Gail Dorfman, who has been a Hennepin County commissioner for 14 years, will step down at the end of February to become the new executive director of St. Stephen's Human Services in Minneapolis, one of the county's largest providers of services to the homeless.

The commissioner's position is full time, as is the St. Stephen's posting, so Dorfman is expected to vacate her county seat before taking the new job March 3, which would trigger a special election.

Dorfman, 61, had already announced that she would not seek re-election when her term ends in November. She said Monday that she decided to leave early "because I got a really great job offer from a really great organization that I am passionate about."

Her commissioner's salary is $102,888.

Dorfman's plans mean those who want to replace her will need to run compressed and accelerated campaigns. Once the county has received formal notice of her Feb. 28 departure date, a special election primary and general election would be set within a couple of months.

Whoever replaces her isn't likely to shift the balance or direction of the County Board, long dominated by DFLers. The Third District she represents includes St. Louis Park and most of southwestern Minneapolis, including Uptown, downtown, and the Excelsior and Grand area.

The area is the center of a high-stakes debate regarding the location of the Southwest light-rail transit line. Plans for that line have been buffeted by community controversy about where to locate its tracks.

According to state law, a special election is needed if the Hennepin County Board seat will be vacant more than six months before the Nov. 4 election. Numerous politicians already had indicated plans to run for the rare open seat on the board in November.

Among those planning to run for the seat:

• Former state Rep. Marion Greene.

• Katie Hatt, former aide to County Commissioner Peter McLaughlin.

• Former union carpenter and state Sen. Ken Kelash.

• St. Louis Park City Council member and former Dorfman aide Anne Mavity.

• Assistant Hennepin County Attorney Ben Schweigert.

County Board Chairman Mike Opat said in a news release that a special election will be called as quickly as possible. He praised Dorfman's work for the county and called her new job a "great fit" for her.

"She has been passionate about addressing and preventing homelessness," he said.

Not the first to step down

Dorfman was elected to the board in March 1999 in a special election when former Chairman Mark Andrew stepped down. She served on the St. Louis Park City Council before being elected mayor of that city.

Before moving to Minnesota, she worked for the neighborhood development agency in Boston and ran the Washington, D.C., office of Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis.

The last Hennepin County commissioner to step down midterm was Mark Stenglein, who resigned in June 2012. The county didn't hold a special election to replace him, and former state Sen. Linda Higgins was elected to his seat off the November ballot.

Dorfman will step into the St. Stephen's job on March 3.

St. Stephen's, located at 2309 Nicollet Av. S., provides direct services to homeless residents and reported $12 million in revenue for the most recent fiscal year ending last June. Most of that money, almost $9 million, came from government grants, including almost $3 million from the county.

St. Stephen's started 40 years ago at its namesake Catholic Church in Minneapolis. The organization helps people find shelter, affordable housing and jobs and works for systemic change to fight homelessness. The services were incorporated as a nonprofit independent of the church in 2002.

Rochelle Olson • 612-673-1747 @rochelleolson