Willmar City Council holds off on making city administrator decision as they wait for more information on candidates

·4 min read

May 14—WILLMAR — The Willmar City Council had hoped to make a decision Thursday night on who they would like to offer the position of city administrator to, following a long day of interviews and meetings. Instead, it could be several days before the council makes the final call, as it waits for more information on the finalists, including completed background checks and evaluations.

"We can make a better and informed decision," if the council waits for that extra information, said Councilor Julie Asmus.

The two finalists — Tyler Brooks and Dana Schoening — were in town on Thursday, meeting with a wide variety of people. The day started with a short welcome with the Willmar City Council before each met separately with city staff and members of Willmar Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce. The finalists were asked a range of questions about their work experiences, leadership styles and what they would bring to the city.

The candidates also received a tour of Willmar, with Aaron Backman and Connie Schmoll from the Kandiyohi County and City of Willmar Economic Development Commission acting as tour guides. There was also an opportunity for members of the public to meet and speak with the candidates at the Barn Theater late in the afternoon.

"We really tried to get out to the public," Mayor Marv Calvin said.

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* Four candidates for Willmar city administrator post all bring some Midwest experience

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The day concluded with the finalists having a second interview with the entire council, this time in person. Brooks was interviewed first, followed by Schoening. The interviews lasted about an hour and the council asked each candidate a variety of questions.

Brooks is currently on active duty in the United States Air Force, having served as an officer for the past eight years. He is stationed in Daytona Beach, Florida, and is an Air Force ROTC instructor at the Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. He has been deployed twice overseas and has served as flight commander, similar to a city manager, for a number of units. In those positions, he oversaw dozens of employees and managed budgets and projects, some worth millions, according to his resume.

While he does have years of leadership experience in the Air Force, Brooks did not shy away from his lack of municipal government knowledge.

"If the council and the community will be patient, I will learn what I need to learn to be very effective," Brooks said. "I know we can do some really, really good things."

Schoening has worked in city planning development since 2000, holding director-level positions in cities in Oklahoma and Texas. He is currently the Director of Planning and Operations in Sweetwater, Texas. In his career, Schoening has significant experience within city operations, mostly in planning and development, including working with private industry that is interested in moving to town, creating strategic plans and putting those plans into operation.

Schoening did say that he would utilize the city's finance department to help him get up to speed on city financing, though he has been a partner and player in the budgeting process at other cities.

Both candidates saw the Invest in Willmar local option sales tax projects as a challenge facing the city and something they would work on getting resolved, including prioritizing what can be done.

Each said they would get out into the community and build relationships with the many stake holders in the city from the public and private sector. They talked about the culture they would like to build in the city. Brooks said he wants to create a culture of giving the department heads and staff the support to manage their departments in ways they think best while also providing expectational customer service to the residents.

"I expect them to tell me if they disagree with me," Brooks said of the city staff, a culture he has always fostered in his career.

Schoening said the culture within a city government revolves around how well it is meeting the expectations of the public and the city council.

"Do we need to look at the culture and make changes, to reflect new needs and expectations," Schoening said. "It is important to manage that and manage it well. Because we want to do the right things and we want to make sure we get the right people."

Now the decision on who to pick to lead Willmar into the future sits with the council. Current City Administrator Brian Gramentz is leaving the post at the start of June.

"I think we have two very strong candidates," Calvin said. "I think we have two candidates that could do a very good job for us. They do bring different skill sets to the table and it is up to the council to decide."

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