The Anoka County Board is moving ahead with an internal search to replace retiring County Administrator Jerry Soma, ending an unusual stalemate over the top job.
The board is poised to vote Tuesday on its new plan after deadlocking on the issue at a recent meeting. Commissioners were split over launching a formal search for Soma’s successor or directly appointing their colleague and board Chairwoman Rhonda Sivarajah, who is vying for the position.
Some residents have criticized the county’s practice of appointing internally for its top job without a formal search as lacking transparency.
County officials again took up the debate at a special work session called earlier this week by Commissioner Matt Look, who backed an internal search along with commissioners Mandy Meisner and Mike Gamache.
No votes are taken at work sessions, but Sivarajah recused herself from the discussion and did not attend. Commissioners generally agreed at the recent meeting on keeping the county’s leadership in-house and sketched out parameters for the job posting.
“We need to come up with a compromise here that works for everybody,” said Commissioner Scott Schulte, who had earlier favored appointing Sivarajah directly.
The board will now vote next week on the hiring process proposed, which involves posting the job on the county website for 10 business days for internal applicants. That includes current county employees and elected officials as well as former employees who have left the county in good standing within the past five years.
A three-person search committee will then conduct candidate interviews and make a recommendation to the full board for an appointment. Commissioners Robyn West, Schulte and Gamache will make up the interview panel — a point of concern for some.
West and Schulte had earlier backed Sivarajah for the job, along with Commissioner Julie Braastad.
“I want to make sure that we are going into a process that is legitimate, that we’re going to look at all the candidates that come before us,” Gamache said.
Meisner pushed Tuesday for the committee to be made up of the three commissioners who had originally advocated for a formal search process. She also voiced support for public candidate interviews with the full board involved and opening the position up to external applicants.
“I truly want the best person for the job,” Meisner said.
Soma, who supervises about 2,000 county employees and earns $149,000, will retire May 1 after 52 years with the county. He was appointed by the board to the role of county administrator in 2011 without a formal search process.