Council invites 4 city administrator finalists to interview

Mike Christopherson
At Tuesday evening's special Crookston City Council meeting, Liza Donabauer, management consultant with DDA Human Resources, Inc., collects paper ballots from council members and the mayor on which they picked their preferred city administrator candidates to invite to Crookston for interviews. Seated left to right are Mayor Dale Stainbrook and council members Clayton Briggs, Steve Erickson, Jake Fee and Bobby Baird.

For those scoring at home, at a special meeting Tuesday evening the Crookston City Council selected city administrator candidates #3, #4, #8 and #10 to come to Crookston for two days of interviews, likely Aug. 12-13.

Other than their numbers and a vague idea of where they’re coming from – two are more than 1,000 miles from Crookston, one is around 700 miles away, and one is driving distance from Crookston, around 200 miles away – the consulting firm helping the city council with its search won’t publicly identify the finalists until they accept the invitation to come to Crookston to be interviewed.

Liza Donabauer, management consultant with DDA Human Resources, Inc., a David Drown Associates company, cautioned the council that even though they’re inviting four administrator candidates for interviews, in most cases at least one candidate declines the offer, either because they’ve accepted another position or have had a change of heart.

The City of Crookston has been without an administrator for all of 2020, since the council reached a separation agreement with Shannon Stassen. Finance Director Angel Weasner earlier this year accepted the position of interim city administrator. Once someone is hired, she will return to her previous position.

Donabauer has been working with the City for months, and things were progressing nicely, she said, with the idea that a new administrator would be hired and on the job by now.

“Then, guess what, COVID hit,” she said.

With the pandemic in full swing this past spring, the City’s first attempt to advertise the administrator position and lure applicants was less than successful. A few candidates applied, but DDA Human Resources didn’t recommend any of them for interviews and instead suggested that the City put the brakes on the effort for a few weeks.

A second round of advertising the position bore more and apparently better fruit. Donabauer said 38 applied and her firm whittled that number to 13 for the council to consider for interviews. A trio of applicants subsequently bowed out, leaving 10 for the council to consider Tuesday. Council members and Mayor Dale Stainbrook have spent the past week going over the candidates’ portfolios and also viewed videos produced by each candidate. The council opened Tuesday’s special meeting by approving a resolution capping the maximum number of candidates they’d invite for interviews at six.

Votes on paper

Donabauer first had council members and Stainbrook rank their top three candidates. After that round of voting, candidates #4 and #8 were the most popular, with five votes each. Candidate #3 garnered three votes. 

With the possibility that one or more might decline the interview invite, the council and mayor voted a second time on small scraps of paper, but during that vote only picked their preference for a fourth interviewee. During that round, candidate #10 was most popular, with three votes.

Lots of logistics

Although it appears the interviews will be conducted Aug. 12-13, there are a lot of logistics to iron out. What is known is that the finalists will be interviewed by the council and mayor, they’ll go on a bus tour of Crookston and there will be a meet-and-greet with the community. But logistics that need to be further detailed include whether or not there will be stops at community landmarks like UMN Crookston or Crookston High School while on the tour to meet people like Chancellor Mary Holz-Clause or School District Superintendent Jeremy Olson, and other Crookston “stakeholders.” There was also a suggestion that the candidates have a specific opportunity to meet City department heads and other management-level staff.

The council agreed to cover the finalists’ travel costs, with certain caps. The council also wanted to make sure that Crookston’s three primary hotels were treated as equally as possible, so two candidates will stay at the AmericInn, two will stay at the Cobblestone, and the community meet-and-greet will take place at the Crookston Inn.

Donabauer’s initial schedule had everything taking place in one day, but by the end of Tuesday’s meeting everyone agreed to expand the schedule to two days.

Note: The council vote to invite four finalists to town for interviews was 7-0. Ward 4 Council Member Don Cavalier was absent. He said he thought the meeting started at 6 p.m. – it started at 5 – and he arrived minutes before 6 just as the special meeting was being adjourned by the mayor.