By Patrick Winderl/Havre Daily Newsfirstname.lastname@example.org
The Montana State University-Bozeman Extension Service has decided not to renew the contract of Hill County Extension agent Clay Sewell.
Sewell's contract expires in June, though Sewell said Wednesday will be his last day. He will be on paid leave until the contract expires.
The Extension Service has 53 county agents, with one agent in most of Montana's 56 counties. The Extension agents are signed to one-year contracts. Although the agents work closely with county officials, they hold educational positions and are paid by the university.
Sewell, speaking from his home in Havre on Thursday after undergoing back surgery this week, said he was not sure why his contract was not renewed.
"They called it a no-fault non-renewal," he said. "It was a bad deal all the way around."
MSU-Bozeman Extension Service personnel director Mary Zartman said the contract cancellation resulted from an "administrative decision."
Zartman declined to elaborate, and said that all personnel issues are confidential.
Sewell, who has been praised for his work with local 4-H groups and participation in youth and agricultural events, said he originally believed the contract would be extended.
"I wouldn't have moved to Havre and started a family if I thought they would cancel it," he said.
A native of New Mexico, Sewell said he plans to return to school to earn a master's degree in education from New Mexico State University. He and his wife plan to leave Havre within a month.
Sewell said the community has been very supportive of his work.
"I appreciate everything everyone has done. It was great," he said. "We liked it here. It's unfortunate. The people of Hill County didn't deserve it."
Zartman said she believed Sewell was the only Extension agent in Montana whose contract was not renewed, but that "a number of people have retired from the service" this year.
Zartman said replacing Sewell is an immediate goal for the Extension Service and that the replacement would be selected internally.
"We're kind of waiting till the last minute," she said. "Our intent is to fill it, but we just need to see what our budget is going to be."
Hill County Commissioner Kathy Bessette said the Extension Service has promised not to leave the Havre position vacant.
The county played no role in the decision not to renew Sewell's contract, she added. Bessette said she could not comment on the reason for the decision, and referred all inquiries to Zartman.
The nonrewal of Sewell's contract has provoked several letters to the editor.
Hill County 4-H Queen Mandy Rambo said in a letter that Sewell has "accomplished many things" since his arrival last spring. She credited Sewell with single-handedly reinstating a shooting program for local 4-H groups, and praised his participation in youth activities.
"Clay is a great, hardworking man," she said. "It would be a large loss for Hill County 4-H, and for Hill County Extension as a whole if (he) were to leave."
Rambo could not be reached for comment today.
Hill County has one other Extension agent, Jennifer Wells.
According to MSU-Bozeman's Web Site, the purpose of the Extension Service is to provide an "educational resource dedicated to improving the quality of people's lives by providing research-based knowledge to strengthen the social, economic and environmental well-being of families, communities and agricultural enterprises."