NORTH MANKATO — It could be as long as two months before North Mankato picks a new city administrator after the City Council declined Tuesday night to offer the job to one of three finalists interviewed last month.
The finalists — Blue Earth City Administrator Kathy Bailey, former Melrose City Administrator Brian Beeman and Afton interim City Administrator Ron Moorse — will potentially still be candidates to replace Wendell Sande, who retired at the end of May. But the council decided to reopen the search, hoping to find a stronger candidate — particularly in terms of financial expertise.
The same expanded personnel committee that did the original search, possibly with the addition of a yet-to-be-identified citizen with experience as an auditor, is to submit a new list of finalists within 60 days.
Only a week ago, a majority of the council appeared ready to offer the job to Beeman or possibly Moorse but agreed to wait a week at the urging of Councilman Bob Freyberg, who didn’t think any of the three were of the caliber the city needed and didn’t want “to settle for second best.”
Councilman Billy Steiner agreed with Freyberg: “I do think we can possibly do better and I think we should expand the search.”
At that meeting, Mayor Mark Dehen, Councilman Bill Schindle and Councilwoman Diane Norland said they were ready to make a decision.
“I would hate to open it up again, go through all of this work again, go all over the whole process and put it off several more months down the road when I think we have somebody who’s workable, who could be good,” Norland said.
Dehen indicated that Beeman was strongly preferred in a survey of city staff, with Moorse the second choice. The expanded personnel committee — on which he and Schindle served — ranked the finalists the same way, Dehen said.
In an apparent reference to Beeman, Norland said one candidate had “a spark” that the others didn’t.
But Tuesday night, after Freyberg and Steiner restated their preference to reopen the application process, Norland made it clear that the majority on the council had shifted.
“I agree,” she said. “I think we need to put it out there again.”
Asked after the meeting about the change of heart, Norland said the decision a week ago “to sit on this, let it cook” was the right one.
“That’s always good for me to do,” she said of the extra time for reflection.
“We really wanted someone who was strong in the financial area,” Norland said. “Maybe we want a Wendell clone. That’s where he came from.”
Sande served as finance director for more than a decade before becoming city administrator for 16 years. Prior to Sande, Bob Ringhofer was the city’s chief executive officer for 33 years.
That tradition of lengthy service appears to have increased the pressure felt by the council to make a top-notch hire. Dehen has called it a “generational-type” decision.
After more than two months of leading the search process, though, Dehen was ready to hand the job to Freyberg Tuesday night. He noted that the original process drew 24 applicants from six states and suggested Freyberg and Schindle take over as co-chairmen of the effort to reach an even broader pool.
The mayor also recommended that the committee bring the new list of finalists to the council within 60 days.
“We’ve been doing this a long time, and I think it needs to be done expeditiously,” he said of a second search.
Freyberg said that Dehen’s experience the first time around would make him a better choice to lead the effort.
“Personally, I’d like you to stay on,” Freyberg said to Dehen.
“I tell you what,” Schindle suggested to Freyberg. “How about I step back and you take my spot?”
That prompted only laughter. And the council ultimately agreed to use the same group — assuming the two citizen members agree to again make the commitment to the numerous meetings and private interviews required of the task. The only possible addition, if one can be found who’s willing to serve, is a North Mankatoan with auditing experience — particularly experience with city finances.