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Sorensen Resigns As County Administrator

In what came as a surprise to many, Marinette County Administrator Ellen Sorensen has resigned, effective immediately. County Board Chair Vilas Schroeder has scheduled a special County Board meeting for 5 p.m. Thursday, May 15 to confirm the severance agreement approved by the Executive Committee on Monday, May 12 and consider authorizing the Executive Committee to negotiate an agreement to perform duties and appoint an interim administrator.

County Board’s Executive Committee met in closed session for an hour on Thursday, May 8 and again for half an hour on May 12.

The only Executive Committee action taken after returning to open session on Thursday was a motion to convene again at 11 a.m. on Monday. After deliberating in closed session on Monday they returned to open session and voted unanimously to aprove the severance agreement between Marinette County and Ellen Sorensen and forward the same to County Board for confirmation. Sorensen had submitted her resignation prior to the start of that morning’s meeting, according to County Board Chair Schroeder.

County Board interest in the meetings ran high. Only four of the 30 County Board supervisors were not on hand for the May 12 executive session.

In addition to the 12 members of the Executive Committee supervisors Cindy Barrette, Russ Bauer, Paul Gustafson, Bob Holley, Don Pazynski, Clancy Whiting and Cheryl Wruk were present. Executive Committee includes Schroeder, Kathy Just, Alice Baumgarten, Mike Behnke, Russ Bousley, Ken Casper, Mike Cassidy, Melissa Christiansen, Ken Keller, Nick Lakari, Ken Mattison and Ted Sauve. The only other person present was Corporation Counsel Gale Mattison.

Attending Thursday’s closed-door session in addition to the dozen Executive Committee members were Mattison and supervisors Barrette and Gustafson.

Schroeder confirmed the resignation in a telephone interview Monday evening. He said Sorensen had resigned to go back into the private sector.

Asked what will happen now, Schroeder said it was too soon to tell, but they are looking into options on how to replace Sorensen. He expects they will advertise locally, on the Internet, and through governmental and trade organizations.

Asked if they are considering perhaps switching from the County Administrator form of government adopted for Marinette County in 1987, Schroeder said neither of those options have been discussed. Alternatives allowed under state law for county administration are the Administrative Coordinator model used in Oconto County, or an elected County Executive, which Brown County has.

Sorensen’s resignation leaves two of the county’s top positions vacant, and a third vacancy is looming.

John Machnik resigned suddenly from his position as Facilities Director for the county in January and the job has not yet been filled. Schroeder said interviews are slated for Thursday and Friday of this week. Child Support Agency Director Corina Dionne previously announced plans to retire this month. That position also has not been filled.

Schroeder agreed that this will be an exceedingly busy and difficult time for the county and for himself as County Board chair, but commented, You do what you’ve got to do....It was my commitment when I ran for chair of the County Board to do the best job I can, and I’m doing it.

Details of the severance agreement with Sorensen have not been released. She started working for the county in November of 2011.

When Sorensen was hired in August of 2011, Mattison explained the employment contract differed from that of former Administrator Steve Corbeille in the ways severance pay and termination were addressed. Mattison said the agreement specified a 6-month probationary period. If Sorensen were terminated by the county after that time she was to receive four months’ severance pay, but if she voluntarily left county employ there would be no severance pay.

Sorensen’s starting salary was $96,500 a year and a raise in 2013 brought it to $97,465. After her annual evaluation in August of 2013 the committee approved a raise of $3,080, bringing 2014 salary to $100,560. Comments at the time was that this was in line with the recommendations of the WIPFLI wage study.

County Board on Tuesday, Aug. 27 adopted results of that study, which gave $103,620 as the midpoint annual salary for the top position in the county, which was listed as open on the chart.

At the same meeting, County Board approved the raises necessary to bring all benchmarked positions up to their midpoint, but with the stipulation that half the amount will be given in 2014 and the balance on the 2015 pay schedule. An equal raise for the administrator’s position for 2015 would bring the salary to $103,645, just $5 over the benchmark amount for the county’s top job.

Marinette County hired its first administrator, Steve O’Malley, in 1987. He moved on in 1990, and was followed by Steve Fredericks, 1990 to 1996; Robert Lawton, 1996 to 1997, Roger DeGroot (former County Finance Director) from 2000 to 2003, and Corbeille (former County Finance Director) from 2003 to 2011. DeGroot returned from retirement to serve as acting administrator after Corbeille was discharged in 2011.

Sorensen was Director of Administration for Brown County from April of 2010 until she came to work for Marinette County in November of 2011. She served as Director of Administration/Chief of Staff for Fond du Lac County from March, 2004 to April, 2010, and had been Executive Director of Ripon Area Chamber of Commerce since graduating from Ripon College in 2000. She attended Ripon College from 1993 to 2000, earning an AB degree in Politics and Government and History, and was employed in administrative positions while a student there.


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