Ramsey County hasn’t had a human resources director since March 19. The position of public works director has been vacant since May 6. The county’s communications director departed mid-May. Two more director-level departures happened Friday.
Overall, one-fifth of the county’s 25 department directors have left county employ this year or have indicated they plan to resign.
After less than five months on the job, Library Director Jake Grussing wrapped up work on Friday to return to his previous employer, Scott County, where he had been library director since 2014.
“After much contemplation and discussion with my family, I have decided to leave Ramsey County for a position with Scott County,” said Grussing in a July 21 email to the Ramsey County Library Board and others. “This is a unique opportunity for me to help establish and lead a new division there. My last day with Ramsey County will be August 5.”
On Friday, after more than three months on leave, Anne Barry officially exited her role as Ramsey County’s director of Social Services, which is the county’s largest and arguably most sensitive and wide-ranging.
Some have chalked up the spate of county departures to the “Great Resignation,” the term coined last year to describe sudden upheaval in the labor market throughout the pandemic. Retirements and departures across multiple industries have left employers scrambling to fill vacancies, creating new and higher-paying opportunities for employees to switch jobs or even try new careers. Those openings yawn even wider for top talent, and a grueling work pace for many government managers during the public health emergency that began unfolding in early 2020 has taken its toll.
At Ramsey County, circumstances around recent departures appear to vary widely.
CIRCUMSTANCES OF SOCIAL SERVICES LEADER’S DEPARTURE UNCLEAR
Social Services’ program areas range from child protection, foster care and childcare licensing to adult protection, mental health services, case management, and detox and chemical dependency services. The department touches everything from adoption to senior services, as well as pre-petition screenings for involuntary civil commitments.
Barry, who has run Social Services since June 2019, has been on leave since late April, when deputy county manager of Health and Wellness Kathy Hedin was appointed to oversee the department in her place. Barry joined the county on Dec. 1, 2016 when she was named director of St. Paul-Ramsey County Public Health.
The circumstances of Barry’s departure aren’t clear. On July 29, Hedin informed Social Services staff by email that Barry would not be returning and that she would begin the hiring process for her replacement in mid-August.
Asked if Barry had resigned, Interim Director of Communications Allison Winters indicated in an email this week that she was “unable to provide a response due to the data privacy restrictions of the Minnesota Government Data Practices Act.” Winters also declined to describe the nature of Barry’s leave, again citing the state’s Data Practices Act.
Winters confirmed the existence of five complaints against Barry in her personnel file, and said all the complaints were closed and there wasn’t additional public information. If there is disciplinary action taken against a public employee and it has reached the final disposition, information about the discipline and circumstances are public under state law.
Among Barry’s previous roles over the past 23 years, she worked under four governors as a deputy commissioner with the Minnesota Department of Human Services, a deputy commissioner with the Minnesota Department of Finance, and chief compliance officer for the state of Minnesota. She was the Minnesota Department of Health’s commissioner from 1995 to 1999.
Barry could not be reached for comment.
OTHER DIRECTORS WHO’VE LEFT
Among the other recent departures at Ramsey County:
- In September, Human Resources Director Gail Blackstone went on leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act. An investigation led by the J. Selmer Law firm in Minneapolis found widespread employee concerns within the department related to hostile work environment, pay inequities and negative or micro-managing treatment toward workers of color. Blackstone left county employ in March. Winters, the county spokeswoman, said the hiring process is complete and a new director will soon be announced.
- Appointed to lead Ramsey County Public Works in December 2017, Ted Schoenecker served in the role until early May, when he stepped down to return to his previous employer, the Minnesota Department of Transportation, as the assistant division director for state aid and statewide radio communications. Interviews for his replacement are underway.
- John Siqveland joined Ramsey County as its public communications director in 2014. Five years later, when the county consolidated its communications structure across departments and added new job titles, Siqveland was elevated to the role of director of communications and public relations. He stepped down in May to serve as communications director for the University of Minnesota’s Center for Transportation Studies. Applications for the county position have yet to open.
- Before joining Ramsey County as director of its suburban library system on March 14, Jake Grussing had been the director of the Scott County Library System, where he had worked since 2013. He recently announced his intention to return to Scott County, and his last day with Ramsey County was Friday.
Frederick Melo contributed to this report.