Mendota Heights council seeks longevity in new city administrator

Larry Kruse
Larry Kruse
Mark McNeill
Mark McNeill

Finalists to be interviewed Jan. 29

After two city administrators in just five years left for larger organizations, the Mendota Heights City Council is hoping its next hire has staying power.

Two candidates with more than 60 years of collective experience in city management have made it to the final round of interviews for the position recently vacated by Justin Miller. After three years with Mendota Heights, Miller accepted an offer to fill the same role for the more populous Lakeville, starting Dec. 29.

The mayor and council will interview Thief River Falls city administrator Larry Kruse and Mark McNeill, most recently the Shakopee city administrator, for the position on Thursday, Jan. 29.

The city council is expected to select a new city administrator by mid-February.

City a stepping stone?

According to council member Liz Petschel, Mendota Heights’ past administrators have been “exceptional,” so exceptional other cities take notice, and “all of a sudden we don’t have a city administrator any more.”

“We are looking for someone who is interested in making a longer commitment to this job, instead of using it as a stepping stone,” she said.

As the chief administrative officer of the 11,000-person Twin Cities suburb that overlooks the Mississippi River Valley, the city administrator is responsible for day-to-day operations. He or she works with the mayor and council to help set the city’s overarching goals, and the council’s agendas, overseeing a staff of 50 regular employees, 36 volunteer firefighters and several contracted and seasonal employees, as well as monitoring the general fund, which was $6.6 million in 2014. The advertised salary range for the position was $115,000-$125,000.

Twenty-seven candidates initially applied for the position, according to interim city administrator Tamara Schutta.

Petschel and council member Steve Norton initially sifted through applications, narrowing the field to seven candidates. That subcommittee, along with Police Chief Mike Aschenbrener and Fire Chief John Maczko, interviewed the semifinalists, and two rose to the top.

“All four people who were interviewing [the applicants], and myself included, had the same top two during the interview process,” said Schutta, who did not apply for the position.

Petschel said candidates’ past experience and the goal of continuity were key to their decision.

“It’s very hard to be constantly changing administrators,” she said. “It seems that when we finally are on the same page and moving forward, we have to start all over again. I think the staff, the council and the residents would really like a little bit more permanency with that position.”

Petschel added that Kruse and McNeill are “incredibly experienced and talented.”

“The feedback we get [from] the people we know who work in other municipalities is these are two highly respected individuals,” she said. “We’re very fortunate to have them as finalists.”

Mayor Sandra Krebsbach said the council is hoping the next administrator will stick around for five-plus years.

“We have historically hired talent on the rise, knowing that they were probably going to be with us between three and five years,” she said.

She said she wants the next administrator to shepherd a long-term concept for the industrial park around Pilot Knob Road and Interstate 494, helping bring Mendota Heights into the future, while bolstering what Mendota Heights already has, such as the bluffs, and its proximity to the river, an international aiport, and the Mall of America.

The finalists

Kruse earned a master’s degree in business management at the College of St. Scholastica in Duluth, and a bachelor’s degree in business administration at Minnesota State University — Moorhead.

With 29 years in municipal management, Kruse has worked as the city administrator of Thief River Falls since January 2013. He served in the same role for Albertville from 2003 to 2012, Baxter from 1998-2003, Park Rapids from 1993-1998, and Red Lake Falls from 1986-1993.

McNeill earned a master’s degree in public affairs at the University of Iowa, and a bachelor’s degree in political science at the University of Northern Iowa in Cedar Falls.

He served as the Shakopee city administrator for more than 18 years, and in the same role for two years in Mason City, Iowa, and more than 10 years in Savage, starting in 1983.

McNeill was asked to resign from his job at Shakopee by a majority of the city council at a Dec. 3, 2014 meeting, a move that “sent shockwaves through the community,” according to a report in the Shakopee Valley News, which added that people connected with the city government “had no inkling such a move was being considered.”

Mayor Brad Tabke initially told the public he and the council simply wanted to “go a different direction for leadership in Shakopee and have asked for his resignation.”

However, in a post on “Moving Shakopee Forward,” his blog, Tabke said he regretted any confusion the move caused and the chatter it sparked in the city, indicating he wanted to see change at the city level faster than it was happening under McNeill.

“To move forward as a City of our size, we must have an organizational leader that functions more as a CEO ... [and] pushes for necessary changes,” he wrote.
Petschel pointed out it’s “not unusual” for a council and a city administrator to take different paths. She said multiple candidates in the running experienced a similar situation throughout their careers, and their pasts were addressed in the interview.

For instance, months after receiving a positive annual review in Albertville, Kruse was asked to resign in 2012, again, because the council wanted to go in a different direction, according to reports.

“City administrators serve at the will of the respective mayors and councils, and it’s not unusual for a council to choose to go in a certain direction that perhaps the city administrator can’t support,” Petschel said. “That’s the nature of doing business in our cities.”

Kaitlyn Roby can be reached at 651-748-7815 and kroby@lillienews.com. Follow her at twitter.com/KRobyNews.

 

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