Welsch: Reorganization seeks to improve county operations | Local News

Olmsted County Administrator Heidi Welsch is hoping to directly tap into 100 years of experience during her first year as the county's top administrator.

Starting Jan. 1, three current department heads will move into deputy administrator positions, dividing duties into three areas: general government; physical development; and health, housing and human services.

While she acknowledges the existing model — all departments overseen by a single administrator — worked well for Richard Devlin, who was the county's first administrator under an established office, she said she hopes to combine experiences and insights to identify the next steps for the county.

"It works much better for me, rather than to be on my own island over here," said Welsch who was director of family support and assistance in the county's community services department before becoming deputy administrator about a year before before Devlin retired.

On Thursday, Olmsted County commissioners approved naming Pete Giesen, Paul Fleissner and Mike Sheehan as deputy administrators.

Less than a year after Giesen led Olmsted County Public Health to national accreditation, he's being tapped to help oversee general government operations and serve as a backup for for the county administrator.

Welsch said she expects Giesen will bring unique insights into the position as he oversees a variety of new departments, from property records and licensing to facilities and building operations.

"Pete isn't going to turn off his public health lens," she said, noting many decisions made at the county level can affect community health.

Giesen, who has worked in Public Health for 34 years, agreed, noting the goal of his department has long been to expand the definition of health in the community and address those needs.

"There are things that can impact the health of the public as a whole," he said.

While public health will continue to be a standalone agency with a new department head, it will be overseen by Fleissner, who will also maintain oversight of the community service department he currently heads.

After 25 years in the county department, he said he sees potential in the shift, which as worked in other communities. However, he plans to take time to learn more about unique public health needs as he looks for ways the different departments can work together.

"You have to blend two cultures and create a combined vision," he said.

Welsch and Fleissner said strong leaders exist in the public health department and benefits will likely be seen in both departments as they find mutual goals and maintain their independent objectives.

Fleissner said the decision to move the county's housing department is an example of how a new combined vision can help boost county services.

"Just three years ago, we brought the Housing Authority into our organization and that is working well with some wins," he said.

Since becoming part of the Community Services Department, a new Housing and Redevelopment Board was formed and a levy was implemented in an effort to find new housing solutions.

As the third deputy administrator, Mike Sheehan brings the most county experience to the table. With 41 years under his belt, he will continue to oversee public works operations as the deputy administrator of physical development, which will include environmental services, county parks and other departments.

While the changes are being done without adding new positions, one other county employee will take a larger role starting Jan. 1. County Engineer Kaye Bieniek will become director of transportation and surveying/county engineer, taking on some of Sheehan's current duties.

Those changes were approved with 3 percent wage increases, but other adjustments will be made without related pay increases to better identify roles of department heads working under the deputy administrators, Welsch said.

The overall goal is to create new conversations throughout county government, Welsch said. Those conversations are intended to seek out new efficiencies and offer new opportunities for staff to work together.

Sheehan said he expects that outcome, not only in his departments but throughout county government.

"We're probably going to be more collaborative," he said.

Welsch said she expects the added collaborations will provide benefits that ultimately extend beyond county operations.

"I think it will make us a stronger community," she said.