After 30 years in the Hall County’s Sheriff’s Department, Capt. Todd Bahensky is hanging up his badge.
Tuesday morning, the Hall County board unanimously appointed Bahensky as Hall County corrections director, a job he has been filling as interim director since September.
“I’m very pleased that it finally got to this point and that I was able to be appointed by a 7-0 vote,” Bahensky said. “It’s been a long process, a long road — I understand the process, it had to take place.”
The county board fired former Hall County Corrections Director Fred Ruiz and Assistant Director Jimmy Vann in August after longtime corrections Sgt. Debb Rea retired and brought forth concerns about jail management. The county board hired Omaha attorney Pam Bourne to conduct a jail investigation, the results of which led to the immediate firings of the jail’s administrative team.
The county then hired former Richardson County Sheriff Randy Houser as interim director, but he resigned after a week on the job.
Hall County Sheriff Jerry Watson then offered to give Bahensky six months leave from his role as patrol captain so the county would have a solid leader for the jail and the county could test Bahensky’s skill in the corrections position.
Bahensky said that time gave him great insight into how the jail is run on a day-to-day basis, the jail’s budget and working with the corrections officers’ union, which has a labor contract up for renewal in 2016.
Bahensky, who grew up in St. Paul and earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, started his career with Hall County in 1984 as a corrections officer when the jail was under the oversight of the Hall County sheriff. He was later promoted to deputy, then to sergeant and finally to his role as captain.
He said during interviews last week that returning to a corrections position has long been in the back of his mind and he had great interest in taking on the top leadership position for an organization, particularly after earning his master’s degree in management with an emphasis in leadership.
Bahensky said he plans to use his 30 years of law enforcement experience and his leadership knowledge to work with jail supervisors and officers to “get on the same page” and “work as a team.” He said there are unresolved issues and divides that developed over the past few years that need to be addressed.
“I’m in a better position to address some of those things now going forward, knowing that I’m going to be there and it’s not going to be somebody else down the road,” Bahensky said.
“There are so many things as interim I have hesitated to do because I can’t leave major changes in the organization to somebody else,” he said. “I can move forward and push those things a little bit more, as well as make some decisions that need to be made that I’ve had to hold back on.”
Chief among those delayed decisions is naming an assistant director. Bahensky said he will encourage internal candidates, as well as open the search to external candidates to “see what’s out there.”
“I’m extremely impressed with the talent that I have at my disposal there,” he said of the current jail staff. “I have what is necessary (in the staff), the knowledge and the skills, to run that facility the way it needs to be run, just need to get people focused a little bit more.”
Bahensky said he views the jail’s personnel issues as something that will require “ongoing” work.
“They are not insurmountable … but I will have to put a lot of effort into them and I’ll have to get the right people around me to help me fix those problems,” he said.
Bahensky said he feels that tension that existed between the former jail administration and local law enforcement has already eased since he took over five months ago.
“I’ve noticed just simply by doing nothing more than being there, it has changed,” he said. “I am going to reach out and continue that because there are things we can talk about — we all have the same issue, to keep the community safe.”
Grand Island Police Chief Steve Lamken, Sheriff Watson and Chris Kolb, the captain of the Troop C headquarters of the Nebraska State Patrol in Grand Island, had all written letters of support for Bahensky.
He said he will also continue regular talks with state officials regarding Hall County’s contract with the Nebraska Department of Corrections to house state inmates at the Hall County Jail. On Tuesday, 87 state inmates were part of the jail’s total inmate population of 222.
“That relationship is a good one and beneficial to both of us,” Bahensky said.
He also will continue the close working relationship with the Nebraska Crime Commission and regional representative Chris Harrifeld, who was the other finalist for the Hall County corrections director job. Harrifeld inspects county jails for compliance with Nebraska Jail Standards and had recently certified the Hall County Jail as being in compliance with the federal Prison Rape Elimination Act.
As for turning over his deputy’s badge, Bahensky said that will be a bit difficult.
“I’ve worked with a lot of great people over there and that’s going to be tough, but they’ve been supportive of me through this and I think going forward it’s the right move for me and … the right move for everybody,” he said.
Watson said he was willing to support Bahensky because he’s a good listener, a good leader and had been pursuing other leadership opportunities, so the sheriff knew it was just a matter of time before Bahensky moved on to another role.
“The loss to the Sheriff’s Department is a great loss,” Watson said. “But it’s a gain to the law enforcement community as a whole and to the community as a whole to have Todd where he’s at.”
The appointment came rather quickly and almost unexpectedly on the county board agenda Tuesday. The board heard Bahensky’s regular director’s report, then recessed to a 15-minute closed door meeting to discuss the background checks of the corrections director finalists.
The board’s next item of business after the closed session was to discuss and set the correction director’s salary and then to discuss and hire a new corrections director.
Instead, when the board came out of closed session, Supervisor Gary Quandt made a motion to appoint Bahensky at the interim director’s salary of $106,724. The board voted 7-0 without any discussion or comments about Bahensky.
Following the vote, the board made no comments to Bahensky, but later took a break during which individual board members shook hands with Bahensky and congratulated him on the appointment.
Supervisor Steve Schuppan congratulated him while saying he hadn’t meant to “be a hard ass” by making Bahensky go through the five-month selection process.
For the record
In other action Tuesday, the county board:
— Approved an interlocal agreement with Wood River, Cairo, Alda and Doniphan to re-establish the county building inspector. Vote was 6-0 as Supervisor Jane Richardson left the meeting early.
— Set a 10:30 a.m. Feb. 23 public hearing for the possible elimination of the township form of government.
— Met in closed session with Hall County Attorney Jack Zitterkopf and Hall County Public Works Director Casey Sherlock regarding real estate.
— Approved the use of county roads for the April 9 Eagle Spirit duathlon hosted by the Grand Island YMCA that starts and ends at Eagle Scout Lake and includes Highway 281, Chapman Road, Sky Park Road and Airport Road. Public Works Director Casey Sherlock said Airport Road was recently designated as a truck route, but the race is scheduled for a Saturday morning, so truck traffic is expected to be less than on a weekday.
— Renewed five-year conditional use permits for a Mid-Nebraska Disposal yard waste site at 13th St. between 60th and 70th roads and for a Pappas Telecasting telecommunications tower at 12100 W. Rainforth Road in Wood River.
— Accepted a $94,900 bid from Mid-Plains Construction to flatten floors and do sewer work at the courthouse annex. The lone bid exceeds the $50,000 budget line item, so the bid was referred to the Facilities Committee for study and review.
— Opened bids for 2016 loaders from Murphy Tractor, NMC Caterpillar and Road Builders. The budget is $350,000 and bids were referred to the Public Works committee.
— Approved committee assignments for 2016.
— Recommended Grand Island/Hall County Emergency Management Director Jon Rosenlund and Adams County Emergency Management Director Chip Volcek to the Nebraska Regional Interoperability Network board of directors.