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Larry Kleindl has been selected to take over the county's top unelected position upon the retirement of Wayne Thompson

WILLMAR -- Larry Kleindl, director of the Kandiyohi County Family Services Department, will take over the county's top unelected position sometime this year. Kleindl will replace Wayne Thompson, who's been the Kandiyohi County Administrator for 28 years.

Kleindl, 44, was hired as a family services supervisor for the county in 1994. He's held the director's position since 2001.

After quietly carrying around the news for nearly two months, Kandiyohi County Board Chairman Dean Shuck said Wednesday it was time to go public with the board's decision to hire Kleindl to replace Thompson.

Thompson, 57, had said in November he intends to retire this year. The county commissioners have not held any public meetings on the issue of replacing Thompson and have not taken a formal vote on hiring Kleindl. That will probably happen in July or August, after Thompson officially hands in his resignation.

Thompson said he's had numerous one-on-one conversations with the commissioners about who would replace him.

"Each time it kept coming back to Larry," Thompson said during an interview in his office Wednesday.

He said the commissioners decided not to advertise for candidates for the job and did not post it internally. There are still a number of steps to take before Kleindl is officially hired, including settling on a salary. Thompson's current salary is $116,667 -- $137,069 with benefits. Kleindl's current salary is $83,828 -- $102,483 with benefits.

With Kleindl's good track record as family services director, Shuck said it made sense to hire someone from within the county's ranks rather than look at county administrators from other counties.

Shuck said the only objection some of the commissioners had about hiring Kleindl as administrator was losing him as the family services director. "And that wasn't fair to Larry," Shuck said.

Word had been leaking out that Kleindl was expected to be promoted, but when asked if they'd decided who was going to replace Thompson, the commissioners would shy away from answering. Shuck said he was growing more and more uncomfortable with that situation and said now was as good a time as any to make an announcement.

"There were so many rumors going around," Thompson said. He said he sat down with the family service supervisors about a month ago and told them that Kleindl was expected to be named as the new administrator.

"It's been out there and it's been a little awkward at times," Kleindl said.

Thompson said Kleindl has qualities that will make him a good county administrator. "You need to have an administrator that's not a micro-manager," Thompson said, and one who helps supervisors do their jobs instead of dictating how they should do their job. He said employees and department heads will feel comfortable coming to Kleindl.

"I'm excited," said Kleindl, who was raised in Graceville and is a 1983 graduate of Moorhead State University with a degree in family service and corrections.

"There are a lot of opportunities here. It's a county that's growing."

He said he's eager to continue working with the county commissioners. "They're active," he said, and they treat employees "with respect."

Kleindl said he talked to colleagues, including other former family service directors who had taken county administrator jobs, to weigh the pros and cons of making the transition. "I did do some homework."

He said he loves his job in family services and will miss working with people. Thompson assured Kleindl that "90 percent" of the county administrator's job involves talking with people.

Kleindl said he has some ideas about potential changes, including holding more department head meetings -- which will help him get to know the staff and county issues. Upcoming retirements will also present opportunities for restructuring some departments.

His main concern about taking the job is filling Thompson's "big shoes."

Thompson has already begun showing Kleindl some of the ropes, including having him participate in discussions and meetings for various county activities. Using "common sense" is the biggest part of the job, Thompson said, along with learning how to delegate.

Having the opportunity to watch and learn from Thompson will be a great advantage, Kleindl said. Because they both work in the same building, Kleindl is able to pop up to Thompson's office for spur-of-the-moment learning opportunities.

Kleindl is already involved in the process to hire a new human resources director. Longtime county employee Marilyn Johnson is retiring from that position at the end of March.

Thompson said it wasn't fair for him to be involved with hiring a new human resources director with whom he would be working for only a short time. He said it made sense that the new administrator should have input, which accelerated the decision to get Kleindl on board now.

More than 40 people applied for the county's human resources position. That list has been trimmed to six finalists that will be interviewed sometime this month.

Kleindl will also be involved with hiring his replacement in the Family Services Department. Thompson said that position will be advertised and candidates from inside and outside the county will be considered. While Kleindl is learning his new job, he'll be training in his replacement.

Thompson said he intends to assist Kleindl through the transition. Exactly when Thompson's last day on the job will be depends on how things go with the county's acquisition of part of the Willmar Regional Treatment Center, and what action the Legislature may take this year regarding levy limitations that would affect the county.

Carolyn Lange

A reporter for 35 years, Carolyn Lange covers regional news with the West Central Tribune.

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