Some colleagues resent Hennepin County allowing well paid officials to work from other states

It’s no secret why more Minnesotans than ever work for the government. Great benefits, unequalled job security, increasingly higher pay than comparable jobs in the private sector.

But even some Hennepin County workers say the county has taken it too far by allowing some highly compensated colleagues to continue living and working remotely after the pandemic from California and other states, according to the Star Tribune.

A year into his job, Hennepin County Library Director Chad Helton has moved to Los Angeles, where he says he will work “most of the time.”

The county’s human resources chief, 30-year Hennepin County veteran Michael Rossman, has been living in Palm Springs, Calif., since January. Working remotely has been a success and presented no problem for him, he says.

But the living situations for both department heads have raised eyebrows among some county employees, many of whom must go to workplaces to serve the public — particularly library workers who say Helton should be based in the metro area where Hennepin’s 41 branches are located.

“How can he run a county library system from halfway across the country?” asked Cassandra Hendricks, an associate librarian at the Hopkins branch. “It feels as though the administration is so removed.”

The fact that both Helton and Rossman get paid more than $180,000 a year from sunny California doesn’t help soothe the hard feelings. Yet the working arrangement suits their boss and the Hennepin County Board of Commissioners just fine.

Helton oversees a system of 41 libraries with 562 employees, and Rossman supervises a staff of 120 full-time equivalent workers.

[County Administrator David] Hough called them “exceptional leaders” and hard workers who have performed well from their distant homes, and he said they “will come here when needed.” Both men said they will travel to Minnesota at their own expense.

The remote workplace policy was scheduled to phase out soon but was recently extended to at least the end of the year with Rossman playing a role in the decision.

He [Rossman] said it wasn’t a conflict of interest for him to take advantage of a policy he helped develop.

“My desire and my ability to utilize an out-of-state policy is not what drives the need for the policy,” he said. “It is what the future of work looks like.”

“…Because of the magic of technology, we have been able to meet all the needs and not let anything slide,” Rossman said. “The next generation … wants workplace balance. They want to be judged on the products they produce, not adapt to paradigms of the past.”

But some critics inside the Hennepin County system say there’s no substitute for being on the job in person to get to know and support their staff.

Helton said he will be in Minnesota “a lot” even though he’s living in Los Angeles. “I will be a part of the community and continue to be part of the community,” he said.

Cathy Fischer, president of the Friends of the Plymouth Library — one of the busiest branches in the Hennepin system — said Helton’s relocation to California was disrespectful to the community and to front-line staffers who are providing in-person service to the public.

He should “be visiting libraries, thanking and encouraging staff,” she said, as well as getting to know the communities served by the libraries.

While Helton and Rossman are the two highest paid Hennepin County employees working from out of state, the paper reports the number working for the county from other states totals 74.