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Wabasha Mayor Durand honored as 'Emerging Leader' by League of Minnesota Cities

The League of Minnesota Cities launched its new Emerging Leader Award this year and selected Wabasha Mayor Emily Durand as this year's award recipient.

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Wabasha Mayor Emily Durand speaks during a House Capital Investment Committee bonding tour stop Wednesday, Nov. 10, 2021, at The National Eagle Center in Wabasha.
Traci Westcott / Post Bulletin file photo
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WABASHA — Pragmatic, selfless and committed is how Wabasha city representatives described coworker and first female mayor of the city, Emily Durand.

Durand has been mayor of the city since 2019 and was recently named the first recipient of the League of Minnesota Cities’ Emerging Leader Award.

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“One of the first impressions I had (of Durand) was just how committed she is to the community,” Caroline Gregerson, Wabasha’s city administrator, said.

According to Gregerson, she decided to nominate Durand for the award based on qualities like Durand’s data-driven and research-oriented approach to problem solving, the energy she brings to the workplace and her ability to balance all factors in decision making.

“Under her tenure, Wabasha has made a lot of progress on big goals,” Gregerson said.

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According to Durand, Gregerson tried to nominate her for the award in secret and she only found out about Gregerson’s attempted nomination after Gregerson had to request a copy of her resume.

“She finally told me that she was going to nominate me for the award so that I could give her a decent resume, and so I actually discouraged her (from making the nomination),” Durand said. “She wisely realized that it’s not just an award for me, it’s an award for our community.”

The LMC, the organization that offers the award, is an association that represents about 835 of the 854 Minnesota cities, according to Luke Fischer, the LMC’s deputy director.

“As an association, we really pride ourselves on promoting excellence in local government and one of the ways that we do that is through our awards that we give out at our annual conference,” Fischer said.

According to Fischer, the LMC launched the Emerging Leader Award this year because it wanted to create a way to recognize people who are new to public service, with eight years or less working in municipal government, but still make a significant impact where they live.

The city officials nominated should have demonstrated meaningful contributions to their city and show promise for continued community service and leadership, according to the application brochure.

“Emily Durand was nominated by her city for the work that she's done,” Fischer said. “She is one of those infinitely impressive people. She cares deeply about Wabasha, thinks about her role as mayor and how she can really do the best for her community, and that's why she was selected for this award.”

In her time serving as Wabasha’s mayor, Durand has worked on projects to renovate the National Eagle Center, reroute Minnesota Highway 60 and make a local food shelf more accessible by moving it downtown. According to Durand, the work she is most proud of centers around child care.

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“I am very proud of a small, but important, child care grant that we have developed for existing and new child care providers,” Durand said. “We’ve been working on that for a couple of years with Wabasha Port Authority, which is our economic development authority.”

After receiving funds from the American Rescue Plan Act, the city of Wabasha led by Durand was able to create a program that makes $2,500 grants available for new or existing child care businesses within 5 miles of the city. This program has the goal of both attracting and retaining young families in the city.

“Emily gets extra credit for the big conversation she's having specifically around child care,” Fischer said. “That's a big statewide conversation.”

Award recipients were recognized at the LMC's annual conference, which was held in Duluth from June 22 to June 24, 2022. According to Durand, she could not attend the conference, but Gregerson, Council member Jeff Sulla and Director of Wabasha Main Street Mary Flicek went to the convention to accept the award on her behalf.

“It was really great to see Mayor Durand and Wabasha highlighted at a state conference,” Gregerson said. “It kind of felt like being at the Academy Awards or something.”

When Durand was recognized as one of the recipients of the award at the conference, a video compiled by coworkers and acquaintances describing Durand’s qualities and accomplishments played through the conference hall.

“Emily came to town as a leader, so I believe she’s beyond emerging,” Flicek said in the commemoration video. “She’s a visionary, she’s ethical, she’s enduring. She does everything for the good of the whole and expects nothing in return.”

According to Gregerson, Durand noted in her virtual acceptance speech the value of volunteers and leadership in small communities like Wabasha, all the while Durand’s coworkers describe her as as the person who always volunteers to help out and works tirelessly to help the city.

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“It’s the Emerging Leader Award but Emily came to town as a leader,” Flicek said. “We knew that Emily was one in a million.”

Bella Carpentier is a journalism and political science student at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities (UMN-TC). She is currently the managing editor of the student-run paper at UMN-TC, the Minnesota Daily. While reporting for the Minnesota Daily, she covered student activism and issues affecting the university's student body. Working for the Post Bulletin, Bella hopes to build community connections and advance her reporting skills. Readers can reach Bella at bcarpentier@postbulletin.com.
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