North St. Paul hiring for new director job

When city naturalists expressed the need for North St. Paul Parks and Recreation to conduct a survey of the Southwood Nature Preserve, where invasive plants are continuing to gain ground, Mayor Mike Kuehn was a bit surprised to discover this hadn't already been done.

He didn't place blame, but in a phone interview following the Jan. 6 city council meeting, he flagged this as another instance of a task that had fallen through the cracks.   

To address issues like this, which can often be traced back to gaps in staffing, the city is moving forward in hiring a strategic operations director — the final stage of staff reorganization efforts that began two years ago.

A newly selected strategic operations director will support City Manager Jason Ziemer in both the day-to-day operations and big-picture initiatives outlined  in the city's strategic plan. Kuehn frames the move as a step in the right direction.

"I think we'll have someone else who can roll up their sleeves, so we don't miss out on opportunities to get things accomplished," Kuehn said.

One of many changes

The addition of a strategic operations director (which effectively replaced the contracted community development employee position) is one of many staffing changes the council has approved since City Manager Jason Ziemer came on board.

"When I started with the city in 2013, one if the tasks was to sit down and look at staffing and see what the needs were," Ziemer said, noting staffing cutbacks during the recession left many employees overburdened with unrelated tasks.

The community development position itself has a spotty history with the city. Introduced in the early 2000s to help with redevelopment challenges then, the position employed Linda Cummings for a few years before she was let go due to budget cuts.

Reintroduced later, the role was filled by Nate Ehalt.

As approved by the council in 2013, for the 2014 budget, the city: hired Finance Director Jeanne Day to replace its part-time contract finance director; absorbed the duties of the economic development director into the community development director position, promoting Paul Ammerman to fill the new role; hired Corrin Wendell as its first city planner; added a new administrative assistant/receptionist position to help answer incoming calls; and separated the duties of fire chief and public works director into two distinct staff positions. Plans to create a new engineering technician position were shelved for further discussion in 2016.

With organizational restructuring nearly complete, the council reviewed the strategic operations director position at the Dec. 16, 2014, council meeting, before approving the final job description to post for applicants.

At the meeting, Council member Jan Walczak expressed concern over the inclusion of the word "director" in the title of the position, which had been labeled the assistant to the city manager position in past proposals.

"I’m feeling there’s more power in this than the position we originally talked about," she said, noting that the new title likely came with a higher salary.

Historically, the city manager, police chief, electric director, electric superintendent, finance director and fire chief have earned the largest salaries. At a proposed salary range of $55,965 to $74,848, Ziemer says the new strategic operations director would not likely make the top 10 list of highest paid city employees. Likewise, the inclusion of the word "director" in the title of the new position, he says, would not position this employee above department heads.

Ziemer says the new position is instrumental in allowing the city to execute its strategic plan, in switching to a proactive mode, rather than reactive.

"I need somebody who's more than a task master," Ziemer said."I need someone who's part of the team to help steer the city into the future."

According to the job description, the duties of the new strategic operations director fall into two categories, both administrative and strategic. The staff member will "serve as an integral part of the city's leadership management team," but won't hold any supervisory responsibilities.

Concerning basic responsibilities, the new hire will serve as a liaison between the various commissions and the city council, assist the city manager with preparation and implementation of annual budgets, pursue potential grant funding opportunities, help maintain the city's website, perform most human resource duties, and engage in a number of other assigned responsibilities.

In regards to higher-level duties, the new hire will be expected to bring a heightened level of strategic vision and execution to the team, coordinating initiatives among the departments and aiding in and monitoring the city's progress toward achieving its goals, as outlined in the strategic plan.

Ziemer says having the support of this new hire will allow him to focus more on some of the big policy items, like the fiber optic fund, that will benefit the community.

Likewise, Kuehn says the extra support for Ziemer will give him the opportunity to engage more with his peers in neighboring cities, to strengthen intergovernmental relations, and grant him the flexibility to become better acquainted with the city he's managing.  

"I started doing a city tour with [Ziemer] last summer and we only got half done because of limitations on his time," Kuehn said, adding he hopes to complete the tour once the new hire settles in.

Applications for the new strategic operations director position were due Jan. 23. After initial evaluations and interviews, select candidates will be invited to interview between Feb. 2 and Feb. 4. The city plans to extend a job offer on Feb. 9, establishing an official start date in late Feb. or early March.

Erin Hinrichs can be reached at 651-748-7814 and Follow her at


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