At a special meeting March 5, the Wadena City Council voted 3-2 to offer the wellness center manager job to Eric Robb, an Ada man with experience operating similar facilities.
Robb, who has a recreation management degree and formerly operated community centers in Ada and Roseau, accepted the position Monday, city administrator Brad Swenson said. Starting April 7, Robb will work out of a temporary office at the city administration center until permanent space is ready at the Maslowski Wellness and Research Center.
According to the city job description, the wellness center manager is “responsible for planning, managing, maintaining and monitoring all activities” at the $12.4 million facility, which will feature pools, racquetball courts, fitness equipment, a gym and several multipurpose rooms. It is scheduled to open in the fall.
In a similar split vote last month, council members offered the position to Holly Weller, an events coordinator and executive assistant at Tri-County Health Care. She turned it down, so the council reconvened March 3 to decide whether to hire Robb, the second top finalist or to reconsider two local candidates. Council members asked Robb follow-up questions in a conference call.
Council member Toby Pierce said he thought it made sense to immediately offer Robb the job.
“That’s pretty much what we’ve done in the past,” he said.
But other council members proposed meeting again for conference calls with Randy Jahnke, manager of the Cyber Cafe and temporary Wadena community center and Ryan Damlo, asset protection manager at Wadena Wal-Mart.
“Options are good,” council member Gillette Kempf said.
Council member Jeanette Baymler, who along with Pierce supported Robb over Weller in the first vote, said with so much to do before the facility opens in the fall, “time is of the essence.”
Council member Brian Hillesland replied: “It is, but it’s more important to find the right person.”
At the end of the more than 90-minute meeting March 3, the council agreed to meet again March 5.
At that meeting, council members called Jahnke and Damlo, asking questions about management, marketing and operations. Each call ended with what Mayor Wayne Wolden called “soap box time,” to give the candidates a final chance to explain why they deserve the job.
Jahnke, a lifelong resident of the area, said he’s a competent person who adapts quickly and humbly learns from others.
“I understand the economic and social demographics of the area,” he said. “This community truly is my family.”
Damlo, who’s lived in Wadena for seven years, said he knows how to manage people and has tons of ideas for the new facility.
“There are so many things we can bring to this community that will make this wellness center rock,” he said. “I want to be a part of that.”
On March 3, Robb said that in addition to smoothly running operations, he would be able to successfully market the wellness center - a chief concern among several council members.
“I believe marking boils down to being a people person,” he said. “I think being a good-hearted person that’s willing to work hard goes a long way.”
After the March 5 calls, Baymler and Pierce continued to support Robb.
Earlier in the meeting, Pierce pointed out that in Ada, Robb reduced the community center’s deficit from $180,000 to $120,000.
“He’s highly experienced,” Pierce said. “I’m looking for someone who knows what’s going on. He knows what’s going on … What’s the issue here?”
Kempf said Damlo was her top choice because she was impressed with his marketing ideas.
Hillesland and Wolden said they would like to hire Jahnke.
Wolden stressed Jahnke’s degree in recreation management, his experience running facilities in town and his lifelong ties to the community.
“We’ve got a known commodity here,” Wolden said. “He’s got the education, he’s got the experience, he’s got the drive.”
Pierce called for the question. Then he, Baymler and Kempf voted to offer Robb the position.
“Even though this is a 3-2 vote, we are all behind our man 100 percent,” said Hillesland, who earlier said Robb was his second choice by a close margin. “It may be a split vote, but it’s not a split council. After the vote, we’re united.”
Wolden, the other dissenting vote, echoed that sentiment.
As of press time, Robb had not responded to interview requests.