Can Full-time Co. Commissioners Work Multiple Jobs without Sacrifice?

By KBJR News 1

October 30, 2012 Updated Oct 30, 2012 at 11:05 PM CST

Duluth, MN (Northland's NewsCenter) - Minnesota has no regulations about whether the job of county commissioner should be full or part time.
Most counties in the state have chosen to go with part timers.

Of Minnesota's 87 counties, only six call it a full time job.

Normally, a county board membership position is considered part-time,” said Gary Eckenberg, the deputy St. Louis Co. administrator. “And that's true in 81 of those counties.”

But for years St. Louis County has chosen to have full time commissioners.

Now a county board "candidate" says he can continue to work his full time jobs as a lieutenant in the Duluth Police Department while adequately fulfilling all the duties of a county commissioner.

"I know that I am ready to be flexible, meeting the 5th district constituents at night, on the weekends, during the day,” said Lt. Pete Stauber.

The incumbent in that district, who has been a county commissioner for 16 years, says it can't be done.

“This is a full time job,” said commissioner Peg Sweeney. “We are hired and expected, we are hired by the people of St. Louis Co. to do the work.”

A recent letter to the editor in the Proctor Journal questions the fiscal responsibility of Duluth cop Pete Stauber drawing payment from two Northland government agencies at a time when both the city and county are struggling financially. He says when you add the city and county salaries together you get more than $141,000 a year plus benefits from both government agencies.

If elected Stauber would join three other commissioners who are currently, or have moonlighted, while drawing full time pay from the county.

“A St. Louis county board member could decide how much, or how little, they really want to be involved, said Eckenberg. “But that's really their own leadership style.”

10 year veteran commissioner and chair of the county Board, Keith Nelson, says his leadership style has him working more than 80 hours a week.

I don't care what job you are working, you can still do this job,” said Nelson. “You just have to have the commitment to doing it.”

That commitment is also backed up by a full time county administrator, hired in 1987, and a deputy administrator, who together, oversee the non-elected county department heads and agencies.

Nearly 60 Minnesota counties have similar systems but they generally report to "part-time" elected commissioners.

The St. Louis County management team oversees a budget in excess of $308M, by far the largest government budget in the region, and nearly half of that budget goes to pay salaries for county personnel, including the commissioners.

The county is asking taxpayers to pay an increase in its share of the property tax of 1.5% next year.

And while that might raise some questions it's important to point out that the Duluth School board has proposed raising its levy by 11.9% while the city has recommended a hike of 2.8%.

There are three St. Louis County commissioner races on the November ballot, including Sweeney-Stauber in the 5th district, Chris Dahlberg versus Debbie Isabell-Nelson in the 3rd district and Steve O'Neil versus Becky Hall in the 2nd district.

Barbara Reyelts
breyelts@kbjr.com