Vadnais Heights hires new city administrator

Kevin Watson

Vadnais Heights City Council members selected Kevin Watson as the city's new administrator at the Feb. 6 city council meeting.

Watson will be replacing Gerald Urban, who recently retired after 45 years of service to the city -- 35 years of which he served as city administrator.

Although the council approved Watson's contract unanimously, the mayor and other council members said that it was a tough decision.

"We had a group of very good candidates," Mayor Marc A. Johannsen said. "In the end we all agreed that Kevin was the right person. He has the depth of experience we were looking for, a great personality and an ability to think outside the box."

The city received 53 applications for the position and eventually narrowed the field to five, who were chosen for interviews by council members.

The mayor said that the candidates went through a very thorough interview process over nearly two full days. Each council member interviewed the candidates individually as did each manager of the city staff departments. The final five candidates also delivered formal presentations to the council and city staff, and interacted with the public during an informal reception at city hall, Johannsen added.

"We wanted someone who could be a change agent, someone who could be an effective internal and external communicator and we found those qualities in Mr. Watson," Councilmember Joe Murphy said. "He's well educated, professional and articulate. He's going to do a great job for us."

Watson has been the city administrator for Junction City, Ore. since 2011. Prior to holding that position he was the assistant to the city manager in Keiser, Ore. for three years -- a suburb of Salem, the state's capital -- and was the redevelopment manager for Dallas, Ore. from 2006-08.

Working in city government runs in Watson's blood. His father Mark Watson is the city manager in Oak Ridge, Tenn. and his grandfather Buford Watson was the city administrator in Lawrence, Kan. for several years -- where his grandson earned his master's degree in public administration at the University of Kansas.

Vadnais Heights' new administrator has ties to the area and has been anticipating a move here for a while. His fiancée Kathryn Martenson is a Shoreview native and the two of them are looking forward to the move to Minnesota.

"I'm very excited for this opportunity," Watson said. "This has been a vision of ours for some time now."

He plans to start working in his new position in Vadnais Heights on March 4.

He is looking to start work right away by meeting with council members, planners, city staff and residents to determine what's best for Vadnais Heights moving forward.

"I plan on doing a lot of listening right away when I arrive," he said. "The council has set their goals for the city this year and are motivated toward achieving those goals. I have some innovative ideas for the city that I'm looking forward to sharing as well."

Murphy said the five members of the council sit down every January for a goal setting session for that year. This year the council is working to create more transparency in government and improve communication to the public.

As a part of this process the council and city staff are working toward making changes to the city's website by making more information accessible and easier to access. They want to have full agenda packets for council meetings available before they take place, for example.

Watson plans on attending regular council meetings, which take place at city hall the first and third Wednesday of every month at 7 p.m. The first meeting he will likely take part in will be on March 6.

He said he and Martenson plan on staying with members of her family until they find a home of their own.

"It's such a quick turn around time. We have not had an opportunity to find a home yet," he explained.

Watson is an outdoorsman and said he is looking forward to exploring Minnesota in his free time. He enjoys hiking, camping and snowshoeing.

"I've been to Minnesota several times, but have not had the chance to go ice fishing or cross county skiing yet. I'm looking forward to both," he said. "Mostly I'm looking forward to serving the city of Vadnais Heights and plan on being there a long time."

Joshua Nielsen can be reached at or 651-748-7824.

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