County execs’ days of working from sunny California may be over

California may not be what it used to be, but it still looks tempting in the middle of a Minnesota winter. So tempting that two of Hennepin County’s highest paid public employees made the Golden State their home base for working remotely during — and now after — the pandemic.

Michael Rossman takes home $189,000 in salary as Chief Hennepin County Human Resources Officer supervising 70 employees from his Palm Springs pad, while Chad Helton gets paid $184,000 to lead over 500 employees of the Hennepin County Library system out of Los Angeles.

But those days may be coming to an end long before winter, according to the Star Tribune.

Chad Helton, whose decision to direct the Hennepin County Library system from his home in Los Angeles has rankled librarian staff and taxpayers alike, may have to move back to Minnesota under a policy on remote work issued last week by the county.

The new policy, sent to county employees on Dec. 17 by County Administrator David Hough, states that county supervisors whose workers interact directly with the public must live in Minnesota. It takes effect Jan. 31.

Helton, who was hired in 2020, moved to California this summer saying he could perform his job through video conferencing and that he would return to the Twin Cities as needed.

Hough originally supported allowing Helton and Rossman to work on the left coast on the grounds the pandemic changed workplace expectations. But he changed his mind after taking considerable heat from the county executives’ fellow public employees.

Representatives of the two unions that represent library workers criticized Helton for working in California, and some members of the public contacted County Board members to object.

Asked if the concerns raised by library staff and the public had prompted his revision of the out-of-state policy, Hough said county officials already had been thinking along that line. He said that 6,300 of the county’s 9,000 employees currently work remotely because of the pandemic, and many will continue to do so in some way in the future.

But Hough added: “One of the criteria [of the policy] is if you have buildings in operation, you want to be available and near.” Having a job where you are working face-to-face with clients, he said, “is not conducive to working in a different state, remotely.”

Under the revised policy, it’s assumed that county employees work in the state of Minnesota. One of the library workers’ union representatives applauded the news that even the highest paid public employees need to be available in person locally.

Ali Fuhrman, president of AFSMCE local 2822, which represents library support staffers, hailed the new policy barring supervisory officials from working out-of-state as “a victory for workers.” She said she didn’t believe exceptions should be made for anyone, including Helton.

“There is no reason you should be directing things from another state, period,” she said. “Whoever is directing services in the community should be living in the community.”

Out-of-state Hennepin County employees can still apply for a waiver to the in-state working requirement. But clearly, that will be the exception rather than the rule from now on for the county’s highly paid manager.