Managing a city does not always end at 5 p.m. Cities run 24 hours per day. The city manager oversees all of the city’s departments, making sure that they run smoothly. City managers report to the city council and mayor, but they are also accountable to the public, making sure that the community’s needs are met. One trait all of the city managers and administrators across the southwest metro share: They are dedicated and passionate about the people in their communities.
For 20 years, Rick Getschow has been doing the same job: he’s served as a city manager in four different cities. After graduate school, Getschow was hired as city manager for Hector, Minn. From there he went to Lauderdale, then to Hopkins; Getschow has been the city manager of Eden Prairie since 2011.
It’s the variety of the job that keeps him going. “I get to be involved in almost every different aspect of city operations,” says Getschow, who oversees Eden Prairie’s six city departments: public works, police, fire, parks and recreation, community development and administration. In addition to working with the department heads, Getschow works with the mayor and council members and engages with the community in different ways. “I always say, if any neighborhood or group wants the mayor or me to visit, give a presentation or talk about the city, we are willing to do that.”
“What can be tough is you can’t always please everyone all the time,” Getschow says. As much as he is wired to want to do so, he cannot always say yes to every request. No city has an unlimited budget.
But citizens of Eden Prairie are far from losing any faith. Each year, the city puts out a survey to its residents asking them questions about city services. Last year’s survey showed 95 percent of residents say that Eden Prairie was an excellent place to live. “We’ve got people who expect a high level of service and we deliver it,” Getschow says. “That’s important and we want to keep that going.”
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Waconia’s city administrator Susan Arntz still remembers her 9th grade civics teacher who ignited her interest in American government. Arntz’s job strikes another nostalgic chord: Waconia, with its strong sense of community, is a reminder of her small, northern Minnesotan hometown.
Arntz has served in other roles and communities before becoming city administrator to Waconia 16 years ago. After starting out with Hennepin County working for one of the county commissioners, Arntz then moved to an internship with the city of Shoreview, followed by assistant city administrator for Chaska and then assistant city manager for New Brighton.
“Every day is different and that’s part of what’s magic about it,” Arntz says. In a single day, she can go from meetings with long term planning in mind to dealing with an animal complaint from a resident to working with a business owner who is looking to expand the business. The job oversees everything from snowplowing to elections to budgeting to utilities.
Arntz describes her role as a people-focused one. She loves working with people, talking and, most importantly, listening to them. “The biggest thing I’ve learned in this job is there is more than one side to every story,” Arntz says. “The context is more important than the content.” Some of the most rewarding conversations Arntz has had are with Waconia residents who offer a historical context on how their community has arrived at the present moment.
But working with people, whether it's problem solving or brainstorming, has its challenges at times. “Creating community is a process,” Arntz says, adding that sometimes that process does not move fast enough for all parties involved in an issue. “I don’t always have the ability to solve everyone’s issue on the spot.”
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Todd R. Gerhardt
For Chanhassen city manager Todd R. Gerhardt, no two days at the office are alike. There are scheduled meetings and other routine tasks, but he never knows what the issue at hand will be for the day. It’s that unexpected issue that excites him: “Some people would say that’s the biggest nuisance of the job, but I thrive on the unknown and think that’s what makes the job really interesting.”
For 30 years, Gerhardt has worked for the city of Chanhassen. After starting out as planning intern in 1986, over the years Gerhardt has served as acting city manager and assistant city manager before becoming city manager in 2001.
The best part of the job is the variety of people Gerhardt encounters. He enjoys the challenges in figuring out how to make a situation, such as a redevelopment project, better. For example, in downtown Chanhassen, Gerhardt has led the effort to relocate businesses that are not in the appropriate zones and create redevelopment opportunities for new businesses to relocate. But new projects require budgets and budgets are always tight. Having limited revenue to accomplish some of the city’s goals is definitely a challenge.
One of the days when the work agenda was unexpected was the day of Prince’s death. Gerhardt arrived at work that morning and received the news from his fire chief. The city urgently prepared for the media activity and the thousands of people who would come to Chanhassen to pay tribute. The city closed Highway 5 for left turns onto Audubon Road because that was the staging area for media and pedestrians to view Paisley Park. “Our goal was just to make sure that it was safe for people,” Gerhardt says. “We didn’t want to stop people from viewing or giving their condolences.”
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When Matt Podhradsky plans for the city of Chaska, the city administrator thinks in the long term. He plans for a time farther out in the future than he may be around to witness, not just 20 but 100 years. “As a city, we know we are going to be around forever, so we have to plan that way,” Podhradsky says.
Podhradsky has been city administrator for Chaska since 2008. He started his career with an internship for Chaska, then moved on to being the assistant city administrator for Winsted. He returned to Chaska in 2001 to serve as assistant city administrator from 2001-2008.
“85 percent of the position is relationships with people you have around the community,” Podhradsky says. This is his favorite part of the job. “At the end of the day, a big portion of the job is trust. People need to be able to trust that you are going to follow through with the things you say you are going to do.”
“We are dealing with things that impact people directly. With local government, we are dealing with that impact on a daily basis,” Podhradsky says, adding that this can sometimes pose challenges.
Working for Chaska over the years has shaped Podhradsky into a golf fan. He’s been around for plenty of tournaments, but the Ryder Cup was extra special. “The viewership is worldwide,” Podhradsky says. The TV viewership for the Ryder Cup is four times greater than that of the Super Bowl. “It definitely puts a different scope on how you think of security and those types of things because it’s a stage for the world.”
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Laurie Hokkanen, city manager of Victoria, is one of those rare people who knew exactly what she wanted to study immediately in college: public administration. She received her bachelor's and master's degrees in that field. Hokkanen was inspired to pursue a career in public administration because of the community building aspect. Prior to serving in her role in Victoria, where she started in 2014, Hokkanen was assistant city manager at Chanhassen for eight years.
The people Hokkanen works with and serves are by far the best part of the job for her. In addition to her other tasks, she spends a fair amount of time meeting with people who have ideas about what they want to do in Victoria. Part of her job is to make sure people get the chance to participate and shape what they do.
“I think one of the hardest things is gaining public trust,” she says. “Explaining to people in the beginning how the process works and that their feedback does matter can be difficult.”
One of the most rewarding aspects of Hokkanen’s work is that someone can come into the process, doubtful they can have an impact and leave feeling heard.
When asked to name a future project that excites the city manager, Hokkanen could not pick just one. There are residential development projects in place downtown that will bring around-the-clock life to the city center. The city also has goals to diversify the housing types to better accommodate the community’s seniors, college students and empty nesters. “It’s a really exciting time because there is a lot of interest and great ideas of what can grow here,” she says.
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