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BE City selects Jahnke

By Staff | Jul 27, 2014

After nearly a year of first being the fill-in director of the Blue Earth Senior Citizens Center and then its interim director, Linda Jahnke was named the actual director during action at last Monday’s City Council meeting.

But, it was not an easy or unanimous decision.

The council’s 5-2 vote to hire Jahnke came after a half hour of sometimes heated debate during the work session before the meeting and another half hour of debate during the actual meeting.

Voting no were councilmen Glenn Gaylord and John Huisman.

“I strongly feel there were better qualified candidates, who more closely matched the list of what we wanted in a director,” Gaylord said. “It is our responsibility to hire the best qualified person for the job.”

Twice in the past months the Senior Center Board recommended to the council that Jahnke be hired. The first time was after the death of long-time director Middy Thomas.

However, the council decided the position should be opened to applications and then the list be narrowed down and the top three candidates interviewed by the center board.

The council reserved the right to make the final decision.

“I think the board got too personally attached to her (Jahnke) and wanted her for the director job,” Gaylord said. “But we need to hire the best people we possibly can in every position in the city.”

Gaylord added that he felt some of the other candidates offered the opportunity to do some new and exciting things at the center and “take it to the next level.”

Senior Center board member Marty Cassem was at the meeting and disagreed.

“We feel we did choose the best candidate,” Cassem told the council. “Some of those other candidates may have had better qualifications, but not any experience actually running a senior citizens center. Linda has proved over the past year that she can do the job.”

Cassem added there are plenty of activities going on at the center and challenged the council members to come take a look for themselves.

“I am not sure what other activities you would want,” he said. “There is a lot going on now.”

Councilman Huisman also said he thought this was an opportunity for the city to make the center even better than it has been in the past and promoted teaming up with the Faribault County Interfaith Caregivers group to operate the center.

“I think we can do better, and do more,” Huisman said. “And we can save money at the same time.”

Before the vote was taken last Monday night, a proposal from Interfaith Caregivers was handed out to the council.

In it, the group said they would operate the center for a fee of $15,000 annually plus having rent-free space for their offices.

“Our savings in rent and utilities would enable us to hire extra staff (for the center) and still keep the fee at $15,000,” Dan Woodring of Interfaith told the council.

In the end, however, the motion was made by Councilman Dan Brod and passed 5-2 to hire Jahnke.

“We need to move forward on this and I think we need to follow the recommendation of the senior center board,” he said. “Sometimes having your heart into something is not a bad thing.”

The council did express frustration with the whole hiring process. Councilman Huisman said he was unhappy with the fact former city administrator Kathy Bailey was the only person who reviewed all the applications and narrowed the list down to six finalists.

“The council needs to be more involved in the hiring process of any department head,” Huisman said. “And be able to make the decisions of who to hire.”

Councilman Gaylord agreed.

“It is frustrating to me that some very qualified persons did not even make the top three finalists,” Gaylord said. “This whole thing is a very flawed process.”