Mobridge Weather

wind speed: 4 mph WNW

KATIE ZERR: Toxic atmosphere in courthouse harms Walworth County

How much more of the childish behavior that occurs at the Walworth County Courthouse will the commissioners stomach?
From the mean girl attitudes to the cliquey behavior of some of the county employees, how does any of it function in a normal manner?
This is nothing new to this courthouse and probably occurs in other governmental agencies on all levels, but the toxic atmosphere at the courthouse, according to several employees, is steadily getting worse.
There are two distinct sides, one is pro the auditor’s office, the other is against anything that originates from that office.
It has been that way for quite some time, and everyone thinks they have a good reason to choose sides.
The latest example of this reared its ugly head during the meeting held Wednesday, March 20.
Walworth County Landfill Supervisor Ryan Badten tendered his resignation (he will be missed by the people of this county), and he recommended that current auditor Becky Krein take over as the supervisor.
His reasoning being that his concern over the business end of the landfill is vitally important to the county and Krein knows how to run that aspect of the business.
He said she could be trained to deal with the other parts of the landfill management and that there was a network in place to help her with that training.
Watching the video, the key phrase in what Badten said while explaining his recommendation to the commission was that Krein is ready for a change. She is ready to resign her position and move on.
If the end game of this little war between the courthouse factions is to get rid of one person or the other, why did the employees show up in force at Wednesday’s meeting to ensure the commissioners would not appoint Krein to that position?
It is a win, win for them. The person they dislike (for whatever their reasoning, valid or not) would be gone from that position and gone for the most part from the courthouse.
So why were they so against it?
From a conversation with a courthouse employee, they did not want Krein to get paid what Badten was making, because of her lack of experience.
Their fear was that the commission would give her what she wanted (they say this happens all the time) and move on to the next serious issue on their plates.
The commissioners accepted Badten’s resignation and decided they would advertise to fill that position, although according to Badten, they will have a tough time finding a person with these specific skills in South Dakota.
These kinds of dividing situations happen in all working environments, but when employees disrupt the workings of the county business with their little games, on both sides, there is a problem. There is plenty of blame to go around. This is not an admonishment of just one side. The blame for the atmosphere in that courthouse sits on both sides.
But the question is why these employees are willing to saddle this commission with more issues than they already have.
Why, when the going is so tough with the jail issue unresolved, flooding and disaster issues straining the coffers and a major position in the county now empty, are these employees piling on to the commissioners’ woes?
Shouldn’t the most important issue in that courthouse be working together to ensure the major issues be resolved rather than saddle the commission with more problems?
There are hard feeling on all sides. Power plays and office games have been played for a long time. I have covered that courthouse for nearly 18 years, and this is not the first time office drama has taken center stage.
This time it seems more like a war than office games. When the most prominent word to describe the working atmosphere from county employees is toxic, it’s time for the department heads to step in and put a stop to it before it is too late.
They should not be playing a role in this battle, no matter how they feel about the auditor or her office.
It is their role to oversee their offices and their employees. It should be their role to try and nip this in the bud and not exacerbate the situation. From what is being said outside these divided factions, that is not the case.
That is very disappointing. Department heads should be the voice of reason, not the stokers of the fire.
This is a pretty crucial time in county government for commissioners to have to deal with this type of situation.
There may be no turning back as some actions taken by one side or the other have been fairly obvious, but for the good of the people of Walworth County, there should an effort to tone down the rhetoric, cleanse the toxicity and move on.
In a personal note, I will miss Ryan Badten. In his role as county assistant, I received answers to all of my questions about the issues facing the county government. He was knowledgeable and forthcoming. He was an asset to this county.
Good luck Ryan.
– Katie Zerr –