BREAKING NEWS: Jacobson out as county engineer

Humboldt County Engineer Paul Jacobson was told Thursday afternoon that he no longer will be employed by the county after Jan. 1, 2018. Jacobson has served the county in that capacity since the beginning of the century, 17.75 years. The vote was 4-1 in favor of not renewing Jacobson's contract.

By Kent Thompson
The Humboldt County Board of Supervisors on Thursday (Nov. 9) agreed not to renew County Engineer Paul Jacobson’s contract beyond Jan. 1, 2018.
Jacobson has served as the county engineer since March 20, 2000.
During a meeting of the Board last April, it was agreed to give Jacobson a six-month contract without a pay raise. His salary for the current fiscal year is $103,000, plus benefits. The Board agreed to review Jacobson's performance after six months.
Last April, the Board said Jacobson needed to improve his communication with the public and the Board. The Board also said Jacobson’s leadership, discipline and management skills could be improved.
Supervisor Chair Rick Pedersen, who represents the southeast part of Humboldt and the rural area southeast of town said, “I’ve stood behind Paul in following policy. My concern is more the daily work. I think it could be more efficiently handled. He does a great job on our roads, bridges and box culvert projects. My concern is more about leadership and doing things better,” Pedersen said.
The final vote was 4-1 in favor of not renewing the contract. Supervisors Bruce Reimers, Dave Lee and Erik Underberg joined Pedersen in the affirmative vote with District 2 Supervisor Carl Mattes voting in opposition.
“I think Paul has done everything we’ve asked him to do regarding policy. He’s in double trouble if he tries to follow policy and do what some farmers want done,” Mattes said.
Mattes accused the Board of micromanaging the engineer’s office/secondary roads department.
Reimers said that wasn’t the case.
“I don’t think we are micromanaging anyone,” Reimers said. “Our duty is to field the calls and ask the engineer about issues from county residents and find out what he is going to do about their concerns. When there is a problem, we have to take it to him,” Reimers said.
Supervisor Lee, who represents Dakota City, Grove and Lake Townships and portions of Vernon Township, reiterated what he said last spring, that Jacobson would make an excellent employee if his duties were confined to an office setting, but said his inability to deal with the public in an effective manner is the main reason for the vote against retaining the longtime engineer.
Underberg made the motion not to retain Jacobson. “We’ve done our due diligence. I think we’ve fairly evaluated Paul’s performance and haven’t seen any marked change since last April,” Underberg said.
“Part of my review suggests I haven’t done my job and I wholeheartedly disagree with that,” Jacobson told the Board.
He said much of his contract and job description represent requirements of a county engineer via the Code of Iowa.
“If you did a checklist of essential job duties this engineer (speaking of himself) would score high,” Jacobson said in a prepared statement.
“The Board sets policy and the county engineer’s job is to follow that. The county engineer must at all times make unpopular decisions,” Jacobson said.
The Board said its action would not affect any other employees in the secondary roads department.
The Supervisors did not indicate plans for engineering staffing or the timeline for hiring a successor.
For more information on this story, read the Nov. 16 issue of The Humboldt Independent.

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