By Andrew Tellijohn
After several years of serving on the League of Minnesota Cities (LMC) Board of Directors, Brad Wiersum drew the short straw when he ascended to the role of president in June 2020. His year in leadership coincided with the COVID-19 pandemic, which shut down most in-person meetings, the LMC Annual Conference, and much of the League’s statewide travel.
But Wiersum, the mayor of Minnetonka, is an optimist with the drive to represent all the League’s member cities, and he decided to make the most of it. “We had a job to do,” he says. “I wanted to be as effective and helpful as I could be.”
So, instead of a lost year, the League had its Board meetings online and organized a new approach to member engagement with smaller “mini meetings” around the state — meetings marked by masks and social distancing.
City officials would share the issues they were facing, and League officials would talk about available resources. “We realized we needed to stay connected to our members,” Wiersum says. “That was the most rewarding aspect of my year as president.”
Representing all cities
Wiersum’s colleagues say he approached that time the way he does everything — with unfailing dedication. He has always been determined to learn about the needs and wants of cities that are geographically and demographically different from Minnetonka.
“The more people you know, the better job you are going to do for your city,” says Wiersum, who first joined the League Board in 2014 and completed his service in June after serving the last year as immediate past president. “As a leader, I wanted to represent all cities, not just cities like mine.”
Wiersum’s presidential tenure also overlapped with racial tensions heightened by the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. He made racial equity a top issue, both with the League and in Minnetonka.
“I’m committed to that, both in our city and everywhere,” he says. “All cities have a role to be ready and to build relationships, to be inclusive and welcoming, regardless of whether you are a diverse city or a non-diverse city. You still have people from all walks of life visiting your city.”
A great leader who cares about people
Geralyn Barone — who retired in 2021 after 27 years with Minnetonka, the last nine as city manager — says Wiersum has an uncanny ability to tackle difficult issues head-on and to remain friendly with people, even when they disagree.
Barone credits Wiersum’s general nature for his ability to have frank discussions with people and says if he ends up disagreeing with them, he will often seek them out to talk about why.
“He genuinely cares about people,” says Barone. “He is always looking for solutions and ideas. He’s really a problem solver and he is always really optimistic.”
League Executive Director David Unmacht logged many hours traveling the state with Wiersum. They’ve talked a lot on those trips about everything from city issues to their shared love of the Green Bay Packers.
He calls Wiersum inclusive, outgoing, engaging, and personable. He admires his ability to build relationships and to stay positive while leading through COVID.
“He never felt cheated,” Unmacht says. “He felt honored. It called on him to use his leadership in a method none of us had expected or sought out. He accepted what was given to him and led with honor and distinction.”
And he’s liked and respected by all, says Centerville Mayor D. Love, who succeeded Wiersum as LMC’s Board president. He frequently seeks Wiersum’s guidance on tough issues, knowing that he’ll get thoughtful feedback.
Love echoes sentiments about Wiersum’s leadership skills, but adds that on a personal note, Wiersum is also very kind. When Love’s son was in the hospital with a serious health issue last year, Wiersum offered his support.
“He saw that I was distraught,” Love says. “He had tears in his eyes, as well. That spoke volumes to me.”
Wiersum says his work with cities and the League has been more enjoyable because of people like Barone, Unmacht, and Love. “Being a city leader and an LMC Board member is a team game,” he says. “Success only happens because of a lot of talented, caring people working collaboratively. That makes it all fun and rewarding.”
While Wiersum is leaving the LMC Board, he fully intends to continue with public service beyond his own hometown, where he has three years remaining on his current term. He’s considering the National League of Cities, the U.S. Conference of Mayors, and others.
“I think the city benefits tremendously from the exposure,” he says. “I think it’s really important to maintain those connections. You learn so much from the people you meet. It makes me a better mayor.”
Andrew Tellijohn is a freelance writer.