(ANOKA) – Anoka County Commissioners appointed Commission Chair Rhonda Sivarajah as the new county administrator at Tuesday’s meeting.
In a 4-2 vote, commissioners named Sivarajah, who represents District 6, to take over for retiring administrator Jerry Soma.
Soma announced his departure earlier this year. Not long after, Sivarajah publicly expressed her interest in taking over his job, and several fellow commissioners–notably Vice Chair Scott Schulte and Commissioner Robyn West–voiced their support for the move. At the March 26 meeting, opposition from Commissioners Mandy Meisner and Mike Gamache primarily, resulted in a rare 3-3 stalemate over a vote to name Sivarajah as administrator. The opposition from Meisner and Gamache centered around not just handing the job to Sivarajah, and opening up the search to a wider pool of candidates.
After a work session in early April, the six commissioners excluding Sivarajah had a work session to hash out differences and agreed to open the job up to any county employees and elected officials and former or retired county employees from the last five years. That process netted a handful of finalists who interviewed with a subcommittee consisting of Gamache, Schulte, and West. The resulting scores still produced Sivarajah as the best candidate. Gamache said publicly before the meeting he would not support it.
At the meeting, Meisner reiterated her feelings that simply appointing Sivarajah was not the best move for Minnesota’s fourth-largest county.
“The top elected official does not and should not necessarily and automatically qualify (someone) to have the top staff position,” said Meisner. “This, as I said, does not quite pass the smell test.”
Commissioner Matt Look, who voted in favor of Sivarajah’s appointment, pushed back against Meisner’s comments.
“Did we all win? No. We didn’t necessarily all win on all of our topics,” said the District 1 representative, apparently in reference to the work session after the initial stalemate. “But we all didn’t lose, either. That’s what consensus is. You compromise and you come to an agreeable outcome. And we did that.”
According to a county press release, Sivarajah has been a member of the Anoka County Board of Commissioners since 2003. She has been board chair since 2011. Prior to that, she worked for the county for more than 12 years.
“I’m honored to be transitioning into this new role at Anoka County,” Sivarajah said in the press release. “During my time in the county, both as an employee and a county commissioner, I’ve come to
learn a great deal about how the county operates, and I’m prepared to use that knowledge as county administrator. We have an incredible team of county commissioners and talented county staff,
and I look forward to working with them as we serve the public in a respectful, innovative and fiscally responsible manner.”
At its next meeting the commissioners likely will vote on the terms of Sivarajah’s new contract.
As for the seat she’ll leave behind, representing District 6 (far eastern portion of Anoka County, including Circle Pines, Lexington, Centerville, Lino Lakes, and Columbus), there will be a special election to fill her seat. According to county officials, the candidate filing period will be July 30-August 13. If more than two people file, then the special primary election will take place on Election Day, November 5. Then the special election will happen on February 11, 2020. If only two file, then the special election will happen on Election Day.