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Meet Jason Ziemer, NSP’s new city manager
Jason Ziemer didn’t always have plans to manage entire cities. And yet, at age 39, he has already managed two Minnesota cities — Maple Plain, and, most recently, North St. Paul.
His first day with North St. Paul was Sept. 4, and since then, the newly minted city manager has been taking a crash course in the city’s affairs.
Ziemer, who was born in Minnesota, grew up in Larimore, N.D. During his childhood, his father, the head of an Air Force education program, briefly took the family overseas to the Philippines and Okinawa, Japan, before returning to Larimore, where Ziemer graduated from high school.
He went on to earn his bachelor’s degree in communications from the University of North Dakota. He said it was during his time as a TV reporter that he first developed an interest in local government.
“For 10 years, I worked in the TV industry as a reporter covering a lot of local government meetings and politics, which is where I got my exposure to that,” he explained. “I actually enjoyed it.”
At the urging of his colleagues, Ziemer went back to school for dual master’s degrees in public administration and management at Hamline University in St. Paul.
But two master’s degrees wasn’t enough for Ziemer, and he decided in 2009 to start work on his doctoral degree in public administration, once again at his alma mater, Hamline University. He currently has one more class before he begins writing his dissertation.
In 2007, Ziemer signed on as the city administrator for Maple Plain, a 1.2-square-mile town of about 1,800 in western Hennepin County, according to the 2010 Census. He said the city’s small-town atmosphere helped him learn a number of different skills as well as reinforcing the importance of open communication.
“With such a small staff (at Maple Plain) it’s important to be accessible. Communication and listening to people is my most important asset,” he said. “At Maple Plain, I wore five or six different hats. Having done many different jobs, I have a better understanding of the challenges staff face. Interacting with residents, staff, council and businesses is also very important.”
In Ziemer’s absence, Maple Plain has hired Michael Ericson, an economic development consultant for the city of Maplewood, as its interim city administrator. Ziemer said the Maple Plain council hopes to hire a permanent administrator by December.
As for North St. Paul, Ziemer said the city is in a transition period after long-time manager Wally Wysopal departed in June to become Fridley’s city manager.
“The previous city manager, Wally Wysopal, was here for 15 years. This is a huge transition time for the city, and now we’re setting the table, so to speak,” he stated.
“For now, my main emphasis or focus is getting acquainted with city staff and council, and building my knowledge base. The (understanding of) projects will come with time.”
*”I’ve been meeting with department heads to get a feel for things,” he added.
“I would like to be able to meet with some residents and business owners as well. I like to be out in the community and interacting with people.”
Ziemer currently lives in Monticello with his wife and two children. For now, he said, the 50-mile commute is manageable. During contract negotiations, city officials had expressed some interest in him relocating to North St. Paul, but Ziemer said his family is happy where they are.
“I’ve never ruled it out,” he said of moving to the area. “We’ll see as time progresses.”
Mayor Mike Kuehn said Ziemer’s first two weeks in the position have been a steep learning curve, but he is handling it with aplomb.
“He’s working hard to get to know the staff and commissioners, and working hard on his administrative duties,” Kuehn said. “There’ll be a learning curve as he gets to know the staff and community, but he’s put in a super great effort so far.”
Johanna Holub can be reached at email@example.com or 651-748-7822.