NORTH MANKATO — He’s leaving. But not really. At least, not completely.
North Mankato City Administrator Wendell Sande announced at Monday’s City Council meeting that he’ll retire at the end of the month, essentially giving 3 1/2 weeks notice.
Sande said he’s been mulling over retirement from the top city spot and only recently came to a decision.
“I finally came to the conclusion that it was a good time for me,” Sande said. “And I’m not totally leaving. I’m going to do some work with the Port Authority to continue to shepherd some projects along.”
His announcement was prompted by an early retirement offer that he had to take advantage of by the end of the month. And while City Council members and staff knew about his decision, they hadn’t known for long.
“It’s something he’s been thinking about for a while,” Mayor Mark Dehen said. “But kind of at the 11th hour, he decided he wanted to do it.”
Sande, 62, could have retired several years ago under the so-called “rule of 90,” where an employee’s age and years of service add up to 90. But Dehen said an additional incentive was offered — health care coverage — to those retiring as of May 31.
Sande has been employed by the city since 1981 and been city administrator since 1996. His current salary is $107,979. The health insurance incentive is valued at $16,210 per year, and he’ll have that insurance until he turns 65.
Sande has about $19,000 worth of unused vacation time, and another $19,000 in unused sick time. The vacation time will be paid to Sande upon retirement. The sick time pay will be put into an account he can use for health-related expenses.
Sande said his phone rang much of the day Tuesday, and emails came in steadily — well wishers, all.
He said the list of things he’s proud of during his tenure as city administrator is long: the reclamation of Spring Lake, construction of the Thompson Fishing Pier, industrial park development, construction of the Taylor Library, the acquisition of land and development of Benson Park.
As for regrets, he said he’s proud of the progress made on Highway 14, although he’d hoped the road by now would be four lanes to New Ulm.
In his consulting role with the Port Authority, Sande said he’ll be working on further development of the Marigold project as well as projects to add more parking to the downtown area. (His work on the Port Authority is unpaid.)
Sande also indicated he’s not done with the world of work. On KTOE’s “Talk of the Town” with Pete Steiner on Tuesday, Sande wasn’t specific, but he said he expects to take advantage of opportunities in the future, intending to use his skills in other endeavors.
The city’s personnel committee — of which Sande is a member, along with Dehen and Council Member Bill Schindle — will begin the process immediately of finding Sande’s successor.
Sande’s retirement surprised Council Member Bob Freyberg, who has publicly been critical of Sande in the past.
He said he first heard about Sande’s intentions via a letter received in the mail Saturday.
“I was definitely surprised at receiving the letter and more surprised by the short term,” Freyberg said of Sande’s notice.
He said he hopes the council will move quickly but prudently. He said he wants to get the best person possible for the job.
“I don’t want to rush into it, either,” Freyberg said. “This is an opportunity that doesn’t come in too many council careers. This is an important position, and just to get a warm body in there doesn’t make sense either.”
Council Member Diane Norland said the next few months will be a challenge.
“But the staff we have, the department heads, are extremely capable people,” Norland said. “And he’ll be having some input. He had talked about still working for a while with North Mankato Port Authority.”
Norland said that although it will present some challenges to run the city without a full-time administrator, she said much of the day-to-day work is typically delegated anyway, and that those employees remain.
“Years ago, when Mankato was going through this process, they had somebody who was interim,” Norland said. “That might be a good move.”
She praised Sande’s leading of the city, especially strides made in economic development.
“I think that’s key to our future and the health of our community,” she said. “He’s leaving at a time when the city of is in really good shape. You can see what’s happened downtown and up in the industrial park.”
She also said that anyone who suggests Sande was unwilling to cooperate with other government agencies is wrong.
“That is an urban myth that is completely inaccurate,” she said.
Dehen said they’ve convened the city’s personnel committee and get the replacement process started right away. He said he’ll be consulting with Nicollet County, which is going through the process of filling the position of longtime County Administrator Bob Podhrasky. He’ll also be seeking the help of the League of Minnesota Cities.
“This will be a chance to review how we operate and get a new beginning that comes with change,” Dehen said.