Public pursuit

A strategy of “plan, organize and execute” works for public entities as well as it works for private enterprises, Kevin Degenstein told community members Thursday.

Degenstein, of Great Falls, Mont., offered up his private-sector experience as the second candidate to present the public with his credentials to become Minot’s next city manager. Degenstein, a former utility company executive, spoke and answered questions at a luncheon Thursday.

Greg Sund, a county administrator from Hays, Kan., spoke Wednesday. Today, Minot city finance director Cindy Hemphill will present at an 11:30 a.m. luncheon in the Grand Hotel, concluding the interviews with prospective replacements for city manager David Waind, who retires at the end of March.

Degenstein, a 1977 graduate of Minot High School, is a licensed professional engineer who most recently served as president and chief operating officer for Energy West Inc. and Gas Natural Inc. in Montana. He had been with Energy West from June 2008 to November 2013. He previously had been with EN Engineering and Nicor Gas in Illinois. He received his civil engineering degree from North Dakota State University, Fargo.

Degenstein said a similarity exists between public and private sector management in that both require seeking unique ways to get things done. A city’s structure is much like a corporation, he added.

“What I see from the mayor-city council perspective is they set the vision. They set the structure. They put forward what they believe we want to accomplish hopefully, with input not only from the community but the people who work here,” he said. “The city manager’s job is to take that, execute that as he sees best, run the city, be out front, actually be the face of the city.”

The council and mayor have to trust that they have proper management because there are times of urgency when the city manager and employees need to be out front, he said.

“I have always been out front,” he said. “My perspective is I am a leader and I expect to lead.”

But he added, “I would communicate. I would let them know what I am doing. I would give, at least, my vision. I would work with them. I would share with them. And I would be accountable.”

Degenstein mentioned his roles in helping his company successfully handle crises, from major pipeline breaks to explosions and fires. He stressed the need for proper processes and procedures.

“The first thing you really need to do and this is in any organization you need to have a great management plan, and that management plan needs to be well thought out. It needs to really accomplish what the leadership of this community and the community really wants to have done, and it needs to be done in a manner that everybody understands,” he said.

“You have to plan, organize and execute. You can’t go in blindly,” he added. “My philosophy is if you are well organized, you can use everybody’s dollars more wisely.”

Not having worked in the public sector, Degenstein said, his weakness may be his limited knowledge of debt financing methods, but he noted he can learn and he does have experience in sourcing funds.

“Obviously, everybody needs to keep the fiscal house in order,” he said. “You really need to use the taxpayers’ money wisely, and you really need to make the capital investments that are needed.”

Degenstein advocated for a pro-business climate, the use of operational best practices and good communication both internally and with the public.

Leaders must communicate their vision for the city, he said.

“There is a very diverse group of people in Minot, and you need to show that you are building out a community that fits all types of people,” he said.

In working with staff, Degenstein said he would make sure employees understand expectations and have authority to carry out the responsibilities that they are assigned.

“I have always believed you need to work with people with dignity and respect,” he said.

Asked about Minot’s downtown revitalization, Degenstein said just having unique shops isn’t enough to create a vibrant downtown.

“It starts with building a community for young professionals who want to be downtown,” he said. “You build a small community within a community, and that’s how downtown survives.”

While offering a serious plan for Minot’s growth, he also promoted keeping a positive perspective.

“My perspective on life has always been to have fun. If you don’t enjoy what you do, go do something else. Come to work with a smile on your face. Be happy. Days are stressful. Days are complicated,” he said. “Minot went through a very difficult flood. But you have to step back and say you accomplished something.”

A task force has been interviewing the candidates and will make a recommendation to the Minot City Council for consideration at its March 3 meeting. Candidates’ public presentations are being filmed and will be available for viewing this afternoon using a link on the city website at (www.minotnd.org).