Common Council approves new city administrator
By Angie Landsverk
Aaron Jenson will become Waupaca’s new city administrator on Sept. 1.
“I’m grateful for the opportunity,” he said. “I’m thrilled to be back with the city.”
The Waupaca native previously worked for the city, including five years heading its Parks and Recreation Department.
He was one of three people who applied for the administrator position, and the only one interviewed.
His starting salary is $84,000.
“We were lucky to have a good candidate here who wanted it,” said Mayor Brian Smith. “And the community wants him, too.”
Jenson was appointed city administrator on Aug. 13, by a vote of 10-1.
All council members were present for the special meeting.
Dmitri Martin voted no.
Smith voted with the other nine council members in favor of the appointment.
This position is one that the mayor can vote with the council.
The council met in closed session for about 45 minutes to discuss hiring Jenson.
In open session, Martin explained why he could not support hiring him.
He said despite Jenson’s lack of experience serving as a city administrator, he finds him a “person of exceptional character.”
Martin said Jenson has done a terrific job with Waupaca’s school district.
Jenson resigned from the city in February 2018 to become the district’s athletic coordinator.
While he agreed that Jenson did an “excellent job” with parks and rec, Martin said he had problems with the hiring process.
Martin said Smith misrepresented that only he may appoint the candidate and the council’s role is strictly to confirm.
The mayor has that authority for the other department head positions, Martin said.
He also said an executive search firm was not hired to pull the most qualified candidates from across the state or country.
There were only three applicants, he said.
“Only Aaron’s application was presented to the council before we were asked to make this decision,” Martin said.
While he voted no, Martin wanted Jenson to know he “thinks very highly of him.”
Ald. Scott Purchatzke said, “Before Aaron left the city, I went to his office and tried very hard to talk in him to staying, because I knew what we had and what a great job he had done for Parks and Rec. I am overjoyed that we can hire him back.”
Finding an administrator
The position became vacant July 2, following Henry Veleker’s retirement after two alcohol-related incidents with the police.
“When Henry retired, obviously it was sudden,” Smith said.
The council approved an agreement with Veleker on June 25.
Smith said if Veleker had retired under normal circumstances, the city would have had two to three months to go through the process of choosing a new administrator.
The mayor talked to council members, department heads and the public.
“Aaron’s name kept coming up,” he said. “Obviously it makes you start thinking when you hear it multiple times.”
Jenson joined the city in 2011 as its recreation supervisor.
He was 24 when he became the parks and rec director in April 2013.
Smith said it was “felt pretty early that in the next 10 years, Henry would be retiring. We were trying to mold him (Jenson) into our next city administrator.”
In the fall of 2016, Jensom began seeking a master’s degree in public administration at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh.
Returning to city government
“But then he left and went to the school district,” Smith said. “I thought we’d be starting the process in five to seven years to find a city administrator.”
Smith contacted Jenson around the time of Veleker’s retirement.
Over lunch, he learned Jenson was still pursuing a master’s in public administration.
“He was still interested in becoming an administrator someday,” Smith said.
Smith interviewed Jenson on July 23, the same day the city posted the position.
The mayor said Russ Van Gompel, of Integrated Public Resources, led the city through the process.
The city hired him last month to assist with administrator duties.
A panel made up of Smith, Van Gompel, Kathy Kasza, Justin Berrens and Ald. Paul Mayou interviewed Jenson.
Kasza is the city’s finance director/treasurer, and Berrens is the city’s public works director.
Mayou is the council president.
The interview lasted more than two hours, Smith said.
He said the panel was impressed with how Jenson handled himself.
“When you have somebody in your community that you feel is a great candidate for a position, it seems to me like that’s the person you want to give the opportunity to,” Smith said.
The mayor said he is sure some do not like how he handled the process.
“But they can’t say anything bad about Aaron,” he said.
Jenson is scheduled to complete his master’s degree next May.
“It’s awesome being able to go to those classes on Saturdays and then being able to apply it on Monday,” he said.
He will receive a $5,000 raise after completing the degree, or one year from his hire date, whichever is longest.
Under the employment agreement he signed Aug. 15, Jenson must apply to the International City/County Management Association’s credentialing program within five years.
After completing the credentialed manager candidate status, he will receive another $3,000 raise.
The 30-year-old graduated from Waupaca High School in 2007 and from UW-La Crosse in 2011 with a bachelor’s degree in recreation management.
He and his wife Jessie have two children: 4-year-old Brooks and 2-year-old Payton.
Jessie is also a WHS graduate. She owns Insight Counseling Services, in Waupaca.
Van Gompel will continue to be in here two days a week to serve as Jenson’s mentor, Smith said.
That will be in place until the end of year, or until the time Jenson and Van Gompel feel comfortable.
Andrew Dane, the city’s interim development director, will also continue to be in the city two days a week.
The council voted to change the administrator’s job description – deleting elements related to the city clerk position and inserting elements related to economic development.
“He (Jenson) will be the head of economic development for the city,” Smith said. “Aaron’s going to be doing the stuff he’s good at – dealing with the public. We want him to be out in the public.”