Mike Beneke’s anger with how the county is maintaining roads didn’t boil over Monday as it did last week, but he brought along friends to keep the debate simmering.
Beneke, along with Fred Carlson and Dan Dalke of Hillsboro, and Jim Bernhardt, Don Stenzel, and Ed Vinduska of Marion, spent nearly 30 minutes expressing concerns about maintenance and the seemingly abrupt firing of a 34-year veteran road employee.
Commissioners declined to discuss personnel issues involved in firing grader operator Galen Youk, but said they would listen as long as the speakers understood, as chairman Dan Holub put it, that “decibels and profanity will not make your case.”
Youk, who was allegedly fired in the middle of a work shift, was characterized by Beneke as “an excellent person.”
“He has given 34 years of highly dedicated service to his section,” Beneke said. “To be treated as he was was a total disgrace. If he didn’t complete a direct order, he shouldn’t have been thrown out that way. Galen should have been sent happily to retirement.”
Beneke said road superintendent Randy Crawford had been unresponsive to concerns about conditions of roads and procedures used to maintain them.
“Every mile has a safety issue,” he said. “Most of them just need a little maintenance.”
Beneke said a culvert near his home, about which he had expressed concern last week, still had not been cleared.
He criticized Crawford, who was not present Monday, for interrupting his original presentation last week and questioned Crawford’s management style.
“He’s probably a damned good operator of a backhoe machine,” Beneke said, “but that still doesn’t excuse why the road wasn’t made passable after the floodwater.
“Military discipline has no place in civilian employment. We appreciate his service. [Crawford is a former Marine.] But that mentality or discipline has no place in Marion County employment.”
Crawford was not present for their discussion but had been summoned to a closed-door meeting with his deputy, commissioners, and the county clerk before they arrived.
Commissioners also had a previous closed-door session with the clerk. All were to discuss personnel performance issues.
Beneke told the commission board he was planning to come back with additional results every week until something changed.
“Do we need this forum? I think we do,” Beneke said. “I think there can be some very good ideas coming out of this.”
Bernhardt echoed Beneke’s concerns.
“Every grader operator we’ve talked to, their hands are tied,” he said.
Dalke, who retired after 15 years with the road and bridge department, said employees used to be designated to certain sections of the county.
“What they’re doing now is not what I was taught,” Dalke said. “They aren’t proud of their section. They don’t know what their job is.”
Dalke said that he went through Goldenrod Rd. a couple weeks ago and barely got through on full drive. He also traveled on Eagle Rd. between 170th and 180th Rds. and could not make it through.
Carlson, Vinduska, and Stengel also discussed road maintenance and Youk’s firing.
“I can’t figure out why they got rid of a man that everyone in his section liked,” Carlson said.
Vinduska questioned whether new procedures used by the road department were, in fact, better.
“If this is the way to go,” he said, “why isn’t it getting better?”
After the speakers had left, commissioner Lori Lalouette cited Kansas University Transportation Center’s website, which she said indicated that new factors, including vehicle weight, had necessitated new maintenance procedures.
“These things come from the federal highway administration and KDOT,” Lalouette said. “They do training as well.
“Things have changed over the last 25, 30 years,” she said. “A lot that has to do with vehicles breaking down the roads.
“I’ll defend Randy, absolutely. I’ve heard him talk about this stuff for years.”
As the newspaper was going to press Tuesday evening, Lalouette emailed two staff members a six-page, single-spaced summary of her research, drawn from state publications, about best practices for maintaining gravel roads.
“While it’s my understanding that Randy did not read or utilize these materials while employed at MN County, he simply knew these principles from his own training/experience,” she wrote. “Larry Cushenbery located these on the web and implemented into his recent training, stating that it was like Randy wrote the instruction manual himself.
“I too, located this information independently and learned of Larry’s use of these materials when speaking to him.”
She wrote in her email that Crawford, Cushenbery, and his other supervisor, Jesse Hamm, “do not give the employees contradictory directions.”
“One change people should see with the additional of Larry Cushenbery to the management team is management being one cohesive unit and the superintendent and two supervisors working together for one common goal and providing consistent instructions and guidance.”
She included the full text of nine state or scholarly reports, portions of which she had highlighted, and stated that she might write a letter to editor “to clarify many issue(s) and provide a larger overview of the issues.”