A recent newspaper article reviewed the performance of Tazewell County in the absence of our administrator. The previous administrator, David Jones, took a new position in Polk County, Iowa (Des Moines area) in October of 2011 and his old position remained vacant for seven months. The article talked about how smoothly the day-to-day operations were running. Predictably, a blogger asked why a county would need a highly paid administrator if the governmental operations were running just fine.
The question is a fair one and can be answered as a fiscally sound and business-savvy decision. First, a little background on county government in general and Tazewell County, specifically. County boards are responsible for overall fiscal operations. We develop budgets and policies in consultation with elected officials and department heads to help guide the county through the course of the year. Although we are occasionally drawn into specific issues, our role is not to micromanage daily activity, but to have a “30,000-foot view” of operations.
This is where the role of a county administrator comes in. The administrator can and does wear many hats. He acts as the quarterback in implementing the vision of the board and overseeing daily operations. In Tazewell County, the administrator negotiates healthcare contracts, hires and fires staff, oversees and negotiates labor contracts, applies for grants, and implements our strategic plan, in addition to hundreds of other responsibilities. These things can be done without an administrator, but who will coordinate these issues in their place, how efficiently will things being done, and how much savings will be left on the table?
Tazewell County ran smoothly through the transition for a number of reasons. First, our outgoing administrator prepared the county well for his departure. He was able to pull the budget together and help in its passage. Several outstanding labor issues and contracts were settled. The county was well prepared to run on its own for a season. A second reason for our success was the staff. Although many people played a role, the board office staff and the county clerk were invaluable in their contributions. Their support and attitude throughout the entire vacancy is worth emulating. Lastly, I believe the board members deserve credit for their input and help in the process. Each board member sees the value of this position, and in the end, we had a unanimous vote in support of our new administrator.
That brings us to today. Michael Frielinger, the new administrator for Tazewell County, brings a wealth of experience to us, including many years as a county leader in both Iowa and Florida. One of his first charges is to develop a strategic plan for the board to use in our decision-making as we move into the future. He is prepared to facilitate this process and start moving our county forward again. I look forward to where Tazewell County is headed under Mike’s leadership, and to working closely with all the other governmental bodies in the region. iBi