After eight years commanding the center seat in the Anoka County Board room, Rhonda Sivarajah stepped down as board chairwoman Tuesday in a meeting rife with leadership changes.
She isn’t going far. In two weeks, Sivarajah will slide to the end of the dais and take the seat of retiring County Administrator Jerry Soma.
Her board colleagues voted Tuesday to approve her contract, completing an unusual bid to move from sitting commissioner to the county’s top administrator that spurred an uncommon stalemate on the board and resulted in an internal search for Soma’s successor.
The board approved a salary for Sivarajah of nearly $165,000 and a start date of June 12 after debating the details of her contract at a separate work session last week. Anoka County commissioners earn about $69,500.
Commissioners voted 4-2 earlier this month to appoint her to the position. Sivarajah abstained from both votes.
The new county administrator said she’s up for the new challenge, citing her experience as a county financial worker and supervisor before being elected as a commissioner 17 years ago to represent the county’s east side.
“I’ve got nearly 29 years of experience at Anoka County. That has been my entire career,” said Sivarajah, 53. “I’m just very excited about the opportunity to be able to continue to serve Anoka County in a different way.”
Commissioner Mandy Meisner said at Tuesday’s meeting that she pushed for a contract clause that would have prohibited Sivarajah from participating in any political activity related to Anoka County offices.
Meisner raised her concerns over Sivarajah’s new role in light of her “history of political activity as a Republican candidate.” Sivarajah is a former Republican congressional candidate and also once ran for lieutenant governor.
That language was dropped from the final contract, but Sivarajah said she would have supported the board’s decision either way.
“I’m not going to be involved in county commissioner races,” Sivarajah said. “That would be foolish of me.”
After Sivarajah resigned as chairwoman Tuesday, Commissioner Scott Schulte also stepped down as vice chairman. A bit of musical chairs followed, with the board opting to elect Schulte as Sivarajah’s replacement, moving him down to the center seat.
“I will do my level best to hold a candle to Commissioner Sivarajah’s leadership,” Schulte said.
The board then voted 6-1 to name Commissioner Julie Braastad as vice chairwoman, with Meisner dissenting.
A special election will be held to fill the Sixth District seat for the remainder of Sivarajah’s term, which ends in January 2021. Filing for the position opens July 30.
Hannah Covington • 612-673-4751