A role still growing
ALPENA – The last time Alpena County had a a county coordinator was in 2009 when Jeff Thornton held the position, which cost the county $109,000. Since then the board of commissioners has chosen to navigate forward without a coordinator and instead rely on the expertise of its staff and the commissioners’ own experience.
Perhaps the most critical of the executive staff for the county is Executive Manager Tammy Bates, who handles many of the same responsibilities a coordinator does, but at a lower cost. Bates recently had her job title and description updated by the commissioners to reflect the job she does and the tasks she completes daily.
Commissioner Lyle VanWormer, chairman of the finance committee, said when combined, Bates, Laura Ellery, Clerk Bonnie Friedrichs, the commissioners and the rest of the staff are able to handle the same issues a full-time coordinator would.
“We are fortunate to have a core of commissioners and staff that have the ability to do those types of jobs a coordinator would do and the things that need to be done to run the county effectively,” VanWormer said. “Because of this we as commissioners still get a true picture of what the county’s business and issues are and decide on what we decide on based on the accurate information.”
Personnel committee Chairman Mark Hall said people shouldn’t read too much into what an employee’s title is because it doesn’t always reflect what type of work they are capable of doing. He said having a team in place that is knowledgeable and experienced is important because elected officials can be replaced at any time. Hall said having non-elected personnel would be key in any transition with new commissioners, treasurer or clerk positions.
“You can call the title whatever you want it is, he role they place, not the name that is important,” Hall said. “What if the whole board was to be voted out? There would be a lot of experience lost on things like insurance, budgets, the landfill, the Northern Lights Arena and the airport. Having people that know the intricacies of these things is huge and would help during a transition. Tammy helps provide the county that.”
Hall said Bates’ responsibility will continue to grow. He said she already has been involved in union negotiations and handles many other of the job duties a coordinator would. He said every increase in responsibility Bates or other employees receive will come only after deliberation by the commissioners.
“It will be done in stages, not rapidly without thought and consideration,” Hall said. “It is good to roll in responsibility, but some changes on how she works with the board and you will see more changes as we move ahead.”
VanWormer said the county has saved a lot of money by not paying the high wage of a coordinator. He said since 2009 Bates and everyone else has been able to learn the ins and outs of county government and now the county is benefiting from it.
“The money we have saved from not having a coordinator over the last five years is substantial and a bulk of the work has been picked up by Tammy, and Laura has helped a lot as well,” VanWormer said. “The commissioners have done what we are capable, but really do the smallest amount when compared. There was a lot of savings absorbed by the county commissioners office.”
Bates said she believes there is a misconception about her title and responsibility. She said over the last 30 years she has gradually learned and been trained to handle the responsibility she has now. She said she is working hard to continue to learn and benefits greatly from the experience Friedrichs and former Treasurer Joelyn McCallum provided along the way.
“I go to more meetings than I ever had and go to training and workshops. I am doing everything I can to absorb more about the job and what the commissioners need me to do” Bates said. “Being here as long as I have, I have a basis for where we are and why we are here. We are a team here and that is how we make things happen. “