It took more than two decades and numerous defections, but Afton officials have finally come around to the idea that running the city is a full-time job.
After some debate, the City Council in May approved a five-year contract with Ron Moorse, who becomes Afton's first full-time city administrator after serving the previous two years as a part-timer.
Moorse's starting salary of $86,400 annually will rise in a series of step increases that top off at $99,000.
"I think for both me and the city, it means more time to get the priority work done, but it also means a longer-term arrangement, just because now it is a full-time position with related compensation package that is something that works for me," Moorse said. "It also means that we'll have continuity and particularly as we're dealing with some improvement projects happening" in the Old Village, the city's historic downtown area.
While some of his predecessors left for better-paying jobs elsewhere, grumbling about the low wages and long hours on the way out the door, Moorse stayed and asked for a $13,000 raise — dangling an $86,400-a-year job offer from the city of Belle Plaine as leverage. He was also a finalist for the city administrator job in North Mankato but was not offered the position.
The move highlighted a touchy political issue that has surfaced time and again in the city's recent history.
A number of city administrators felt the strain as they grappled with the day-to-day problems of running a city while also dealing with a sometimes fractured City Council. For years, the low pay and long hours exacerbated a problem facing many suburbs: well-qualified candidates being lured away by better-paying jobs in larger cities.
Mitchell Berg, who served as the city's administrator from 2004 to 2006 before leaving to take a similar position in Mahnomen, Minn., likened the job to marriage.
"The difference between a normal marriage is that you progress with your wife and you learn and you grow and you evolve with your marriage," he said. "With the city, two years into your marriage, your wife leaves you and you get another wife, but in some cases … you have no say as to who that new wife is."
"I think there are a couple of things at play here: One is that cities that are on the rural fringe I think there's an ideological fraction between those that have been in the community for a long time" and recent newcomers, Berg said, adding that the issue is not unique to Afton. "Then you get a bunch of new folks that move into the community and they say, 'Well, we want to grow and we want to change things.' "
Moorse, who assumed his full-time duties on Tuesday, said he is excited to continue working with the current council.
"They also know what the history is," Moorse said, "and they don't want to repeat some of the things that have happened in history, so they're careful about maintaining and building the relationships."
He added: "I think the mayor said it right; he said 'When you've got a winning team, you don't want to break it up.' "