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Council moves ahead with administrator candidate

WILLMAR -- Willmar City Council members reached a surprising consensus Wednesday evening when they agreed to discuss an offer of employment with one of six candidates the council interviewed this week to fill the position that will be vacated by the retirement of City Administrator Michael Schmit in July.

The council interviewed three candidates Tuesday afternoon and interviewed three candidates Wednesday afternoon and had originally planned to call back two or three finalists for a second round of interviews on May 24 before making a decision.

But council members surprised themselves, and the consultant assisting in the candidate search, when they took a straw vote and found that Charlene Stevens, assistant county manager for Sedgewick County, Wichita, Kan., was their preference.

Council members agreed not to wait until further interviews after they learned that Stevens is a finalist for an administrative position in another state.

Council members cited Stevens' professionalism, her public service and her proficiency in Spanish. Council member Doug Reese said Stevens had good answers to questions asked by Mayor Frank Yanish and council members, did her homework and was familiar with Willmar and the issues facing the city.

Ron Christianson spoke in favor of Stevens and wanted to offer her the job. Council member Jim Dokken thought Stevens was the stellar person.

Tim Johnson said he thought Stevens had a tremendous amount of presence.

Yanish thanked Sharon Klumpp, senior vice president of Springsted Inc. of St. Paul, for sending strong candidates for the council to consider.

The council had selected five candidates from a list of nine recommended by Klumpp and one candidate from a list not recommended by Klumpp for interviews.

Yanish said he did not have a vote but said he did have an opinion. Yanish said he wanted someone that he could work with and gave Stevens as his top choice.

The unanimous voice vote, which followed more than two hours of discussion on whether or not to invite two or three candidates for further interviews, directs Klumpp to discuss the offer of employment. Terms of a contract would be worked out. The position was advertised by the city with a salary of approximately $112,000, commensurate with experience.

In an interview, Yanish said a unanimous vote was important because the theme of the administration is unity and teamwork.

"We all have to pull together,'' he said.

During her interview Tuesday, Stevens, who has young children, said she was looking for an opportunity to move closer to extended family in South Dakota. She said she wants to advance in her career, is interested in returning to municipal government work and is looking for a long-term contract.

Stevens said she has replaced tenured staff people. She said she works well in building partnerships and has an absolute passion for delivering quality services to the public.

Stevens said her role as administrator would be to make sure everyone has the same information before they arrive at council meetings, to make recommendations, bring options to the council and explain how she arrived at those recommendations.

Stevens said making information available in a variety of languages was one way to engage people in a city with a diverse population. She favors talking directly with people and finding out what is important to them.

Stevens has worked in Wichita since August 2006. Previously, she served nine years in township government in Pennsylvania, was a consultant for about a year to various cities in southeastern Pennsylvania, did neighborhood work in Wichita for one year, and was executive director for four years of La Casa Latina Inc., in Sioux City, Iowa.

She holds a master's degree in public administration, did course work on Latin American politics, Columbian history and Spanish at the university in Bogota, Columbia, and is a credentialed manager in the International City/County Management Association.

Other candidates interviewed Tuesday were Steve Okins, Willmar finance director; and Jeffrey Repp, Cumberland, Md., administrator.

Candidates interviewed Wednesday were J. Crystal Prentice, Waseca city manager; Jeffrey O'Neill, Monticello city administrator; and James Payne of Rio Rancho, N.M., a businessman who has about 25 years of municipal government experience.

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