By Ivan Raconteur
LESTER PRAIRIE, MN Lester Prairie City Council members said during a work session Tuesday they are satisfied with the city’s current administrative structure, but they are interested in options that could help the city reach new levels.
The council contracted with Gary Weiers of David Drown Associates to help facilitate the process of evaluating the city’s needs and determining what options might best address those needs.
Tuesday’s work session was the first of two meetings Weiers plans to conduct with the council.
The next will likely take place in April. The date has not yet been determined.
Weiers noted he was first contacted by the city last fall, and began by asking the council what motivated the council to begin discussing the subject of possibly hiring an administrator or city planner.
Mayor Andy Heimerl said this is something that has been discussed since he was first elected to the council 10 years ago.
He said City Clerk Marilyn Pawelk and Assistant City Clerk Christine Dammann take care of the day-to-day operations of the city, but he would like to have someone to get projects started. He mentioned his goals of developing an industrial park in the city, and completing development of the Dakota Rail Regional Trail into the city.
Council Member Ron Foust also mentioned an industrial park, as well as commercial and residential development.
He noted he would like to sustain the city’s existing businesses.
Foust also mentioned a desire to have someone to apply for grants and help to grow the city.
Council Member Bob Messer expressed an interest in a person who could help the city implement projects, and speed up the process of getting projects completed.
Council Member Eric Angvall noted the council members are volunteers who lack expertise in some areas. He expressed an interest in a person who could help the city prioritize projects, focus its energy, and assist with long-term planning.
The council also mentioned promoting city amenities such as the 50-acre Sunrise Nature Park, property along the Crow River, and the city swimming pool.
Among the organizational weaknesses identified during the workshop were not being able to capitalize on assets due to lack of staff, and lack of staff to research and apply for grants.
Weiers provided information about common duties of city administrators, city planners, and economic development directors.
He noted these roles are sometimes combined into hybrid positions in smaller cities.
For comparison, Weiers provided a sample list of cities with populations ranging from 1,318 to 3,009 (Lester Prairie’s population is about 1,690).
Of the 31 cities on the list, 23 have city administrators, and eight do not.
Weiers noted he has helped the cities of Cokato, Howard Lake, and Winsted recruit city administrators, and he provided a job description for the Cokato city administrator which was approved in 2014 as an example.
Weiers also provided a sample organizational chart, showing where a city administrator would typically fit into the city’s administrative structure.
During the next meeting between Weiers and the council, he will present a summary of the discussion from Tuesday’s meeting, as well as options and financial scenarios if the city were to hire an administrator or planner.
When asked if part-time administrators are common, Weiers said they are not common, since most candidates are seeking full-time positions, but hybrid positions, combining the roles of administrator and planner or economic development director are common in smaller cities.
Pawelk asked if there are cities that share an administrator.
Weiers said there are cases of this, but it is not common, and competition between cities could be an issue.