After about seven months of searching, the city of North Branch has selected its new administrator.
The City Council approved the job offer, 4-0 (Member Robert Canada was absent for the meeting), contingent on a drug and alcohol test, at its Feb. 21 meeting.
The person the council selected is Renae Fry, who most recently served as the administrative coordinator in Sauk County, Wisconsin. She also has a background as an attorney, a dean, program director and faculty member at North Hennepin Community College, and she served the city of Columbus for 11 years as a council member. Prior to that, she was on the Town of Columbus Planning Commission.
North Branch Mayor Kirsten Hagen-Kennedy said the search for a new administrator after the departure of Bridgitte Konrad, who had worked for the city in various capacities for more than 26 years, was an extensive process, with Springsted, the city’s consulting service, taking the reins to find qualified candidates.
Hagen-Kennedy said the field was eventually pared down to four candidates that the council interviewed in person, and Fry stood out among that group.
“I think she was a strong candidate, and I look forward to working with her,” the mayor said.
Excited for new opportunities
Fry is eager to begin her work in North Branch, and she’s already been visiting the city to familiarize herself with its operations and staff before she even attends her first council meeting in the capacity of city administrator.
She said her background as a county administrator, city council member and planning commission member should help her when it comes to understanding the inner workings of municipal government.
“Since I’ve been on the elected official side of the equation, I understand some of the complexities of the decision-making process, and I would hope that would help me to guide and support the efforts of North Branch’s City Council as they take on some pretty major topics here in the near term,” she said.
Fry did comment on her departure from Sauk County, which has been in the midst of political controversy for years. According to a Nov. 22, 2016, article written by Tim Damos of the Baraboo News Republic, Sauk County recently hired its fourth administrative coordinator in 18 months, and “some say the recent turnover in that position indicates there is a problem.” Damos wrote a series of extensive articles on the Sauk County Board’s interactions with Fry and other staff, which ultimately led to their exits from the county. Fry signed her separation agreement with Sauk County in December 2016.
“The board chair and I had a fundamental disagreement about the separation of responsibility between him and me,” Fry said. “He felt that difference of opinion was irreparable and that maybe moving forward with a structured separation made the most sense.”
Hagen-Kennedy said Fry was questioned during the interview process about her time in Sauk County.
“I was impressed by her; she was candid,” Hagen-Kennedy said. “I think it was a difficult situation and they made the decision that was right for them.”
Hagen-Kennedy continued that Fry’s answers to other interview questions were very complete.
“Her answers were comprehensive,” she said. “She had a good understanding of where our city is at and where our city might go. She did her homework.”
Fry said the tight-knit feel of the North Branch community appealed to her, and she’s looking forward to working with and getting to know the people here.
“I am really excited about getting into a role that first of all brings me back to Minnesota but more importantly allows me to have more of a hands-on role in really leading the community, going forward,” she said. “It’s really about working with the North Branch staff, working with the consultants and working with the residents to continue what I think to be good progress that they’ve experienced so far. I want to see it continue, and I want to see the community really thrive and grow economically.”