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Brainerd adds assistant planner position, prompts objection from council member Gabe Johnson

Council member Gabe Johnson opposed the measure, citing previous concerns with a departmental restructuring.

Brainerd City Hall 1.JPG
Brainerd City Hall. Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch

The Brainerd City Council added an assistant planner to the city during a meeting Monday, Jan. 4.

James Kramvik, who was hired as zoning specialist/permit technician in 2019, was promoted to the position, effective Jan. 5, starting at step 1 of the city’s wage grid earning $25.15 an hour.

Council member Gabe Johnson opposed the measure Monday, after speaking out several times against various new positions added to the city after restructuring the planning department into a community development department.

Gabe Johnson
Gabe Johnson

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David Chanski was hired as community development director in 2018 after the retirement of City Planner Mark Ostgarden. Chanski’s duties include complex supervisory, administrative and professional work planning, organizing, directing and supervising the community development department. He also oversees planning, zoning, community and economic development, natural resources and environment, and matters related to building and housing codes and criteria.

When the change was made, Johnson worried about the city eventually hiring a planner in addition to Chanski but said he was assured that would not happen. He spoke out again when the city created the zoning specialist/permit tech position in 2019 after the retirement of Administrative Specialist Laurie Johnson. The new position was attributed to new software giving the city online permitting capabilities. When hired in the role, Kramvik was responsible for permit technician duties — which decreased with the new software — and assisting Chanski with planning and zoning related duties, with which Chanski did not have technical assistance.

Johnson spoke out again that time, saying he worried that position would eventually turn into a city planner. Sue Hilgart — a council member at the time — said that wasn’t the case, as the community development department needed technical support of this nature if Chanski was to truly focus on the type of community development the city wanted.

Now with a vacant housing inspector position which the city does not intend to fill, the council agreed to restructure the community development department and turn that housing inspector position into an assistant planner, while still keeping a zoning specialist/permit technician and not having to add another full-time employee to the payroll. Johnson maintains this is more proof the city will likely hire a full-blown city planner in the future.

“I was the only one to vote ‘no.’ You all voted ‘yes,’” Johnson said of the restructuring during a budget workshop this past fall.

At the time, Finance Director Connie Hillman said staff was just looking at what the city needed.

Johnson again maintained his position Monday.

“When we didn’t replace the city planner, I said, ‘Well, we’re eventually going to. We’re just creating a community development (department), and we will have a city planner,’” he said. “I was told that’s not the case. We hired a permit tech, and I said, ‘I don’t support that because they’re going to turn that into a planner.’ And now it’s an assistant city planner, which is just one step closer because what this individual will be doing for the next two years is city planner work. And then we’ll say, ‘Well, now they’re already doing the work of a city planner, so we need to have a city planner.’ … We’re almost to the end of the road, but I still do not support it.”

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Johnson was the sole vote against promoting Kramvik to assistant planner.

The council then authorized staff to conduct the hiring process for an administrative specialist 2 position to replace the now-vacant zoning specialist/permit technician position. This is essentially the position Laurie Johnson had before her retirement and is a step down from what Kramvik did. The new person will focus primarily on permits for the building division, while Kramvik will focus on the zoning side.

Gabe Johnson also opposed this motion.

THERESA BOURKE may be reached at theresa.bourke@brainerddispatch.com or 218-855-5860. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/DispatchTheresa .
Related Topics: GOVERNMENT AND POLITICS
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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