After about two years of semi-retirement, a familiar face is back in Brainerd City Hall.
Jim Thoreen, now 74, came in as interim city administrator late last month after Cassandra Torstenson announced her resignation.
Thoreen, who served as city administrator for two and a half years between 2015-2017, moved to Glenwood when he retired from the city but still kept busy with various projects at Pioneer Public Television in Appleton. When he read about Torstenson’s resignation in September, he decided to step up and offer help if the city needed it.
“Brainerd’s part of my DNA now,” Thoreen said during an interview Wednesday, Oct. 9, at city hall.
He only expects to be with the city until about December or January, by which time the council will hopefully have found a full-time replacement, but Thoreen still wants to be an active part of the local government and help out where he can during his three-day work weeks.
“It’s a marvelous community with many opportunities, but a whole host of challenges, some of which are not in the realm of city government, but some of them are,” he said of Brainerd.
Upon coming back to Brainerd after a two year hiatus, Thoreen is pleased with the new developments, especially in the downtown area.
He noted the recently opened Knotty Pine Bakery on Laurel Street, along with the new glass windows at Bob and Fran’s Furniture down the street.
“These are such positive things,” he said, also noting challenges downtown, like vacant storefronts in the area that could be opportunities for growth if addressed properly.
“Managing it is, in part, a city obligation, to some extent, either through the city, through the EDA, through some other government operation,” he said. “But there’s private entrepreneurship, and how we provide incentive? How do we provide support, if not dollars and cents, at least in support of those businesses?”
Paying close attention to property values and ensuring enough operating funds for the city are a couple other areas Thoreen plans to focus on during his short time at city hall as well.
“The downtown is starting to sparkle in a number of ways that adds value to buildings,” he said. “You’ve got other housing that’s now being developed in several other places in the city that formerly were sitting empty. Now they’re coming to life.
“So there’s a great positive trend, but that doesn’t take away from all the challenges. How do you maintain your city streets, sewer, water? None of that is cheap.”
But Thoreen pointed to a couple of driving forces in the economic development area in Brainerd, like Brainerd Industrial Center owner Mike Higgins and River to Rail instigator Bruce Buxton, who are “dyed-in-the-wool” Brainerd people always trying to make things happen.
As far as his role in all of this activity, Thoreen said he sees himself as a transitional person who will focus on understanding and comprehending the economic development and community development efforts in the city and relay that information to the next administrator.
He plans to use his prior knowledge and experience in Brainerd to help as well.
“I can point out what I see as the differences between then and now, but really pass it along to the next person who’s going to grab it and do his or her thing and do it well,” he said. “That’s my plan and my hope for the city.”
The administrator search
The city council is working with David Drown Associates to find a full-time city administrator.
The position was posted Sept. 17 and will be open for a month, after which time Gary Weiers, of David Drown, will select the top 10-12 candidates and bring them before the council.
Those candidates will be assigned to complete a video presentation, which the council will then have access to, along with their applications and resumes.
If all goes as planned, the council will likely conduct interviews with the top candidates in mid-November, with the goal of hiring an administrator shortly thereafter.