So, what’s new with our old city? It’s more like: who is new with the City of Sleepy Eye?
The City of Sleepy Eye is nearly 150 years old. In 1872, when the Winona and St. Peter Railroad was selecting a location to establish a station in the area, Thomas Allison, an early resident near the lake, convinced railroad officials to build here — on land he sold them. On Sept. 19, 1972, the plat of the village of Sleepy Eye Lake was filed with county.
So, what’s new with our old city? It’s more like: who is new with the City of Sleepy Eye? The administrative team, that’s who.
The City of Sleepy Eye can boast about the longevity of city employees, but this year the city’s administrators are new to their positions, though not necessarily new to city employment.
In the past year, the City of Sleepy Eye has acquired a new City Manager, Bob Elston; a new City Clerk, Michelle Strate; and a new Public Works Director, Mike Hardin.
City Manager Bob Elston has responsibility to “manage and supervise the operations of all city departments” and “direct the financial activities of the city.” That description comes right out of the city code.
Elston came to Sleepy Eye in April 2004, to take the position of Public Works Director. He was appointed interim City Manger last April and officially hired for the position Aug. 28, 2019.
After working alongside former City Manager Mark Kober for 15 years, Elston said he had a good idea of what the position would entail.
“There haven’t been many surprises,” said Elston. “I maybe didn’t know all the details, but I knew the scope of the work.”
“With all three of us new to our positions, the key to making the transition successful has been the help of Linda and Mark,” said Elston, referring to former City Clerk Linda Tiedeken and Mark Kober. “Linda works here a couple days a week and is a wonderful resource. She knows the history of so many things we work on. And Mark is always available — just a text away.”
At the time of our interview, the annual meeting with the Rural Fire Association on the rural fire contract, was just days away. Elston said that was something he had never been involved in before, so he did his research and had worked with the townships’ committee members.
“When I am working on something new to me, I like to try to find the information myself,” said Elston. “But, as I said, Mark is just a text away when I need some help.”
Elston comes to the role after managing the public works staff and now is manager of all the city employees. It is a task he does not find to be difficult. “We have excellent staff,” he said. “They are all enjoyable to work with.”
Elston said the City budget is more involved than that of the PUC. “The PUC budget has more dollars, but fewer moving parts,” he said. “We are already looking at the City budget process for 2021. We are starting to use new software, designed for the city, as we look at the process.”
One thing Elston does not miss in his new position is being a regular part of the snowplow crew — but he said he is available for back up. The day we talked a snowstorm was (correctly) forecast for the weekend. Elston said the guys already had a plan in place if the weather came as expected.
“I do miss the east of which I was able to do my old job, with so many years to understand it,” said Elston. “The position of City Manager gives me a lot to research and learn.”
Elston mentioned the two big street projects the City has in the works. He said new Public Works Director Mike Hardin has taken the projects over and everything is going well.
Hardin, who worked in the City Water Department since 2010, and also helped the Street Department with snow removal, said he is enjoying learning the duties of Public Works Director. He agreed with Elston that he pretty comfortable with the 2020-21 Street and Utility Project and the 12th Avenue NE railroad crossing project. He looks forward to seeing both projects start this spring. The day we talked, he said the process of removing trees that are in the way of the street project was already underway.
In his new job, Hardin supervises the employees in the various public works departments — streets, parks, water and waste water management, and electrical. He said his familiarity with most of those departments helps him do his job.
“Electrical is my biggest learning curve,” Hardin said. “The guys in the department are very helpful and of course, Bob is here to help.”
Hardin said he keeps an eye on utility expenses. He looks at power purchased and sold, and how much water is pumped to and out of the plant.
“I compare that to the meter report and see if there is any water loss,” he said. Hardin explained reasons for water loss could be attributed to fire fighting and hydrant flushing, or due to a leak — then they go looking for that leak.
Hardin meets with the Public Utility Commissioners monthly. He said they review monthly reports and help make decisions on power purchasing contracts.
Hardin said the job is what he expected. “I knew it would be supervisory and dealing with the public,” he said. “Through the Minnesota Municipal Utility Association, I am receiving training in their Leadership Academy. It’s a good opportunity.”
Hardin said work will soon begin on the public works budget. “I will work with Bob on that this year,” he said.
City Clerk Michelle Strate joined the City of Sleepy Eye one year ago, March 15. She worked for six weeks with outgoing City Clerk Linda Tiedeken, in advance of her retirement.
Strate previous experience includes time as a legal secretary and over 17 years at SouthPoint Financial Credit Union as a loan officer and underwriter. She said that experience with real estate, finances and the legal aspect, all help her in her position with the city. Strate described her work as City Clerk as accounting, paying bills and doing payroll. She also supervises the rest of the office staff.
As Elston said, Strate also mentioned that having Tiedeken on the staff part-time is a plus. (Tiedeken admitted she wasn’t good at retirement.)
“Linda continues to teach me,” said Strate. “Some things come up only quarterly or annually, it’s good to have her around to help. She’ll be helping me prepare for the upcoming city audit.”
Strate said the entire office staff will be working on cross-training, so more than one person understands and can do each task.
Strate said it’s been interesting learning how a city functions. As Elston commented, Strate said she is learning the accounting software and moving the budget into it.
“I’m busy, with something different all the time,” Strate said. “It’s been challenging, and that’s what I wanted — a challenge. It’s been good working with Bob. He calmly works through things with me, and we have Linda to help us. I’ve enjoyed it all.”