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Schoening could be the next Willmar City Administrator

The Willmar City Council has chosen Dana Schoening as their top choice for the open city administrator position. The decision was made at a special council meeting Thursday evening. An employment agreement between the city and Schoening still has to be worked out and accepted before the hire is a done deal.

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The Willmar City Council chose Dana Schoening as its choice for the next Willmar City Administrator. A contract still needs to be worked out and approved by both parties before the hiring is official. Erica Dischino / West Central Tribune

WILLMAR — The Willmar City Council has reached a decision on just who they would like to lead the city into the future. At a special meeting Thursday the council, in a 7 to 1 vote, has named Dana Schoening as its choice for the next Willmar City Administrator.

"He has the leadership, the experience, the knowledge the city needs to take the next step forward," said Councilor Justin Ask.

An employment agreement between Schoening and the city still needs to be worked out and approved before the hiring is official. Patty Heminover, from Baker Tilly, said Schoening could be in place around 45 days after a contract is approved. The earliest the contract could be in place is June 7, the next city council meeting, meaning it will be at least the middle of July before Schoening is in Willmar.

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Schoening is currently the director of planning and operations for Sweetwater, Texas. He has held similar positions in Wichita Falls and Abilene, Texas, as well as in Duncan, Oklahoma. Prior to moving south, Schoening was a department head and community resource development agent for the University of Wisconsin - Cooperative Extension, in Langlade County, Wisconsin.
In his various roles, Schoening has worked on downtown and neighborhood revitalization projects, ordinance amendments, removal of substandard structures, restructured department staff to improve capabilities, housing rehabilitation and strategic planning, according to his resume.

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"I believe Dana would be able to hit the ground running, with the challenges we are facing in Willmar, in the community, in terms of the big projects and the big things we have right around the corner," said Councilor Andrew Plowman.

Councilor Michael O'Brien was the lone no vote on the motion to start negotiations with Schoening. O'Brien thought finalist Tyler Brooks might lay down deep roots in the city and that Brooks' experience as a leader in the United States Air Force would serve him well as a city administrator.

The search for Willmar's new city administrator began back in January, after outgoing administrator Brian Gramentz said he would be resigning in early June. He has been the administrator, both as interim and full-time, for about two years. The council hired the firm Baker Tilly to run the national search for candidates. Applicants came from across the country.

Since the city will be without an administrator for several weeks, the council also discussed what to do in the interim. A motion was passed to keep Gramentz on an hourly contract basis until the interim position is figured out, possibly by mid-June.

A committee made up of Councilors Audrey Nelsen and Ask was formed to come up with possible recommendations for the interim position. This could include having current city employees fill the roll until Schoening arrives, or perhaps bring on someone recommended from the League of Minnesota Cities, which the city has done in the past.

A motion was made by Councilor Rick Fagerlie and seconded by Councilor Tom Butterfield, to name Finance Director Steve Okins as the interim city administrator, but the motion failed on a 5 to 3 vote. Voting yes were Fagerlie, Butterfield and O'Brien. Other councilors had concerns about putting too much responsibility on Okins' plate while the city deals with multiple big projects, all with large financial aspects to them.

Mayor Marv Calvin thanked Heminover and the team at Baker Tilly for all their hard work in finding the candidates, as well as for the feedback on the finalists received from city staff, the Willmar Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce and members of the public.

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"A lot of work has gone into making tonight happen," Calvin said.

Shelby Lindrud is a reporter with the West Central Tribune of Willmar. Her focus areas are arts and entertainment, agriculture, features writing and the Kandiyohi County Board.

She can be reached via email slindrud@wctrib.com or direct 320-214-4373.


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