By Michael Howell
Ravalli County Clerk and Recorder Regina Plettenberg brought a plan for reorganization of the Treasurer’s office to the County Commissioners for their consideration last week. It would involve creating two “lead” positions, one to head up operations in the tax side of the office and another to lead the motor vehicle side of the office. Each would have its own job description and pay, but the positions would also be cross-trained to handle each other’s job when needed. It would mean doing away with the position of Chief Deputy Treasurer.
Plettenberg said the motivation for the proposed changes was to institute a structure that could keep the day-to-day operations of the office going in the Treasurer’s absence. The current Treasurer, Valerie Stamey, is on paid administrative leave pending a few investigations into the office, one by retired Judge Nels Swandal, one by an auditing firm, and one by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Plettenberg has been involved in helping direct the Treasurer’s office since Stamey was placed on leave. The county commissioners also hired Kathy Allard, former Treasurer from Beaverhead County, to help get the office up to speed. Allard has been training staff as well as pumping out long delayed Treasurer’s reports to various county offices and districts.
Plettenberg said the recommended restructuring was similar to the way the Clerk and Recorder’s office is set up which is also split between property plat and record keeping duties and those associated with the elections office. She said the key was to have explicit job descriptions so people know what their duties are and if people are moved into that position they know what’s expected of them. She said pay commensurate with the duties was also important as there must be some incentive for the person to take on the extra duties being described.
Plettenberg said that she had two people in mind that could currently fill those positions, but the jobs would be advertised in-house. She said she assumed the two she was thinking of would apply but maybe someone else in the office might, too.
“We will go through the hiring process and do interviews and hire the best person,” said Plettenberg.
Commissioner J.R. Iman wanted it to be clear that the position of Chief Deputy was being eliminated and replaced with two “lead” positions.
Human Resources Director Robert Jenni said that other counties, including Missoula County, use this model and speak highly of it.
Commissioner Jeff Burrows raised the question of whether the law gave the Treasurer the authority to hire a Chief Deputy or not. He said that could be problematic if a new Treasurer decided to establish a Chief Deputy position even though the two “lead” positions had been established.
Commissioner Ron Stoltz said that the Treasurer would have to bring the proposal for a Chief Deputy to the Commission for approval.
Commissioner Suzy Foss said that she didn’t think it likely that a new Treasurer would make such a decision given the history of the problems in the office and the concerted effort being made to create a functioning structure.
Plettenberg said that she could not predict what might happen under a new Treasurer, “but we want this office to be strong,” she said. “We don’t want things to fall apart again. We want to get things in place that will keep it going. Right now we don’t have a Treasurer down there and we have heaped all these duties on the backs of the people down there.”
Plettenberg argued for a higher pay scale for the “leads” to compensate for the expanded duties.
Commission Chair Greg Chilcott expressed concern about the question of the Treasurer’s authority to appoint a Chief Deputy even after the two lead positions were created.
“It seems like we have general consent about the proposed structure but also have some crucial legal questions that need to be answered,” said Chilcott.
A motion to continue the meeting to Wednesday, April 2 at 8 a.m. when legal counsel could be present was approved.