The city of Lake Elmo, struggling with controversy over growth and leadership, has named as its interim administrator a man with government experience in Wisconsin who is vowing to try to keep the city “off the front page.”
On his first morning on the job last week, Clark Schroeder spoke about taking the helm of a city that has run through several administrators in recent years, and about whether he’d like to keep the job for good. He is filling the job recently vacated by Dean Zuleger, who left after a bitter City Council dispute.
Q: I’m told that you mentioned to the City Council a desire to tone things down a bit and not make quite as much news.
A: I would hope that our meetings would become so routine that there would be five people in the audience. I aspire to good governance, transparent and ethical government, developing relationships among citizens and council members themselves. My goal is to have people say, ‘Hey, I want to move to Lake Elmo or expand my business there.’ I’ll strive to develop better rapport.
A: Would you like to keep the job as a permanent thing?
Q: I’m open to that. I told the council, if they like me and I like them and we want to work out a relationship, that would be to my liking.
You know, a lot of times when you have an interim position, it’s sometimes assigning a bad guy to clean house or deal with disciplinary issues, and that’s really not the case here. We really don’t have a group of employees who have problems. The employees are great. The issue is more just all the press, and the relationships among themselves [on a divided City Council] have been so tumultuous, that they maybe wanted breathing room to quiet things down so that people wouldn’t be as gun-shy about applying.
Q: It sounds like this job came at a convenient moment when circumstances in your Wisconsin job suddenly changed.
A: I worked for 30 years with St. Croix Industries, which was a government agency as part of St. Croix County [serving residents with disabilities.] I was their administrator for six years. We traditionally billed Medicaid, and as those rates went down, we went from money making to money losing.
The summer of 2013 was a rough area as the County Board tried to set policy: Should we support this department with [tax] levy dollars ad infinitum? We had parent meetings, it was a big, public issue. In the end, in August of 2013, the board decided to privatize. We solicited private entities to take it over, and a group from Stillwater did so in 2014. I then finished my master’s degree in public administration from Hamline, graduating just this past May.
Q: With a name like Schroeder you’ve got to be German.
A: Only partly: I’m actually a combination of Norwegian, German and Swiss, and it’s the Swiss part that has been most marked in my life — it’s there that we’ve kept up family connections over the years.
Q: Lake Elmo seems to pose challenges and opportunities: Can you preserve and enhance a semirural village atmosphere so close to a major metro, while developing in a more conventional way along the freeway?
A: That will be the balance to try and achieve, and I’m excited to be here.
Q: You may have heard, the job has been a revolving door.
A: I’m a local boy, I only live four miles away. I’ve lived in Baytown Township for 30 years. I do not step in with my eyes closed.