New community development director looks to put Brainerd on the map
From Minnesota to Colorado to Texas and back again. That's the path that led David Chanski to his new post as Brainerd's community development director.
Following the retirement of longtime city planner Mark Ostgarden at the beginning of the year, the city restructured its planning department into community development, encompassing more staff under one umbrella to better further the city's goals.
When Maple Grove native Chanski heard of the opening while living in his wife's Texas hometown, he decided to jump on the opportunity.
"We found out my wife was pregnant, and my boss left, so we decided to look for something more, and then Brainerd opened up," he said during an interview Friday, Feb. 8, at Brainerd City Hall.
Having been to Camp Ripley and Breezy Point several times before with his involvement in the Civil Air Patrol—the official civilian auxiliary of the U.S. Air Force—Chanski was familiar with the lakes area and decided it was the place to further his career.
"My wife came up with me to Brainerd back in October when I interviewed," he said, "and I think to both of us throughout that process, it was kind of made clear, Brainerd is the place we want to be."
And Brainerd will be the place Chanski and his wife settle down to start a new chapter in their life, complete with a new job and a new member of the family—their first child, a daughter, due March 23.
"We moved into our house last weekend, so now we're prepping our house, getting everything ready for her arrival," Chanski said.
Previous public service
It took a few moves to get Chanski back to his home state, where he can be close to family and more easily enjoy Twins baseball, but all his previous positions readied him for the new role in Brainerd.
After earning a degree in political science, with a minor in communication, from the University of Minnesota, Chanski moved west, obtaining his masters in public administration from the University of Colorado-Denver.
An internship in Thornton, a city just outside of Denver, gave Chanski a taste for civil service as he worked as a management and budget intern for the city.
"I got my hands wet in pretty much every aspect of the city," he said.
Gravitating back toward the Midwest, Chanski then took a job as the management analyst and zoning administrator in Amery, Wis., a much smaller city of 2,900 just across the Minnesota border.
"As a community of 2,900, the city only had 22 full-time staff, which meant everyone wore multiple hats," he said, describing his role as a "jack of all trades" handling finances, web management, planning and zoning administration and data analysis, among other duties.
"You name it, I probably did it," he said.
After becoming engaged, Chanski moved south, where took over as the management assistant for the city of Alvin, Texas, working directly for the city manager.
"In a way, you could pretty much say I was the special projects guy," he explained, noting duties such as data analysis, research, working with the chamber of commerce and coordinating volunteers for city-run events.
How it all started
With all that experience under his belt, it would seem public service was Chanski's goal from the get-go, but that isn't the case.
"Since I was a teenager, I always kind of felt this draw to public service," he said.
His membership in the Civil Air Patrol, an organization dedicated to aerospace education and emergency services, played a role in furthering that interest.
"I wanted to be an Air Force pilot, and even to this day I do have a love for aviation," he said, noting his brother's service as an army officer influenced him, too. "But over time I came to realize that really wasn't the path I really wanted to go on."
While taking classes through the Post Secondary Enrollment Options program at North Hennepin Community College as a high school student, Chanski discovered his interest in government.
"I found myself really interested in, not so much ideologies, but in structures of government and how it works, how it actually is administered," he said. "And that's what kind of led me down that political science path."
He then set his sights on studying constitutional law and becoming a lawyer. But while preparing for the law school entrance exams, Chanski realized that wasn't quite his passion either.
After accepting an invitation to visit the graduate school campus at the University of Colorado, he met with a career counselor who helped him realize local government was the way to go. During his internship at the city of Thornton, Chanski said a light bulb just went off, thus setting him on the public service path.
Community development in Brainerd
Chanski moved to Brainerd earlier in the winter and started work at city hall Dec. 31.
The community development department now includes both planning and zoning and building inspection and safety, the latter of which used to be under engineering.
Within the next year or so, Chanski said he will also be moving into more of an economic development role, working with the chamber of commerce and the Brainerd Lakes Area Economic Development Corporation to advocate for growth in Brainerd.
"BLAEDC does the whole region, and obviously they want to bring people to the region," he said, "but what I would be focusing on is bringing people to Brainerd specifically."
With the city currently in the process of updating its comprehensive plan, Chanski is working with the steering committee to engage the community, develop goals for the city and carry those out over the next few years.
"Because of what (community development) does in planning and zoning and building, that's where we come in, as a lot of that development has to do with bringing more businesses to town," he said, noting he has been working closely with Jennifer Bergman, executive director of the Brainerd HRA. "She and I have been working hand in hand quite a bit, especially when one of our big things is to enhance our downtown and bring more economic development to our downtown."
Workforce housing and diverse housing options are another issue Chanski and his department are working to tackle in Brainerd.
"How do we enhance our current housing stock?" he said. "How do we add housing that is for ... a cross section of people—young families, young professionals just starting out, established families, seniors?"
And along with diverse housing comes a need for diverse transportation.
"We're a community where a lot of people get around either by walking or biking. ... How do we make our community more, let's say, pedestrian friendly?" Chanski said. "Not a lot of communities the size of Brainerd have a transit system like we do, so we're definitely blessed by having that, but there are ways in which maybe we can enhance it or make it better as well."
Chanski also wants to enhance how the city works alongside neighboring communities, like Baxter.
"I think there's a lot of things that we can work together on," he said. "And my hope is by being that fresh face, someone who's not from the area, I can help try to bridge those gaps."
With all that work on the docket, Chanski has but one goal in sight.
"At the end of the day, our goal is to make Brainerd the city of choice in Minnesota," he said, emphasizing Brainerd's convenient position on the Mississippi River as a tremendous asset, as well as other community resources like the Brainerd Industrial Center, the Northern Pacific Center and easy access to Highway 371.
"We can make, and we do believe we'll make, Brainerd the city of choice of in Minnesota," Chanski said. "Over the next months and years to come, that's hopefully where we want to get."