Bensen to call it a career

by Paul Rignell

Contributing writer

To conclude an annual performance review that began May 7, Sherburne County Administrator Brian Bensen reached an agreement with the board of commissioners May 21 to call for his retirement effective Aug. 1, 2013.

The date was previously discussed at a meeting last November. Bensen will have worked for the county 35 years. He began as a solid waste officer in 1978, and he was promoted to serve as the county’s planning director prior to his appointment as administrator in 1999.

A county native who was raised on a farm in Haven Township, Bensen earned an education degree from the University of Nebraska, with graduate work in public finance and administration at St. Cloud State University before his county employment.

As the county administrator, Bensen typically had gone through annual reviews in June, but Commissioner Bruce Anderson, the retired sheriff from Elk River who was elected to the board last fall, asked for an early start in response to concerns he had heard from other staff.

Among those issues, Anderson said, there were questions whether other staff had always been directed through job reviews in line with consideration of pay raises. Bensen responded said that in recent years, the managerial duties were divided so that a deputy administrator was responsible for logging those reviews. Through department reorganization, the full-time deputy administrator’s position was discontinued last February.

As of the May 21 board meeting, Bensen had met once with Anderson along with Commissioner Ewald Petersen, County Attorney Kathleen Heaney and Human Resources Director Roxanne Chmielewski as a five-member search committee to find a full-time successor for Bensen.

Anderson announced they would meet for a second time before the holiday weekend, with no word yet on how broadly they will extend a search.

“We won’t know until we get into that committee and talk,” Anderson told Star News.

The transition has otherwise begun, as the board voted unanimously May 21 to name County Assessor Dan Weber as an interim deputy administrator. Petersen made the motion for Weber, seconded by Commissioner Felix Schmiesing.

Weber has some interim administrative background from when he worked seven years as the assessor for Kanabec County, where he served before joining Sherburne County in early 2012.

Of Bensen, Schmiesing said the outgoing administrator has been a leader in the background, “working and solving problems. … I think we’re going to miss that a lot.”

Commissioner and 2013 board chair Rachel Leonard added, “I appreciate all the very excellent work you did.”

The retirement agreement allows for Bensen to receive six months of severance pay, totaling $68,592 and to be issued Jan. 2, 2014, along with paid health insurance premiums of more than $7,000 to cover one year.

“I’ve had opportunities for great challenges and great learning,” Bensen told the board May 21.

“I will miss the many friends I have among the county employees and other business contacts,” he added, in a letter to the board. “My life has been richer for being here.”

In separate conversations after the meeting, Bensen and County Board Chair Leonard agreed they are nearing the end of the administrator’s county career with their issues resolved.

“Brian’s career (has been) marked with many successes, but there were a few problems which have been resolved,” Leonard said. “We wish him a rewarding retirement.”