Wednesday, November 14, 2018
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Mayoral candidates in St. Cloud debate the work week

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Dave Kleis speaks at a campaign rally in St. Cloud in October. Kleis says after a decade in the Legislature, he wants to serve St. Cloud as mayor. (MPR Photo/Tim Post)
Two experienced candidates will face off in St. Cloud's non-partisan mayoral election on Nov. 8. State Sen. Dave Kleis is challenging incumbent Mayor John Ellenbecker. Kleis says he's running for the seat because the city needs a full-time mayor.

St. Cloud, Minn. — Kleis' claim has upset Ellenbecker, who says he spends well over 40 hours a week working on behalf of the city, despite another full-time job as an attorney. The issue has raised the questions of what is considered part-time and full-time for elected officials.

Dave Kleis, who has served for more than a decade in the Minnesota state Senate, says he is ready for a new job.

"I love the city of St. Cloud and want to serve its citizens in a different capacity, as mayor rather than their representative in St. Paul," Kleis said.

Sitting in a classroom at a driving school he owns in St. Cloud, Kleis said the city of 60,000 needs a mayor who spends a lot of time on the job. If elected, he says he'll leave his day-to-day operations to a manager and spend all his time as mayor.

"A part-time mayor with a city this size, it just doesn't work anymore. It may have when this was a smaller city, but you need somebody who puts that full-time emphasis on it and that's why I'm running, to be a full-time mayor," Kleis said.

That's become the focus of Dave Kleis' campaign. It's a slogan the city's current mayor John Ellenbecker doesn't appreciate. Ellenbecker wants voters to know he puts in a full work week on behalf of the city.

"I'm surprised that anyone would say I'm not a full-time mayor, because quite frankly the record will show I devote an awful lot of time, and much more than people would suggest is full-time," Ellenbecker said.

On top of his work as mayor, Ellenbecker spends another 50 hours a week working in private practice as a defense attorney. Ellenbecker says despite late nights, and work-filled weekends, his work as mayor has never suffered.

I'm surprised that anyone would say I'm not a full-time mayor.
- John Ellenbecker

"It's very rare that I will miss something that you would expect the mayor to attend because of some conflict. In fact, I can't think of one off the top of my head," Ellenbecker said.

St. Cloud's city charter is vague about whether being mayor is a full-time position. Its $40,000 a year salary is, to some, part-time pay -- at least compared to that of a full-time mayor. The city charter in essence says the mayor should put in whatever time it takes to adequately do the job.

For many so-called part time mayors in Minnesota, that's a familiar job description. To Ardell Brede, mayor of Rochester, it's so open-ended it's laughable.

"Whether you want to call that 50 to 60 hours a week as part time, that's in the eye of the beholder I guess," Brede said.

Brede has been mayor of Rochester for three years, and is up for re-election in 2006. His position is officially part-time and pays $32,000 a year.

Rochester has a weak mayor system, so an administrator takes care of most of the city's business. Brede sees himself as an ambassador for Rochester, a position that keeps him very busy.

"My day typically begins at 7 a.m., I'm in the office and clear out some e-mails, and will be in the office typically till 5 o'clock," Brede said.

Of the 853 cities in the state, only three -- St. Paul, Minneapolis and Duluth -- have what are officially considered full-time mayors. And while the full-time versus part-time discussion has become an issue between candidates in this year's St. Cloud mayoral race, it looks like the job description won't change anytime soon.

However, in October the St. Cloud City Council voted to raise the next mayor's pay from $40,000 to $45,000 a year. Both incumbent mayor John Ellenbecker and challenger Dave Kleis oppose the pay raise.

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