Serving Northern St. Louis County, Minnesota

Council hires new clerk-treasurer

Victoria Ranua replaces Linda Keith, who was fired

Marshall Helmberger
Posted 10/2/19

TOWER— Victoria Ranua is expected to be the next city clerk-treasurer for the city of Tower. The city council here made the unanimous decision to offer her the position at a special meeting on …

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Council hires new clerk-treasurer

Victoria Ranua replaces Linda Keith, who was fired

Posted

TOWER— Victoria Ranua is expected to be the next city clerk-treasurer for the city of Tower. The city council here made the unanimous decision to offer her the position at a special meeting on Monday after conducting public interviews of the two finalists for the city’s top administrative post.

Council members praised both finalists, who appeared at Monday night’s meeting for interviews before the full council and more than a dozen spectators. The five-person hiring committee had narrowed a field of six applicants to Michael Schultz, of Tower, and Ranua, who has been dividing her time between her family’s home in Soudan and Shakopee, where she has worked for the Mdewakanton Sioux tribe for the past 15 years. A third finalist abruptly withdrew last week.

Both candidates answered three detailed questions posed by deputy clerk-treasurer Terri Joki-Martin, before the council took a recess to allow the hiring committee, comprised of interim clerk-treasurer Ann Lamppa, Joki-Martin, Tower resident Richard Hanson, council member Mary Shedd and mayor Orlyn Kringstad, to meet behind closed doors to settle on a recommendation.

Forty minutes later, the committee returned to the council chambers and announced their recommendation in favor of Ranua. Mayor Orlyn Kringstad acknowledged that the hiring committee had been divided on the decision. “We had quite a discussion. Obviously, we had two excellent candidates,” he said. In the end, the majority on the committee had come down in favor of Ranua, based mostly on the extent of her experience. The full council then approved the recommendation with little discussion.

Ranua brings a wealth of experience in project management to the city at a time when mismanagement of city projects under the former clerk-treasurer has left the city in difficult financial straits. Ranua began her career with the Mdewakanton as an environmental specialist, but moved up quickly, eventually becoming the land manager for the tribe, which has experienced tremendous growth and new development over the past two decades. In that role, Ranua oversaw a wide range of complex issues, including processing the expansion of tribal trust lands, building productive relations with neighboring governments, administering road projects, wetland mitigation, and other development-related issues. She also oversaw the enhancement of tribal food systems, including the creation and operation of the Wazupi tribal gardens, which include farm fields and greenhouses designed to improve the food sovereignty of the Mdewakanton community. She also handled the realty side of such projects, negotiating land purchases, leases, and easements depending on the project. In addition, she oversaw the digitization and cataloguing of a large volume of historical land records which helped to streamline land management operations for the tribe. Throughout her work, she frequently managed project budgets many times the size of the city of Tower’s general fund budget, as well as several employees who worked under her.

In addition, Ranua has managed multiple state grants totaling $500,000 from the Legislative Commission on Minnesota Resources, or LCCMR, for work she does for a nonprofit organization that maintains an online database on the state’s wildflowers. Mismanagement of an LCCMR grant by the former clerk-treasurer has put the city of Tower in a significant financial hole.

Ranua’s depth of knowledge and attention to detail came through in her interview on Monday.

In response to an interview question that sought her thoughts on economic development, she said she sees her proper role as providing support to the Tower Economic Development Authority, which she said is supposed to be the economic development arm of the city. She said the city already has a valuable asset in its industrial park and she cited a development plan for the park that the city developed back in 2009 but seems to have mostly been ignored since. “I’m not going to allow these things to sit on the shelf,” she said.

Ranua noted that the Tower Elementary has an 88 percent free and reduced lunch count, suggesting that the community is one of the poorest in the state. “That’s an indicator of community health,” she said. She noted that families in the community are further stressed financially just from the cost of having to commute to Ely or Virginia for employment, and that providing jobs locally would help improve the status of families in Tower. In addition to working to develop the industrial park, Ranua said the city and TEDA should focus on addressing contamination issues at some existing commercial sites, which could be redeveloped more easily if the environmental liability issues were addressed. She said contamination at such sites is likely limiting the pool of potential buyers, providing a challenge to redevelopment.

While the city has a number of strengths, she said it now has one significant issue that needs to be addressed. “Right now, the biggest barrier to growth could be your sewer capacity,” she said. She noted how that same issue had hamstrung growth for the Mdewakanton early on, until they were able to expand their capacity. She said the city needs to work on reducing inflow and infiltration as a first step to addressing the issue, with expansion possible in the future.

When asked about her top economic development priorities over the next five years, she said extending broadband access throughout the community, bringing new businesses to the business park, and addressing the sewage capacity issue to allow for new growth, were at the top of her list.

Ranua stressed that whatever role she plays needs to be grounded in proper authority, whether council direction, the city charter or ordinances, or state law. “I’m very foundational in the way I approach these things,” she said.

Details of city employment

The details of Ranua’s employment are not necessarily settled, and as of Wednesday she had not officially accepted the position. While the pay package and benefits advertised were per the previous clerk-treasurer’s union contract, Ranua noted that most clerk-treasurers are not members of a union, since it is considered a management position. “I’d rather be protected by the quality of my work,” she said, suggesting that she might prefer to negotiate with the city outside of a union process.

The city maintains a contract with the Teamsters Local 320, but the union currently represents the former clerk-treasurer and has grieved her dismissal, raising questions about how the union can legitimately represent two people in the same job.

The Timberjay reached out to the Bureau of Mediation Services, which oversees union contracts in the state, but the bureau did not respond as of press time.

In other business, the council approved letting bids to pour a concrete floor in the south half of the Lamppa building to accommodate the company’s desire to occupy more of the building. The space had been left without a finished floor until a tenant could be found. The cost of the additional work is expected to be covered with remaining proceeds from the city’s loan from the Department of Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation.

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