who said Hoppe was very helpful and instrumental in the hiring of a new administrator and financial manager for the health department.

Severson said he heard statements that part of the problem was Hoppe allegedly disrespected women. But, he said, after speaking with numerous female employees of the county, he found not one of them had a negative word to say about Hoppe.

“I consider him one of the finest employees this county was ever lucky enough to get,” Severson said.

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