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County to seek combined head for health, social services

St. Louis County will be looking for a director of public health and social services. While the county is a long way from officially combining its departments of public health and social services, hiring a director will start the process of deter...

St. Louis County will be looking for a director of public health and social services.
While the county is a long way from officially combining its departments of public health and social services, hiring a director will start the process of determining how that might be accomplished.
Tuesday, the county board debated establishing the position as proposed by county administrator David Twa. Most of the talk focused on the idea and possible effects of merging public health with the much larger social services department.
Some board members and county employees have expressed the view that if a single director is hired, the merger is a foregone conclusion, and others thinks it's already "a done deal."
There has also been concern over a possible loss of jobs.
"Why merge these two departments," said Jean Larson of public health. "There are 87 counties in Minnesota; about 17 have gone to this arrangement. Are citizens in these counties better served? Are these counties saving money?"
She cited the two different missions of the departments and asked what the impact will be on county residents.
Commissioner Bill Kron asked about the health department losing its identity and whether merging them would affect its funding.
Twa said he believes that the health department would keep its identity, that the county will ensure that its funding streams are well protected and that the move will not affect the number of jobs.
"The intent is to hire this person and work with the county board over the next year on what consolidation might look like," Twa said. "This is a first step. If the board does not want to consolidate, this person could fill one of the (vacant director) jobs."
He said the state is looking to combine its department of health and human services. "This is not a new issue," Twa said. "This is an opportunity to look at the structure and provide service to the public in a more efficient manner."
Early this year, Carol Thibault retired as director of public health and last year Linda Anderson resigned as head of social services. Social services is currently headed by interim director Ann Busche, normally an assistant county administrator, and Twa is overseeing health.
Twa has said the shift in staffing has put a burden on the administration.
Epidemiologist Larry Sundberg questioned whether they would be able to find an administrator with an understanding of both public health and social services and asked what will happen to the county's environmental health component.
As a result of a lengthy discussion, several board members threw support to having a single health/human services director.
"I've been swayed, and I'm willing to take a look," Commissioner Paul Plesha said.
The board voted 7-1 to approve the new job description; Commissioner Dennis Fink cast the "no" vote.
Meeting as the committee of the whole, commissioners voted to continue working with the South St. Louis County Fair Board to try to get the Proctor race track ready in time for stock car season.
The county attorney's office and administration will work on an agreement to pay for demolishing the old bleachers, preparing the site and renting new bleachers. A one dollar ticket surcharge is being considered to help pay for the renovation.

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