CNCounty News

Iowa county IT managers assist counties without in-house staff

Joel Rohne (first on the left) poses with the Iowa county IT managers who helped Montgomery County assess its technology needs.

Key Takeaways

Joel Rohne is part country doctor, part posse leader. He just happens to work in information technology.

Rohne coordinates a team of county IT leaders through the Iowa State Association of Counties (ISAC), where he is program manager for the year-old technology service bureau. When a county asks for help, he rounds up a bunch of county IT personnel and takes them on a house call.

“It’s really fun, too, because we get to interact a little bit more and help counties who mostly have no idea what exactly they need,” he said.

“A lot of the times they don’t have the expertise to suss out exactly what they need or should be looking for,” in terms of IT support.

The bulk of Iowa’s 99 counties tend to be smaller, and most had contracted out their IT work, at least until Rohne and company got to work. In the past few years, mainly while he was the IT and GIS director for Worth County, he led assessments for 40 counties and has helped 13 counties hire in-house IT staff.

A two-day visit allows the team to review all the county departments’ needs and talk to all department heads to determine the scope of the county’s needs.

And to determine a personality profile to match IT personnel with the county.

“The thing we stress with the counties is to hire somebody who fits your county,” Rohne said.

“There was one county where we interviewed a candidate and he was amazing. He was off the chart technology-skills-wise, but was just an arrogant person, and we knew it wouldn’t work.

They hired an applicant who didn’t have much server experience but did have great communication skills and would fit in with the community and the organization.”

The process also brings newer IT professionals into the ISAC network, which benefits the entire organization.

“The assessment is also a way of developing a mentoring relationship,” Rohne said. “We’ll bring some of those younger IT directors into the assessment process, they get to work with the old dogs and we end up networking a good bit.”

Shelby County benefited from an assessment.

“We were falling behind in terms of technology,” said Steve Kenkel, chairman of the Shelby County Board of Supervisors.

“We were just being reactive to get through the days and not being proactive, building for the future.”

Kenkel was a skeptic early on, though. He figured the amount of responsibility related to IT management wouldn’t add up to a workload worthy of adding another full-time employee to the county’s 90-strong workforce, and a an outside contract for the county would be the best division of labor.

“I wanted to make sure an IT director would be kept busy, but we also knew we needed performance to improve,” he said.

The assessment also threaded a needle, with the contract renewal coming soon.

If the county moved ahead hiring in-house, it would have to be fast to ensure the continuity of services.

The bulk of Shelby County’s IT work comes from supporting the emergency management department, but the growing needs in other departments put the assessment over the top, and the Board of Supervisors decided to hire an IT director.

“They helped write the job description just the way we needed it, they helped with the interview process, and the audit report helped us set priorities and a a road map for the next three-to-five years,” Kunkel said.

“The best part was, they found someone who was living locally, he was married to a woman from Shelby County, so it’s someone we feel confident wants to stay in the community and be a part of what we’re building here,” he said.

“He’s got a great personality, he doesn’t get rattled and he reads people well.”

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