Park Rapids City Administrator John McKinney is resigning, pending city council approval.
McKinney's letter of resignation, dated March 27, is on the agenda for the council's April 9 meeting. In it, he requested Aug. 30 to be his last day of employment.
Recalling that he was initially asked to fill in temporarily as city administrator in September 2012, McKinney wrote, "Since the beginning of that undertaking, I have had the pleasure of working with a series of supporting mayors and councils and an extraordinarily gifted staff. But at my age, six-and-a-half years is a long time."
The time is coming, he added, to "let some fresh ideas and energy take the helm." He offered to help during the transition to his successor.
McKinney, who turns 83 in a few weeks, said in an interview that he is thinking about spending more time with his family - including two daughters, two sons and 13 grandchildren.
McKinney said the city's personnel committee asked him to consider staying through the end of the year, but he said, "I don't know about another winter up here. Of course, this winter wasn't a good one to set the stage for staying."
McKinney previously lived in Des Moines and plans to move back there. "I'll keep the place here for a while, at least," he said, adding that he thinks five months should be enough time for the city to find his successor.
"There's a lot of good people around that we can be looking at," he said, adding that this includes local candidates. "It isn't a crisis."
Career in review
After finishing law school in 1965, McKinney worked six years for the City of Des Moines, ending up as the city solicitor, one of the office's two senior lawyers. As solicitor, he represented the city manager and staff. Afterward, he was recruited to work for a law firm that did a lot of municipal bond work.
In 2006, he retired and moved with his wife Jean to their vacation home in Park Rapids, where they had been coming since 1971.
One thing led to another.
An Episcopal priest, Jean started helping out at Trinity Church and eventually became the priest in charge and got involved in the diocese. Rev. Jean McKinney died in July 2016.
Meantime, the City of Park Rapids was improving Main Avenue. Someone who knew of John's background recommended him as a member of a committee dealing with special assessments for the project. He was appointed chairman.
In September 2012, previous city administrator Bill Smith resigned, and McKinney was asked to work in a part-time capacity as interim city administrator until a replacement is found.
"I said, 'I'll talk to my wife,' and she was still getting more involved at the church, so we said, 'OK, we'll do it until the end of the year.'"
To make a long story short, McKinney's temporary contract kept being extended until he was hired as a full-time city employee at the beginning of 2017.
"I've enjoyed it a lot," he admitted.
City uniquely positioned
Describing himself as more of a coordinator than a doer, McKinney was hesitant to take credit for the projects the city accomplished during his Park Rapids tenure, but he played a role in:
• establishing restroom facilities on Main Ave.
• the Armory Square project - which "either has to go or not go by the end of May, and I think we've got everything worked out that it will go," he said.
• the city hall renovation, about which he was happy to say, "That's paid for. We didn't have to borrow money to do that."
• renovations at the fire hall and public works building.
• changes at the airport, which McKinney said was perceived as "a playground for people who had their own toys." He voiced excitement to see it becoming more, with a painting facility, an avionics business, and other services drawing business and residents to the community. "I think it's a diamond in the rough," he said.
• a new housing project starting near Walmart, which may lead to further developments.
"I think the thing that's unique about this area is that the city of Park Rapids is just shy of 4,000 people, but we have about a 10- or 12,000 population community. A lot of the people who use our facilities don't live in the city."
A challenge for someone in his position, he said, is that "you have to keep reminding people in the city why they should be paying for something that they don't particularly see they need."
He also noted that the city is transitioning away from a tourism-based economy, which means the local retail market also has to change.
"We've got a great council that listens to these kinds of things," he said, pointing to other hopeful signs such as the Simonson commercial development north of the downtown area and the healthcare facility planned at the former Pamida building.
"One of the things that makes this job a good one," he said, is that "unlike some cities, the city council here has adopted the protocol that they make policy, and they turn it over to the administration to take care of it. That really works well. If the administration doesn't do it, then they're there, and their job is to make sure that it does get done. But you don't have city councilmen or the mayor going down and making sure you've got the right (number of) pounds of air in the tires of the trucks."
In his letter of resignation, McKinney concluded, "Thank you for your continued support and for allowing me to be a part of the operations of this wonderful city and the people who live, work and visit here."