After 32 applications, three straight hours of interviews and many cups of coffee, it took the Burnsville City Council less than 10 minutes of deliberation to choose a new city manager.
Heather Johnston, Burnsville's current chief financial officer, was the council's unequivocal front-runner, though Shakopee City Administrator Mark McNeill made a compelling case for himself as well. Johnston, McNeill and North St. Paul City Manager Walter Wysopal were the top three finalists for the position, which was vacated by retiring City Manager Craig Ebeling on March 29.
Council members noted a marked similarity between Ebeling and McNeill, a fact that endeared McNeill to them but ultimately worked against his interests.
"Mark is seasoned, polished, and one of the two strongest candidates, but I do believe that it is time for a refreshing style of leadership. We're very fortunate to have someone like Heather," said Council Member Dan Kealey. "She doesn't have the same amount of experience but I believe she is ready. She has the energy, passion, talent and potential."
Johnston's relative youth also played a part in the council's decision. During his interview, McNeill said that he was in his 50's and planned to continue working for about seven years. McNeill described the Burnsville position as a capstone to his long career.
"It was a little bit of a red flag that (McNeill is) looking at this as a last hurrah," said Council Member Suzanne Nguyen.
"Seven years isn't that long. We have issues that are much longer term, especially Minnesota River Quadrant," Mayor Elizabeth Kautz agreed.
Johnston was offered the job on the spot.
"It really is an honor. I'm so excited," Johnston said. "I can't wait to continue working here in my new role."
Johnston has worked at all levels of government over the course of her career. Prior to becoming involved in city governance, Johnston worked for both the U.S. Office of Management and Budget in the nation's capitol and as a senior officer at the Minnesota Management & Budget Department.
She was first hired by the city of Burnsville in September of 2011, after serving as the director of management and budget with the City of Minneapolis for seven years. As CFO of Burnsville, Johnston was charged with overseeing finance, communications, community services, information technology and the office of the city clerk.
The city is still negotiating a new contract with Johnston. The contract will come before the council for formal approval at the earliest possible meeting. According to a job profile provided by the city, the proposed salary range for the city manager is $135,000 to $151,000.