Bergman seeks stability at city hall as new Brainerd city admin

With the possibility of city council members changing each election cycle, and city administrators coming and going in the last seven years, Jennifer Bergman hopes she can provide some consistency at city hall as she enters into week 10 of her job as administrator.

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Brainerd City Administrator Jennifer Bergman, now entering her 10th week on the job, talks Tuesday, March 3, about her passion for local government and desire to bring stability to the city administrator position. Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch

For the eight and a half years Jennifer Bergman has called Brainerd home, she has seen five city administrators come and go through city hall.

Now, she hopes to bring some consistency to the position as she takes the reins as Brainerd’s sixth administrator in seven years.

“I just really felt strongly if given the opportunity to have some stability at the city of Brainerd, at city hall, would be really good,” Bergman said Tuesday, March 3, of the decision to leave her job as executive director of the Housing and Redevelopment Authority for city hall at the beginning of the year.

“As far as our staff, councils are going to change. That’s what happens with councils,” she said. “But to at least have a city administrator that was going to be here and commit to being here for a period of time, that was really important.”

It was important enough to push Bergman to move on from the job she loved for the last eight and a half years, the job that brought her to Brainerd in the first place.


“It’s a great organization. I think it’s doing a lot of really great things in the city of Brainerd,” she said of the HRA. “But I have always worked for cities and counties. The HRA is autonomous, so they have their own board, a great board. But I love working for elected officials.”

And that’s what she’s done for most of her career.

After degrees in sociology and local and urban affairs from St. Cloud State University, Bergman’s first job was at the Housing Authority of Savannah in Georgia. From there she bounced around the Twin Cities, working as a housing coordinator in both Mounds View and Columbia Heights, executive director of the city of Anoka HRA and as community development manager/assistant HRA director for Anoka County.

The move from Anoka to Brainerd wasn’t difficult, as Bergman said the similarities between the cities are uncanny. Both have a traditional downtown area, both have a river dividing the city, both have distinct neighborhoods almost splitting the city into quadrants, and both have an active industrial park. In Anoka, she worked on redeveloping area along the Rum River and helping residents get access to the river.

So when Bergman came to Brainerd, the HRA board asked her to spend about 90% of her time on redevelopment activities, playing off her experiences in Anoka.

Not only did her work history prepare Bergman for the move up north, but so did her small-town upbringing. She hails from McIntosh, a town of about 600 people in northwestern Minnesota.

“I lived in New Brighton for 25 years, and I never really felt a part of that city,” she said. “After living in this community for a year and a half, this felt like home.”

Despite loving her job at the HRA — and being such a good leader there council members worried about finding a replacement after hiring her as administrator — Bergman is back in her ultimate comfort zone in the city that now feels even more like home.


“I love working for elected officials. People run for office because they generally feel really passionately about their neighborhood, about their city,” she said. “And so at a local government, in a city government, you really feel that from your council members. And council members run because they want to see their city thrive and improve.”

And Bergman wants to be the one to help that happen, viewing her most important duty as city administrator as making sure city council members are as well informed on issues as possible.

“It’s our job as staff to provide them with information so that when they’re trying to decide what the city should do, then they have that information,” she said, noting council members, as elected officials, are the city’s ultimate decision makers.

The proposed Region Five Children’s Museum is an example. Right now, Bergman is working with Widseth Smith Nolting to draft a letter of intent so the council knows what Region Five’s expectations are and to decide if they want to place a children’s museum in Lum Park.

Those duties of information gathering and proper planning, she said, extend to essentially every part of city business — road work, sidewalk placement, housing, land use, water, businesses.

“Every day is something new,” Bergman said. “I get here in the morning and think I’m going to do one thing, and there are 20 other things that happen within a half hour.”

She identified the children’s museum and the redesign of Memorial Park as two top issues in the city right now. But as far as long-term goals, Bergman said it’s really up to the council.

“It’s our council that decides what the city is going to be doing. They’re elected; that’s they’re position,” she said. “And so I guess my goal would be to listen to the council to see where it is that they would like to see their city going and really try to react to that and move things forward that the council feels are important in our community.”


With various goals on the council’s mind and many different projects happening in the city, Bergman said the most challenging part of her first two months as city administrator has been learning.

“I am learning things every single day,” she said, noting she keeps re-reading the city’s charter and learning something new each time.

“I think the biggest challenge,” she added, “is making sure that I’m just taking my time to learn. Learn, learn, learn. Listen, listen, listen. I think that’s the most important thing a city administrator can do.”

To help with the transition, though, Bergman worked with former City Administrator Jim Thoreen, who filled in as an interim before her hiring. She has also found support and guidance from other area administrators, like former Brainerd administrator Patrick Wussow, who now works in Breezy Point, and Baxter administrator Brad Chapulis.

“The support that I’ve received since taking (the job), it’s so humbling,” she said.

She hopes to give back to the community that has supported her and become her home by listening to residents and learning what they feel Brainerd needs. Though she noted tourism as a huge part of Brainerd’s identity and economy, Bergman believes catering to year-round residents is even more important, and as city administrator she wants to make sure their needs are met.

Outside of city hall, Bergman is a member of the Brainerd Rotary Club and the Brainerd Lakes YMCA Board of Directors. When not working or dedicating time to other city organizations, Bergman can likely be found playing trivia at Jack Pine Brewery on Tuesday nights or playing cribbage or other card games with her husband, Mark Dockendorf.

Bergman has two grown daughters who live in St. Paul and Fargo, North Dakota.


“I’m here. I’m not going anywhere,” she said. “I love where I live. I love living here, so I’m here until I retire.”

THERESA BOURKE may be reached at or 218-855-5860. Follow her on Twitter at .
Theresa Bourke started working at the Dispatch in July 2018, covering Brainerd city government and area education, including Brainerd Public Schools and Central Lakes College.
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