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Newport picks from within for next city administrator

Deb Hill reacts to a Newport City Council member's joke after the council hired her as the next city administrator. Bulletin photo by Scott Wente

Newport's search for a new administrator started and ended at City Hall.

Deb Hill, Newport's staff accountant the past 1 1/2 years, has been promoted to the city's top job. As administrator she'll oversee city employees and operations beginning later this month.

The City Council voted Jan. 17 to approve a contract with Hill through 2014, at which time the agreement could be renewed. Mayor Tim Geraghty, who helped facilitate the internal appointment, said Hill is familiar with the city's finances and has a local government background.

"She does have the experience and obviously she knows the city budget and other things," Geraghty said before the vote.

Hill said she did not anticipate this type of promotion when she took her accountant job at Newport but enjoys working in the city.

"For this opportunity to come up, it's delicious," she said in an interview.

Hill was hired by Newport in mid-2011. Prior to that she lived in Cloquet, in northeast Minnesota. While there she served on the city council and planning commission. She said she was a member and one-time chair of a regional sanitary district board with a $32 million budget and the responsibility of handling solid waste and wastewater for an area of northeastern Minnesota. She also worked as treasurer and clerk for the small town of Wrenshall, near Cloquet.

Hill's appointment occurred much sooner than anticipated. Current City Administrator Brian Anderson announced in December he would be resigning to take a similar job in Faribault, Minn.

The council voted in late December to allow Geraghty to negotiate a contract with a consultant that would lead an external administrator search, at a total cost of up to $15,875. That process was expected to take three to four months.

That search never really got under way, however. Geraghty said the council asked whether any current city staff were interested in the position, and Hill had expressed interested. Geraghty said he then talked informally with her about the job.

Four council members met in closed session Jan. 7 to discuss Hill's performance evaluation the past year, but that discussion did not include the city administrator opening, Geraghty claimed. Council member Steven Gallagher was out of town and did not attend that closed session.

Hill did not go through a traditional, public interview with the council, as likely would have occurred had there been candidates from outside Newport.

"It's kind of an internal promotion," Geraghty said.

Anderson said he worked with Hill to develop her contract offer, which is similar to the agreement he had with the city.

Hill's contract was approved 4-1. Gallagher voted against it because he said he preferred that it run until 2015, instead of 2014 when the contract issue could become ensnared in election-year politics. Also, extending it to 2015 would set it apart from 2014 negotiations with the city's employee unions, he said. Gallagher also wanted different severance terms. He said he wasn't opposing Hill's hiring, just the contract.

Hall will be paid a base salary of $84,250. She begins her new job Jan. 28, a day after Anderson's official last day at Newport.

Geraghty said since the council did not use the consultant firm Brimeyer Fursman as it had planned to, it may only have to pay a small amount for any preliminary work the firm completed.

The council authorized a search to hire a new accountant to replace Hill.

Scott Wente

Scott Wente has been editor at the South Washington County Bulletin since 2011. He worked as a reporter at other Forum Communications newspapers from 2003 to 2011.

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