by Dennis Dalman
by Dennis Dalman
Kris Ambuehl, the newly hired city administrator for St. Joseph, said he is “super excited” to start his new job for a number of reasons.
Ambuehl, 42, will begin his first day Monday, Aug. 12.
In an interview, he said he is happy that his job in St. Joseph will be closer to his home near Bowlus – about 20 miles. Before he was hired by St. Joseph last month, Ambuehl had served for little more than a year as city administrator for Tracy, a town of about 2,200 residents in Lyon County in Southwest Minnesota. He rented an apartment there where he stayed much of the time. The commute to his family near Bowlus was three hours, both ways.
“It will be good to have dinners with my wife and three daughters most every day,” he said.
He is also happy because it’s the job he’d long wanted. During the interview process, he was very impressed with the city’s staff, including former city administrator, Judy Weyrens, who worked for St. Joseph administration for 33 years, the last 18 of them as administrator.
The St. Joseph City Council members, he said, conduct themselves very professionally; the city staff is a cohesive, solid team; St. Joseph Mayor Rick Schultz has true understanding and vision. Ambuehl told the mayor he might have to spend some transition time in Tracy.
“He (mayor Schultz) told me it is important cities work together, and that is exactly what I believe, too.”
Ambuehl said he feels a bit challenged as he is about to begin a job so long held by administrator Weyrens.
“She has been a pillar of the community,” he said. “I’ll have to work very hard to fill her role.”
Ambuehl is certainly no stranger to St. Joseph. He grew up in Little Falls and has been long familiar with the cities of Central Minnesota, including St. Joseph. One of his long-time dreams, in fact, was to work in administration for St. Joseph. The size of the city and its demographics were ideal for the kind of work he wanted. Being located at the edge of the St. Cloud metro area was another plus. Ambuehl said he is gratified, excited and eager to go to work for St. Joseph now that a dream of his has come true.
Ambuehl’s first job as a city administrator was the one in Tracy. He vividly recalls seven days after he was hired on June 25, 2018, one early morning in the wee dark hours the police chief came rapping frantically on the door of his apartment. The chief could tell Ambuehl did not yet know the news. An overnight deluge of rain (9 inches in a few hours) had flooded the town, stranding many.
Scrambling to get dressed and ready, he dashed out to the chief’s van, and they drove off to help rescue stranded residents. Ambuehl’s training in disaster management came in handy that day, even his expertise on how to get old pumps up and started. Town residents were impressed by their new administrator’s hands-on work in a crisis, and they told him how much they appreciated his know-how and hard work.
Ambuehl said the most vital requirement of good city government can be summed up in one word: communication. All involved, such as council members, must sit down, talk and really listen to one another before trying to solve problems or make decisions. Many problems and personal abrasions can be prevented if open and honest, from-the-heart communication takes place first, Ambuehl noted.
As such, Ambuehl said city administrators should work hard to foster those kinds of good communications.
“I follow three things,” he said. “First I follow what’s legal, then I follow what’s ethical and finally I use compassion for those involved.”
Raised in Little Falls in a house very near to Charles Lindbergh State Park, Ambuehl graduated from Little Falls High School, then earned a degree from Willmar Technical College.
He started his own automotive body shop business based in Little Falls and did that kind of work for 11 years. In 2008, he sold parts of the business and closed other portions of it. Then he worked as a mechanic, painter and leadership and maintenance teacher at Camp Ripley near his home town. As a member of the Minnesota National Guard, he was deployed to Iraq in 2011-12 where he was in charge of transportation convoys.
While working at Camp Ripley, Ambuehl found the time to earn degrees in public administration and disaster management from Upper Iowa University – Fayette, Iowa. He is currently one-third of the way through earning a master’s degree in business management, also from Upper Iowa University.
Ambuehl and his wife, who works as an in-home nurse, have three young daughters. Ambuehl’s hobbies are hunting, fishing and anything to do with the outdoors, especially happy camping trips with his family.
“I’m really excited about the opportunity for this job in St. Joseph,” he said. “This job is everything I could hope for. It’s the right location, and there is a solid (city) team already in place.”