IRR showdown over new hire

CLARIFICATION: This post has been updated to reflect the nature of the position being discussed at Iron Range Resources. Officials describe the job as being “community development” rather than business recruitment. Thus I have moved this post up from the morning to allow people to see the new information.

The Mesabi Daily News reports on yesterday’s Iron Range Resources Board meeting in St. Paul. The official business included the granting of $4 million for capital mining projects by various Range taconite operations. The conflict, however, centered on Commissioner Sandy Layman’s plans to hire a community development official for the agency despite the sagging economy and state hiring freeze. The board seemed strongly opposed to such a move, summed up by this exchange between State Rep. Tony Sertich and Layman:

Even legislators’ staffs are taking cuts, House Majority Leader Tony Sertich, DFL-Chisholm, said, with many lawmakers only having part-time and seasonal assistants. Sertich suggested that the IRR use current employees to fill the responsibilities.

“People in state government have had to adapt and move with the times to take on more responsibilities, just like that’s happened in the private sector,” Sertich said. “I just would not feel good going home to see people who are laid-off at the mines, laid-off at the mills, losing their job on Main Street, and saying, ‘our state agency is hiring one more person.’”

Layman said the new hire, who would serve as a community liaison, was needed due to an increase in the IRR’s relationship with community development, rather than just economic development.

“I feel the timing is bad, the timing is bad,” she said. “I’m certainly in tune with the times, but I also know the work of the agency and what’s required, and we are going to be doing more work with community development.”

Layman is taking the board’s feedback under consideration. I think some skepticism is merited; we need to see how this position is different from past new positions created in the agency, many of which were costly with little results. It would be encouraging to have a point person to lead Range communities through shared development projects (sewers, schools and the like) but I’m not sure that’s exactly what this would be. To be continued…

FURTHER UPDATE: A source at the agency describes the position to me this way: “The community developer would be charged with managing and directing community interests such as community-based renewable energy projects, telecommunication advancement, and community infrastructure development.”

As you see in the comments, some have theorized that the real problem that the board has might have to do with the candidate or candidates that might be considered for this position. Not knowing the candidates at question I can’t speculate on that, but I can now see the value in the job as described. The core question now becomes do we need a new full time person or can existing agency staff place renewed effort on those goals? Goals, I might add, that are certainly shared here and among most members of the board that I know. To be further continued again …


  1. I think it’s unfair or inaccurate to call the new position a business recruitment position. If I read correctly, it was more along the stages of community planning.

    If it were for recruiting businesses to come to the Range, lawmakers might be more likely to support it.

    I’ll bet there’s more to this story, probably that the legislators don’t like whoever is the leading candidate for the job. I’m not kidding, either.

  2. Yes, but the position was originally billed as a recruiter which leaves me wondering exactly how this will all be set up. As I’ve said I think a community coordinator to line up all the local government units toward smart planning is a good idea. If that’s what this is, then huzzah from me.

    I must also admit I don’t know who the potential candidates would be. Your theory is plausible, though. I’d love know more.

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