Dave Osberg says he’s spent the last several weeks making the rounds of Eagan’s community and business organization, “getting my name and face out there” as the new city administrator. He succeeds Tom Hedges, who retired in February as the first city administrator in Eagan’s history.
Osberg, 54, had been city administrator in Hastings since 1989, and in the early 1980s worked in Eagan as an intern for Hedges. They have remained friends and professional colleagues. “I don’t feel like I’m coming in to fill Tom’s shoes. I’m coming in to fill the vacancy created by Tom’s retirement,” Osberg said. “I will probably call him to continue to get advice on some matters.”
The following are excerpts from a recent interview.
Q: How do you think your Hastings experience will help you as step into your new job in Eagan?
A: Hopefully 24 years of experience in Dakota County helps. I’ve certainly been very familiar with the acitivites in Eagan, the culture, some of the projects going on and the folks that have been involved. I’ve known Tom Hedges for many, many years and would see him on a frequent basis. So I have general familiarity with what Eagan has been like over the years.
Q: What do you think is the biggest misconception people have about what a city administrator does, your role and authority, what you can and cannot do?
A: I don’t think it’s a misconception — I think it’s a lack of understanding. I’ll have people ask when I have to run for office again. Sometimes people will think that the administrator is like a city planner and has a lot to do with how a community is laid out from a land use perspective.
The city administrator is like the CEO of the city, appointed by the City Council. The mayor and council set the policy, and the administrator and staff implement the policy. Depending on the community, the city administrator has the authority to hire and fire all city employees. In Eagan, the city administrator has strong recommendation authority, but all the employees are hired and fired by the City Council.
Q: Do you consider it part of your job to give opinions, or is that a line you prefer not to cross?
A: It might depend on the circumstance. The typical process here is that the staff will lay out all of the facts, like the land use, street layout, and be responsible for giving the City Council all the information it would expect to have. Sometimes a council member will look specifically at an administrator or a staff member and ask, “What is your recommendation?” It can be fine balance, depending on what the council’s history and expectations have been.
Q: What have you been doing to meet Eagan residents and businesses to learn about their concerns? What have they been telling you?
A: I’ve probably had a dozen coffees or lunches with commission chairs and members, business leaders, the Eagan Convention and Visitors Bureau. I’ve attended lunches with seniors, the Eagan Foundation, the Rotary. It’s been a process of getting my name and face out there. There are high expectations in this community. Tom did a great job of being out in the community and so does the council, individually.
I’ve tried to listen more than talk in my first month. I don’t know that people are so much telling me about their concerns as they’re telling me that Eagan is great place, that they love living here, working here. “Keep it that way, Dave. Don’t disrupt the great thing that Eagan has become over the years.” I’ve gotten a lot of great comments about the city staff’s and council’s interactions with the community.
I think there’s a bit of an overarching question the community has, and that’s what’s next? That’s what I’m trying to sort out — just what the community’s expectations are for the next dozen years or so.
Q: Eagan has lost the presence of some large corporations in recent years – Delta’s headquarters and Lockheed’s big corporate campus, for example. What do you think the city can do to recoup from that?
A: At the Lockheed site we’re working with [developer] CSM to redevelop that property. What we want to do is stay active, stay nimble and be on the alert for opportunities for any sort of economic development. One of the common themes I have heard is that when people come to Eagan’s City Hall and want to look into a project, our staff is very responsive. That’s one of the key things we can do, be very customer-service driven.
Q: The city has become larger, older and more racially and ethnically diverse than when you worked here in the early 1980s. What does that mean for city services?
A: The mayor touched on that in his state of the city address a month or so ago. That’s one of the things we have to sort out as a city, as a community. We should look at it as an opportunity.
Q: Did you talk to Hedges before you decided to apply for the job?
Q: He obviously told you to go for it.
A: You know who told me to go for it? My wife. I had a great situation in the city of Hastings, but Laurie said, “Wouldn’t you be disappointed if you didn’t at least apply?” I went into the job interviews with the attitude that I was interviewing Eagan as much as they were interviewing me. I wasn’t so much asking questions as just being observant. I was looking for a willingness to be open to changes, to look at new ideas. I kept hearing they’d be open to my ideas and open to change.
Q: Can you give an example?
A: To what extent should we consider iPads and electronic packets for the City Council? … I have an iPad, and I’ve … told people they don’t need to send me a hard copy of a … document.
Susan Feyder • 952-746-3282