It was a 14-year climb to the top.
Melanie Mesko Lee began her work with the city of Hastings as an administrative assistant and clerk in 1997. On Monday, she officially became Hastings' new city administrator, taking over the top unelected post in city government.
Her past duties with the city include working in human resources, dealing with communications and running a transit program. She became assistant city administrator in 2004. She completed her master's degree in public administration at Hamline University.
Mesko Lee replaces Dave Osberg, who left to take the same position in Eagan.
"I respected Dave Osberg tremendously, and he and I worked very well together," Mesko Lee said. "I think that I will continue to offer an emphasis on the importance of our core values — the importance of communication. And I think that I will bring some perspectives on how to implement technology into our operations."
Following are excerpts from a recent interview with Mesko Lee.
Q: One could say it's rare for someone to be with a city this long and climb up the ladder. How did you do that, and was that your intention from the start?
A: I've known about this as a profession for a really long time. I've grown up with understanding how local government works. That's not always the case. So, my career path was intentional, in the respect that I ultimately wanted to be in city management. Staying with one organization for the bulk of my career, that was less expected. When I first took the job, I thought this would be a great short-term opportunity for me, but over the years, I was given a lot of opportunities within the organization. So I was able to grow. And I kind of joke that I've probably had two or three jobs at a time since I've been with the city, because I've gotten to do so many different things. So it's not your traditional path for a city administrator.
Q: What are some of your priorities in working with the public?
A: I want to enhance our efforts at communication. We have a pretty strong baseline right now, but I think there's an opportunity for us to increase that through use of technology, through use of our Facebook or Twitter, cable, some of those traditional media, but then also how we communicate on processes. And how we communicate on context for decisions that have been made or issues that are facing the city.
Q: Have there been any changes in Hastings that you've seen over the years that will affect the way you do your job? Changes in technology or demographics or the economic times?
A: Absolutely. I think probably all three of those. Economics: We've been impacted like everybody else with declining property values. So we're still recovering from that. We're still going to see a decline in 2014. And what that's forced us to do is really take a look at what services we're providing. Ask the question: Are they need-to-do or nice-to-do services?
For demographics, I think we're facing what everybody is facing, and that's an aging demographic. So how do we create a community, how do we build on what makes Hastings great for the life cycle of our residents?
And then technology, I think the piece I find most exciting — but it's also a challenge — is how do we leverage what's out there to be more efficient — how can we use different methods of communication to work with our constituents more?
Q: What are some hot-button issues in Hastings? What do you think people really care about throughout the community?
A: Our quality of life. That gets down to just livability. Do we have good code enforcement? Are people taking care of their properties? … Are we a responsive organization when it comes to snow removal in the winter, pothole patching in the summer? That we are providing those fundamental services at a good value. I think people also care about wanting to retain the small-town feel that drew them to Hastings.
Q: What do you like about the Hastings community?
A: As a community, I think we're on the cusp of some really cool stuff. We've got the Hudson redevelopment along the river, we've got some park improvement opportunities, we are in a very enviable geographic spot — we've got the bridge opening up. This is a community that values its history, but also is willing to look forward and say, "Well, what's next for us?" I think that's a very cool combination.