After two hours of asking and then being asked questions, Winnebago City Council took a step closer to hiring a city administrator.
On a 2 to 1 vote, the council has offered the position to Robert Harris III of Albert Lea.
Harris and current deputy city clerk Judi Hynes were two finalists interviewed during a special meeting held Tuesday.
The council will now be working on a salary and benefit package they hope Harris will accept.
“We’ve only got so much to spend,” says Mayor Scott Robertson, pointing out the council has made large expenditures recently.
After two-and-a-half years on the job, Jake Skluzacek was earning slightly more than $57,000 when he left last month to accept a planner’s position in Elko New Market.
If Harris declines the council’s financial package, City Attorney David Frundt says the position could be offered to Hynes or city officials may reopen the search.
Hynes and Harris were interviewed separately and asked the same 10 questions.
Both candidates stressed they would encourage teamwork and not micro-manage employees.
“I am not a yeller and bullying tactics aren’t my thing either,” says Hynes. “You have to listen and I will provide guidance to employees. I like to try and make a difference and find solutions to problems.”
Harris says he expects employees to be community-focused and solve problems as a team.
“We are expected to wear many different hats and work collaboratively. Everyone has to take ownership of their own job,” he says.
Hynes and Harris were asked how they would handle controversial issues and irate citizens.
Listening and trying to understand someone’s point of view, says Hynes, are important when dealing with unhappy residents.
“The number one goal should be de-escalate, de-escalate. Most people just want to be heard,” says Harris.
Hynes says her 15 months working as a deputy city clerk and handling some administrator duties since Skluzacek left qualify her for the position.
“I have done a lot of soul searching. I want this job,” she says. “I’m invested in this community. I have a lot to learn. I’m not afraid and willing to learn.”
Harris, a Chicago native, has a bachelor of arts degree from Carleton College and is working on earning a master’s degree in business administration.
While not having any experience in the day-to-day operations of city government, Harris is the current executive director of a conservation and development council. He also works part-time for Community and Economic Development Associates (CEDA) of Chatfield.
For one year, Harris also did public policy work for the Minneapolis Regional Chamber of Commerce.
“I’ve been part of the Minneapolis political machine and that can be nasty. This seems right, the timing … to relocate to a small city,” he says, when asked why he is interested in the position.
With Hynes and Harris not present, council members discussed the pros and cons of each candidate.
Council members Calvin Howard and Jean Anderson were impressed with Harris’ experience and qualifications, although they acknowledge Hynes is doing a good job in handling some administrator duties in the interim.
Council members agreed that hiring Hynes might provide more stability to the position which has seen six city administrators since 2003.
“We’ve had to see people come and go,” says Councilman Paul Eisenmenger. “It’s annoying.”
Eisenmenger says Hynes is doing a fantastic job and it would be a smoother transition if she were hired.
Robertson spoke in favor of offering Hynes the job and says that Harris is possibly over qualified.
“The people who are here should have a higher score. We all agree that we’re tired of people leaving,” says Robertson. “You know what you’re getting with Judi. I don’t like rocking the boat a lot.”
Eisenmenger made a motion to hire Hynes, but it died for lack of a second. A motion made by Howard to offer Harris the job and seconded by Anderson was then passed.