Brainerd council chooses 5 finalists for city administrator: 2 local candidates in the mix

Brainerd City Council members meet with Gary Weiers of David Drown Associates to determine finalists in the hunt for a new city administrator during a special meeting Monday, Nov. 4, at the Crow Wing County Historic Courthouse. Theresa Bourke / Brainerd Dispatch

Five finalists are in the running to become Brainerd’s next city administrator.

David Drown Associates, the firm hired to conduct the search, narrowed the original 33 applicants down to 12.

Brainerd City Council members narrowed the pool down to five during a special meeting Monday, Nov. 4. A sixth candidate was chosen as an alternate if one of the first five drops out within 48 hours from Monday’s meeting.

After assigning each candidate a number, each council member chose their top three candidates. The top four candidates were each named as a top choice for at least one council member, with the fifth candidate never mentioned as a top choice but showing up in the top three for three council members.

The council agreed to allot each candidate up to $150 for travel expenses.


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

Jennifer Bergman

Serving as the executive director of the Brainerd Housing and Redevelopment Authority for the past eight years, Jennifer Bergman has an extensive background in the housing sector. She spent five years as executive director of the city of Anoka HRA, five years as program director for the Greater Metropolitan Housing Corporation and three years as the community development manager/assistant HRA director for Anoka County.

Bergman has a bachelor’s degree in local and urban affairs.

David Chanski

David Chanski is about a year into his post as Brainerd’s community development director. Before coming to Brainerd, he spent a year as a management assistant for the city of Alvin, Texas and a year and a half as a management analyst/zoning administrator for the city of Amery, Wisconsin.

Chanski has a bachelor’s degree in political science and a master’s in public administration.

Nathan Ehalt


Both county and city administrative experience are in the background of Nathan Ehalt, who has served as county administrator for Burnett County, Wisconsin for the past six years. Burnett County is in northwest Wisconsin and has a population of about 15,000.

Ehalt also spent several years in the city of North St. Paul, working as assistant to the city manager for three years, community development director for two years and interim city manager for two months.

Ehalt has a bachelor’s degree in political science and a master’s in public administration.

Joe Gaa

Joe Gaa has been the city administrator in Dickinson, North Dakota for the past year. Dickinson is a city of 22,000 about 100 miles west of Bismarck.

Previously, he spent four years as city manager for Chariton, Iowa; more than four years as city administrator/public works director for Woodbine, Iowa; and more than three years as parks administrator of the Sebastian County Parks Department in Arkansas.

Gaa has a bachelor’s degree in public administration/criminal justice and a master’s in recreational management.

Steve Kil


Steve Kil comes with more than two decades of managerial experience. He has served as town manager for the town of St. John, Indiana for the last 18 years. St. John is a town of about 15,000 in northwestern Indiana.

Prior to that, Kil spent seven years as town manager in Schererville, Indiana.

Kil has a bachelor’s degree in public administration.

What’s next?

The council will conduct interviews between 3:30-8:30 p.m. Nov. 19, in the meeting room at the police department. Before interviews, candidates will meet with city department heads and a group of chamber of commerce business leaders.

Gary Weiers, of David Drown Associates, facilitated the search after previous City Administrator Cassandra Torstenson resigned at the beginning of October.

Jim Thoreen, who served in the post before Torstenson, is filling as interim administrator until a full-time replacement is found.

The new hire will be the sixth city administrator in seven years. Torstenson was hired following the resignation of Thoreen, who served from 2015-17. He succeeded Patrick Wussow, who retired from the city administrator position about a year after being hired. Wussow followed Theresa Goble, who announced her retirement from the position in Sept. 2013. She took over the post in 2012, when longtime administrator Dan Vogt stepped down after 23 years.

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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