Alpena County commissioners select Osmer for administrator job

Jesse Osmer

ALPENA — The Alpena County Board of Commissioners voted on Tuesday to hire one of their own to become county administrator.

The commissioners voted 4-3 to begin contract negotiations with current commissioner Jesse Osmer to become the county’s new administrator.

The decision didn’t come without a great deal of debate.

Osmer said after the meeting that his number one priority is to set a course for the county to get on more solid ground financially and to eventually have a balanced budget. The county’s current budget deficit is about $1.6 million and its savings are dwindling.

According to Osmer, he is eager to get to work and looks forward to getting to work with the staff that he is already acclimated with.

Osmer said sitting at the table with the other commissioners felt odd as they debated the hiring. He said for him, it was a long and stressful process filled with many interviews and surveys before he was named a finalist.

“I’m extremely excited and I’m very happy to be chosen,” Osmer said. “The number one thing I want to get to work on is the budget. That is the whole reason I ran for office to begin with and that is going to be priority number one.”

Several of the commissioners who voted during the meeting flip-flopped from their prior positions and statements pertaining to hiring an administrator.

Brenda Fournier, who expressed concern about the need and cost of an administrator since before former administrator Mary Catherine Hannah was hired, had a change of heart and voted for Osmer.

She claims the reason for her pivot was because she believed the workload for employees would increase significantly if an administrator wasn’t hired and that could lead to employee burnout and lead to employees finding other jobs.

“I was up all night last night thinking about this and I know I have said, we don’t need an administrator, but, I don’t think it is fair to push all of the work onto the other employees in the commissioners’ office,” she said. “I hate to second guess myself and normally when I decide how I’m going to vote, I stick to it. But, now I feel the position needs to be filled.”

Interim Administrator Jennifer Mathis, who did not apply for the job, said she asked staff in the commissioners’ office if they believed it could do the work required without an administrator overseeing them. Mathis said the answer was yes.

“I think we can handle this, if you give it a try,” Mathis told the commissioners.

Commissioners John Kozlowski, Robin LaLonde, and Travis Konarzewski also voted in favor of Osmer, but each supported, in the past, the idea that Hannah needed to be replaced.

Kozlowski has questioned the cost of an administrator and its impact on the budget but was in favor of hiring.

Commissioners Bill Peterson, Burt Francisco, and Bill LaHaie, each of whom said the county needed to hire an administrator for months and voted in favor of offering a higher wage to get the best candidates, all changed their positions. They cited the county budget issues and the ability of current department heads and other staff to do the job.

The commissioners recently learned of a $100,000 expense that wasn’t in its budget, which is more than $1.5 million underwater.

Osmer has recused himself from all of the board action pertaining to the hunt for a new administrator since former administrator Mary Catherine Hannah took the administrator job in Saginaw County and he announced he intended to apply for the job.

Fournier has been the most vocal on not replacing Hannah until a few weeks ago when she said she could reconsider her stance if the right candidate at the right price could be found. In her eyes, that was Osmer.

When the commissioners voted to hire Amy Cell Talent, of Ypsilanti, she promised there would be up to 10 finalists. After entering into the contract with Cell, the commissioners set a pay scale for the new administrator well below what was recommended by Cell. The board also lowered the educational requirements.

The commissioners ended up with three finalists that they interviewed last week. Besides Osmer, former Alpena County administrator Jeff Thornton and former Gladwin County administrator Mark Justin were also in the mix.

After the number of finalists was known, some commissioners considered increasing the pay scale, readjusting the educational and experience requirements, and beginning the search anew.

None of those options were on the table on Tuesday.

Konarzewski said the commissioners voted to begin the search for a new administrator with the intent of replacing Hannah and that is what the board’s goal should be. He said any discussion about moving on from filling the position should have been done well beforehand.

“We made this decision in January when we talked about hiring a candidate as far as I’m concerned,” he said. “We decided then, as a group, to spend the money to hire a consultant. To me, that ship has sailed in terms of not hiring an administrator now.”


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