The interviews with the manager candidates

Published 6:11 pm Monday, March 28, 2011

Albert Lea city manager finalists faced a series of questions Saturday morning during their interviews with the City Council, including topics such as redevelopment, character and ethics, along with their ideas for creating a positive, yet accountable, work environment.

The five finalists who went through the interview process included Chad Adams, Medina city administrator, David Johnson, Wabasha county administrator; Pat Merrill, former city manager in Fort Morgan, Colo.; Dean Torreson, city administrator in Macomb, Ill.; and Greg Withers, former Princeton city administrator. Finalist David Minke, former deputy county administrator in Anoka County, withdrew from the search Saturday morning before his interview.

Before answering questions, each finalist was asked to give a presentation about what they’d do during their first 100 days in the position.

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The following is a brief synopsis of the interviews with each finalist.

Greg Withers

Even before his first day in the position, Withers said he planned to meet informally with staff, review critical documents, find a place to live and set up his office.

He said he recognized that the council and department heads are under a lot of stress because of the recession, questions about local government aid, workforce reduction and vacant downtown storefronts, among other concerns.

He would work to balance his personal needs and the needs of the community and would diligently meet with council members, Interim City Manager Pat McGarvey, department heads, small groups of business people, local organizations and city employees.

Withers described himself as a relater, arranger, futuristic and strategic. He noted people also describe him as a workaholic.

He said he likes to set an example by which other employees can follow and likes to participate in city events.

Withers said when it comes to reorganizing or downsizing, he would need to consider operational efficiencies, whether the department can still run and whether any cuts would be part of the city’s strategic plan, among other ideas.

He said he thinks it’s important to always lead in the position of city manager but to have a little humor in the workplace, too. He also talked about regular performance evaluations.

In a discussion after the interviews, council members said they thought Withers’ interview went well, but they were concerned about his previous workplace record, noting he has changed professions numerous times, going in and out of city management.

Pat Merrill

Merrill’s presentation talked about the importance of the next city manager building trust in the community. He said his theme is of visibility, accessibility, communication and trust, and noted that he thinks it’s important to be out with the employees in the field as well as in the office.

“I do own work boots, and I do get them dirty,” he said.

He said he also thinks it’s important for city staff to have an enjoyable time at work and be comfortable turning to the manager.

If he ever had to downsize or reorganize, he said he would like an analysis done of all the city services, compared to other communities this size. This was helpful in a previous city he worked in.

Regarding his management style, he said he likes constant communication face to face. He likes to be visible and out in the community and believes one of the keys of building a strong and successful team is having staff who believe in the mission of the city.

He said sharing a vision and organizational goals are key to success.

“Everybody should know how they fit into the organizational goals,” Merrill added. “Everybody plays a role from the top to the bottom.”

He also talked about the importance of employees enjoying their jobs.

“It raises productivity so much to have people who enjoy doing what they’re doing,” he said.

Regarding communication with the City Council, he talked about the importance of not keeping any secrets from the council.

Merrill won the support of several of the councilors who said he was either their second or third choice.

Chad Adams

In his presentation, Adams said he wants to be open, direct, transparent and accessible.

He said he would work on building trust, maintaining core organizational strengths and addressing any critical organizational flaws. He talked about the importance of having people in the community and the staff develop trust in him and compared trust to a tree — it only takes one incident of bad trust to cut down the whole tree, he said.

Adams noted that he will meet with the department heads on a weekly basis to begin with, will visit the different areas within city government and most importantly, be a good listener. He said he wants to utilize council work sessions but also talk with the council members individually as well. Likewise, he’d like to gain insight from Interim City Manager Pat McGarvey.

He described himself as open, direct, trustworthy and professional.

He said he likes to keep a light work atmosphere and practices what he calls leadership by example, whether it’s for being on time, being professional or something more serious.

“Employees are going to be watching me; the public’s going to be watching me,” Adams said.

He noted he likes the vision set currently by city leaders and said he thinks he would excel at creating an action plan for some of the things in the vision.

He said he likes regular council communication in a group setting and by clear, concise memos.

Adams also talked about the importance of being part of the fabric of the community.

He said he is interested in coming to Albert Lea because of its innovating, proactive approach. He thinks he can bring everyone together.

Dean Torreson

Torreson, who also interviewed for the position in 2010, said during his first 100 days he wanted to focus on helping the city heal from the last year using a two-pronged strategy.

The first strategy is internally focused, while the other deals with the community at large and trying to reinforce the city’s image.

Internally, he said, he would have an in-depth discussion with the mayor and council individually to discuss strengths, weaknesses and goals.

He would meet with department heads, staff and the council and produce a two-year plan with assignments.

The second strategy would involve meeting with community leaders and community partners, including the media.

Torreson described himself as relaxed, friendly and low key, along with friendly, fair and firm.

He said he thinks it is important to stand up for what’s right.

He talked about giving the council any information that might be important to them.

Torreson noted he has been compiling budgets for a long time.

To form the budget, he would meet with department heads and ask them for a wish-list approach.

“We need to know what they think they need,” he said.

After that, he would review the financial capability of the city and have department heads meet with him again.

He said one of his strengths is tax increment financing.

Following his interview the council said they thought Torreson had conducted a better interview than the previous year and some even listed him in their top two or three.

David Johnson

Johnson recognized the difficulty of the last year for the city and noted that during his first 100 days on the job he would work to help the employees recognize their importance.

He would also focus on open communication with citizens groups and the media, among other tools.

He said he has done a great deal of reorganizations of city departments for efficiencies sake in the past.

He noted people describe him as no-nonsense and a manager who is participatory.

“I want input from the people I am managing and leading,” he said. “I want them to know I care about what they’re thinking.”

Johnson said it’s important to let the employees know what is expected and then to give them the resources to meet those expectations.

He talked about the importance of two-way communication with the City Council and noted that it is his job to give them information they may not otherwise get on their own and then to make the best recommendation based on the information received.

When asked to describe his experience with budgeting, Johnson said he focuses on what he calls “reality budgeting.”

He said he’s interested in the detail of the budget and likes to come in underbudget.

He pointed out that he thinks one of his challenges in the city would be the recently released census numbers.

“We want to grow; we don’t want to shrink,” he said.

He added that he’s noticed a community pride in Albert Lea and a vision that people are working toward.

He committed to being in Albert Lea for 10 years.