WORTHINGTON — Following a roughly 45-minute interview and a brief discussion, Nobles County commissioners voted unanimously to hire Deputy County Administrator and Emergency Management Director Bruce Heitkamp as the next Nobles County Administrator.
The interview and subsequent action took place during a special board meeting Tuesday morning. Heitkamp was the lone applicant for the job, which was posted internally only.
A native and current resident of Adrian, Heitkamp spoke during his interview of his administrative experience. A graduate of National American University in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, with a bachelor’s degree in management, his first managerial position was resource director for CCSI in Worthington. In that role, he worked with budgets and negotiating rates for services provided. While with CCSI, he ventured into property management with Windsor Apartments in Worthington, and continued that for three years until he was offered the position as Adrian’s City Administrator.
During his 13-year career with the city of Adrian, Heitkamp said he worked in a number of roles and strived to expand economic development in the community. He oversaw the development of the Suedkamp Addition on Adrian’s south side, which has now sold 20 lots.
Heitkamp left the post in Adrian more than 17 months ago to accept the job as Nobles County’s deputy county administrator and emergency management director.
“I wasn’t very long into that process and the COVID event happened,” Heitkamp said during his interview. “We were able to construct a pretty amazing team.”
Commissioners took turns posing questions to Heitkamp during the interview, reading from a prepared list of queries that ranged from how he would exemplify the county’s newly adopted core values to his experience working with budgets. He had an opportunity to talk about his leadership and managerial skills, experience with personnel, perception of county commissioners and staff, and opportunities for the county during the next five years.
Heitkamp said he plans to continue to lead by example and request that everyone who works in the chain of command treats each other with respect and in service to the residents of Nobles County.
With his past roles, he has had extensive experience working with budgets — with CCSI alone, there were 28 individual budgets to manage. While working for the city of Adrian, he managed the city’s funds and levy, as well as that of Adrian Public Utilities.
“In a small city, you dive into everything,” Heitkamp shared.
Once employed by Nobles County, Heitkamp caught the tail end of the budget process in 2019 and served on the budget committee in 2020. He also sat in on labor negotiations.
“I’m still learning all of the ins and outs. The budget here is a tangled web — there’s a lot of transfers in and transfers out,” he added.
As a leader, Heitkamp said he understands that everyone has to work together and collaborate, and noted that anytime an employee leaves, it’s a good time to reevaluate the processes of the department and whether there are new ways of doing things. At the same time, he noted that he needs to be a more effective listener.
“There’s a lot of opportunities to learn from other folks," he said. "I need to focus more on listening to people around me than thinking about what I’m going to offer to the discussion."
Asked about the three leadership qualities he views as most important, Heitkamp responded that work ethic is No. 1, followed by integrity and giving people an honest answer.
Finally, Heitkamp was asked if he had any reservations about being offered the position.
“No. This was the plan,” Heitkamp responded. “I knew the plan in my mind when I talked to Tom (Johnson, current county administrator) two years ago.
“I knew that this was where my next role was,” he added. “I look forward to the challenge and the opportunity to grow through the process.”
Once the interview was completed, each commissioner weighed in with their thoughts. Both Commissioner Bob Demuth and Commissioner Donald Linssen said they used a point system in evaluating Heitkamp’s responses.
“My only concern is one person — I don’t like having just one candidate,” Linssen said, adding that Heitkamp did a good job.
Commissioner Justin Ahlers told the board he did his homework, reaching out to all county department heads and city leaders to seek their opinion of Heitkamp.
“Almost every person I talked to said he’s so personable,” Ahlers shared. “I heard ‘we’ and ‘us’ through the process today. I truly believe Bruce is a team player.
“He understands he’s got some things to work on. I know his work ethic — he’s willing to put the time in.”
Ahlers also raised the point that Heitkamp’s roots are local.
“He was born and raised in Nobles County,” he said. “You go to someone from the outside, are they here for one year, two years, 10 years? His roots are here. As county commissioners, our roots are here. Why would we not want our county administrator’s roots to be here?”
Board Chairman Gene Metz went back to his comments from a week ago, when the board voted to post the position internally only.
“When you interview an internal candidate, you know their plusses and their faults,” he said. “When you interview an outside candidate, you have to trust what they say and find out later.”
Paplow, sitting in on his first interview process as a county commissioner, said he supported Heitkamp for the role. He supported Ahlers’ motion to hire Heitkamp for the position, effective May 1.
Once the decision was made, Heitkamp was called back into the board room. Upon hearing that he’d been offered the job, he let out an audible sigh of relief and said it would be an honor to serve as the county’s administrator.
“I look forward to working with our staff, serving our residents and serving you as a board,” he said. “I will do my very best.”