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Beltrami County administrator candidates interviewed

BEMIDJI – Beltrami County commissioners will make their choice for a new county administrator in a special meeting on Nov. 7.

That will come after the board receives input from department heads based on presentations made by the three candidates Monday. The candidates also had separate public interviews with commissioners Monday on a wide variety of topics.

The board plans to make its decision final in a meeting on Nov. 20. Before then, the candidate will go through a background check and negotiate his or her contract. The administrator will likely start on Jan. 1.

Larry Kruse, the former city administrator in Albertville, Minn., Thomas Johnson, the public works managing director for Eagle County, Colo., and Kay Mack, Beltrami County auditor/treasurer, are up for the job.

Larry Kruse

Kruse described his leadership style as “participatory,” adding that communication is key to making sure feel that points of view are understood.

“I don’t pretend to have all the answers,” Kruse said. “I know that you have a talented staff and it takes someone to pull that information and those recommendations out of your staff to make them a team.”

Kruse said that consensus won’t be reached on every issue, but he “will be someone that builds on the things that we can agree on.”

During the interview, Kruse was asked about his terminations from Albertville earlier this year and Baxter in 2002.

Kruse referred the board to his references, who he said “will give a very positive testimonial about my skills and my ability.”

“I spent 27 years in four different communities and just had really positive outcomes when we had really challenging issues,” Kruse said. “I by no means say that I am perfect.”

“I’m very proud of my service,” he added. “You’ll never find one blemish as far as me doing anything inappropriate.”

Thomas Johnson

Johnson has worked for Eagle County, Colo., in his current position since 2007. He previously worked and studied in Minnesota.

He touted his listening skills and being able to build trust.

“It comes back to a lot of communication and face time,” Johnson said, adding that he likes to be away from his desk as much as possible in order to engage with people.

“I don’t get the feeling talking to people that there’s a lot of building to do (in Beltrami County), but it’s engaging them … and getting them all on board,” Johnson said. “Part of it is developing a real strategic plan that everybody’s engaged in.”

Johnson said among his biggest strengths are adaptability and listening. He also touted as a major accomplishment a wastewater treatment plant project back in a small Colorado town that required a lot of collaboration between multiple governmental agencies.

“I’ve been through many different careers in my life,” Johnson said. “Everything I’ve done, I feel that I’ve succeeded at very well.”

Kay Mack

Mack, the current interim administrator, said during the interview that making sure the board has well-written policies is a good way to make sure that employees know they are all being treated the same and fairly.

She added that she wants to work on finding the best way to communicate with the board and management team.

Mack said the county needs a “transitional administrator,” which would not come from someone who is trying to build a career.

“I’m not building a career; I’ve built a career,” Mack said. “I’m here to stay.”

During the interview, county commissioner Jack Frost said that there may be some “angst” if Mack is chosen because she already works in the county.

Mack acknowledged that giving the job to an internal candidate puts the county in a tough position, but didn’t want the board to discount her.

“If there isn’t extremely strong support from the management team and extremely strong support from the county board for my being the best candidate, I would honestly encourage you to give the job to the other candidate,” she said. “My ability to lead is coming from those who see me as a leader.”

John Hageman

John Hageman covers North Dakota politics from the Forum News Service bureau in Bismarck. He attended the University of Minnesota in the Twin Cities, where he studied journalism and political science, and he previously worked at the Grand Forks Herald and Bemidji Pioneer.  

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