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Brainerd police chief candidate withdraws name; Council extends offer to Brainerd native

Becker Police Chief Brent Baloun is the new pick to become Brainerd's next police chief.

Brent Baloun.jpg
Brent Baloun

A new name is now at the top of the list for Brainerd police chief after the city council’s frontrunner withdrew from consideration.

Becker Police Chief and Brainerd native Brent Baloun is the new pick, with the council voting to extend a conditional offer to him Monday, Jan. 4.

The council originally chose Fargo Lt. George Vinson Dec. 21, after he received the highest score of the seven finalists based on resume and community panel interviews.

In a letter to the council, Vinson said he was grateful to be considered for the job but ultimately had no realistic thought of placing high on the list — let alone getting offered the position — when he applied two months ago.

“Throughout this process I’ve learned a great deal about governmental process and I've learned a lot about myself,” he wrote. “This has been one of the hardest decisions I've ever made in my life. Unfortunately, because of COVID, I didn't get the opportunity to sit across a table from each of you, look you in the eye, and tell you who I am; nor did I get the same opportunity to learn who you are. A decision of this magnitude is certainly life changing. And at age 40, I cannot afford (figuratively and literally) to get it wrong.”

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Vinson said he was surprised when Gary Weiers of David Drown Associates called to extend the offer, and it soon became clear, he wrote, an agreement would not be likely.

“After a great deal of thought, multiple trips to Brainerd, many conversations with my wife, family and friends as well as praying to God; I’ve decided to very respectfully withdraw from the Brainerd Police Chief selection process,” Vinson said. “I feel bad about the inconvenience this causes you but I know you have other very skilled people on the list that will make a great Brainerd PD Chief. I wish you all the very best, Brainerd will always hold a special place in my heart.”

City policy states offering a job to any candidate with a starting salary above step 4 on the corresponding wage grid requires council approval. Step 4 on the 2021 police chief scale is $51.72 an hour, or $107,573 a year.

Gary Weiers of David Drown Associates, which conducted the police chief search for the city, said Vinson was likely not willing to accept that salary or even anything slightly higher.

“There were continuous discussions that I had with city staff, as well as the chair of the personnel committee,” Weiers told the council, noting Vinson withdrew his name from consideration Dec. 28.

Weiers then laid out three scenarios going forward. First, the council could extend an offer to Baloun, who was ranked second on the point scale and who two council members voted for as their No. 1 choice in December.

Another option was to continue further negotiations with Vinson and see if he would reconsider his withdrawal, and the third option was to ask the police and fire civil service commission to certify the next three names for the council to consider.

Weiers said he spoke with Baloun prior to Monday’s meeting and learned Baloun is still very interested in the job but that the minimum salary he would be able to consider is step 6 of the city’s wage grid — $116,910. Current Police Chief Corky McQuiston, who is set to retire Jan. 16, currently sits at step 6.

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Council member Gabe Johnson asked why candidates are expecting more money than the city’s policy allows for. Weiers said the advertisement for the police chief position included a full salary range to show candidates what wages would be possible, but he said there was no indication a candidate would start at the top of the range. He also said this kind of negotiation is not uncommon for positions such as this one.

Johnson said advertising should be done differently in the future so candidates know what the starting rate is in the city and higher steps on the wage grid are merit-based. Mayor Dave Badeaux agreed, saying this advertisement was a misstep.

Council member Dave Pritschet, however, noted Baloun has 14 years of experience as a police chief and said the offer of step 6 is worth considering.

Newly elected council member Tiffany Stenglein said she had a hard time hiring someone new at the same step as McQuiston when he is retiring after more than 20 years.

“I just think that seems an unreasonable ask,” she said.

Council President Kelly Bevans noted the same thing happened when McQuiston was hired, though. He was hired at the same starting salary as the outgoing chief.

Johnson agreed with Stenglein, saying it’s an odd precedent.

Council member Kevin Stunek ultimately motioned to extend a conditional job offer to Baloun at step 6 of the city’s wage grid and a $2,000 moving allowance, as has been offered to department heads in the past. Council member Tad Erickson seconded the motion.

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Johnson said he could reluctantly support hiring Baloun at step 5, as he is qualified and the process was confusing, but did not support the $2,000 for moving.

“We gave $2,000 in moving expenses to an employee moving a family up from Texas — the state of Texas — not from Becker, 90 minutes away,” Johnson said, referring to Community Development Director David Chanski.

That could be another dangerous precedent to set, he said.

Stunek and Erickson agreed to amend their motion to exclude the $2,000 in moving expenses but allow Weiers to speak with Baloun about moving costs, should he accept the position.

Badeaux wanted to make clear he was not at all against hiring Baloun but was frustrated with the hiring process.

Weiers said he understood everyone’s frustrations and wanted to clarify the advertisement did not promise any specific salary to candidates.

“This happens all the time,” he said. “When I left employment as a county administrator after 11 years, I said to the county board, ‘You will pay my replacement more than you’re paying me,’ and that’s exactly what they did. Incumbents are always undervalued in the pay structure system. It’s the nature of how things operate.”

Weiers said the council can certainly handle future hirings in a different way but pointed out the need for flexibility to attract high-quality candidates.

Bevans said the council could discuss the process at another time and called for a vote on the motion to offer Baloun the job at step 6 of the wage grid. The motion passed, with Stenglein opposed.

Baloun3.jpg
Baloun fields question from the Brainerd City Council during a virtual interview Dec. 10. Screenshot

About Baloun

Baloun was born and raised in Brainerd, attending Garfield Elementary School and graduating from Brainerd High School.

He also served as a patrol officer, school liaison officer and sergeant for the St. Cloud Police Department and as a police officer and drug abuse resistance education officer in Crosby. He has worked as a crime scene analyst and attended the FBI Academy for forensic training. He has a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice studies and a master’s in public safety executive leadership.

Acting police chief

Weiers will extend a formal job offer to Baloun, and the city’s personnel and finance committee will work with Weiers and city staff on contract negotiations.

Weiers said Baloun previously told him he would need to give about three weeks notice if he were to leave. In the meantime, the council appointed Deputy Police Chief Mike Bestul as acting police chief from Jan. 17 until a new chief is hired.

It is city policy for acting department heads to be placed on the lowest step of the wage grid for the position they are taking on that would represent an increase in pay, which would be step 2 in Bestul’s case. Bestul, however, requested to be placed at step 3, as step 2 would reflect an increase from his current salary of only $0.56 per hour. McQuiston endorsed that position as well, explaining all the extra work Bestul would be taking on and how insignificant $0.56 per hour is for a job of this caliber. The council agreed, setting Bestul at $47.94 per hour for the time he is acting police chief.

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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