Retirement is looming for Mark Kober, whose last day on the job for the City of Sleepy Eye is Friday, March 29.
Retirement is looming for Mark Kober, whose last day on the job for the City of Sleepy Eye is Friday, March 29, after serving as city manager for over 18 years.
In a conversation this week, Kober talked about many large projects he worked on with the city council over the years. But first, he recounted his memorable first day on the job.
“It was Oct. 31, 2000. Halloween day,” Kober said. “I don’t remember why, but the city council had a meeting that night. Dave Vosbeck was having a Halloween party (for adults) across the street at the Palace. All evening, people in costumes came and went from the meeting. They’d walk in, sit down and listen for awhile, and then go back to the party.”
Kober said city council meetings were much longer in those days, and it was getting late. “Dave came over to the meeting, and after awhile he said, ‘I move we adjourn this meeting.’ That got some laughs,” said Kober.
After the meeting, Kober and city council members did go to the party at the Palace. “Dave introduced me to about 50 people,” he said. “They were all in costume, many with masks, so I really didn’t recognize anyone later on.”
Kober said the first big city project he worked with was the 2000 street and utility project. “That was good, because I worked with City Clerk Ed Treml on the bonding for the project, and learned about tax laws in Minnesota,” Kober said. “It was such a big project, with about 400 properties assessed, that I also learned where a lot of people lived.”
Kober said the process to build a trail around the lake got started in 2002.
“Gary Windschitl, who was on the city council then, and I, went to the Brown County engineer to make applications for trail funds from the Area Transportation Partnership,” Kober said. “There had been a series of community meetings, and one of the things people said they wanted was a trail around the lake.”
In 2003 the city council set up the sewer reconstruction fund — a fee on monthly utility bills is set aside for sewer reconstruction projects. Prior to that the property owners were assessed. “That fund has saved individual property owners $1 million in direct sewer main assessments,” said Kober. “And it will do the same in this upcoming 2020 utility project.”
In 2005, the city annexed the Del Monte property. “They needed a 10-inch water main for fire suppression,” explained Kober. “So we brought them into the city, built the water main, and added other infrastructure improvements in that neighborhood, including a storm pond—there had been lots of flooded basements in that area before the project. Del Monte became one of the top 10 property taxpayers in Sleepy Eye.”
Kober said the referendum to fund the Family Aquatic Center and the Community Center was passed in 2006. “A community committee had worked for a year putting that proposal together, and it passed with 71 percent of the vote,” he said. “We borrowed $2 million for that project — you couldn’t do it for that today.”
The year 2007 brought the start of construction on the lake trail — yes, after five years of grant process — and building the aquatic center got underway. Both were finished in 2008.
“We dedicated both the lake trail and aquatic center on the same day — June 7, 2008,” said Kober. “That was also the year we bought the Snow farm, which was very controversial — people asked why the city was getting involved in farm property.” Kober said the city does rent out a lot of the property, with farm rent paying the debt service on the land. “And now, two of Sleepy Eye’s top five property taxpayers are located in the Snow addition,” added Kober.
In 2010, the campground was expanded by eight campsites, and the two cabins were built, along with a new road and electric service to each site.
“During 2011 and 2012 we had another street project, which included infrastructure in the Snow Farm,” said Kober. “That allowed us to begin courting possible buyers. In 2014 we finalized the deal with Kibble Equipment. We’d been meeting with Butch Kibble for a year to convince him Sleepy Eye was the right place. We came close to losing the John Deere dealership to another town.”
Kober said the Kibble development convinced Casey’s to recommit to a previous plan to build in the Snow farm.
In 2016, Phase II of the lake trail project was completed, with a widened path along the highway for safety and the new benches and spots for wheelchairs. Kober said decorative lighting will be added on that stretch this year.
Also in 2016, sewer and water were brought to the Sportsmen’s Park campground, with water spigots at each campsite and the addition of the shower house. That project also brought sewer and water service to the area north of the park, for future residential and business hook-ups. “We built for growth,” Kober said.
When the Orchid Inn closed in 2016, the city began to study building an event center. There were many meetings to consider location and design ideas. The location by the hotel was chosen as the best option.
“The city bought the hotel, which was in foreclosure, to facilitate its sale to the current owners,” said Kober. “The city bought it and sold it within a week.” Kober pointed out that the hotel project also facilitated the event center project — both needed the other for future success.
Construction of the Sleepy Eye Event Center started late in 2016. “We had our first wedding reception there on Aug. 26, 2017 ... and another just a week later.” Kober said the Event Center has been very busy with wedding receptions, parties and business meetings.
Obviously pleased with the outcome of the Event Center project, Kober said the process was often difficult. “The politics of the city council made it tough,” he said. “There were many 3-2 votes during the process.”
The latest completed project for the City of Sleepy Eye is the new police station. “It’s very nice,” said Kober. “Have you seen it?” (I have. It’s very nice.)
Looking ahead, Kober said the 12th Avenue NE railroad crossing project, which the city secured grant funding for in 2018, is a very big deal for Sleepy Eye. “A project like this only comes along every 100 years,” he said. “It will allow greater access to the north side of town. It will open 40 acres to business and residential development for years to come — it’s a huge development potential.”
“I really enjoyed working on these city projects,” said Kober. “And I worked in cooperation with really good people. The most controversial projects, such as the trail, the pool, the Snow farm, and the Event Center, all turned out well.”
Kober said the challenge of change, with lots of study and differing opinions, gives strength to the end result. “That’s why the projects that are the toughest, ultimately are the most successful,” he said.
What does retirement mean for Kober? He and his wife, Tami, are staying put. Sleepy Eye is home, especially with grandchildren close by. He said he does have a workshop and likes to build and refinish furniture. “I’ll continue to work for the Bishop as Diocesan Diaconate Formation Director,” he said.
Recently appointed to the EDA board, Kober said “I’m excited to remain involved, and hope I can be helpful.”
“The community is in good hands,” Kober said. “The city council and PUC made a very good choice in Kelli.”
Kober said, “I’ve had the good fortune of working for two great mayors, and having such great staff to work with over the years.”
“It’s been my privilege to work for the City of Sleepy Eye. The city has been very good to me and the people of the community have been very good to me,” Kober said. “I’m honored to have been of service to the people of Sleepy Eye.”