Top 5 Q2 Considerations for City/County Managers & Administrators

Bart Fischer, Senior Public Administrator, WSB

All of us have been affected in unprecedented and profound ways by the COVID-19 virus. Some mornings it seems as though just making it through to the end of the day is the goal. As I began putting together my thoughts around what city/county managers & administrators should be thinking about during the 2nd quarter of a “normal” year, it struck me that there aren’t “normal” years. Each one is unique with its own challenges and opportunities. Yes, the COVID-19 virus is a big, unprecedented challenge. However, it’s one that public administrators can navigate because that is what we do. We lead our organizations through good times and bad, all while inter-weaving what is “normal” with the constant changes. My goal here is the same, weave together “normal” 2nd quarter considerations for city/county managers & administrators with the current challenges and changes of COVID-19.

Labor Contracts

Most public sector organizations have labor agreements with at least one, if not multiple, labor unions or bargaining units. The budgeting process is a year-round affair that likely started in quarter one, and because of this, it is important to start planning and strategizing as early as possible for labor negotiations.

With the onset of the COVID-19 virus and the challenges it presents, it is even more important to plan where to begin. We are likely facing health insurance increases, a struggling economy, and political pressure to keep taxes low. How do public officials tell essential service employees like police officers, fire fighters and public works employees, who are put their lives on the line daily, that there could be a freeze in pay and benefit adjustments?

This is the time to come together. Seek out connections and relationships with other public sector administrators and organizations to collectively find creative ways to solve these challenging financial and contractual issues. Start talking with bargaining units now to build trust and communicate expectations.

If you have labor contracts that expire at the end of this year, start connecting and communicating with colleagues and peers. Work together to find creative solutions to challenging contract discussions. Begin conversations and communicate expectations with your labor groups.

Public Works

Spring is time to start thinking about seasonal transitions in public works. There is the transition of equipment and work plans from winter activities to warm weather duties. Equipment and work plans that are set up for plowing, snow removal, ice rink flooding and inside related work, must now be transitioned to summer activities such as street sweeping, street patching, water line flushing along with lawn, park and public property maintenance.  Additionally, second quarter brings the start of street reconstruction and other infrastructure projects.

It is important for administrators & managers to work with their public works directors, city engineers and staff to plan for inevitable challenges. Those may include a diminished workforce due to COVID-19; ensuring the safety of city, consultant and contractor staff; barriers to public engagement and communications regarding projects, work plans and safely interacting with the public.

The transition from winter to summer activities can be difficult for public organizations, especially during this time. However, it is also an opportunity to find and evaluate new and more efficient processes for making these transitions happen.


Like public works, parks become an important priority for public entities and residents when spring arrives. Without a doubt, our current situation of closing playgrounds and other high contact amenities is difficult. However, it can provide opportunities for park improvement. With park amenities closed, there is an opportunity for performing any delayed maintenance, replacement or cleaning.

This is the time of the year to be communicating with local athletic associations regarding needs and desires for their upcoming seasons. In the “new normal”, communication regarding plans and expectations becomes even more imperative. Are associations still planning for their seasons and tournaments? If so, will the city/county have the staff to maintain and prep the fields as needed? Are they postponing tournaments, or making them smaller, and at fewer locations to allow for social distancing and better maintenance?

It is essential to start considering and planning for a summer with closed parks and amenities. Take the opportunity to make and implement needed improvements and maintenance during the closure and communicate with the local athletic associations about expectations for the upcoming summer season.

Community Connections

During these interesting times, it is important that cities and counties stay connected to their residents and community. This will look different in today’s social distancing climate, but community connections remain a vital part of a public organization’s success. Public entities must find ways to connect to their constituents, especially those with little or no technology. My colleague Dan Pfeiffer, Director of Public Engagement at WSB, recently provided insight on this topic with his piece, “Staying Connected When Public Meetings Aren’t Possible”.

This is also the time of year when cities start to plan in earnest for summer events and celebrations with parades, carnivals and fireworks. The current state of social distancing and limits on congregating in large groups, make it important to start the conversation now about canceling or modifying these events to accommodate new recommendations.

Finding ways to successfully maintain community connections will not be easy. Organizations will be successful in their recovery efforts if they find ways to keep the members of their community connected during this crisis.

Team Members/Employees

How well an organization communicates with, engages, and treats its team members and staff during the COVID-19 crisis is a barometer for future success. Managing the impacts of COVID-19 virus on employees should include addressing stress, burnout, mental health, flexible work schedules and working from home in order to maintain the health of the individual and the organization.

Connecting with employees during an outbreak and social distancing may look different, but it is still possible. Continue to celebrate milestones such as birthdays and work anniversaries with online meetings, calls and lunch delivered to the employee’s home. Use video calling to reach out, check in and touch base as it is more personal than a text or email. Help model work/life balance. Even though work and home are now one and the same, you do not need to be, and should not expect others to be, available 24/7. Continue to build in and set aside time for both work and personal time.

The possibility of a diminished workforce remains likely as summer camps and events are cancelled, budgets tighten, and cities/counties do not hire seasonal workers. They may also have to find creative ways to use less busy staff to provide essential services. For example, full time recreation staff that may not be as busy this summer can assist with parks maintenance or general administrative work. Find creative ways to keep team members employed and engaged.

Communicating and engaging with your team members, even in small ways, is vitally important and goes a long way toward keeping them focused and productive during these trying times.


Though the COVID-19 pandemic has created unprecedented challenges for us all, I am confident in the work of public administrators and managers to integrate change. During this time, do not overlook the importance of focusing, planning, discussing and communicating about priorities such as labor contracts, public works and parks transitions, community connections and the safety and engagement of team members and employees. The success of our cities, counties and communities depends on it.

Bart has been a City Administrator/Manager in the public sector for over 16 years. He is a strategic leader known for relationship development and connecting people around common themes and goals. Bart’s experience lies in leading and creating an organizational culture of collaboration where the whole becomes greater than the sum of its parts.

[email protected] | 651.286.8484

WSB announces new municipal division leadership

May 27, 2020

Local engineering firm WSB today announced the promotions of Monica Heil and Morgan Dawley to leadership positions in the firm’s municipal services division. In their new roles, Heil and Dawley will oversee the growth and management of WSB’s municipal market, including municipal engineering, community planning, economic development and water-wastewater services.

Heil, formerly the senior director of municipal services, is now the vice president of municipal services. Heil is a civil engineer who has served many communities in Minnesota for over 15 years. She replaces vice president Lee Gustafson. Gustafson, the former longtime engineering director for the city of Minnetonka, assumed the role in 2018 and worked alongside Heil to restructure the fast-growing team to better serve the firm’s clients. Gustafson will remain on the firm’s leadership team in a reduced role.

“Monica has a deep understanding of long-term operations and maintenance needs associated with municipal engineering,” said Gustafson. “She believes in developing solutions that have a profound effect on the communities she serves. There is no one better to lead WSB’s municipal services than Monica and I am confident in her ability to deliver on our client’s infrastructure needs.”

Filling Heil’s previous role as senior director of municipal services is Dawley.  Dawley is the former director of municipal client services. He has overseen municipal, transportation and civil engineering projects in several Twin Cities communities offering consultant services that include strategic planning, preliminary design, project development and public engagement.

“Morgan has shown tremendous commitment and leadership to WSB’s municipal team,” said Jon Chiglo, WSB’s chief operating officer. “Throughout his tenure he’s made a strong impact on our clients and staff.  He has asserted himself as a leader and I am thrilled for Morgan to take a more active leadership role within the company.”

In the last two years, WSB has expanded the executive team, built a larger C-suite and acquired two companies. As the third-largest engineering firm in the Twin Cities, WSB has 14 offices in four states.

To view the resumes and headshots of Heil and Dawley, click on the links below:

WSB hires structural engineering expert Paul Kivisto

May 22, 2020

Engineering and consulting firm WSB announced today that Paul Kivisto is joining the organization as a senior structural engineer. As the former metro region bridge engineer and St. Croix Crossing Bridge construction engineer for the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT), Kivisto joins the firm with nearly 37 years of experience working on high profile structural infrastructure projects throughout Minnesota.

“I am thrilled to welcome Paul to our firm. His engineering and bridge management experience will be an invaluable addition to our structures team,” said Jody Martinson, WSB’s vice president of transportation. “I’ve worked closely with Paul for many years and his technical abilities and his big-picture thinking will be an asset for our clients’ structural needs.”

Kivisto has played a significant role in some of the most high-profile bridge projects in the state, most notably serving as the St. Croix Crossing Bridge construction engineer. The $646 million project was completed in 2017 and involved two state DOTs, multiple communities and an innovative extradosed design – only the second of its kind in the United States. Additionally, Kivisto offered his expertise on bridges across the state including the reconstruction of the I-35W Mississippi River bridge and the construction of the 10-lane Wakota River Bridge.

“I am really looking forward to joining the growing structures team at WSB,” said Kivisto. “In many ways, I am just changing hats and am excited to approach projects from the consulting side of bridge management and design.”

As part of WSB’s team, Kivisto will support clients with their bridge management plans, safety inspection reports, design plans and constructability reviews. As a consulting engineering firm, WSB’s structures services include bridge design, rehabilitation, inspection and management and construction for public and private partners.

State-wide reopening creates unique opportunity for cities to support Minnesota restauranteurs

By Molly Just, Senior Planner and Eric Zweber, Senior Project Manager, WSB

As Minnesota communities adapt to enable long-shuttered restaurants to reopen and adhere to social distancing and health and safety standards, they are looking for ways to address outdoor seating in compliance with the June 1st – Stay Safe Minnesota government order.

While outdoor restaurant dining has proven to attract a larger customer base for many businesses looking to boost their summer season revenue, other restaurants are faced with space limitations and licensure issues that prevent them from accommodating outdoor seating. As restaurant owners struggle to consider the many factors that will determine a June 1st reopening, cities can take proactive steps to support the economic growth in their communities, while also keeping their residents safe.

WSB’s city planners have put together a list of key considerations for enabling outdoor dining under the June 1st – Stay Safe order, along with a list of resources including agencies and organizations that support and regulate outdoor restaurant dining.

Outdoor restaurant seating | Stay Safe Minnesota

Primary issues to consider prior to establishing an outdoor dining space.

Liquor License

  • Make any necessary modifications to liquor license
    • Must be compact and contiguous to modify on-sale liquor license 
  • If the site cannot be compact and contiguous, consider a caterer’s license
    • Caterer’s license must be for an event of a limited time and cannot be used daily
  • An updated liquor liability insurance is required for all businesses
  • Update business site map and file with DPS Alcohol and Gambling Enforcement Division 

Health and Safety

  • Consider updating the business’ Health Department Certificate 

Tent Set-Up

  • Plan for summer rain to keep space open
  • Consider rules for outdoor patio space and smoking

Note: Americans with Disability Act (ADA) and Fire Code regulation must be followed and cannot be waived.

Potential issues to consider for businesses located on private property.


  • Seating restrictions allow maximum of 50 patrons at one time
  • Parking requirement allows one stall per three seats
  • Maximum parking requirement up to 17 stalls

One-Way Traffic

  • Option to reduce parking lot drive aisle width to 18 feet or less 
  • Must allow seating area to occupy one half of parking stalls and part of drive aisle 
  • May require parking stall re-striped for angled parking 

Additional issues to consider for restaurants on public property.

  • Balance of seating and dining areas in a public space
  • Special Event Permit for businesses who need the space available on a limited basis 
  • Consider temporarily restricting on-street parking to allow more space for outdoor seating 
  • Consider temporary decking options for accessibility

Agencies and organizations who support outdoor dining regulations.

League of Minnesota Cities

Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development

Department of Public Safety

Molly has been a planner at the local and regional levels and in the private sector for nearly 20 years. Molly is driven to reveal and promote the benefits of planning for all stakeholders in a project. Whether negotiating development agreements that benefit the public, writing new zoning codes to address changing local conditions, or writing comprehensive plans, Molly plans with all stakeholder groups in mind. Molly is recognized for considering all aspects of a community in her planning from schools to utility infrastructure and she prides herself on working collaboratively with professionals from other disciplines to get the job done right. 

[email protected] / 612.364.4586

WSB hosts graduation for free civil engineering career training program

May 21, 2020

Design and consulting firm WSB today announced that the company’s first Opportunity+ cohort graduated in a virtual ceremony. The program, Opportunity+, is a new workforce training and development program designed to prepare participants for long-term careers in the civil engineering industry. Opportunity+ launched in January of this year and is a free and fast-paced training course led by experts at WSB. Nine cohort members completed the first Opportunity+ training class and received their certificates during the ceremony.

“I am honored to have played in role in introducing the program participants to the world of civil engineering,” said Bret Weiss, WSB’s president and CEO. “The communities we live and work in are far more diverse than our industry. Opportunity+ is just one of the ways we are working towards building a workforce that looks more like the communities we serve. I am so proud of our graduates and their ability to master the skills needed for a successful career in the AEC industry.”

From January through April, program participants received accelerated training through evening and weekend sessions. The flexible schedule allowed participants to continue working during the day while completing the hands-on program. Today, Opportunity+ participants are prepared for careers as surveyors – a high-demand position in civil engineering.

 “The future of the Opportunity+ program is bright,” said Laura Rescorla, WSB engineer and program manager of Opportunity+. “We have plans to make a couple of tweaks and are currently exploring expansion opportunities for the 2021 cohort. I am so impressed with the participants and their dedication to growing their careers and taking a chance on something new.”

WSB has hired two program participants and has extended offers to several others.  The firm is working with hiring partners to help participants find their place in the industry and begin new career paths.

Program partners include the City of Minneapolis, CareerForce, Center for Economic Inclusion, EMERGE Community Development, Hennepin County and the City of Saint Paul.

Jack Corkle, Director of Transportation Planning, to lead as President of ACEC Minnesota

The American Council of Engineering Companies (ACEC) Minnesota Member Organization announced that Jack Corkle, WSB Director of Transportation Planning, will serve as their President for 2020-2021 starting July 1.

Shortly after joining WSB in 2012, Corkle was appointed as a member of ACEC Minnesota’s Board of Directors in 2013. She has served over seven years on the Board and is prepared to begin her new role as President, working alongside Executive Director, Jonathan Curry and President-Elect, Keith Jacobson. Corkle anticipates continuing ACEC’s work to promote the consulting engineering industry and plans to focus on partnership development within the Minnesota business community.

As President, Corkle will meet with state government officials to address legislation impacting the industry and secure opportunities for infrastructure project funding. Additionally, she will work with staff and others to develop educational and training programs for ACEC-affiliated firm members and continue to work with the Minnesota Department of Transportation and other agencies on strategies and planning for moving projects forward.

Additionally, Corkle is looking forward to bringing a more diverse talent pool to the Minnesota chapter. She believes that promoting an inclusive environment will strengthen the organization in the long-term. “We need new ideas, diversity of opinion and those who are passionate about the industry to be involved.”

Getting Started with Tribal Funding

There are many challenges to maintaining a healthy and prosperous tribal community. Tribal leadership is responsible for building, maintaining and improving the infrastructure and services for tribal members on an on-going basis. This can be daunting and overwhelming when the necessary resources are not readily available. The good news is there are a variety of funding sources available to tribal communities, here are the first steps you can take when applying for funding.

1.) Prioritize goals and align with available funding options

In many instances, tribal sovereign nations have developed planning documents such as integrated resources management plans (IRMP), comprehensive plans, housing plans, surface water management plans, economic development plans, cultural preservation plans, and many others. Having clear goals and aligning them with available funding opportunities will position your tribal community for success at acquiring critical funds for initiatives that are most important.

2.) Determine eligibility, eligible expenses, required matches (if any) and maximum/minimum funding amounts

Funding is available from a variety of local, state, federal, and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and all have eligibility requirements and allowable expenses. Others may require match (in-kind or cash) and have minimum/maximum funding requests amounts. Understanding these basic requirements is a prudent second step in deciding if pursuing a funding source will be worth the investment of time and how well the grant can support the project. 

3.) Develop partnerships/coalitions

Funding requests can vary greatly based on need and scale of the project or program. For large projects that require a large capital investment or match that may not be available, consider developing partnerships or coalitions with local, state, federal, or NGOs to security necessary funds. This can allow you to leverage multiple funding sources, expertise, volunteers, and support, which in most instances increases your chance obtaining grant funding.

4.) Determine what type of project needs funding

Projects and grant requests may divide into broad categories such as:

  • Education/Outreach
  • Data Collection
  • Implementation
  • Monitoring
  • Planning

Depending on where your community is with planning and datasets, new projects may need to begin as planning projects and include implementation plans. This will help you describe your project and develop a clear workplan to successfully achieve tribe goals. Some funding sources do not support planning or data collection and simply support project implementation, while others are the opposite, only supporting planning and data collection and not implementation. Therefore, addressing points one and two is critical to your application and should be as persuasive as possible to demonstrate that you have a clear set of goals and implementation plan. In some cases, including elements from each of the above categories on applications, or at least addressing them, can improve your application and odds of being granted funds.

5.) Plan for what comes next

Having a clearly defined workplan and accurate cost estimates for your project/program is critical to successfully winning grants. If there are too many expenses exceeding currently available funding, consider phasing your project over time and explain that in your grant application. It is possible to be awarded funding on a multi-phase project that is implemented over a series of years if it follows a clear plan. Be thinking about what comes after completing the workplan. Consider how you will fund and support the project after the grant is completed.  Many times, grant programs can build on themselves; after successfully obtaining one funding source and completing the project, you may unlock additional funding sources to expand the reach of your initial project.

Other things to consider:

Capacity Building- Do you have capacity (staff, equipment, time, etc.) to complete the project and can you use grant funds to build capacity that provides future opportunity?

Data driven- Can you use existing data to support your rationale for the grant funding?  If not, this may be your request as you identify data gaps and request funds top fill those gaps.

The Top Ten Benefits of a Park System Master Plan

By Jason Amberg, Director of Landscape Architecture, WSB

Communities can better plan for their future by developing a system-wide comprehensive park, trail, and recreation master plan. Public engagement, intentional planning, and aligning needs with recreation trends are challenges communities may face when planning future park systems. Acknowledging these challenges is crucial for creating a successful park system plan that meets the needs of its users.

1. Establishes a long-range vision

Establishing a long-range plan helps ensure that resources are used effectively, and priorities are based on the greatest community benefit. Aligning the vision of a community to the system plan helps meet the needs of the public and establishes a clear plan of action.

2. Prioritization and budgeting for Comprehensive Improvement Plans (CIP)

Priorities are established through a park system planning process. From high-level budgets to determining a proposed timeline for implementation, developing priorities provides a better perspective of what is possible. As populations grow, the park system should develop and grow as well. Communities can make a strong impact when aligning their priorities and investments across the system.

3. Filling gaps and reducing redundancy

When preparing a system plan, analyzing the distribution of parks and bike/pedestrian connectivity is essential to gain a better understanding of existing gaps and overlaps. Changes can then be better implemented to serve residents that may be lacking proper access to recreation and reduces overlap where similar recreation opportunities exist. Analyzing the distribution and connectivity of parkland in a system develops opportunities for active and passive park options that can include unique playgrounds, courts, plazas, sports fields, picnic areas, overlooks, etc. 

4. Community support

There are many ways to engage stakeholders, both in-person and virtually. Open houses, community events and online engagement methods create opportunities for public involvement. Not only does public engagement generate community support for funding, but it also provides relevant perspectives from the broader community to ensure the system plan accounts for diverse users, improves transparency and builds trust. Increased public engagement is leads to increased future community support. of community members.

5. Potential for and promotion of partnerships

System plans also identify private and public partnership opportunities. These partnerships may include school districts and private educational facilities, fitness centers, associations, townships, watershed districts, state agencies, and other municipalities. This collaborative effort helps communities build and deepen existing or new relationships.

6. Grant application tools

Many grant funding applications require a public engagement process and an adopted plan. From trails to park development, the system plan shares a clear vision and budget estimates that are based on public input. As public engagement becomes increasingly important, organizations are looking for park planners who connect with community members through a variety of methods. The system plan provides the necessary background information, community perspective, priorities, budgets, and exhibits necessary for grant funding applications. 

7. Opportunities for future development

System plans may recommend communities set aside open space and preserve land to accommodate population and spatial growth of the area. Census data, demographics and regional trends all help determine the amount and type of land needed in the future. The system plan is meant to help cities work with developers as growth occurs to ensure future recreation needs are met.

8. Establish a plan for the park amenity life cycle

Park systems in many communities were established using a ‘cookie-cutter’ approach to park development. This occurred over a short period of time when development was booming through park dedication dollars. While recreation needs may have been met for several years, this approach led to many parks looking nearly identical. It also created the need for simultaneous rehabilitation requirements as many parks reach the end of their lifecycle at the same time. Establishing a strategy for completing upgrades that allow park spaces to be unique and complementary to one another will reduce the future likelihood that several parks require a full replacement simultaneously. This also allows cities to budget for replacement costs not funded by park dedication dollars. 

9. Aligning investment with needs

Proactive consideration of recreation trends reduces the need for further investment in downward trending park features. Current and projected recreational trends should be considered before investing into rehabilitating existing park amenities. As demographics continue to evolve, the needs for park and recreation program offerings will change.

10. Physical and Mental Health Benefits

Parks, trails and natural open spaces provide residents with both physical and mental health benefits. Whether it is a walk on a trail, connecting with nature, playing outdoor sports, or interacting with play equipment, data indicates that recreation improves health, interaction with others, and enhances community pride.  

Jason is the Director of Landscape Architecture at WSB with more than 25 years of experience in public space planning and design. From small-scale neighborhood park improvements to comprehensive park and trail system plans, Jason has worked with park boards, municipalities, governing agencies and community residents.

Jason Amberg | [email protected] | 763.231.4841

This article originally appeared in the Greater MN Parks & Trails April Newsletter.

WSB announces 2020 staff promotions

We are pleased to announce the promotion of our newest leaders at WSB. Our Associates, Senior Associates and Principals demonstrate skills and leadership that advance WSB forward and support our vision and goals. We are fortunate to have strong, committed leaders at WSB that have chosen to invest in their careers with us. Please join us in congratulating our dedicated team members.


Senior Associates

  • Chad DeMenge | Director of Contract Administration – Northern Region, Minnesota
  • John Powell | Senior Project Manager, Municipal


Navigating Public Improvement Projects During COVID-19 – Part 2

Enjoy part two of our two part series discussing how to best manage your community during stay at home and social distancing. In this episode our team of experts share challenges and solutions to current financial conditions and project financing options. This webinar includes special guests from Baker Tilly Municipal Advisors and Ehlers Public Finance Advisors.