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COOK COUNTY CONNECTIONS: Cook County Service Reflections

May 08, 2020 08:46AM ● By Editor
Some people ask what they can do to celebrate my time working with the Cook County Highway Department.

First, I’m honored that question is asked. Thank you. Second, I wish I could personally say goodbye to community stakeholders and colleagues; if not for the need to protect each other from the spread of COVID-19, I could. So, to answer that question, I ask you to consider practicing your individual leadership skills. One helpful leadership perspective is presented by Dale Carnegie in How to Win Friends and Influence People, which says, “Anyone can criticize, complain, and condemn. It takes character and self-control to be understanding and forgiving.”

The more important question from this day forward is what happens next.

What will my resignation mean for this year’s construction season? Under Interim Administrator Rena Rogers’ leadership with the assistance of the Highway Department team, this year’s projects remain on track.

MnDOT will begin the two-year Highway 61 reconstruction project on May 18. Cook County’s Gunflint Trail pavement condition improvements between Trout Lake Rd. and Pine Mountain Rd. are scheduled to begin in mid-July. Interim department head Mike Tardy will work with KGM Contractors to ensure the paving of South Shore Drive when the roadbed is ready, and he will oversee Northland Constructors’ replacement of the Two Island River box culvert on CSAH 1 after July 1. Additionally, the Highway Department continues to collaborate with the Soil and Water Conservation District to bid the Fredenberg Creek culvert project on CSAH 1. This will improve fish passage by replacing the deteriorated culvert with a larger grant-funded structure.

So who is Mike Tardy? Twenty-eight years ago, a young Cook County engineer left Grand Marais to work for MnDOT as a district state-aid engineer (DSAE) in Baxter. He worked in various leadership roles for the state, including DSAE in Duluth (and Baxter) and assistant district engineer for program delivery. When I started working in Duluth in 2008, I remember my boss’ boss sending a kind message thanking the project team when we reached a milestone. That manager was Mike. In the spring of 2013, Mike left MnDOT to serve as the Carlton County engineer until his retirement in 2017. Both the management of the Cook County Highway Department and the county’s construction program are in good hands with Mike as the interim department head.

Why does Cook County need an interim department head? We are required to have a licensed professional civil engineer (PE) oversee our state-aid construction program. Hiring Mike and
continuing with this season’s state-aid construction program is expected to save more than it will cost. Although I cannot provide an exact number for the price of delaying construction projects, I will share that I typically budget for a four percent increase in construction costs from year to year.

Further, the county receives funding through the state for the county engineer position, which is a position required by Minnesota Statute 163.07. A large portion of the Highway Department’s operational budget is supported by highway user tax distribution fund (HUTDF) revenues. When the Legislative Committee recommended Minnesota’s distribution formula for counties’ HUTDF dollars in 1956, a factor known as equalization was allocated to each county to support employment of qualified staff and expenditures for supplies. This equalization factor continues to be part of today’s distribution formula. Cook County effectively received $527,251 in state support towards hiring qualified staff for its highway department in 2020. While Mike and the staff kick off the construction season, the Cook County Board of Commissioners seeks to hire someone to succeed me as the appointed Cook County highway engineer.

As I shared with other stakeholders during the past couple of weeks, I know the Cook County Board of Commissioners, Rena and Human Resources Director Pamela Dixon will work hard to find the right fit for the department’s next leader. My trust is hard to earn, and Rena, Mike and the Highway Department team have earned that trust. Together, we will train in the next Cook County highway engineer.

Thank you for your feedback during my time working with your community. I leave Cook County with excitement for your future.

County Connections is a column on timely topics and service information from your Cook County government. Cook County – Supporting Community Through Quality Public Service
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