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Willmar City Council faces a city administrator conundrum, needing both a permanent choice and likely a long-term interim hire

The Willmar City Council needs to decide which direction it wants to go in finding the next city administrator, now that candidate Dana Schoening has bowed out and Brian Gramentz has left. John Harren, general manager of the Willmar Municipal Utilities, is stepping in for the next few weeks, to keep the city moving.

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The Willmar City Council is still trying to find a full-time, permanent city administrator. The council did approve hiring the general manager of Willmar Municipal Utilities to act as short term administrator. Shelby Lindrud / West Central Tribune
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WILLMAR — John Harren, general manager of Willmar Municipal Utilities, is adding to his workload. For the next few weeks he will be leading not only the utilities, but the entire city of Willmar, at least for a few hours a week.

In a 6-to-1 vote Monday evening, the Willmar City Council approved a resolution to hire Harren for the next month as a very short-term, interim city administrator. This will allow the city to continue operating day to day, while the City Council decides just what to do to find a permanent administrator.

The Willmar Municipal Utilities' Labor Commission has also given its blessing for Harren to take on the extra duties.

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John Harren, general manager of Willmar Municipal Utilities, will be serving as a short-term, interim city administrator fill in for the city of Willmar as the City Council continues to work on finding a longer-term interim or a new permanent administrator. West Central Tribune file photo

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Harren will be paid $10.08 per hour for no more than 10 hours a week. The contract will terminate July 2.

"There is urgency for the council to make an appointment to that position (administrator), to fill it on a full-time basis as quickly as the council is able to do that," either permanently, or on a long-term interim basis, said City Attorney Robert Scott.

Harren will be authorized to perform duties and functions involving management and supervision of city employees; to approve city purchases; help create the City Council meeting agendas; interact with the city attorney as needed; execute all contracts in the name of the city with the mayor; and perform other duties assigned to the administrator through the city charter.

"This is the stability that we need in this immediate moment," said Councilor Justin Ask. "It is not a long-term solution."

City Councilor Rick Fagerlie voted against the temporary hire of Harren, even though he said he believes Harren will do a good job. Councilor Andrew Plowman was absent.

"This is just a Band-Aid," Fagerlie said. "I'm not in favor of this, I am sorry."

The council has found itself in a very different situation than it was after the May 27 council meeting . At that special meeting, the council had directed Baker Tilly, the firm hired in January to run the national search for an administrator, to begin contract negotiations with Dana Schoening from Texas to be the next full-time administrator. The council also at that time approved a resolution to pay outgoing administrator Brian Gramentz — who announced in December his plans to resign — an hourly wage to help the city on a very part-time basis, until the council decided whether an interim city administrator was needed for the transition.

By June 3 all of that fell apart. Schoening decided not to accept the city administrator position and Gramentz left the city June 2 and will not continue working as the administrator in any way.

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At Monday's council meeting there was very little discussion about the search for a permanent administrator. After the meeting, in an interview with the West Central Tribune, Mayor Marv Calvin said the council was waiting to hear back from Baker Tilly on what the next steps in the city administrator search could be, whether that is possibly offering the position to the second finalist Tyler Brooks or looking at a new candidate altogether.

The City Council interviewed Brooks , a United States Air Force captain who is currently an ROTC instructor in Florida, at the same time as Schoening. Calvin said Patty Heminover from Baker Tilly might also have a new applicant for the council to consider, possibly as early as this week.

Councilors Audrey Nelsen and Ask have met with representatives from organizations such as the League of Minnesota Cities and have a list of names of possible candidates for an interim administrator.

"We have prioritized that list, narrowed it down," Ask said.

The council and mayor thanked Harren and the Willmar Municipal Utilities for stepping up to help the city in its time of need.

"You have a very full plate and you are just adding to your plate," Calvin said. "You are a true gentleman to step up to the plate and put yourself on the line."

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The Willmar City Council had approved starting contract negotiations with Dana Schoening to be the next administrator, but he instead decided not to accept the position. Erica Dischino / West Central Tribune

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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