Hazelton offered top county job

Staff photo by Fritz Busch Brown County administrator finalist and Winthrop city Administrator/Economic Development Director Jenny Hazelton, left, talks to Brown County staff at a meet and greet event in the Law Enforcement Center (LEC) training room Wednesday afternoon. Brown County commissioners unanimously approved a resolution to offer the job to Hazelton Wednesday afternoon.

NEW ULM — After about 20 minutes of discussion, Brown County commissioners unanimously approved a resolution to offer the county administrator job to Winthrop City Administrator/Economic Development Director Jenny Hazelton.

On a motion by commissioner Scott Windschitl, seconded by Tony Berg, a resolution moved the hiring process to an ad hoc committee of commissioners Windschitl, Dave Borchert, Human Resources Director Ruth Schaefer and David Drown Associates Management Consultant Liza Donabauer.

The resolution followed finalist ballots Donabauer gave to commissioners who favored offering the job to Hazelton by a 3-2 vote. Commissioners further discussed the finalist offer before acting on the final resolution.

Donabauer said she will give Hazelton until Monday morning, April 15, to decide if she will accept the position. Brown County commissioners meet on Tuesday, April 16.

The position has a salary range of $112,365 to $137,335. It requires a bachelor’s degree and minimum of five years experience in public administration and financial accounting in the public or private sector and at least three years of general government operations experience.

“This is a tough decision,” said commissioner Dean Simonsen.

Other commissioners agreed that both finalists — Hazelton and St. James City Manager Sam Hansen — had local connections, lengthy government experience and positive personalities. They said they were particularly impressed with Hazelton’s vast experience in Winthrop and decades of budget management.

Two other finalists were not part of the process Wednesday. Valley Center, Kansas, City Administrator Scott Hildebrand withdrew after accepting another position and Brandon, S.D., City Administrator Bryan Read was not able to make the trip to New Ulm Wednesday morning due to heavy snow.

Commissioners decided to continue with the hiring process after interviewing Hansen and Hazelton.

On Jan. 15 commissioners approved County Administrator Chuck Enter’s resignation effective May 31. In addition, they approved an $18,000 executive search/recruitment consultant proposal from David Drown Associates Human Resources, Inc.

In an in-depth interview, Hazelton said she has held many government positions in Winthrop and believes in trusting that employees know their job and do it well. She said she’s handled the Winthrop city budget for more than 20 years.

“I won’t micro-manage,” Hazelton said. “I’m a big emailer. If there is something I feel people should know, I shoot them email. Sometimes the city council differs on things. Finding a solution may mean sitting down, talking to them and coming up with a compromise.”

“We give worksheets to department heads and monitor it with them monthly. Lately, snow removal is the big budget item.”

Hazelton said she views herself as a liaison between departments, helping them get along.

She said the RS (Renville Sibley) Fiber project was among the most challenging issues she has dealt with.

“It was so divisive, we had 14 people running for mayor and three city council positions in 2007,” Hazelton said. “We had many stressful meetings. It was uncomfortable, but I saw it as part of the job.”

Hazelton said she has written many grants for city events.

“I hope people see me as the person who connected them with local government,” Hazelton said. “I have collaborated with a number of nearby cities including New Ulm and Gaylord on things like housing and other projects. The Winthrop Chamber of Commerce has many events. Sometimes it’s tough to find enough people to do things. My view is, we’re there to help.”

She said one of the most unusual events meant closing Main Street to host a winter marshmallow roasting event.

“I’m approachable. I like the area. I feel I can really grow in this position and get along with staff,” Hazelton said. “On a contentious issue, I don’t feel I should lead you in any way or another.”

Hansen said he grew up in Morgan, was born in Sleepy Eye and proposed to his wife in Essig, then took her to Carl’s Corner to eat in Essig.

“I try to apply common sense to any problem,” Hansen said. “Trust is something that can easily be broken and can take a long time to get back. Over time, I feel it can be established. Not everyone is the same, but you want people to want the same end result.”

Hansen said one of more contentious issues he dealt with was where to put a sculpture in St. James.

He said creativity was used to allow back-angled parking between two roundabouts in St. James allowed motorists to load vehicles more safely from the sidewalk and create more parking spaces.

“There was a huge learning curve, but once people figured it out, it was fine,” Hansen said.

Hansen said he created five-year capital improvement plans as city manager in St. James and Sherburn.

“I hope will remember me for working on multi-million dollar improvement projects in St. James including a $15 million job on Highway 4,” Hansen said. “Other projects included remodeling offices to make them safer.”

Hansen said St. James water and sewer rates recently rose to rates where he said they should be.

“Costs keep going up, but if you put money aside for them,” Hansen said. “I don’t see myself doing radical changes here. I see myself staying here for 30 years. My wife is from the Twin Cities but I hate the cities. I hate traffic. This is where my heart is. I have a good relationship with several Brown County city managers.”

Fritz Busch can be emailed at fbusch@nujournal.com.