By Marisa Helms
The 2017 C.C. Ludwig and James F. Miller Leadership awards were presented on June 15 during the League of Minnesota Cities Annual Conference in Rochester. The winners were Minnetonka Mayor Terry Schneider and Spring Lake Park City Administrator and Clerk-Treasurer Daniel Buchholtz. The C.C. Ludwig Award for elected officials and the James F. Miller Leadership Award for appointed officials honor individuals who have consistently done outstanding work to improve the quality of their own cities as well as cities throughout the state.
C.C. LUDWIG AWARD WINNER
When Minnetonka Mayor Terry Schneider was a boy, he spent long summer days with his grandfather George, a retired mechanic, in the small town of Plymouth, Nebraska. On most days, they’d walk down Main Street together, and George would talk about the importance of honesty, integrity, and respect.
During these strolls, just about every person who passed by would make sure to stop and chat with George. Schneider says he was very impressed by his grandfather’s connection to the people in his community.
“Grandfather was extremely well-respected and good at solving problems,” says Schneider. “The summers I spent with him were a major influence in my childhood and set the tone for the way I see things.”
Today, Mayor Schneider’s reputation is one his grandfather would be proud of. The humble 73-year-old professional architect and developer is well-known and admired for his collaborative nature, respectful communication style, and problem-solving skills.
Public officials from across the region praise Schneider for being approachable, intelligent, kind-hearted, hardworking, and a “true, selfless leader,” who consistently strives to create and maintain partnerships that positively reinforce the region’s priorities.
“While he speaks quietly, his words matter,” says former Minnetonka Mayor and Councilmember Jan Callison, now a Hennepin County commissioner. “He is the person that others— city and county officials—look to for a deep understanding of issues, an honest assessment of challenges, and a positive focus on solutions.”
Schneider is seen by many of his peers as a leader who has a keen understanding of how Minnetonka and surrounding local governments can work together to promote the competitiveness and economic vitality of the region.
Wayzata Mayor Ken Wilcox calls Schneider “a reliable sounding board” and “role model.”
“[ Schneider] has helped Wayzata with legal issues, food inspection, land use, development disputes, and coordinating with regulatory agencies,” says Wilcox. “When we have had difficult controversies, he has very often just called to offer his counsel if desired. He can be counted on for level-headed, well-reasoned solutions.”
Four decades of service
In 1971, Schneider moved to Minnetonka after accepting his first job with a Minneapolis architecture firm. Soon after, Schneider joined the Minnetonka Jaycees and spearheaded a creative plan to preserve land that became Big Willow Park, a 95-acre city park on Minnehaha Creek. From there, Schneider continued to strengthen his commitment to public service, starting with appointments to the Minnetonka Park Board (1977–1981) and the Minnetonka Planning Commission (1981–1989).
In 1992, Schneider was elected as a Minnetonka city councilmember, a role he served for 16 years until he was elected mayor in 2009. His second term closes at the end of this year, and Schneider is not seeking re-election.
During his long career in local government, Schneider has committed himself to improving the quality of life for residents in Minnetonka and the region. He has been a champion of expanding affordable housing options in the region and has been a leading voice for smart land use and redevelopment projects like the United Health Group headquarters expansion and the Ridgedale visioning project. Schneider has also provided expertise and support to high-profile regional transportation projects like the Southwest Light Rail Transit plan and the I-494 upgrade and expansion.
Additionally, Schneider has served on the boards of numerous advocacy and public service groups, including the Regional Council of Mayors, Municipal Legislative Commission, League of Minnesota Cities, National League of Cities, West Hennepin Affordable Housing Land Trust, Metro Cities, and others.
Winning over others
Despite being a self-described “diehard introvert,” Schneider says the best part of his job is working one-on-one with residents. Through patience, respect, and a calm demeanor, Schneider has been able to bring community members together over some very contentious land use and transportation issues.
“When there’s a resident who’s angry and doesn’t understand what’s going on, I will spend time with them to explain why we need to do what we’re doing,” Schneider says. “I’ve done this so many times now, I’ve found that they change their attitude and turn their views around. They get involved and become major contributors to the community instead of naysayers. The ability to communicate with people and open their mind to new ideas is just really rewarding.”
JAMES F. MILLER LEADERSHIP AWARD WINNER
By all accounts, City Administrator and Clerk-Treasurer Daniel Buchholtz has brought a breath of fresh air and renewed openness to Spring Lake Park, a small (2.1 square miles) Twin Cities suburb that’s home to about 6,500 residents.
City officials hired Buchholtz in 2012, a year before the retiring city administrator was to leave. Spring Lake Park Mayor Cindy Hansen says when Buchholtz first arrived, residents had little trust in city officials or the City Council. A culture of disorganization had taken hold, and angry residents were calling to complain about the lack of transparency and accountability.
“It was a very uncomfortable situation,” Hansen says.
Additionally, for at least a decade, boxes upon boxes of stacked documents had cluttered up city offices. “Our city staff was literally drowning in paperwork thrown in boxes and stacked floor to ceiling in every corner and hallway, under every desk, and behind every door,” explains Hansen.
Job one: declutter
As soon as Buchholtz transitioned into his position as city administrator in late 2013, he set out to rebuild trust with residents and to manage the organizational disarray at City Hall.
Buchholtz, city staff, and an outside contractor scanned and then disposed of every piece of paper in the office to create digital versions of all the city’s records. The task took them a full six months.
Today, the stacked file boxes are gone and a room that was once crammed with file cabinets has new life as a conference room. Buchholtz also led the city’s efforts to design a new logo, build a website, and launch the city’s presence on social media.
“It’s really helpful now being able to find records with keyword searches rather than rummaging through big file folders,” says Buchholtz humbly. As Hansen puts it, he led the city “out of the ’70s and into this century.”
Finding his calling
Buchholtz grew up farming in North Dakota, but knew he wanted a career outside of the family business. He realized he’d found his calling in city administration while interning with the City of Moorhead as a college student.
Buchholtz continued his internship with Moorhead through completing his graduate degree in public service administration in 2002. From there, Buchholtz held city administrator positions with the City of Dassel (2002-2005) and the City of Hanover (2005-2012) until he came to Spring Lake Park in 2012.
For many years, Buchholtz has been active with the International Institute of Municipal Clerks, and he currently serves as the organization’s regional director. Buchholtz’s commitment to excellence in his profession also led him to join the Minnesota Clerks and Finance Officers Association (MCFOA), where he has held many board positions, including president. In 2012, he helped develop MCFOA’s master certification program that provides advanced training for city clerks and finance officers across Minnesota.
“I believe every community in the state of Minnesota deserves staff members who are passionate and can provide good leadership,” says Buchholtz.
Buchholtz’s notable career achievements include testifying at the state Legislature on behalf of cities, developing a model conservation subdivision ordinance, and building a municipal trail system in Hanover. Buchholtz also recently identified two Spring Lake Park boundary concerns and then worked collaboratively with businesses and neighboring communities to adjust the city’s borders.
And Buchholtz is currently finalizing a $35 million deal to build 194 units of affordable senior housing in Spring Lake Park. When it’s completed in 2018, it will be the biggest development project in the city’s history.
A new level of trust
Buchholtz’s work to restore trust with Spring Lake Park residents continues. He has an “open door policy,” and is quick to return resident phone calls and emails.
“I really like problem-solving,” says Buchholtz, who is known for his professionalism, honesty, patience, and calm demeanor. “I feel rewarded when residents come to me when they feel they have an insurmountable problem, and I’ll help them break it into parts and give them guidance.”
Hansen praises Buchholtz for changing the culture at City Hall. She says he has done such a good job of earning the respect of his peers and cultivating trust among city residents, business owners, staff, and councilmembers.
City staff are “no longer receiving calls from angry residents wondering why this or that is happening,” Hansen says. “The most important thing he did was to build up a trust that was lacking in our city.”
Marisa Helms is a Minneapolis-based freelance writer.
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