LF seeks help; may hire interim city administrator Monday

Council interviews two retired city administrators to help evaluate city’s policies, staffing needs and to find its own city administrator

By Terry Lehrke, News Editor

The Little Falls City Council may hire an interim city administrator Monday.

The Council has, over the last couple of years, discussed off and on whether it needed to hire a full- time city administrator. The issue of city finances has nearly always stopped the conversation cold.

Finance Officer Lori Kasella and Public Works Director Jerry Lochner have split city administrator duties since Garrison Hale left that office 2 1/2 years ago.

In splitting the job between the two current employees, the city saved about $61,000 in salary, FICA and PERA, excluding health insurance, each year. The health insurance costs would depend on whether the employee has single or family insurance.

During its work session Aug. 6, the Council decided it was time to bring in some help to evaluate the city’s policies, programs and staffing needs, as well as to aid in hiring a full-time city administrator that fit the city’s needs.

Bob Dures

Wednesday, the Council interviewed Bob Derus and Dan Vogt, both retired city administrators, each with more than 30 years of experience to his credit.

Since retiring, Derus, through his company Bob Derus Government Consulting LLC, has worked to help other cities recruit and hire city administrators, offering advice and his expertise. He told the Council in the past 32 years, he’s had two jobs — the last 15 years of his career at St. Michael.

Derus said he’d talked to a few people and business owners in Little Falls.

Dan Vogt

“Little Falls has a great history,” he said. “There’s where to build — tradition and strength,” he said.

He said he knew there had been challenges over the past five years, as with other cities. Derus saw the job of an interim city administrator as setting a vision for the city and working with city staff and the Council to provide good customer service.

“Building quality, making good decisions, building quality relationships with the stakeholders in the community,” Derus said. Building a reputation using the strengths of businesses, the Chamber and Initiative Foundation was also important, Derus pointed out.

Derus proposed to work one day per week in the city at $60 per hour and using electronic communications throughout the rest of the week. The one conflict he had was the Monday night meetings, as another city he is currently working with also met that night.

Vogt, who just recently retired as the city administrator in Brainerd after more than 23 years, has launched his own business, DJV Consulting LLC, to do the same.

Vogt had his first job after graduating in Rogers in 1978. He told the Council he had interned in Little Falls under Jack Gutzman for three months.

While in Rogers, which was a much smaller city at the time, Vogt said he did everything as the city administrator from shoveling sidewalks to needing a Class D driver’s license to drive truck, and everything in between. This he said, gave him knowledge of every aspect of running a community.

Vogt was hired as the first city administrator in Brainerd in 1989, where over the last 23 years, he’s weathered issues and politics right from the start, he said. Vogt had been hired by a City Council on its way out, he said.

“I’m not going to come in and change the world,” he said.

“I will assist in building teamwork, not only with the staff,” he said, “But will use all my experience to assist the Council.”

Vogt envisioned working in Little Falls for a few months. “I’d love to help find the next administrator that will stay for a period of time,” he said.

Along with his experience in working in a community, he works with the Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities. “There’s a huge difference in managing a community in the Metro than one in Greater Minnesota,” he said.

Vogt is also versed in negotiating contracts with unions, having negotiated with all the unions in Brainerd.

He told the Council the administration and the Council run the community. “Staff just wants to do their job,” he said.

The steps to consensus, he said, were to listen to all sides, and sit down and talk. “It’s not a dictatorship,” he said.

Vogt said it was important to be attentive to citizens. “If a resident is upset, meet with them, find out what they want and talk to them,” he said, to do the best to work the situation out.

As far as the Council goes, “You are a team, not individuals. A Council works as a team,” he said.

Vogt’s proposal was to work 20 hours a week in the city and attend the Monday night meetings, at a cost of $50 per hour.

The full Council was present when the interviews started with Derus, but Councilman Brian-Paul Crowder had to leave before Vogt’s interview took place.

While the general consensus was that Vogt might be a better fit for Little Falls, having worked in a Greater Minnesota city, the Council did not make its decision Wednesday, instead opting for the entire Council to have a vote.

Resident and now council candidate Robin Hensel, who was in attendance, was asked for her input. She said she had recorded both interviews and had intended to share the recordings with Crowder.

The Council plans to make its decision Monday night, at its 7:30 p.m. meeting.