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UPDATE: Baxter council makes job offer

Bradley Chapulis1 / 2
The Baxter City Council interviewed Bradley Chapulis Saturday morning following a two-day process that included formal interviews with department heads and the full council. The council voted to offer the job to Chapulis. Renee Richardson/Brainerd Dispatch2 / 2

BAXTER—A job offer was extended for the Baxter administrator post Saturday after all city council members had the same candidate at the top of their list.

Three finalists were interviewed Saturday morning following a two-day process that included formal interviews with department heads and the full council. The council voted to offer the job to Bradley Chapulis.

Chapulis is currently the community and economic development director for the southwestern Minnesota city of Worthington. He's been with Worthington since 1998, starting as planning and economic development manager before moving to the director's position in 2003. From 1995 to 1998, Chapulis was planner for Mason City, Iowa. Chapulis has a bachelor's degree in community and regional planning, Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa.

The other finalists were Darcy Long, city administrator/zoning administrator with the city of Amery, Wis., and Lisa Sova, clerk-treasurer for the city of Crosby.

Candidates were asked to identify a need in the city and how they would address it.

Chapulis' presentation looked at housing needs as an economic factor facing the city and region given the challenge of anticipated population growth and the need for workers. His presentation noted Crow Wing County is projected to grow 7,842 jobs by 2030 and Baxter is expected to add 4,251 jobs in that time. To work on the housing issue, Chapulis proposed formation of an ad-hoc committee, building relationships with developers who have the ability to make a difference and marketing the opportunity for workforce housing in Baxter with the housing industry.

Research shows

Before the finalist interviews, Chapulis spent time researching Baxter and the Brainerd lakes area. He visited the area and met with community leaders and residents. Chapulis said in his talks in the area he found a true sense of community pride. Talks included city staff, the Brainerd Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce and Brainerd Lakes Area Economic Development Corp.

Chapulis spent more than 20 years in government and most of that time as a department head. After a stint as city administrator, Chapulis said he discovered he enjoyed the challenge and experience leading him to want to pursue a city administrator as a career choice. He listed key qualifications and attributes as his understanding of economic development and finance.

Chapulis described his management style as supervisory and team oriented, saying he doesn't micromanage but leads by example, works on goals, completes projects and stays on task.

A city administrator, Chapulis said, should lead by example, play an active role in the community and live in the city. It was an assignment he said he wanted to take on. Building relationships with the council and staff and the community takes communication, takes honesty and an open door policy, Chapulis said.

"One of the things I've learned is people want the opportunity to be heard," Chapulis said.

As far as the workplace, he said it's important to have laughter along with hard work.

Council decision

When council members were asked what they were looking for in an administrator, they said a leader and a cheerleader who was engaged in the community. They wanted someone who could be a strong representative for the city and a partner both in the lakes area and on the broader regional stage. Among issues facing the city they listed growth, including redevelopment, as both the greatest opportunity and biggest challenge. Part of the challenge for a new administrator will be effective outreach and communication with the city's residents, both those who welcome growth and those who don't relish it as much.

Mayor Darrel Olson said in his years with the city he's never taken anything more seriously and has lost sleep because it is so critical to find the right person for the job.

"I'm not saying we made mistakes in the past because I don't think we did," Olson said. "The city moved forward but we have had a chance to see what didn't work and what did ...."

The council interviewed candidates selected in an earlier round of finalists in 2016 but decided against a job offer and started a new candidate search culminating in Saturday's decision.

The city has been without an administrator for nearly a year. Former administrator Gordon Heitke retired April 29. Since that time, Kelly Steele, assistant city administrator, added to her workload as interim city administrator.

Council member Todd Holman said the city has skilled employees so he was looking for the candidate who fit best into the city as a whole.

"I think that's exactly the way you should be thinking collectively is fit. You have a very seasoned staff, a very good, solid council ... that's another factor when you are thinking about fit is how does it fit within that aspect. I couldn't reinforce that any stronger than to say at the end of the day that is critically important," said Gary Weirs of David Drown Associates, who led the administrator search in Baxter for the council.

"I'm looking for a leader," said Council member Mark Cross. "I'm also looking for someone who has got enough experience to work with our experienced staff and not have the staff feel like they are pulling them along."

Council member Quinn Nystrom said the other candidates had different strengths and weaknesses but weren't the proper fit right now.

Cross said he agreed Chapulis would fit well. The caution he raised as devil's advocate was whether Chapulis had enough city administrator experience and while Chapulis had heavy experience in planning and economic development the other facet that needs to be part of community outreach is involvement in service clubs. Later, Holman noted Chapulis' numerous board and leadership roles as an indication of his initiative and engagement. Olson pointed to Chapulis' effort as co-founder of a Habitat for Humanity chapter.

"I think the bigger thing is level of experience," Cross said.

Weirs reminded the council members the previous candidates they rejected had experience. He noted there have been 69 candidates in the mix from the recent searches. It isn't always about experience, Weirs said.

"Fit trumps everything else, in my opinion," Weirs said.

Nystrom noted Chapulis' well-researched and data-driven presentation where he didn't simply do an internet search but met with people. As a strength, she said, was Chapulis' focus on an open door line of communication with the business community. His interview examples showed perseverance, passion and commitment, Nystrom said.

"He's a leader ... He seems to have high ethics and values," she said. "I think he's by far the best candidate we've seen."

Steele said in the staff interview, the department heads were impressed by the amount of research Chapulis did. They noted the lack of city administrator experience but all felt they could work well with him, Steele said.

Olson said after they were discouraged following the previous futile candidate search, Holman said perhaps they weren't looking at candidates clearly and maybe they don't have exactly what the council wanted but had other attributes to bring to the community.

Holman said he believed Chapulis' community engagement passion was genuine and that he'd be able to identify weak spots and fill those in by working collaboratively with city staff.

"We have tremendously talented people," Holman said of the city staff. "So if there is ever a time to bring on someone that may learn as they go I couldn't think of a better situation to drop somebody into than where we are today," Holman said. "... So I think we're uniquely positioned at this snapshot, at this moment in time, to at least consider someone who hasn't had 10 years in a city administrator role."

Olson thanked the other candidates who interviewed and those in the search process.

"Assuming all of this goes the way we are planning right now, I think we also owe a statement of gratitude to the staff for holding the ship together ...," council member Steve Barrows said.

The council voted to offer the position to Chapulis and direct Weirs to work with the personnel committee for the details with final action at an upcoming city council meeting. The council meets Tuesday.

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