WILLMAR — The Willmar City Council, in its discussion over the four finalists for the city administrator position on Thursday, were divided between going with a candidate with city management experience or going with someone with little city experience but proven leadership skills.

"How do we want to move forward?" asked Mayor Marv Calvin. "What do we want our next administrator to be like?"

In the end, the council decided to go with one of each. The finalists being asked back for an in-person interview next week are Tyler Brooks and Dana Schoening.

Tyler Brooks
Tyler Brooks

Brooks is currently an officer in the United States Air Force with years of experience working as a commander in multiple operations units. He is stationed in South Daytona, Florida.

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According to his resume, Brooks has managed more than $250 million in federal assets at one time, developed and managed significant budgets, improved communications, guided more than 50 different projects worth more than $500 million and has managed 10 department directors and 166 employees at one time.

"I like his calm, forthright demeanor," Councilor Andrew Plowman said.

While Brooks has no experience as a city administrator, the council feels his other attributes, such as leadership skills learned in the Air Force and his drive to be part of the community for the long term, could be real benefits for Willmar.

Councilor Julie Asmus shared that she has heard from city staff and Willmar residents who liked the sound of Brooks.

"They are really liking Tyler," Asmus said.

Dana Schoening
(Photo courtesy of the Ripon Commonwealth Press)
Dana Schoening (Photo courtesy of the Ripon Commonwealth Press)

Schoening is the director of planning and operations for Sweetwater, Texas, and has held similar positions in other cities. He currently lives in Wichita Falls, Texas.

In his various development positions, Schoening has worked on downtown and neighborhood revitalization projects, ordinance amendments, removal of substandard structures and restructured department staff to improve capabilities, according to his resume. All of that work experience in planning and development could be good for a city like Willmar.

"That is really needed right now as we move forward with economic opportunities in the community," said Councilor Justin Ask.

The other two candidates interviewed were Guy Scaife, of Bettendorf, Iowa, most recently the town manager of Thetford, Vermont; and Robert J. Wolfington Jr. of Benson, the current city manager of Benson.

There was some council support to interview Wolfington, since he has the experience in city management and administration along with being familiar with the area.

Some members of the public had urged the council to go with a local candidate, though Calvin said there were few applicants that met that requirement.

"I was dismayed that we did not have more local candidates apply," Calvin said.

Councilor Tom Butterfield said he has heard from members of the public wanting the city to interview Willmar Finance Director Steve Okins for the position. However, Okins never applied, Calvin said, and the council had already voted on the application process several weeks ago.

Butterfield decided against making a motion on the issue, instead wanting to wait until the interviews with Brooks and Schoening had been completed.

The council was reminded that when choosing between candidates, they must not use age as a determining factor. This concern was brought up by Ask, when discussing the different attributes of the candidates.

While the schedule for the interviews is still being worked out, the goal is to have the finalists in Willmar next Thursday, May 13. In addition to the actual interviews, there will also be opportunities for the finalists to meet staff, community leaders and members of the public.

Willmar is searching for its next administrator due to the upcoming retirement of current administrator Brian Gramentz, who will be leaving the city in early June.