Passport work hours cause rift between county commission, treasurerTempers flared unexpectedly Tuesday between the Davison County commissioners and Treasurer Brenda Veldheer over her posting of limited hours of service for the processing of U.S. passports.
By: Ross Dolan, The Daily Republic
Tempers flared unexpectedly Tuesday between the Davison County commissioners and Treasurer Brenda Veldheer over her posting of limited hours of service for the processing of U.S. passports.
A sign outside the Treasurer’s Office at the courthouse states passports will be processed from 8 to 11 a.m. and from 2 to 4 p.m. on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, or by appointment. The reduced hours were a surprise to the commissioners.
“Did I miss something?” Commission Chairman John Claggett asked his fellow commissioners during the first half-hour of the commission meeting, in the Commissioners’ Room at the courthouse.
The discussion that followed occurred prior to the commission’s handling of regular agenda business, but it was not on the agenda.
Commissioners Jerry Fischer and Gerald Weiss said they fielded telephone complaints from county residents about the limited passport hours.
“We’re supposed to be here from 8 to 5,” said Fischer. “As far as I’m concerned, it’s an injustice to our taxpayers.”
Veldheer bristled under the criticism.
“We can’t do passports after 4 p.m. Monday, and Friday we’re so busy. Doing passports has really burdened my office,” she said.
Veldheer never wanted to process passports in her office, she said, because her office was already sufficiently busy collecting taxes and handling auto registrations and county funds. The job was previously handled by the Register of Deeds, but new federal regulations no longer allow offices that handle birth and marriage documents to also handle passports. The post office also handles passport applications.
Veldheer said the passport service hours were posted after discussing the extra time demands of processing passports with her staff.
“Each one takes us about an hour to process,” she said. The U.S. passport application states that the “time burden” for filling out an application is 85 minutes.
“You just don’t stick up a sign,” Weiss said, annoyed at being “jumped” by a constituent. “I’m not trying to tell you to how to run your office …” he said to Veldheer.
“Yes you are, Gerry,” Veldheer shot back.
At that point, Claggett stepped in and tried to cool tempers.
“I am the one that runs my office,” said Veldheer, who is a publicly elected official, “and I feel my office’s job is to do titles and take taxes. A lot more people come in on lunch hours to do auto titles, and they’re the ones who want to be served.”
While three people were trained to process passports, two have since left the Treasurer’s Office, leaving only one staffer to handle the job.
Veldheer said the closest training is in Minneapolis, but she is investigating the possibility of online classes. The next local training in Mitchell won’t be until next summer, she said.
The matter is scheduled for further discussion next week.
With no names available for consideration, the commissioners acted to extend until Feb. 17 the deadline to accept applications for a District 1 commissioner.
Auditor Susan Kiepke said there have been inquiries, but no applications to date have been filed for the vacant seat of the late District 1 Commissioner David Weitala.
Weitala died Jan. 17 of a heart attack after shoveling snow. A commission candidate must be a resident of District 1 to be considered.
The boundaries of District 1 roughly comprise the southwestern part of the city of Mitchell.
The commissioners will review applications, interview and appoint a replacement commissioner. The person selected could then run for a full term in the November general election.
The commissioners, members of the Planning and Zoning Commission and Brian McGinnis, of Planning and Development District III, continued their review of a comprehensive review questionnaire that will be used to help update the county’s comprehensive plan.
“It’s clear to me, after reviewing this material, that your priorities are bridges and roads,” McGinnis said, summing up a two-hour review of the 33-page questionnaire. McGinnis said participation and the responses received on the working document “were excellent.”
“It’s time to get creative about finding money for roads and bridges,” he said.
What form that creativity will take remains to be seen. Pressing for an expanded wheel tax or more novel methods, such as local trucking licenses, were mentioned, but not discussed at length.
McGinnis said he will spend about a month researching and compiling some ideas in the report and doing background research.
He will then begin working with the Planning and Zoning Commission to develop a revised comprehensive plan.
The commissioners also:
• Approved the hire of part-time administrative assistant Andrea Bruske at the Highway Department at $11 an hour, until Feb. 21 when she will go on full-time status at the same pay rate.