Colfax experiences growing pains in the hiring process

By LeAnn R. Ralph

COLFAX — It’s hard to let go.

Just ask any parent.

And when it comes to letting go of past hiring practices, the Colfax Village Board is no exception.

Although the initial proposal was to have Jackie Ponto, village administrator clerk-treasurer and department heads Pete Gehring (police chief) and Don Knutson (rescue squad director) interview candidates and present one candidate for each position to the board for approval, that ended up going out the window at the Colfax Village Board’s December 10 meeting.

The Colfax Village Board recently approved hiring one full-time police officer and one part-time EMT to replace current employees who are resigning.

Ponto wondered how the village board wanted to handle hiring now that the village has an administrator.

The entire board has interviewed candidates in the past, noted Mark Halpin, village trustee.

“No, everyone does not want to (interview the candidates),” said Susan Olson, village trustee, and chair of the personnel committee.

Ponto said it would make sense for the entire village board to interview candidates for department head positions, such as police chief or rescue squad director, but not for police officers and EMTs.

The best use of staff time and village board time would be for the department heads and Ponto to interview candidates and then bring one candidate to the village board for approval, said Gary Stene, village president.

“We are trying to get away from micro-managing,” he said.

“I have a problem with that,” said Richard Johnson, village trustee.

Johnson said he would prefer that three to five candidates be brought to the village board so that board members could interview them and then make a decision on which one to hire.

“That’s the same way we did it before,” Stene said.

Johnson said he would not want to review 30 or 40 candidates for each position but that he wanted three to five candidates brought to the board.

Beverly Schauer, village trustee, said that since the village now has an administrator, the administrator should be doing the interviewing, along with the department heads, and then they should make a decision and bring the candidate to the village board.

Candidates

Stene said he understood Johnson’s position and wondered about bringing three candidates to the village board for interviews.

“I would like to see it changed … the best (candidate) should be presented to the board, and at most, two candidates. But not three or four or five,” Susan Olson said.

“It seems like a waste of time and resources,” she said.

The administrator and the department heads could do all of the legwork and then bring three candidates for the village board to interview, Stene said.

After interviewing the three candidates, the village board could make a decision that same night, he said.

Johnson reiterated that he wanted a face-to-face meeting with the candidates before the village board considered hiring someone to fill a position.

Johnson also noted that he did not care for the idea of making a decision the same night that the village board conducted the interviews.

Schauer wondered about holding the interview meeting prior to a village board meeting.

Stene said he thought it should be a separate meeting not on a village board meeting night.

What about a closed session at 6 p.m., with 20 minute interviews for each candidate, and then the village board could make the decision at the regular meeting, suggested Scott Gunnufson, village trustee.

Candidates for a position would not have a problem with coming in for a short interview to introduce themselves to the village board, he said.

Track record

The village has had quite a bit of employee turnover lately, noted Chris Olson, village trustee.

In the last year, two full-time police officers have moved on, and the two 30-hour per week EMTs also have resigned.

“We’ve had turnover in law enforcement (and turnover in EMTs) — and we’ve been doing the hiring,” Chris Olson said.

“Jackie and Pete have more insight on the (interview) answers than we do,” he said.

Chris Olson said he would just as soon have Gehring and Ponto, along with police chiefs from neighboring towns and representatives of neighboring rescue squads, as well as two selected from the village board, to interview candidates and present them to the whole village board.

“Jackie was hired as our human resources person,” he reminded the other village board members.

“If we were hiring a police chief, then it should be the full (village) board,” Chris Olson said.

Full-time police officers and part-time EMTs should be interviewed and selected by the administrator and the department heads, and the final candidate for each position should be presented to the village board for final approval, he said.

No decision

Stene said he was not prepared to make a decision on changing the hiring process at the December 10 village board meeting.

“Both sides are valid … we are cognizant that Jackie is the chief and everyone reports to Jackie,” he said.

“Everything is a change for us, and we’re growing into it,” Stene said.

Halpin asked if Ponto needed a decision from the board that night in order to continue the process of hiring a police officer and an EMT.

Because of Christmas, the village board will not meet again for another month until January, Ponto said.

Stene suggested using past practice to hire the two open positions and then review the situation in February.

“We can do it as we have in the past with the safety committee and board members and then revisit in February and change it or not change it,” he said.

Ponto noted that it was a waste of the village’s resources for the administrator and the department heads to be at extra evening meetings and for village board members to use extra time for conducting interviews.

“The cost of extra meetings is not necessary,” Schauer said.

“We should do it for these two positions and then revisit,” Stene said.

Chris Olson suggested that Ponto devise a formal policy for the board to consider in February that will represent a permanent solution for the hiring process.

In the meantime, Ponto and Gehring, along with two other law enforcement representatives, and Knutson, along with two representatives from rescue squads in Menomonie or Chippewa Falls, and village board members as chosen, should interview candidates and present two or three candidates to the village board for 15-minute interviews, Chris Olson said.

Olson made his suggestion into the form of a motion, and the village board approved the motion on a vote of six to one.

Susan Olson voted against the motion. Stene, Halpin, Chris Olson, Gunnufson, Schauer and Johnson voted in favor.