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Brainerd City Council: Council selects 5 finalists for city administrator

The Brainerd City Council will invite five candidates to interview for a chance to become the city's next administrator. Council members met in special session Tuesday, together narrowing the field of applicants by half as each listed the three c...

The Brainerd City Council will invite five candidates to interview for a chance to become the city's next administrator.

Council members met in special session Tuesday, together narrowing the field of applicants by half as each listed the three candidates topping their lists. Three candidates made the first cut, while a tie between three others was broken following a second round. The identities of the candidates were not revealed during this portion of the meeting, with council members instead referring to applicants by numbers alone.

Following the tiebreaker round, council member Sue Hilgart voiced concerns with one of the two receiving enough votes to make the final five. Hilgart said she was troubled by some of the candidate's scores on a personal inventory each filled out, and she did not like the candidate's introductory video. Hilgart suggested a sixth candidate be added as a backup. Council member Jan Lambert said maybe the council should just select six finalists, if that were the case.

Council member Gabe Johnson asked Gary Weiers of David Drown Associates, the firm conducting the candidate search, at what point candidates become concerned at the number of finalists.

"Six or seven or nine?" Johnson asked. "What's the numbers that start scaring candidates away?"

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Weiers said a recent search he conducted for another government had six finalists, and that prompted questions.

Council President Dave Pritschet said he worried with too many candidates, it might become cumbersome and could disadvantage those early in the interviewing process.

Another poll of members showed Hilgart was the only member wishing to include a backup candidate.

Departing from past practice, the council did approve travel expenses for applicants, agreeing to pay up to $150 toward hotel room costs. The interview process itself will include a sit-down with department heads, a tour and a group interview with council members. Interviews with the council were tentatively set to begin 2 p.m. Nov. 15.

The city's search this fall will be to hire the fifth city administrator in five years. In July, City Administrator Jim Thoreen announced plans to retire by the end of October. Last month, Thoreen agreed to stay through the end of the year, or until the new administrator assumes the role.

Following is background information on the five finalists, presented in alphabetical order.

Matthew Fulton

Most recently the city manager of West St. Paul, Matthew Fulton has city administrator experience dating back to 1987. He earned a bachelor's degree in urban studies from the University of Minnesota-Duluth and a master's degree in public administration from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

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Before serving as city manager of West St. Paul from August 2013 through January 2017, Fulton was city manager for Coon Rapids from June 2006 through July 2012; for New Brighton from November 1993 through June 2006; and for Hartford, Wis., from May 1987 through November 1993.

According to the St. Paul Pioneer Press, Fulton abruptly resigned from his West St. Paul position in January, shortly after some council members called for a meeting to discuss Fulton's contract. Interviewed by the Pioneer Press, Fulton said new leadership sought a different direction.

"So I elected to work out a separation agreement with the council," Fulton said. "These things happen in my profession."

In 2013, Fulton also resigned from his previous post in Coon Rapids following a performance review, when council members for that city cited "differences of opinion" over public and private development.

In his resume, Fulton noted he works as an usher at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul.

Michael Kornmann

Michael Kornmann is one of three finalists without previous city administrator experience. Kornmann currently serves as the human resources department head and community development agent for the University of Wisconsin Extension program for Burnett County, where he's been employed since 2001. In that role, Kornmann, supervises five employees and manages a $400,000 budget, and developed the county's first strategic plan.

Kornmann's background prior to joining the Extension program heavily favors planning. He was the planner for the city of River Falls from 2000-01; the GIS/project planner for the city of Green Bay, Wis., from 1996-2000; a planning intern for Albermarle County, Va., from 1995-96; and a cartographer with the Department of Defense from 1991-95.

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Kornmann earned a bachelor's degree in geography from the University of Wisconsin Stevens Point and a master's degree in urban and environmental planning from the University of Virginia.

Scott Mareck

Scott Mareck is another finalist without previous city administrator experience, according to his resume. Mareck's professional work experience focuses on transportation, with his current post as the senior transportation planner with WSB & Associates in St. Cloud.

As a transportation planner, Mareck serves as project manager on a number of corridor studies and transportation plans, including those for the cities of Mahtomedi, St. Paul Park, Roseville, Blaine, Ramsey, West St. Paul, North St. Paul and Savage, along with Scott County and the Minnesota Department of Transportation.

Mareck took that position in 2013 after serving as the executive director of the St. Cloud Area Planning Organization from March 2007 through December 2013. Prior to serving as executive director for nearly seven years, Mareck was a transportation planner with the same organization from June 1992 through March 2007.

Mareck earned both his bachelor's and master's degrees from St. Cloud State University-a bachelor's degree in public administration, and a master's degree in geography/geographic information systems.

When not planning transportation systems, Mareck serves as a reserve officer with the St. Cloud Police Department, according to his resume.

William McCabe

William McCabe is one of two finalists with previous city administrator experience. McCabe currently serves as city administrator for St. Augusta, a city of 3,600 people south of St. Cloud in Stearns County. He's served in that post since 2005. Before accepting that role, McCabe served as city administrator in two other cities: St. Charles, from 2001-05, and Red Lake Falls, from 1999-2001.

McCabe was a finalist in September for the city administrator post in Marshall, according to the Marshall Independent, although the Pipestone County Star reported another candidate was selected.

McCabe earned a bachelor's degree in accounting and business administration from Dickinson State University, before earning a master's degree in business administration from the University of North Dakota.

Cassandra Torstenson

The only woman in the mix, Cassandra Torstenson's background focuses on science and environmental positions.

Since December, Torstenson has served as the senior scientific policy adviser for North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum. In her resume, Torstenson described the position as responsible for providing background information on policies and keeping the governor abreast of critical information.

Prior to her appointment, Torstenson was the environmental section leader for the North Dakota Department of Transportation from July 2013 through December 2016; the director of Green Economy and Sustainable Water at the College of Lake County in Grayslake, Ill., from July 2012 through July 2013; and deputy director of water resources for McHenry County, Ill., from April 2007 through June 2012. Torstenson also spent fives years-2000-05-with the U.S. Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service, working first as a soil conservationist trainee and then a soil conservationist in Sycamore, Ill., and Eureka, Ill.

Torstenson earned her bachelor's degree in environmental science from Western Washington University in Bellingham, Wash., and her master's degree in public administration from the University of North Dakota.

In an Oct. 14 public Facebook post, Torstenson informed her social network she was "looking for a new career opportunity."

"I have an extensive environmental background, however, I am not limited to working in an environmental field," Torstenson wrote. "Rather, I would prefer to have my skills and abilities matched to a position that is rewarding, challenging, and forward thinking."

Related Topics: BRAINERD
Chelsey Perkins is the community editor of the Brainerd Dispatch. A lakes area native, Perkins joined the Dispatch staff in 2014. She is the Crow Wing County government beat reporter and the producer and primary host of the "Brainerd Dispatch Minute" podcast.
Reach her at chelsey.perkins@brainerddispatch.com or at 218-855-5874 and find @DispatchChelsey on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
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