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Willmar council discusses search for planning director as Peterson's retirement looms

WILLMAR -- In the three decades Willmar Planning and Development Services director Bruce Peterson has worked for the city, he has gained knowledge and experience in economic development and real estate and in putting together development deals fo...

Briana Sanchez / TribuneBruce Peterson, Willmar Planning and Community Development director, talks about the Willmar Industrial Park fourth addition plat Friday at the Willmar City Offices.
Tribune file photo Bruce Peterson, Willmar Planning and Development Services director, is retiring Jan. 31. The Willmar City Council at a labor committee meeting Wednesday discussed finding a new director.

WILLMAR - In the three decades Willmar Planning and Development Services director Bruce Peterson has worked for the city, he has gained knowledge and experience in economic development and real estate and in putting together development deals for commercial and industrial projects.

"I have taken it upon myself to learn a little bit about a lot of things. I think I have brought value to the table because of that," Peterson said.

The Willmar City Council is now tasked with finding Peterson's replacement as his retirement looms: His last day will be Jan. 31.

The City Council started discussing the search for Peterson's replacement at a labor committee meeting Wednesday.

"We can't afford to have this position vacant for any length of time," Councilor Kathy Schwantes said.

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The department that Peterson leads is responsible for building inspections, economic and community development, planning and zoning and rental inspections.

Peterson said it could be difficult for the city to find someone with similar knowledge and experience.

"You don't see the people, in the public sector, in economic development like you used to," Peterson said.

Even for a candidate with those skills, it will take time for a person to grow into the role, learn the city and build relationships with the business community, Peterson added.

In Peterson's opinion, there would not be a financial benefit to the city in using consultants to do some of the tasks, and he thinks that the structure of the department - which includes the director, city planner and building inspection staff - has worked well.

"It is something that does bring value to the city," Peterson said. "The structure right now, I think it works well."

Peterson also explained that the Economic Development Commission, shared by the city and county does not have the staff or expertise to do what he does.

"We work together very well," Peterson said. The EDC does the marketing side of economic development, while Peterson's office deals with the technical and legal side of getting projects completed.

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"As soon as they identify a project for the city of Willmar, it is on my desk. At that point it is my project."

There was a consensus from the council to update the job description of the planning and development services director to make sure it accurately portrays what the city wants and needs in its next director.

"This is a unique position," Councilor Julie Asmus said.

At least one councilor felt that the City Council was waiting until the last minute to begin the process of finding a new director. Councilor Ron Christianson said conversations should have started as soon as Peterson officially notified the city he was retiring, which was at the end of October. That way the city could have possibly hired someone who could have worked side by side with Peterson for at least a few weeks. Now, it would be very difficult to get someone in place before Peterson leaves.

"It is a long learning curve, it is a big one," Christianson said. "We need to get on the ball."

Peterson assured the council he would be leaving behind detailed files of current and upcoming projects.

"I'm trying to give these companies as much as I can and not leave them hanging in the wind."

He also would be available to answer questions from the new director.

Related Topics: WILLMAR CITY COUNCIL
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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