Crow Wing County Board: Liedl resigns as land services director - Successor promoted from internal ranks

Crow Wing County government will undergo a significant change in leadership later this month, following the surprise resignation of Land Services Director Mark Liedl.

Mark Liedl
Mark Liedl

Crow Wing County government will undergo a significant change in leadership later this month, following the surprise resignation of Land Services Director Mark Liedl.

The county board Tuesday accepted Liedl's resignation and approved a resolution appointing Gary Griffin, land services supervisor, as the new director of the department. In announcing the resignation to the board, County Administrator Tim Houle described it as "some rather late breaking developments."

In a March 13 resignation letter exceeding 1,000 words, Liedl outlined the achievements occurring since 2008 under his management of the land services department in a bulleted list. These included the integration of seven separate departments and functions of the county recorder and auditor-treasurer into one land services department, an overhaul of the zoning ordinance that trimmed 38 pages from the previous version, the elimination of management positions and the implementation of ongoing customer service surveys resulting in responses that were 97 percent favorable.

"I never intended to stay in this position so long-but it was just so rewarding to be able to work hard to actually make government smaller and more effective!" Liedl wrote. "In my more than 30 years of public policy experience at the federal, state and local levels, I had never experience (sic) such synergy and support from policy makers who were so genuinely and substantively committed to better service at lower costs for taxpayers."

Liedl, who also serves as the last county recorder to be elected in Crow Wing County after that post transitioned to appointive in 2015, said he fulfilled his campaign promise to combine the responsibilities of that position with those of the land services director. Liedl did not take the recorder's salary when he assumed the post, eliminating more than $100,000 in property tax levy spending. An additional $2 million in spending was eliminated by combining various departments into land services, Liedl added.


"I do believe it is the right time to transition to new leadership in the land services department," Liedl wrote. "For me, personally, and for the county. The land services department is running well and equipped with exceptional leaders who are well prepared to continue and improve upon the accomplishments we have achieved for taxpayers."

Although Liedl's resignation is effective March 24, he will remain on the county payroll as a project manager through the remainder of his elected term. Liedl will head the transition of the county from a 1970s-era system of managing property taxes and assessing to a new software program intended to improve accuracy of county records and create efficiencies.

The county board approved a resolution drafted by Houle appointing Liedl project manager through the end of 2018. Liedl will earn $60,000 plus his current benefits in his new role. The position will be entirely funded by non-levy dollars-a combination of funds from a rebate acquired from the National Joints Power Alliance through the purchase of the property tax and assessing software, from the recorder's unallocated fund and from a fund set aside for information technology projects.

Commissioners praise Liedl

Houle and commissioners showered Liedl with praise for several minutes as each took the opportunity to share why they will miss his leadership.

"I think there's pretty much universal agreement that the accomplishments of the land services department have been truly remarkable," Houle said.

Commissioner Rachel Reabe Nystrom pointed to the favorable customer service surveys.

"This isn't just somebody's feelings, this is statistics," Nystrom said. "We have much to be grateful for."


Commissioner Paul Thiede said the positive public perception by county residents reflected a culture change in planning and zoning. Liedl's leadership helped turn around an attitude that was "in the tank," Thiede said.

"The number of plaques and awards we've received as land services is ... largely due to Mark's leadership in that regard," Thiede said.

"I just think that Mark has done an immense job," said Commissioner Rosemary Franzen. "We had a vision, but he made it come to life."

Commissioner Paul Koering said after reading through Liedl's bulleted list of accomplishments in his resignation letter, he was in awe.

"His brain and the ideas that flow out of this gentleman, we still need that, and I'm really happy that he's agreed to stay on as project manager," Koering said. "I am kind of sad, kind of melancholy, but sometimes you've got know when to hold them and know when to fold them."

Chairman Doug Houge said he seconded what the other commissioners said, and added the challenge Liedl undertook was even more impressive given the timeline during which he accomplished it.

"The calls we received prior were fairly negative to calls of confidence, and that happened fairly quickly as far as I'm concerned," Houge said.

Board promotes Griffin as successor


Houle said the county board could choose to advertise the director position externally, internally or promote from within, and his recommendation was to promote from within. Houle said he would usually recommend either the first or second option, but with someone within the department ready to take on the role, posting the job would be inappropriately leading on other candidates.

Houle asked the board to consider appointing Griffin as the next land services director, speaking at length about Griffin's accomplishments in his role as head of the county assessor's office.

"Under Gary's leadership, the assessment staff has done an absolutely remarkable job," Houle said. "It was common that the state of Minnesota would come into Crow Wing County every single year and make adjustments to the assessor's recommended values. ... We haven't had a state adjustment for eight years in any property type, not residential, not agriculture, not seasonal, not commercial, not a single one."

Houle said Griffin was unique among assessors in his focus on customer service. He said with the perception of the assessor's office as the "tax man cometh" among property owners, many assessor's offices would be hesitant to learn how their constituents view the work. Not so with Griffin, Houle said. He sent out customer satisfaction surveys and received positive reviews from 95 percent of respondents.

"To send out a survey in the assessor's office and to risk what they will say to you, I think would send chills down the backs of most county assessors in the state," Houle said.

Griffin oversees the customer service counter in land services as well, which Houle noted gave him insight into every function of the department. Houle also pointed to the implementation of technology in the office, the development of guides establishing uniform standards and the reduction of 2.3 full-time equivalent staff positions as positive attributes of Griffin's work.

Houle said another recent departure in the land services department of Katie Bobich, program and policy analyst, presented an opportunity to evaluate the needs within land services. In the resolution Houle drafted to appoint Griffin director, he authorized Griffin to reallocate the analyst position to a certified appraiser position and to fill the vacancy left by his promotion with a program coordinator position, similar to those within the community services leadership structure.

Griffin's promotion would move him to the beginning salary range of Grade 22 on the county's pay scale-$98,124-compared to the salary Liedl was earning, which was $112,595 annually. Coupled with the other changes in the department as a result of reorganizing those positions, more than $180,000 in savings would be realized, including $70,000 in levy reductions, Houle said.


Houle said he was leaving open some of the details of the reorganization for Griffin to "have some kind of fingerprint" on it, should the board approve his appointment.

The board unanimously approved Griffin's appointment and the details of the reorganization as outlined in Houle's resolution.

Thiede said the chemistry in the department would change with new leadership, and he did not want to overburden Griffin with expectations from the outset even though he expected Griffin would meet them.

"I think sometimes we depend on Mark's creativity and his experience over these years to really generate new thoughts and new ideas and new opportunities," Thiede said. "I think Gary is going to contribute to that and grow into that even more, but I think we ought to have the expectation that that's not going to happen overnight. ... This change is going to be a key part in really advancing the senior management capabilities of this county."

By phone Tuesday, Liedl said he believes Griffin is a great choice to be his successor.

"Gary is ready," Liedl said. "One of the things that was very important to me was to not leave until I had accomplished what I set out to accomplish, and second, to have in place strong leadership."

As for Liedl's future plans, he said he likes to be busy and intended to remain so. He has a new grandchild and his family recently opened a new Culver's location in Bemidji.

As for whether Liedl's involvement with county government was coming to an end, he said he had no idea.


"I like challenges, and it's hard for me to imagine not having enough challenges in my life to keep me interested," Liedl said.

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 or at 218-855-5874 and find @DispatchChelsey on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
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