The Free Press

MANKATO — Mankato Mayor Najwa Massad and the City Council narrowed down their nationwide search to four finalists out of a total of 44 applicants for the Mankato city manager position.

The selection comes after outgoing Mankato City Manager Pat Hentges announced plans this summer to retire at the end of the year.

The final candidates are Waconia City Administrator Susan Arntz; East Lansing, Michigan, City Manager George Lahanas; Wasco, California City Manager Daniel Ortiz-Hernandez, and Vermillion, South Dakota City Manager John Prescott.

“We are confident that we have a qualified slate of finalists for this important position,” Massad said in a press release.

The finalists will visit Mankato on Thursday, Sept. 24, and Friday, Sept. 25. Details on next steps and the interview process will be announced later.

Hentges has been in the top spot for nearly a quarter of a century and oversaw dramatic growth in Mankato’s population and economy, new approaches to planning and budgeting, and the resurrection of the city’s once-moribund downtown.

“Over my nearly 25 years of tenure, I have been a part of changing what was once Mankato to what it is today .. ‘a vibrant, diverse regional community,’” he wrote in a June letter to Massad and the council. “Hopefully, I have set the table for what Mankato can be in the future.”

Hentges had provided in recent months some hints of his plans as he approached retirement age, including asking for a one-year contract rather than a renewal of his two-year pact at the end of 2019.

And as the pandemic-induced economic recession impacted the municipal budget, Hentges has advised the council to consider a wide-ranging strategy to reduce expenses in the face of projected revenue declines topping $7.7 million in 2020 and $9.3 million in 2021.

Part of the strategy suggested by Hentges — who is earning $175,621 in 2020 — includes “flattening the supervisory structure” to cut administrative costs without impacting the workforce in areas such as street maintenance and plowing.

Massad said Hentges expressed an interest in retiring a year ago but agreed to stay to provide stability with a new mayor and three other council members in their first terms in office.

In his June letter to the council, Hentges said “Mankato, as always, will be on the forefront of change. For the new city manager there will be challenges and exciting times. For me, Mankato will just be home!”

Hentges has largely avoided the contentious relationship that sometimes occurs between a city’s top manager and some of the elected officials overseeing him.

Council member Karen Foreman made the motion at the June meeting to “with great regret” accept Hentges’ retirement, and council member Mark Frost seconded the motion.

The final tally was 6-1 with council President Mike Laven getting a laugh with an emphatic “No” vote.

Hentges was only the second city manager in Mankato in the past 52 years. The late Bill Bassett served in the role from 1968 to 1996.

A Sleepy Eye native, Hentges earned a bachelor’s degree in urban affairs from St. Cloud State University, a master’s in urban management from Minnesota State University, and served as city administrator of Faribault and as city manager in Columbia Heights before succeeding Bassett in Mankato.

Massad, Laven and Foreman were selected to serve as the search committee for Hentges’ successor. The council hired the Georgia-based Mercer Group — at a base fee of $17,500 with up to $10,000 for expenses — to recruit candidates nationally and oversee the selection process.

Dan Greenwood is a Free Press staff writer. Contact him at dgreenwood@mankatofreepress.com

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