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Directors lead Goodhue County departments merger

RED WING — Karen Main and Greg Schoener represent an odd partnership.

The public health director and the social services director in Goodhue County spent at least three years willingly coordinating the integration of their two departments at a time when nearly all of their counterparts across the state were shunning the idea. As the duo nears the one-year anniversary of the merger, Main can now laugh at the fact that she was deemed "a traitor" to her profession for wanting to integrate with Schoener's department.

Goodhue County commissioner Dan Rechtzigel says the successful creation of a Health and Human Services department last fall wouldn't have been possible without the willing cooperation of Main and Schoener.

"They basically took the bull by the horns here," he said. "They came up with a shared vision, which is pretty amazing since they've been in the profession for 40 years. You would think there'd be some tension here, but there's been none. It's just been an incredibly cohesive group working together on this.

"It's going to be a pretty big deal when it all comes together. I think we'll have other counties come down to Goodhue County looking at just how we made this work when it's all said and done."


The two merged departments are still located at separate facilities, but county officials are in discussions to merge them under one roof, which would be the final step.

While the idea of a merger was first broached by Rechtzigel in 2005, formal discussion began about three years later. More than 100 officials from around the state showed up to an April 2008 meeting in Red Wing to discuss such a radical move. The meeting lasted the entire day. A state-wide survey was also conducted with mixed findings. But Main, Schoener and county officials still pushed forward.

The decision to formally integrate the programs was made in August 2010. The budget has been merged into one account, leadership staff has been meeting together twice a month and attending county board meetings together, and a deputy director was hired in November to help provide an unbiased opinion on proceedings.

But things have still been touch and go.

"Anyone in the state would love to have two people who want to work together," Main said. "And we did. That's really, really unique. But bringing the staff along has been really, really hard. Everyone is afraid of change."

Many questions remain. It's unclear if any staffing reductions will be made once the departments are under one roof — though that appears unlikely — and the leadership positions may be overhauled. Main recently announced she plans to retire in June. Schoener could not be reached for comment this week.

That may open the door for restructuring at the top, as Main says the county would like to hire a director and deputy director for the health and human services department. Doing so with new hires may be easier than asking one long-time employee to serve under another after years of collaboration.

"We really didn't want to bring in anyone new and then put them in that position," Rechtzigel said. "This is an issue that could very easily become territorial without the right people. But we have the right people."

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