Alison Zelms, the former Mankato deputy city manager, took over the top administrative seat in Rochester’s city government Thursday.
We caught up with her Friday to ask about the transition that has her replacing former City Administrator Steve Rymer, who’s last day was Wednesday.
Here’s some of what she had to say:
What attracted you to apply for the position in Rochester?
“Rochester attracted me to this position. … I hadn’t been to Rochester a lot, but when I read the brochure, I just kept reading (and thinking) ‘Gosh, that sounds like something I’ve done, and it sounds like something I have experience in, or it just sounds like me, right?’
“So we came and visited a few times, and there are so many wonderful things going on here. The people are really engaged and connected, and it’s vibrant, and it’s thriving, and there are so many big dreams that are ready to be realized and need help to make sure they are realized.
“Ultimately, it seems like a great place to live, and I want to be a part of making sure that stays true and becomes even more true.”
What made you decide on a career in local government?
“I got interested in policy, politics and places, but I didn’t know it was local government, but I got interested in that when I was little.
“I’m an Air Force kid, so I moved around a lot, and we were actually stationed in Lindsey Air Force Base in West Germany in the early ‘80s, when it was West Germany and East Germany, and we traveled a lot while we were there.
“We went through Checkpoint Charlie to East Germany, and I was probably 6 years old, maybe 7. … It is something I will never forget. It was like the ‘Wizard of Oz.’ It was like going from color to black and white. When you go through, it’s these stark buildings and these grayer skies because it’s coal. … You go into a store, and there's binoculars, a stuffed animal and dry milk, and nothing else.
“This thing that the vast majority of people have no control over -- where you live -- is such a predictor of what your life will be, and most people don’t have control over that, and that kind of image in my mind and that experience, I think is really what got me interested in policy and the decisions we make about what’s built. ... Public servants that work for the city, regardless of the position they have or the roles that they play, has a huge impact on people's lives.
“Honestly, that moment in my life is probably what led me here.”
What about Rochester, outside of the job, do you look forward to exploring or getting involved with?
“I’m excited about the restaurants. There are a few I have my eye on, and I’ve tried a few already, now that we have those options again.
“I love the outdoors, I love the trail system and that each part of town is a little bit different.
“I’m really looking forward to a time when some of the different civic organizations are going again with some of the cultural activities.”
Being raised traveling and having worked in a variety of cities, do you view Rochester as a big city or small town?
“It’s not too big and it’s not too small. It’s just right. It’s both, and I think that is a unique thing about it that is so appealing. You can be in Rochester and experience both at the same time.”
How was your first day as city administrator?
“It was really good. I was really excited to be here and it was very welcoming. I had some meetings already scheduled and worked on some things, and got some welcome texts.”
Do you have any specific goals for your first full week?
“I have a lot of things scheduled to start meeting people and planning for things. I’m getting together with some of our partners across Rochester to keep things moving.
“That’s the unique part of joining something and being new; you are joining something that’s moving pretty fast, so you have to jump on and keep going."