by CHRIS ROGERS
On Monday, the Winona City Council selected five finalists to interview for the job of city manager. The finalists are Rushford City Administrator Stephen Sarvi; Ogden, Iowa, City Administrator Donovan Olson; Sibley County, Minn., Human Resource Director Kimberlai Moore Sykes; retired former Petoskey, Mich., City Manager George Korthauer; and former retired Anniston, Ala., City Manager Don Hoyt. The council also decided on plans for interviews with the candidates, which will include a private interview by a panel appointed by the council and private one-on-one meetings with each council member, in addition to a public interview with the full council.
"This is one of the most important jobs that we as a council do, is to make sure that we're hiring the right administrator for our community," council member Allyn Thurley said.
Moore Sykes was one of four finalists in the running to be Winona County's new administrator last fall. She has worked since 2013 as the human resources director for Sibley County. Before that, she was an executive for various Minnesota cities. She held brief posts as assistant city administrator for the metro area cities of Arden Hills and Brooklyn Center, Minn., in the 1990s and served as assistant city manager and then acting city manager at St. Anthony, Minn., until being laid off in 2012 and temporarily taking a job as interim city administrator for Pine City, Minn.
Sarvi has been Rushford's city administrator since 2011, where he led economic development efforts and tried to minimize the impact of State Highway 43 reconstruction, according to his resume. He worked as a city government executive for over a decade prior to that in the little Twin Cities suburb of Victoria, Minn., and in the nearby small town of Watertown, where he — after changing jobs — was elected mayor three times, according to his resume. Sarvi was a captain in the U.S. Army and spent over a decade throughout the 2000s as a sergeant in the National Guard. He received several medals for his service including the Bronze Star. He is a member of Fillmore County's Economic Development Authority and he is active in the Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation and in a regional workforce planning group called Southeast Minnesota Together, according to his resume.
Sarvi is the only applicant without a master's degree. Some council members said that matters; others said it does not. A lot of people who have not received graduate degrees are more than capable, said council member Michelle Alexander. It appeared Alexander and the council were discussing a different applicant, who was not selected as a finalists, but also lacked a graduate degree.
Korthauer worked for over 25 years as the city manager of Petoskey, Mich., a small town of around 6,000 people on Lake Michigan just south of Michigan's Upper Penisula, with a budget of approximately $28.4 million. His resume touted his experience at developing Petowskey's waterfront and tourism industry, and several council members said they were excited to see a candidate with such experience. Korthauer's career got its start back in 1974, when he worked as a manager and director for the park district of one Chicago suburb and for the village government of another. Just prior to his long-run in Petoskey, Korhauer worked as the CEO for a Northern Michigan ambulance service.
Hoyt most recently worked as the city manager for Anniston, Ala., a town with 23,700 people and a $35 million budget. His stayed in that job for four years before retiring. Prior to that he was the county manager for a rural Alabama county, the city manager of the small city of Litchfield, Mich., and a professor and public administrator in Louisiana. He is a Navy veteran.
Olson currently works as the city administrator for Ogden, Iowa, a town with a population of around 2,000, and as an instructor in community planning for Iowa State University. Prior to that he ran a small business, and spent 11 years as the program coordinator for the Iowa-based Insitute for Design Research and Outreach. He served for years as an elected official in Iowa, both as a state legislator and as a county supervisor.
During discussions of the would-be finalists, some council members were focused on longevity. Mayor Mark Peterson favored a younger candidate with less experience, but one who Peterson felt would grow into the job and stay in Winona, while Alexander backed the idea of hiring someone who could hit the ground running. "The reason he's not on my list is that I'm hoping that we're going to hire someone who's going to be here for a long time," Peterson said of one candidate. "I'm not looking for a 30-year person; I want someone who will do a good job now," Alexander said, when choosing between two other candidates.
Three of the finalists stood out in a straw poll of council members, while two others were selected for interviews partially as backups, in case top candidates drop out, which often happens. Council member Gerry Krage said that only two candidates really stood out to him. It is unclear which candidates the council favored since the candidates names only became public after the council's vote to name them as finalists and because the council used a number system to avoid using the candidates' names. It is also unclear whether any current city employees applied for the job or were among the semifinalists not selected for interviews.
The council discussed possible violations of the Minnesota Open Meeting Law that could result from holding private meetings between candidates and council members. The Open Meeting Law requires that the council make all of its meetings open to the public and bans the council from holding a series of "rolling meetings" in small groups to skirt the requirements of the law. City Attorney Chris Hood told the council he did not believe one-on-one meetings would count as a violation of the Open Meeting Law. Council member George Borzykowksi opposed the idea of one-on-one meetings. Alexander supported it, and other council members seems to agree with her.
Interviews are tentatively scheduled to be held on January 28 and 29. The council agreed to give each candidate $250 for travel expenses.