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Devlin lauded for unique initiatives

Richard Devlin periodically cites Olmsted County government's knack for finding its own path.

As he announced his retirement Tuesday, the Olmsted County administrator outlined a plan for his own unique path heading to his Oct. 31 retirement after 49 years in county administration.

"My plans are to transition all management responsibilities to Deputy Administrator Heidi Welsch during the next couple months," he told county commissioners in a letter Tuesday. "In June, I will be involved in several initiatives before I leave in October."

The initiatives include finding ways to overcome crowding concerns in the county's detention center, seeking new revenue streams at the county's waste-to-energy facility and developing a business plan for Graham Park.

As the transition nears, County Board Chairman Ken Brown noted anyone taking over will have big shoes to fill, especially since Devlin carries a wealth of knowledge about county operations.


Welsch said that's one of the reasons for the unique transition, so staff can prepare to move forward.

"We have a very strong staff, so I don't think it will be difficult," she said.

While Devlin said he doesn't expect a search for his replacement to start until August, he said Welsch will likely be a contender.

"She's a go-getter, and you don't want to get in her way," he said.

Tuesday, commissioners noted Devlin has been a force to be reckoned with in his own way.

"You have a knack for getting people pointed in the right direction," Commissioner Jim Bier told Devlin following the announcement.

Commissioner Sheila Kiscaden also cited his tendency for quiet leadership that has resulted in creating a county that actively serves its residents' needs.

"I've had a lot of opportunities to do some good stuff," he said, noting he joined the county staff after being hired by the city of Rochester to help shepherd an effort to merge city and county health departments.


Other accomplishments in his tenure include unique initiatives, such as establishing a county human rights commission and spearheading a smoking ban for restaurants.

Yet, when asked about his biggest accomplishments Devlin's business mind lands on the former state hospital, which the county purchased for $1 before selling a portion to the federal prison system for $14 million.

Throughout his nearly five decades with the county, Devlin said he's always seen it as a business of sorts, with opportunities to make change while watching the bottom line.

"You can do that in local government," he said, noting it's harder at the state and federal levels.

Another thing unique to local government is the decades-long working relationship between Devlin has shared with Rochester City Administrator Stevan Kvenvold, who started his job a few years after Devlin became the county's top administrator.

"We've had a lot of interactions back and forth," Kvenvold said, noting while each administrator frequently has his own specific goals, the outcomes are generally beneficial for the city and county.

Devlin, who at 73 is a couple months younger than Kvenvold, jokes about outlasting his city counterpart, who announced his retirement in November. Still, he agrees that the city and county governments have discovered mutual benefits throughout the years.

A large part of that, he said is due to the county boards, staff members and residents he's worked with throughout the years.


"This has been a wonderful county to live and work in," he said.

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