City manager finalists meet the public

City manager finalists meet the public Prescott By David Lias Much of the work being done currently by the Vermillion City Council as it decides who the community's next city manager will be is taking place behind closed doors in executive session.

Tuesday, however, one important part of the hiring process was unveiled to the public.

The three finalists for the city manager position each met separately for 30 minutes with a group of about 50 citizens at the Vermillion Public Library.

They talked, briefly, about their professional backgrounds and personal lives.

And they fielded questions. Lots of questions.

Citizens filled out forms to provide feedback to the city council in addition to what aldermen have learned from conducting their own interviews of the city manager candidates.

The finalists

Craig J. Mattson, city administrator of East Grand Forks, MN, for the past four year, served as the city administrator of Grand Rapids, MN, from 1989 to 2001 and city administrator of Oakdale, MN, from 1980 to 1988.

He holds a B.S. degree from St. Cloud State University and is a master of arts in public administration candidate at Hamline University in St. Paul, MN.

Mattson believes that to be a successful manager, it is necessary to develop a "win/win" mentality.

This can happen, he believes, when a community's citizens puts all ideas on the table and finds they can all agree to.

He considers himself an empathetic listener who strives to actually hear and understand what is being said before commenting or acting.

Joseph P. Pepplitsch has worked as city manager of Lexington, NE, for the past five years. He served as assistant city manager of Lexington from 1997-2000, was city administrator of Bloomfield, NE from 1994-97 and served as an administrative intern in South Sioux City, NE in 1994.

He holds a B.S. degree and a M.P.A. degree from The University of South Dakota.

Pepplitsch describes himself as a highly energetic and motivated individual who would utilize joint meetings, planning, public involvement, and an open door policy to work with staff and citizens.

He believes an effective manager should utilize a "bottom up" approach of setting objectives and priorities; from the public, to the staff, to the boards and commissions and finally to the city council.

John C. Prescott has worked as assistant city manager of Kearney, NE for the past 12 years. He served as an administrative intern in Burnsville, MN for nine months in 1992, and was interim city manager of Kearney for seven months in 1995-96.

He holds a B.A. degree from the University of Northern Iowa and M.P.A. degree from the University of Nebraska at Omaha.

Prescott believes that an effective manager should serve as a catalyst for community development by discovering why the city is attempting to achieve certain goals, what it hopes to accomplish and who should be involved.

He would strive first to obtain a good understanding of the city organization, seek out partners in the community to assist in enhancing the overall quality of life, emphasize unbiased listening, and encourage sharing and accessing of information to provide excellent service delivery.

Craig Mattson

Mattson said he likens his management style to that of the New England Patriots football team.

"There are no stars on the team; we all work together, we work from the standpoint that we are going to get the job done," he said. "People are going to recognize that things are happening, but they aren't going to necessarily focus on one individual. They're just going to focus on the results."

Both Grand Forks and East Grand Forks has suffered from flooding for the past five decades. The flooding in 1997 was so severe it was termed the flood of the century.

"One of the reasons I was interested in going to East Grand Forks was because of the flood," Mattson said. "I was interested in experiencing what made those people so resilient."

He is interested in working in Vermillion because of the unique role the community offers.

"Vermillion offers an interesting challenge in the fact that it is a city manager position," Mattson said. "I've always been a city administrator. The difference between the two is the manager basically operates the city and as an administrator, I do a lot of recommendations. I don't have the direct control that a manager has."

Vermillion, he said, also offers challenges he's never had to face in his career.

"I think you have some financial challenges that are greater than what I've had to face before," he said.

East Grand Forks has a much larger budget and larger staff than Vermillion. It can more easily weather economic downturns.

"You don't have that flexibility," he said. "The challenge is greater here to try to maintain a level of service."

Joseph P. Pepplitsch

Pepplitsch has worked as both a city manager and a city administrator. He was asked to describe how the two positions differ.

"The biggest difference is strictly in personnel � who hires and who fires," he said. "When you are in a city administrator form of government, the council has a lot more authority in day-to-day operations."

A city manager has the responsibility to run day-to-day operations and enforce policy.

"I think the real difference is you can build a cohesive team, and take care of disagreements internally rather than bring them to a council format," he said.

Pepplitsch said, if hired, he would bring years of experience to Vermillion, and serve as a catalyst for ideas.

"I believe I'm a problem solver," he said. "I think that's one of my strongest points � trying to figure out how to get the job done."

Change, he added, has to be done with a consensus from the community.

"I think an individual is foolish to think that change is based on their philosophies alone," Pepplitsch said. "I certainly don't think it's in anyone's best interest to try to force change into a community that isn't looking for it and doesn't want it. I think you have to understand the community before you try to make things happen."

He became familiar with Vermillion while attending USD. "I think some of the strengths I've been able to see is the steps it's taken in terms of development, and committing itself to further development in the future," Pepplitsch said.

For example, The Bluffs golf course and housing development didn't exist while he was a student here.

"Golf courses, a lot of times, are capital heavy up front, but in the long term they are good for the community," he said.

Vermillion, he said, is making commitments to better itself, and provide more employment opportunities.

"It's a long-term process, and everybody's got to work toward the same goal," he said.

If hired, Pepplitsch said he first devote himself to quickly learning all he could about the community.

"It's a process of just getting to know people, and going through departments, figuring out what's been done and what the needs are."

John C. Prescott

Prescott has been involved in more than a professional way in the Kearney community. He and his wife, Karen, are active in civic clubs and their church, and are parents of two young children.

"I think this is a great opportunity for me professionally in terms of my career development, it's the type of community I've sought," Prescott said. "We really enjoy having a Division II university in the community where I live right now; I think it adds a tremendous amount."

If he was hired as city manager, Prescott said he would recognize from his first day on the job that all the other residents of Vermillion know more about the city.

"I'm would be the new kid on the block, and my job would be to immerse myself in the community," he said. "I would work with the employees, with the council, different civic clubs, to learn as much as I can about the history of this community, what makes it work, what skeletons may be buried, so to speak, different issues like that."

Prescott also believes in becoming immersed in the community. His son will begin kindergarten in the fall, meaning he will be certain to be involved in school activities.

He and his wife have visited the church they probably would attend if Vermillion becomes their new home.

Prescott also said he would meet with students and administrators at USD.

"Conflicts probably will arise between the university and the city, or businesses and the city," he said. "It's a matter of sitting down and identifying the issue. What makes that issue tick? What is the root of the problem, and what are the players you can bring into the picture to help solve that."

A citizen noted that Kearney has a vibrant economy, with large employers and active housing development.

Fueling that growth, Prescott said, is Kearney's location on an interstate highway, and its two largest employers: Good Samaritan Health Systems and the University of Nebraska at Kearney.

"My role has been to work with community development block grants with some of our smaller businesses," he said.

He describes economic development as a partnership between citizens and government. "I think you have to have the attitude of being approachable, friendly and being a representative of your community, out there working with those businesses."

Prescott told Vermillion citizens that he has no desire to live and work in a large community.

"I've come to enjoy a free-standing community that has an identity of its own, that offers a high quality of life, and is easy to get around in," he said.

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