Nathan Pelz, the veterans service officer of Wabasha County, emerged from three finalists in Goodhue County's search for a new VSO.

He received the highest rating from the interview panel and was offered the position Friday, June 7.

The three finalists considered were Pelz, Scott Fausch (currently a cyber security freelancer in Ohio) and Lance Garrick (owner of Computers on the Go in Red Wing).

Lisa Hanni, the county's land-use manager, told the panel after interviews were concluded around 2 p.m. June 4: "I think they were all really good candidates."

The panel comprised Scott Arneson, the county administrator; his administrative assistant, Andrea Benck; Jessica Ahbrecht and Melissa Cushing of the county's human resources department; James Miller, from the Minnesota Department of Veterans Affairs; Hanni; and County Commissioners Brad Anderson, Barney Nesseth and Paul Drotos.

The three finalists are all veterans, a requirement for the position, and all have worked in management positions in the private sector since their discharges. Pelz was the only one to have served as a VSO.

Pelz deployed to Iraq with the United States Army for two years. While in Iraq, he was in charge of six men and signed for millions of dollars worth of equipment. In the private sector, Pelz has worked as a youth minister. He's been a VSO for 11 years.

Goodhue County has not had a VSO since April 23 when Lyman "Robby" Robinson was placed on administrative leave one day after an undisclosed complaint was made against him. Robinson resigned effective May 2.

During the period between directors, the state of Minnesota has been helping in the county office once a week. Heidi Krause is the local office's administrative assistant.

Veterans speak

Veterans from around the county spoke about Goodhue County's Veterans Service Office and its staff during the June 4 County Board meeting, which convened about three hours or so after the interviews. The boardroom was filled with veterans and their families wishing to speak.

The agenda did not originally include a time for a public discussion. However, the board voted 3-1 to add the item, providing that speakers did not discuss personnel since the board was unable to discuss such matters in open session. Chairman Brad Anderson cast the lone vote against.

Steve Carol has driven veterans to the Minneapolis VA Medical Center since 2003. He told the board that in more than 1,000 trips he has not heard a discouraging remark about the county's office.

"Not one complaint on how the operations of the Goodhue County Veterans Service Office, how it's being run. Compassion, empathy, if there's questions the person knows who to call what to ask and usually the problems are taken care of," he said.

Ted Tapanila is also a driver. He read aloud a statement that included: "Recent and immediate departure of the veterans service officer under questionable circumstances left one person available and responsible. You brought in a service officer to help her one day a week, but she still did the interviewing, assessing the veterans' needs, and wasn't allowed to do the actual paperwork. We need a full-time veterans service officer who will correct the shadow of the past five years we have been under. The rest of it is censored."

Due to the board's inability to discuss personnel, county officials did not allow Tapanila to read several sections of his prepared remarks, including some that praised Krause. Many of the veterans in attendance were there to support Krause.

He gave a copy of his full remarks to the Republican Eagle.

"Heidi has done a compassionate and thorough job serving veterans," he wrote, noting she has been there for 19 years.

Krause is currently on medical leave, according to her Facebook page.