Group grills conservation board on new hire



MONTROSE – A group of about 25 Lee County residents voiced concern over the recent hire of a Newton parks superintendent to take over as the Lee County Conservation Director.

Current Director Tom Buckley will be retiring in June and many in the room thought that Rick Tebbs, an employee with the conservation department, would be in line for the promotion. The board instead hired Nathan Unsworth, the former administration superintendent with the Newton, Iowa Parks and City Grounds Department.

Many of the group took time to ask questions as to why Tebbs, who most in the room thought was being led to believe he was being groomed for Buckley’s position, didn’t get the job.

“It’s my understanding that he’s been counseled over the years that if he ever wanted this job to do A, B, and C he would get the job and it appears from his resume that’s what he’s done. And I would just like to know why someone who’s busted his knuckles doing his job didn’t get the job. If it’s sour grapes I’m not looking for that but I’d like to know why wouldn’t he have gotten that job. I think it’s a fair question to ask,” said Jim Noll.

Harry Sylvester, chairman of the Lee County Conservation Board, said the board spent hours going through 31 applications at the start. Then the board narrowed down the applicants to five that were interviewed by the board and then the board cut it down to three. Sylvester said that Tebbs was a part of the final three.

“This is no slam to Rick in anyway. We know what we’ve got with Rick. It was just some qualifications were better and we went with what we thought was best,” Sylvester said. “In my opinion what I saw him lacking if anything was supervising people…was one of the things.”

Several members of the group asked if the board would be willing to talk about what qualifications the other candidate had. Sylvester said the board would not be at liberty to release information from the other resumes.

“I voted for Rick for the things he has done and because of union. We have Nathan I think, I don’t know if that’s approved, but I will support Nathan,” said Sandra Nullhart-Snyer.

Earl Stuekerjuergen, a Lee County businessman and representative of Whitetails Unlimited said his disappointment would hit the board in the budget.

“You all know who I am and I’ve given you $12,000 in the past two years from our organization. Rick has brought in more grants to Lee County than all you people at that table combined. I’m so disappointed in this board,” Stuekerjuergen said. “I gave you a verbal commitment to give you all our profit for five years. That’s rescinded point blank. It’s just ridiculous that Rick didn’t get this job. End of story. Thank you.”

Unsworth, who was present at the meeting, was given an opportunity to address the group and gave his qualifications from Newton and said he wasn’t taking offense to the remarks of the group,

Tom Buckley told the group that the job posting was listed in local papers and in statewide park and conservation publications and websites.

It’s our job to the best we can for the county,” Sylvester said. “By law we have to do it the way we did it to get the applications. We spent a lot of time and discussion on this and this is our decision.”

Stuekerjuergen told the board Tebbs’ ability to bring grants to the board speaks to his leadership.

“If you don’t think that shows leadership you are just wrong,” Stuekerjuergen said.

Sylvester told Stuekerjuergen that the position wasn’t for sale and the board was doing the best for the county.

Buckley said he did write a recommendation for the board to hire Tebbs.

Lee County resident Dick Fehseke asked if the letter of recommendation was submitted to the board and also asked that the letter be made part of the minutes of Tuesday’s meeting and then read the last two paragraphs of Buckley’s letter.

“I would recommend Rick for the position opening. His knowledge, experience, and skills in this area are as complete as anyone with which I have had the pleasure of working.” Fehseke said the letter stated.

Fehseke then asked if the board had read all letters of support from the community and two of the board members had read all the letters and two had not.

Sylvester said he had made a statement about two of the employees who were hired from outside the area that brought a lot of knowledge and skill to the conservation department. Noll said it was a disservice to Tebbs and the taxpayers, as well, for the board to only read a portion of the letters that were submitted.

“I think too many people thought I was going to be the next director and everyone assumed it was a done deal and they just don’t understand the system,” Tebbs said when contacted Tuesday night.

Tebbs said Buckley told him the board wanted him to go through the Lee County Leadership program as well as a non-profit management course, which Tebbs said he is just finishing up.

“If the board made a decision, I guess, even though I thought that the training they were sending me to was for me to take that position, I look forward to working with him and for the betterment of Lee County Conservation,” he said.

“The programs are great, don’t get me wrong. The idea is networking and moving Lee County forward. The programs are wonderful and allowed me to meet a lot of people. But if they were thinking differently, why did they put me through 60 hours of that. It’s confusing, but hey if Nathan’s the man for the job, I’m going to work with him.”

After the meeting, Fehseke said the group was trying to gather facts.

“We had hoped for an explanation and I don’t think that was satisfactory. We feel that’s all a setup basically. I think the sad part is that he’s been made promises over the years,” said Fehseke.

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