By Jennifer Gallus
HOWARD LAKE, MN - It’s a good thing that Howard Lake City Administrator Kelly Hinnenkamp enjoys challenges because she’s had her fair share of them lately, and will well into 2009.
Unforeseen Local Government Aid (LGA) cuts announced in the last few weeks, well after the 2009 city budget was certified, forced her into number crunching different budget reduction scenarios for the city council to review before the start of the new year. Around that time, her two young children came down with the flu.
“One of the best parts about working in Howard Lake, besides the great community, is the flexibility to be there for my kids when they need me,” Hinnenkamp said.
She and her husband, Ben, built their house in Howard Lake in 2003. They met in college, and dated for seven years before marrying three-and-a-half years ago.
Ben works for Hennepin County and Kelly has been the city administrator for Howard Lake since May 2002.
They have two young children Emily, 2, and Evan, 1, who keep them hopping.
“I learned that when you have kids with the flu, your next best friend is your Blackberry,” Hinnenkamp laughed. She was able to check her work email from home with the device.
Working in close proximity to her home has its pros and cons, Hinnenkamp explained. She looks forward to attending school activities in town when the kids are older, and she enjoys inquiries from residents when she’s out about town.
“I like my job. I am never bothered when people come up to me and ask questions (about the city),” she said.
What’s harder for Hinnenkamp is recommending to the council different directions the city should take.
“A lot of times I don’t personally agree (with a direction), it may not be best for my family, but I support it because it is best for the town,” Hinnenkamp said.
Another challenge that comes with living in the community for which she works, “is getting that trust that I don’t take advantage of my position. I’m extremely sensitive to that,” Hinnenkamp said. “We get permits for projects just like everyone else.”
“It’s a unique situation when you live in the town you work for. It’s public dollars being spent, but it’s my public dollars, too. The majority of our staff live in town, and have to maintain that balance with their personal lives,” Hinnenkamp explained.
She credits the community for its support of her when she was hired, as well as the council at that time.
After receiving her bachelor of arts in community development degree, Hinnenkamp interned for the City of Howard Lake for six months in 2001. In December 2001, she began work full time as the city’s community development assistant. One month later, the city administrator resigned.
Hinnenkamp took over administrative duties while applicants were sought for the position, and after four months of “doing the job,” the community and city council decided to offer the position to Hinnenkamp.
“I’m pretty thankful for that. Luckily, I was in the right place at the right time, with the right people behind me,” she said.
While in college, Hinnenkamp thought she might go into a career in the housing industry. She said many of the graduates in her field go on to be city planners, housing directors, economic development directors, and only a small portion take city administrator positions.
However, her background has come in handy because, as she explains, a small-town city administrator “wears many hats.” Whereas city administrators in the metro area perform mainly administrative duties, a small-town administrator has to be more “hands on” with land-use planning, planning and zoning, and economic development.
Going into the new year, Hinnenkamp’s biggest goals for the city are to maintain jobs and retail in town, to get a grocery store in town, and get an assisted living facility in the city.
Regarding budget cuts because of LGA cutbacks, she’s not looking forward to the cuts, but is excited about the challenge of it.
“We always aim to operate our town more efficiently and not waste money. Every council tries to be more efficient. It (LGA cuts) happened once in 2003, and I’m looking forward to the challenge it presents again,” Hinnenkamp said.