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City Council approves employment agreement with new city administrator


WILLMAR -- The Willmar City Council has approved an employment agreement with Charlene Stevens as the new city administrator. Stevens will begin her duties Aug. 1. She is presently assistant county manager of Sedgwick County, Wichita, Kan.

Stevens will replace Michael Schmit, who will retire on July 31 after serving the city for 36 years including 20 years as administrator.

The council's approval of the agreement during a special meeting Friday afternoon was unanimous. Council member Bruce DeBlieck was unable to attend but his letter of support for Stevens was read by Mayor Frank Yanish.

Stevens was one six finalists interviewed by the council May 10 and 11 and was the top choice of council members for the job. Contract negotiations with Stevens were conducted on behalf of the city by Sharon Klumpp, senior vice president of Springsted Inc. of St. Paul. The council hired Springsted to assist in the administrator search.

During discussion, council member Steve Ahmann asked Klumpp to review the terms of the employment agreement. Among the terms, Stevens will receive a salary of $118,750, which is an increase of 5 percent over her current salary.

Ahmann raised concerns about the salary and he thought Stevens should have a probationary period.

Ron Christianson said council members will be judging her performance and he did not think her compensation was out of line.

In an interview, Yanish said he was pleased with the unanimous vote. The mayor cited Stevens' professionalism, her research on Willmar and her fluency in Spanish.

"The process went so smoothly that I'm really encouraged that we've finally found the unity in the council that we need,'' Yanish said "She's the No. 1 candidate.''

After the council adjourned, the Tribune reached Stevens at her office in Wichita.

"I am very excited to be coming to Willmar,'' she said. "My family and I are just really pleased with the opportunity and it's going to be I think a really great fit for us.''

The starting date was set because her husband, Dave Paulsen, has a commitment until the end of July coaching their son's baseball team.

"We have three young sons and we wanted to give them the opportunity to finish the school year, have a little bit of their normal summer here, play with their sports teams that they've played with and then make the transition and give them a month in Willmar of transition to school,'' she said.

The date also gives Stevens time to wrap up a few things with her work with Sedgwick County.

She has previous governmental experience in Pennsylvania and Iowa.

Stevens was born and raised in Sioux Falls, S.D., which is where her parents are living, and she has relatives in the Twin Cities, Annandale, St. Cloud and Willmar areas.

Besides approving the employment agreement, the council voted to make several changes totaling $37,147 to the city administrator budget within the general fund. The amount will be taken from the vacant position in the engineering department.

The changes will pay the $3,047 difference in salaries, pensions and insurances in Schmit's contract and Stevens' contract from Aug. 1 through the end of calendar year 2011; $1,900 in reimbursements to all six candidates for lodging and travel; $16,300 to Springsted for conducting the search; and $15,900 to cover the maximum amount allowed under the contract for her relocation expenses.

David Little
David Little covers the Willmar City Council, Willmar Municipal Utilities and other city news.
(320) 235-1150