Enthusiasm and positive comments from the Emmetsburg Community Center board countered claims of favoritism at the April 14 meeting of Emmetsburg City Council.
The decision to name Michelle Kauten as Community Center Director drew criticism from a group of residents. Members of the Community Center board spoke with conviction about their selection.
Councilman Corey Gram-owski addressed the decision to hire a director now. "We want to bring someone on board now. We don't want to wait until we have a building. The type of business we're going into, we're a year out from when this building should be opening."
Gramowski also addressed the make-up of the board. "The Community Center board is made up of members of the community. There are five of us here tonight of the seven member board. We're trying to put a member of the council on all of our boards, as representation and knowledge of what's going on. We have six members that are not members of this council."
Members of the Community Center board include community residents Kelly Bay, Ryan Berkland, Ruth Brown, Julie Dunlap, Steve Finer and Diana Parisi along with City Council representative Corey Gram-owski.
He spoke out on the board's choice of Michelle Kauten for director and the future of the Community Center.
"We want this person out promoting it (community center), pushing it and filling it - making it go," Gramowski said. "We picked who we thought was that person. All this has been discussed through the interview process - not just who it is, but we went with the right candidate."
As representatives of the city, the Community Center board will evaluate the job and job performance of the director.
Ryan Berkland, Community Center board vice chair, addressed Councilman Tony Kauten.
"We tried petty hard, Tony, to discount Michelle because we knew this was coming. We talked about this at every meeting, but she stood out head and shoulders above the rest and our decision was unanimous. She did very, very well. We asked a lot of questions and we knew this was going to be hard on Michelle."
With the top two candidates "neck and neck," Berkland talked about the final project. "We asked them to submit a project to us and it was our requests to have them submitted to John Bird so we could see the work without a name attached. It was unfortunate that the other person withdrew. It's quite a bit of work that Michelle is going to take on. She's probably going to have to work 60-70 hours a week for $36,000 a year. Give her a lot of respect for that. She really wanted this job. She interviewed very well. It was refreshing to hear. She had ideas we hadn't thought about. The final project she said, 'You can't ask me to do this without doing this and this.' She knew out of the gate it needed to be a larger project than what we had asked and she did it well."
Councilman Brian Malm had made the motion to hire Michelle Kauten as director. He noted, "I will follow the recommendation of the seven-person board. That was a unanimous decision. The mayor made recommendations for that board and we approved them."
Julie Dunlap, Community Center board member, addressed the council. "We went through the whole process and it kind of saddens me when we look at the last name of people when we want to be proactive and help our community grow. We can look at the negative of everything that we do but if we only focus on the negative our community is never going to grow and become positive.
"Here we are in Emmetsburg with two amazing applicants. When we inter- viewed Michelle she came with as many questions for us as we had of her. She made us open new doors of our thinking. We have a tremendous amount of things that need to happen before the doors open. We could have this building and not even know what we're doing. We need to start today with our projects. We can't wait six months. We can't wait eight months. We need to start today. That's what Michelle was telling us, too. Things need to be in place. You can't sit back and wait for these things to happen. We need somebody who can help us get organized, bounce the ideas off of us and then have us give feedback. I think you can interview 10, 15, 20 people. They may come from a different location with a different last name, but I honestly don't think you'll find a better applicant. We're just lucky enough to have her right here.
"Let's look at the positives that we have and make them happen. Take our positive energy and make us grow. That's what I hope our council will find out, that Michelle is our person to help our community grow - not just our Community Center but our businesses and things for our kids. It's just one more way to get people to come to town and grow."
Dunlap praised Kauten's knowledge of the project, the community and the people of the community. "She knows how to approach the people of our community and our county. She's excited about raising her kids here and she wants to stay here.?That's where we need to put our thoughts. How do we get people to move here and be excited to take part in our community and make our community grow."
Deb Hite, Director of Emmetsburg Chamber of Commerce, related, "Right after Christmas we had a phone call at the Chamber from a little girl. You could just hear it in her voice, she had just gotten a diamond. She wanted to know when the Emmetsburg Community Center was going to be open because she was ready at that time to set a date That was a year and five months ahead of when we said we could offer her a date, so we lost that one. That's a big one to lose. We have to be ready. We have to have somebody now who can put everything in place so when that thing opens on whatever the date in 2015 that we are ready to go.
"Another thing is, a second income of $37,400. Those of you who think you can get someone from Des Moines or Minneapolis or from New York City. They're not coming for $37,400. If you've got the quality talent that we have with Michelle here, with her family and everything else that comes with that full package, $37,400 or $40,000 will not get that person from that city here that you think might be better than someone that we know. So I think you should keep those two things in mind."
The question of hiring Michelle Kauten as Community Center Director will be revisited at the council's April 28 meeting.