Willmar Public Works to motor on as search for new director continues

·3 min read

Jun. 1—WILLMAR — As the summer construction season punches up into high gear, the Willmar Public Works Department finds itself without a director or city engineer.

Sean Christensen, who filled both of those roles, has stepped down and the city is now on the hunt for his replacement. In the meantime, the Willmar City Council has made some decisions on how to keep the department running in the short term.

For the day-to-day administrative duties of the director, Public Works Supervisor Gary Manzer will step into the role. The council during a special council meeting on Thursday approved assigning those duties to Manzer. The motion passed unanimously.

"It is an excellent opportunity to lift up one of our exemplar employees throughout many, many different areas and years," said Councilor Andrew Plowman. "I know he will do a fantastic job, as he always has."

To keep the engineering side of the department going and some overhead supervision of the entire Public Works Department, the council at its May 17 meeting approved an hourly contract with Christensen, whose last day as a full-time director is June 4. He will provide limited, and most likely remote aid, to the Public Works Department if it is needed. The contract will be for no more than 10 hours a week and will last for three months.

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At the same meeting, the council also approved using Bolton & Menk for engineering needs, such as signing off on plans for projects that require a licensed civil engineering review.

"That engineering firm is on the ground running in terms of knowledge," said Plowman. "They know our city's infrastructure as well."

The contract with Christensen will cost $63.75 per hour and the engineering consulting services from Bolton & Menk will cost $95 per hour.

"This is a Band-Aid," while the search for a permanent director and city engineer is completed, said City Administrator Brian Gramentz.

The city is also without an assistant city engineer. There is an employee at the city who is working on their civil engineer license. If successful, this person could possibly help.

"It is a process. We have to wait until all the cogs are in place," Gramentz said.

The city began advertising for the open director position in late April. Gramentz said the city will begin the interview process as soon as there are a few more candidates.

"We would like to have five or 10 applicants, but engineers are a hot commodity anywhere in the United States at this point," Gramentz said. "We are hopeful we will get a few more applicants."

Mayor Marv Calvin shared his disappointment that the city hadn't started planning for Christensen's departure sooner than a few weeks before he was set to leave.

"This should have been discussed at a minimum two months ago," Calvin said.

As the search for a new Public Works director and city engineer continues, the city trusts the current staff to keep providing the services the city needs and expects.

"We have a great staff, with our Public Works Superintendent," Gramentz said. "We all know if we disappeared tomorrow, the Public Works staff would carry out their jobs the following day. It is a very good department."