Despite being a Green Bay Packers fan, Dean Zuleger made a lot of friends in Lake Elmo.
Jill Mitchell described him as a man of "joyful disposition who put me at ease." Bryan Billingsley, who heads a homeowners association, recalled him as the only city administrator who'd ever "contacted any of us."
Todd Gilbert, who owns a business in town, told the City Council last week:
"We own seven facilities and have dealt with dozens of city councils and administrators, and I am not sure if you understand what you have here with Dean. I don't know if you get it. He gets things done. He makes things happen."
But a new three-person council majority intent on changing things in the city — and perhaps making fewer things happen — was unmoved.
At the end of a long and sometimes emotional meeting last week, the City Council voted 3 to 2 to take Zuleger up on his offer to part ways.
"I believe there are seasons in life and my season here might be over," Zuleger said. "I'm glad while I was here to be able to get things done and work in a positive way."
The expressions of support for him, he said, "filled my heart with love tonight, and it's hard not to get emotional." He added that a group of city staffers lined up behind him "is one I love and cherish."
When the council's vote to pursue a separation agreement sealed the deal, Zuleger supporters in the crowd angrily shouted, "You're unbelievable!" "Unreal!" "I'm moving out of Lake Elmo!" "When is the next election?"
There was a cool tone, though, when newly-elected Council Member Julie Fliflet told the crowd:
"I know you don't want to hear it, but I need to say it. … I know how difficult it is to be out there feeling as if you're not being heard, but we are not allowed to talk about a lot of things here."
She meant the personnel issues that she and others had been warned not to broach. But she was plainly alluding to the frustrations that the anti-growth side in Lake Elmo had experienced in recent years, as the council majority that lost in November's election accelerated development in the traditionally growth-wary rural enclave.
Immediately after taking office in January, new council members began exploring ways to undo development approved by their predecessors — or at least dampen the pace of it.
Zuleger had held the administrator job for three years, after turnover that had led to six different people leading the city over the past several years.
He launched the evening by saying, "It could be I've hit my threshold here. It's maybe the best time to transition to a new administrator."
Zuleger said that he was not resigning, as such, and "could envision remaining active and being available to help with the transition in a consulting role."
Council members were cautioned, for legal reasons, against any public comments bearing on personnel issues.
Mayor Mike Pearson opposed the move, describing it as a case of "changing horses in midstream while shooting ourselves in the foot."
Other city and county officials agreed. Washington County Commissioner Gary Kriesel, who represents Lake Elmo on the County Board, described Zuleger as a man who "created trust," saying the relationship between city and county had "never been better."
Zuleger said he was proud of four main achievements:
• "Two comprehensive plan amendments got approved [by the Metropolitan Council], extricating us from an onerous memorandum of understanding and driving down density requirements;
• "Stabilizing a tenuous water fund, saving $435,000 and attracting $3.5 million in state bonding;
• "Bringing sewer to areas of the city in a way that [solved environmental challenges and meant that] we were not assessed potentially $9 million in wastewater efficiency fees" by the Met Council;
• "Managing the city in a fiscally responsible manner, not raising taxes in two years and in fact lowering them this year, the only city in Washington County to do so."