By Mark Fischenich
Free Press Staff Writer
NORTH MANKATO — After deciding to reject three Minnesota city officials in September and broaden their search for a new city administrator, the North Mankato City Council was presented Thursday night with two finalists from Kansas and Michigan.
John Harrenstein, city administrator in Eudora, Kan., and Elke Doom, township supervisor/manager in Huron Township, Mich., were the finalists selected Thursday by a special personnel committee assigned to find a replacement for 16-year City Administrator Wendell Sande, who retired at the end of May.
“I wish we could hire them both,” Councilman Bob Freyberg said.
Freyberg worked with consultant Bonnie Bennett to generate a list of 37 applicants from around the state and nation, pared them to four and then served on the special personnel committee, which held a closed meeting Thursday to settle on the final two. Both candidates are expected to be in Mankato Wednesday for public interviews with the entire City Council, along with city tours and meetings with municipal employees and civic leaders.
“There’s hope that on the 20th (Thursday) we’d have a special council meeting and a decision would be made,” Freyberg said.
The finalists will offer the council similarities and contrasts. Freyberg said both have strong financial and personal skills and broad experience. Both have worked on economic development in the midst of a deep recession. But they come from different generations, different genders and different backgrounds.
Harrenstein is a native of Clear Lake, Iowa, and an honors graduate of the University of Northern Iowa where he earned degrees in public administration and organizational communication. He was just 27 years old when he was hired as city administrator in Eudora in September of 2009, signing a three-year contract paying him about $78,000 a year, according to an article in the Eudora News.
Prior to getting the top administrative post in Eudora, Harrenstein was a management analyst for Johnson County, Kan., where his duties included analyzing budgets and working on projects assigned by the county manager, according to the article.
Harrenstein also had internships with the budget office of the U.S. Interior Department in Washington, D.C., and at the Iowa Legislature. Upon taking the job in Eudora, he told a Lawrence TV station that those other experiences made him want to work in local government.
“I just realized you could make a difference at the local level,” Harrenstein said. “You’re closer to the people in the community. And you can really see the results of your work.”
Eudora — a town of 6,200 near Lawrence (the home of the University of Kansas) — has doubled its population since 1990.
And it’s undergoing changes.
Both its police chief and its fire chief, who were hired during Harrenstein’s tenure, resigned within a week of one another this summer. And voters decided on Nov. 6 to change the city’s system of government to a council-city manager system, which puts council members in charge of picking a mayor from among themselves.
Doom has a master’s degree in public administration from Siena Heights University in Adrian, Mich., according to the Monroe (Michigan) News, and completed a certified public manager program at Saginaw Valley State University. She was also chosen to participate in a public leadership program at Harvard University.
Doom is coming off a four-year term as a Huron Township supervisor, an elected partisan office under Michigan’s system of township management.
“When elected in 2008, I faced the challenge of a reduction in tax base and decreased revenue sharing as I worked to provide a balanced budget while keeping our services high,” Doom stated in announcing in April her re-election bid. “Through numerous cost-saving strategies, the township is in a financially strong position.”
She fell to a fellow Democrat in an August primary election 506-567.
Along with her township role, Doom has worked as an assessor for a Michigan County.
Doom is older than Harrenstein, enough so to compete in the backstroke in the Downriver (Mich.) Senior Olympics, which is open to competitors older than 50. She and her husband have three adult daughters.
While the North Mankato job would put Harrenstein much closer to his hometown of Clear Lake, Iowa, Freyberg said he believes Doom might be looking for a more economically vibrant place to live than the Detroit area.
Despite the region’s struggling economy, Huron Township was able to attract a manufacturer that brought a reported 240 jobs. There were also unsuccessful attempts to reopen a shuttered horse-racing track in the township, which has a population of just under 16,000 and a 2012 budget of $2.6 million.