Chairperson's State of the County Address

Sheila Kiscaden, 2018 Olmsted County Board Chair


On January 2, 2018, Commissioner Sheila Kiscaden was elected by the Olmsted County Board of Commissioners to serve as its 2018 Chairperson.  Commissioner Jim Bier was elected as the Board's 2018 Vice Chairperson.  Please see the Chair's 2018 State of the County Remarks below:

Over the years, Olmsted County has built a strong foundation and solid reputation for service and innovation, but as a wise leader once said, "Change is the law of life and those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future." Dynamic communities and organizations do not rest on their laurels, they actively seek to adapt and change to meet the new demands of the world around them.  Olmsted County is preparing for the future on a number of fronts and, as we do, we change. 

As we begin 2018, Olmsted County is:

  • changing the County's internal leadership and administrative structures; 
  • ready to launch a number of projects that have been under development;
  • supporting new opportunities for deeper collaboration with community organizations to achieve community and regional goals; and
  • seeking to renew and strengthen our long-standing agreements with the City of Rochester for shared services.

Many of these changes began with the important and smooth transition in administrative leadership the County made in 2017 through the internal promotions of Heidi Welsch to County Administrator and Wilfredo Román Cátala to Chief Financial Officer.  

New leadership looks at systems with fresh eyes and sees opportunity for improvement. So, it is no surprise that Olmsted County administrators are actively engaged in adapting, modifying, and updating our organizational structure, expectations and processes:

The County is now in the first year of a new multiple year budgeting process, designed to provide more detailed overviews and information to help the County Board and Departments prepare for budget decisions and do long-range planning.

At the beginning of this year, Olmsted County launched a new organizational structure to streamline accountability and decision-making by creating three divisions: General Government; Physical Development; and Health, Housing and Human Services.  Three of our most experienced department directors, Mike Sheehan, Paul Fleissner, and Pete Giesen will expand the scope of their duties and skills as Deputy County Administrators serving as division leaders and members of the new Administrative Executive Management Team.

At the same time, within the new Health, Housing and Human Services Division and within the new Physical Development Division, there are managers being called on to expand the range of their leadership responsibilities and skills and become full department directors. 

To get the most benefit from the new administrative alignment, our administrative team is recommending changes for the County Board, itself, by using a new format and schedule for the Board's Committees.  Changing the current Board practices in this area, as recommended by our administrators, should be given a trial. 

Within the first quarter, we will be reviewing recommendations for changes to our citizen Boards and Commissions.  We rely on these bodies to provide ways for citizens to engage in our decision-making.  Citizens provide valuable advice and feedback to staff, department directors, and the County Board.  As our population gets more diverse, we will need to identify ways to assure that our citizen advisors represent the full range of the community and have multiple ways to engage. The One Olmsted Resolution that was approved in 2017 can provide guidance for how we achieve these goals for service delivery as well as citizen engagement.

Olmsted County's role in collaborating with other organizations both formally and informally continues to expand.  Two new community initiatives which will require sustained multi-year, community collaboration for collective impact have requested County representation and commitment:

Two weeks ago, the Rochester Area Foundation (RAF) announced the Coalition for Rochester Area Housing, a private-public partnership to develop strategies and collaborations to address a range of local housing needs. Olmsted County's Housing and Redevelopment Authority (HRA) is a major local source of housing funding. As such, the County has been invited to have representation on both the Coalition's Leadership Circle (which will make funding recommendations) as well as participation on the multi-stakeholder Housing Alliance (which will provide information, advice, and counsel to RAF and the Leadership Circle).  

The community's Cradle to Career initiative will also require multiple local stakeholders to invest and be active participants. Olmsted County administrators and staff have been actively involved in the planning and will be recommending that the County continue to do so with broader county board, staff, and financial commitments.

Recently, the County Board began to examine what role Olmsted County could play in exploring how surrounding communities and counties can get more economic and community benefit from intercity transit.  Our experience with the Highway 52 Coalition gives us confidence that regional collaboration on transit is possible and will have value.

The African proverb, "If you want to go fast, go alone.  If you want to go far, go together", seems to capture the essence of creating public services that can truly engage and serve the community.

One of the challenges of working in the public sector compared to the private sector is that there are always multiple stakeholders, which often means that projects take a long time to go from concept to reality…sometimes years.  Think of the RAF Housing Coalition, the Olmsted Drug Court or the Lake Zumbro dredging project as examples of projects that took years to launch.

Hopefully, this will also be the year that Graham Park gets funding for a new multi-purpose facility from the State Legislature.  Certainly, it is the year we will finally have a master plan to guide our local property tax investments in improving the Graham Park campus so it can become the true community asset that is envisioned.

Olmsted County will also continue to advocate at the State Legislature and with state agencies for what is needed to effectively deliver public services, whether that is a sustainable system for transportation funding and environmental protection, improvements to the Minnesota Eligibility Technology System (METS) and other state technology systems, or improving the state-county partnership for the delivery of health and human services.

Closer to home, our new City and County administrators will be taking a fresh look at some of our long-term agreements and collaborations with the City of Rochester. It is time to make progress on a number of fronts including shared public safety dispatch, the Riverbend agreement and our Consolidated Planning Department.  It is also in our mutual interest to begin organizing a local effort so that Rochester and Olmsted County are prepared to get Complete Counts with the upcoming US Census. The Census is the basis for many state and federal funding formulas which directly affect county and city revenues.

To paraphrase Peter Drucker, effective leadership is defined by its results.       

There is reason to be proud of Olmsted County's history of results and its willingness to innovate, to lead, and to seek to continuously improve. Those accomplishments come from the commitment that county staff and volunteers make to look beyond the pressures of the moment, to dedicating their energies to the common good, and to serving the public interest and the larger community. That legacy of commitment continues as we begin a new year with new and some old challenges.

Sheila Kiscaden, County Board Chair