NORTH MANKATO — Current or former city administrators from Blue Earth, Afton and Melrose are the finalists to replace North Mankato City Administrator Wendell Sande, who retired in May after 16 years in the city’s top appointed position.
The choices, made through a closed-door search process conducted by a city committee created for the task, ensure that the city won’t follow its previous practice of promoting from within.
The finalists from among 24 original applicants are Blue Earth City Administrator Kathy Bailey, Afton interim City Administrator Ron Moorse and former Melrose City Administrator Brian Beeman.
The names were originally going to be made public at a special City Council meeting Friday, but in a letter to city officials Free Press Managing Editor Joe Spear insisted that they be released sooner. Spear cited a 1990s appeals court case — Free Press vs. the City of North Mankato — that suggested it is a violation of state law to withhold the names after finalists have been selected.
The three finalists each offer intriguing qualities or backgrounds to the city council, which is expected to schedule public interviews with Bailey, Moorse and Beeman following Friday’s 1 p.m. meeting.
The city’s male-heavy leadership was apparent Monday night during the first budget workshop of the year when department heads make their budget presentations to the Council. Of the 10 who walked up to the podium, only Library Director Lucy Lowry is female.
So a selection of Bailey as the first woman to hold the city administrator’s post would be a dramatic change.
Bailey, who has bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Minnesota State University, was the city administrator of Sherburn for seven years before landing the same job in Madelia in 2006. She was hired by the Blue Earth City Council in July of 2008 over three other candidates.
Blue Earth Councilman Dick Maher preferred another candidate but said he appreciated Bailey’s experience and work ethic, noting that she even plowed streets when needed in a previous city, according to a 2008 story in the Fairmont Sentinel. Councilman Les Wiborg said he expected Bailey would be a more stable choice because she owned a home in Garden City and “because she had no desire to move to a bigger town,” the Sentinel reported.
In the meeting where Bailey became one of two finalists for the Blue Earth job, she told the Council she wouldn’t be job-hopping and wanted to “put in roots and settle down.”
Bailey was hired at starting salary of just less than $65,000. North Mankato is planning to offer its new administrator a salary $20,000 to $50,000 higher than that.
Two months into her tenure, Bailey sent a memo to the council chiding them for their continued micro-managing of city affairs. “It’s better to refer issues to the administrator who can ‘follow the rules’ thereby providing uniformity in the application of the ordinance,” Bailey wrote.
During her more than four years in Blue Earth, Bailey led the city through repeated rounds of budget cuts. She was also involved in the lengthy debate over the future of the city’s police department, which the council considered disbanding but ultimately preserved.
After 16 years as city administrator of Orono and a two-year stint in Arden Hills, Moorse ended up in Afton — a city that appears to be a rough on city administrators.
He was hired as interim city administrator in Afton in April of 2010 and was replaced by Sara Irvine in February of 2011, only to be brought back in the interim role after Irvine’s employment was ended in February of this year, according to the St. Paul Pioneer Press. Irvine was Afton’s eighth city administrator in eight years.
Moorse, who had been serving Afton as a “government affairs consultant” after first leaving the city administrator position, came back in February as a 20-hour-per-week interim administrator with a salary of $50,000, the Pioneer Press reported.
He later became one of two finalists for the Becker County administrator job,. But the Becker County Board decided in April to restart the search process.
Beeman was named the Melrose city administrator in 2005 and held the position for four years until the Melrose City Council voted to eliminate the position in the midst of budget cutting in February of 2009.
Beeman applied for the same position in Marshall in 2008 and was one of five finalists. After not being selected, he continued at Melrose until his job was eliminated.
The move to drop his position followed performance evaluations by the council and city utilities commission, and the city’s acting mayor issued a statement saying “the council and commission concluded it was in the best interest of the city of Melrose” to eliminate the city administrator position and “place him on paid administrative leave while working on a severance pay package,” according to a story in the Sauk Centre Herald.
Beeman responded with a statement saying that “due to the sudden and unexpected action” by the council and commission “my attorney is currently investigating my legal rights and options.”
Beeman ran for a Melrose City Council seat in the 2010 election, finishing a distant fourth among four candidates vying for two seats. The Melrose council reinstated the city administrator position in 2011.
A graduate of Nebraska’s Chadron State University, Beeman has a master’s degree from the University of Nebraska-Omaha. He was a Nebraska state trooper for two years and also served as city administrator of Sutton, Neb., according to the Marshall Independent.
Beeman applied for the city administrator position in Howard Lake in July and was one of four finalists, according to the Howard Lake Herald Journal.