Leelanau News and Events

Leelanau County Administrator Deb Allen To Step Down

By Craig Manning | Feb. 8, 2024

Just 14 months after stepping into the role of Leelanau County administrator, Deborah Allen is leaving the county.

The development emerged on Thursday, during what proved to be an extremely busy day of meetings for county commissioners.

First, at a finance committee meeting held at 9:30am, Committee Chair Douglas Rexroat recommended changing the administrative structure of the county so that the administrator position would become a joint “administrator/CFO” role. Approval of that idea – first by the three-member finance committee, and later by the full board of commissioners – kicked off a chain reaction that ended with commissioners also approving a separation agreement with Allen. Specific details of that agreement, including a departure date, or whether Allen will receive any form of severance payment – were hashed out in closed session and were not shared with the public.

The change to Leelanau County’s administrative structure – and, by extension, the departure of Allen as administrator – relates back to the county’s ongoing troubles in establishing standalone finance and human resources departments. Those functions were both formerly housed within the county clerk’s office, but were formally split off from that department back in 2021. Since then, the finance department especially has been plagued with problems, including a revolving door of finance directors. Currently, former deputy clerk Cathy Hartesvelt is serving as interim finance director. That role, as well as the administrator, both report directly to the board of commissioners.

“We need to try something different,” Rexroat told his two fellow finance committee members – Ty Wessell and Melinda Lautner – when introducing his proposal for a revamped administrative structure. “I do not believe that the best long-term solution is to have two direct reports to the board of commissioners. Although this is the interim plan implemented for this transition, I do not believe it provides for the best governance of Leelanau County in the long term. I propose that a long-term plan consist of an administrator/CFO, with a finance department that reports to that position. This position would require both administrative and deep financial experience.”

“I have had conversations with Administrator Allen in this matter, and to her credit – and as a testament to her character – she has stated she would do what is in the best interest of Leelanau County and its residents and taxpayers,” Rexroat continued, intimating that Allen would step down from her position if the county did decide to create an administrator/CFO position.

Allen confirmed that implication at the finance committee meeting Thursday morning, concurring with Rexroat that “there needs to be a change for things to move forward” and stating she was willing to step aside to allow that change to occur.

“I’ve said that multiple times to the board members, that if I’m not the right person to lead this, then I want to be part of an opportunity for change,” Allen explained.

“I wanted to commend the administrator,” Wessell added. “We’ve had the discussion before, and she really wants us to do what’s best for the county. I like one direct report; I do not like two direct reports.” Wessell had previously told the Leelanau Ticker that Leelanau might consider an administrator/CFO structure – something he said “about a third of the counties in Michigan” already have.

The three finance committee members ultimately voted unanimously to recommend Rexroat’s proposal to the rest of the board. That recommendation occurred at a special session of the board of commissioners, which took place at 2pm on Thursday afternoon. (In between the two meetings, commissioners attended a board governance workshop led by former administrator Chet Janik.)

At the special meeting, Rexroat relayed the discussions from that morning’s finance committee meeting and re-read his proposal concerning the administrative structure shift. After voting in favor of the proposal, the board entered closed session to discuss what had been identified in meeting agenda documents as “Written Attorney/Client Privilege Re: Administrative Structure.”

Following the half-hour closed session, Rexroat moved that the board “approve the separation agreement with Administrator Allen as presented by counsel, and then authorize Chairman Wessell to draft a letter of support and recommendation for Administrator Allen.” That motion passed 5-1, with Commissioner Kama Ross absent and Commissioner James O’Rourke opposed.

The meeting adjourned shortly thereafter, with no further discussion about the contents of Allen’s separation agreement or about what the next steps will look like for finding her successor.

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