By Linda Scherer
WINSTED, MN Brad Martens is the new city administrator of Winsted, a town his research revealed to be a “perfect fit” for him.
Soon after Martens earned his master’s degree in public administration at Hamline University a year ago, he began looking for an administrator’s position with a city having a population of 1,500 to 3,000 people. He wanted a city that was not a bedroom community, but a place where people lived, worked, played, and then hung out.
“I wanted a place that does activities that bring people together,” Martens said.
Since becoming Winsted’s city administrator May 25, Martens has been pleasantly surprised by just how many activities there are in Winsted.
“For a city of this size, with Winstock and the WHAT UP events the movie in the park which just took place was hugely attended, and the summer festival and winter festival and the chamber involvement,” Martens said, “I just can’t believe all the things that happen here.”
It’s obvious when listening to Martens, he’s very happy to be a part of the city of Winsted and all that it involves. Besides the amount of community activity, Martens is impressed with what he calls “tons of other positives” about Winsted, listing the amount of industry and jobs offered, the lake, the airport, the Luce Line Trail, a great council, staff, police department, and fire department.
For Martens, one of his biggest efforts will be to retain what Winsted already has.
“I think keeping what we have is the core. That is easier than getting new,” Martens said. “In retail or otherwise, it takes 10 times the energy to get a new customer rather than keeping what you have.”
Of the 40 original applicants who applied for city administrator, Martens was chosen as one of the three finalists to be interviewed by the council April 25.
To prepare for the interview, Martens made four trips to Winsted to get to know the community better. He watched council meetings on video, and read the minutes from the past year’s meetings.
“I just wanted to hit the ground running,” Martens said. “I wasn’t an administrator before I came here, and the two other candidates were, so I knew I had to work my tail off in order to get the job here. I wasn’t taking any chances on letting the job be offered to someone else.”
Even after being offered, and accepting the position as administrator, Martens attended an airport commission meeting and Winsted City Council meeting before his start date to get a better understanding of how the mayor and council interacted.
“I learned a lot,” Martens said. He was impressed with the exchange between the mayor, council, and airport commission as they discussed a runway crises; as well as the mayor and council “thinking outside of the box” at the meeting on the Fairlawn Circle project, coming up with a whole different idea for the street and sewer project than what was originally proposed.
“They (the council and mayor) seem adaptable, respectful, and also strong and willing to ask the tough questions while they deal with the issues at hand,” Martens said.
It has been just over a month since Martens moved into his office at Winsted City Hall. Along with gaining a better understanding of what his new job entails, he has been kept busy with several planning issues which include future business expansions, upcoming airport projects, and several city meetings.
Once things quiet down, he plans to focus on the issues the council listed in the employment packet he was given, which include downtown revitalization, the Luce Line Trail, the small cities grant, and the downtown beautification program.
He is also waiting for news about local government aid, which is supposed to arrive Wednesday, July 20.
Because of the difficult economy and possible reductions in state aid, or maybe no state aid at all, Martens said he is prepared to work with the council to make additional cuts to the city’s budget.
However, Martens has a difficult time seeing where those budget cuts will come from because since he has been Winsted’s city administrator, he has seen a pretty efficient community staff. He is amazed at the amount of volunteer help the city staff receives from its residents, including committees like the lake association, airport, park, and planning commissions, and fire department, to name a few.
“It seems very efficient, but so are most businesses right now. It’s the same thing that industry is going through, and if the time comes (to make budget cuts), we will have to find a way and do it.”
Possibly sharing resources with other communities is something Martens said the city will consider.
Martens wants residents to know that he is available to them. He has found the culture around city hall is “what can we do to help?” and he wants to keep that going.
“I’m absolutely glad to be here and believe I have found the perfect situation for me. The people are very friendly, the staff is wonderful, and the council is great,” Martens said.
More about Martens
Martens originally grew up on a dairy farm outside of Lafayette, near New Ulm.
His father is Brian Martens, who currently works for Community Insurance Agency of Gaylord; his mother is Gale Wilking, who works for Agstar Financial Services in Mankato; and he has one older brother, Tony Martens, who is a deputy sheriff for Waseca County.
Martens graduated from New Ulm Public School and then attended Minnesota State University, Mankato, where he majored in recreation, parks, and leisure services, with a minor in urban regional studies.
He had been thinking about a degree in business, but a biology teacher’s assistant suggested he talk to someone in the recreation department at Mankato.
“I am an outdoor person,” Martens said. “I hunted a lot growing up. I fish, I camp, and kayak and so, finding a degree program where you can do those types of things was pretty interesting, I thought.”
He received an internship with Ramsey County Park and Recreation for a summer and that led to the job Martens had in New Brighton for six years, right up to accepting his position with Winsted.
He began as a recreation coordinator at the New Brighton Community Center, where he was soon promoted to recreation supervisor.
The New Brighton Community Center, where Martens eventually became facilities manager, is 70,000 square feet with an estimated 360,000 people coming through the doors annually.
It is a meeting and banquet facility, and there were weddings almost every weekend. There was also the Eagle Nest indoor playground, which is a 4,400-square-foot indoor playground for kids, which was used to celebrate approximately 1,000 birthday parties a year, according to Martens.
“When I was leaving, a branch of the Ramsey County library system was moving in,” Martens said. “I was project manager for that.”
Martens has been married to Afton, who is also from New Ulm, for three years. They met while attending the university in Mankato.
They are currently living in Coon Rapids, but Martens hopes “not forever.”
His commute is one hour and 10 minutes each way.
“The winter will be a little more difficult, but I might bring a cot and crash out,” Martens said.
Afton works in St. Paul for Macalester Groveland Community Council. The council is one of several, each representing a neighborhood in the city, a liaison between the residents and the city council to help represent the 280,000 people living within the city.
“She kind of does a lot of what I do,” Martens said. “She oversees crime issues, planning issues, all the issues go through the council before they go to the city council. Her district is 20,000 people.”
Martens has many outdoor hobbies. He enjoys running, and he and his wife have plans to run in a half-marathon this summer and, he said, he will be running in the Winsted Summer Festival 10K fun run/walk in August. He and his wife also like to take the Northstar train to the city and just walk around exploring the outdoors.
Martens recently returned from an annual fishing trip in Canada with his dad, brother, and neighbors from where they lived on the dairy farm in Lafayette.
“We camp eight to 12 people, no electricity, no running water, we carry everything in,” Martens said.
“We fish 10 hours a day for five days, eat lots of walleye, and talk smart at night.”