PUTNAM COUNTY — Shortly after 9 a.m. on Thursday, Jan. 3, the county’s three commissioners undertook the first order of business for the new year, eliminating the position of County Administrator, the highest non-elected position in the county, held until that moment by Jackson Betscher.

The vote was 2-1, with newly elected Commissioner John Schlumbohm joining Michael Lammers in voting to eliminate the position, and Vince Schroeder voting against the motion.

The county begins the year in a healthy state. Sales tax collection has mostly grown throughout the year, indicating a strong local economy. The county holds no debt. Funding sources for capital projects, such as the rehabilitation of the courthouse roof and elevator have already been secured. Although challenges remain, as they always do, the ship, to borrow a metaphor, is sailing smoothly. So, why the sudden shift in operations?

“I voted no,” Commissioner Vince Schroeder said. “I see it as a necessary thing, the Administrator’s office. Because we rely on him a lot, like with this letter to the village.”

With this, Schroeder is referencing a letter sent by the county to the Ohio EPA regarding water operations performed in conjunction with the Village of Ottawa. Just prior to this discussion, Ottawa Mayor, Dean Meyer, had stopped by the commissioner’s office to discuss the issue after receiving an emailed copy from Betscher. Facilitating such communication between area officials, elected and administrative, was one of Betscher’s more minor tasks.

“I hope it is a smooth [transition],” Schroeder continued. “And, we’ll do the best we can. But, I saw quite a bit of things that the county benefited from too. It’s going to be kind of hectic fulfilling the duties of that position. Getting enough staff to make sure the necessities get completed.”

“Being the new guy on board, I struggled with it.” Commissioner Schlumbohm then said, offering his reasoning. “I listened to both of my [fellow commissioners] to try and collect data on it. I’m willing to give it a try. I think we, as county commissioners, probably need to step up to the plate as much as anybody does to take on some of the tasks that [Betscher] was doing. And, I think that our staff can pick up some more of those duties.”

Schlumbohm paused briefly and then added, “The position can be brought back.”

Of Ohio’s 88 counties, approximately 55 do not have an Administrator, including Hancock, Paulding, and Henry counties, all of which border Putnam. Van Wert County does have a full-time Administrator. Allen County has one as well, though she is currently on medical leave. A number of other counties also have an Administrator that serves in a dual role, such as county clerk. When Betscher was most recently hired by the county, he was initially part-time as well.

While not entirely unusual for a county to not have an administrator, that manner of the change in Putnam was very sudden. This past Monday, Dec. 31, during its final session of the previous year, the county commissioners passed a budget that included the Administrator’s position. Indicating that there was no expectation that eliminating the position would occur in just a few short days.

At the very least, that was not the expectation of the outgoing Commissioner John Love, who cast one of his last votes in favor of that budget. When asked, Love indicated the change had come as a complete surprise to him, and that there had been no discussion during regular meetings regarding eliminating the administrator’s position.

“I always felt that he was really a positive influence in the office,” Love said when speaking later. “I considered him as part of our administrative team. Because with commissioners only being there so many days a week, you need a constant in there.”

“Granted, the three clerk’s that we have, [they’re] excellent. I just want to commend the past and the present ones for the job they did. They kept us on point. But, at the same time, there are just some times that you need a person there that can deal with carrying out some of the things that the commissioners want brought to [other] elected officials and the different department heads.

“That’s the person that ends up being the messenger. Even though the message is coming from the commissioners, that’s the person that’s delivering it. And, that sometimes creates issues between the elected official and the department head and maybe the commissioners. But, at the same time, we would try to work those things out.

“One of the key things that I’ve always seen in an administrator, and Jack was excellent at this too, is budget preparation. Working with the different department heads and the elected officials in trying to figure out what their needs were, what their wants were, and being to help split that pie up. So that their ‘needs,’ at least partially, were met, and sometimes their ‘wants’ were met too.

“Jack had a key way of getting that done. Not everybody was completely happy all of the time. But also, sitting as a commissioner and understanding our obligation to oversee budget, if we both go out of there having lost a little skin in the game, that’s good negotiation as far as I’m concerned, and compromise.”

The Sentinel also spoke with the person tasked with keeping close watch on how the county spends its money, Auditor Robert Benroth.

“He represented the commissioners and we worked well with him.” Benroth said, adding, “I appreciate [the commissioner’s] right to have whoever they want work for them. I respect that right. We’ll work hard to make sure nothing gets missed, and to make things work.”

The question of how things will now work was posed to the three commissioners. Their role is considered part-time, with business conducted on Tuesdays and Thursdays. What about the other three days? What happens when a department head needs further clarity, direction, or a question answered on a Monday, Wednesday, or a Friday?

“[Current County Clerk] Cindy Landwehr is going [into a role] similar to an Office Manager’s position,” Lammers answered. “So, anything will be directed to her. And, we’re available.”

“I’ll give my cell phone number to any of them,” added Schlumbohm.

“In today’s day and age with communications,” Lammers continued. “It was my intention to streamline those communications by giving [the commissioners] more direct access to information and also saving the taxpayers money. As Vince and John stipulated, if it doesn’t work, we can re-establish that position.”

When speaking later with the now-former Administrator, Betscher was asked if this change and the elimination of his position came as a surprise. In response, he quietly offered a straightforward and somewhat pained, “Yes.”

Betscher provided no further comment, except to say, “I will miss working with a lot of good people.”

(This article has been updated from its original version first published online on Friday. Jan. 4)