‘The city will remain strong’; Retiring Bob Derus reflects on city administrator career


[email protected]

Bob Derus started his career as a city administrator in a dark, damp basement that wasn’t unfamiliar to a stray salamander and frog.

He ends it 35 years later in a brightly lit modern office overlooking a beautiful pond frequented by waterfowl.

That first office was in Corcoran, at the old city hall located in a former schoolhouse on Cain Road. His latest office was at the new St. Michael City Hall, which he will vacate at the end of this month.

Prior to Corcoran, Derus started his career in public administration in 1976 in Rogers. He ends it one town to the north in St. Michael, where he has served as city administrator since 1997. But the many friends and colleagues Derus met in that time won’t have to look far for him post retirement. That’s because his roots will remain in the northwest metro, or at least at Lake Charlotte in St. Michael where Derus lives with wife, Laurie.

Derus said the time was simply right for him to step aside as St. Michael’s top boss.

"The main thing is, after 35 years of administration, it’s somewhat of a stressful job," Derus said. "I think as much as anything it was just the right time to do it. My job had gotten significantly easier over the years as we hired staff, and then the economic slowdown."

Reflecting on his career, Derus said St. Michael was ripe for growth when he started in the late 90s just after the former Frankfort Township was incorporated into St. Michael. The once tiny 1.5-square-mile city would expand to 38 square miles.

"As the city worked through that we had a lot of needs, merging ordinances and comp plans and needed personnel," he said. "There were various demands that were really a great experience in terms of being able to hire the people to build a culture around and what I thought was a way to do that, with hard workers and motivated people and that’s what we have."

Derus humbly subtracted himself from taking credit for leading the once small city into becoming the largest in Wright County today.

"We really have a solid team," he said. "I can’t take all the credit but I’d have to say I’m very proud to be a part of putting that team together and that’s probably what ill miss the most, a great bunch to work for. That’s what I’m proudest of, that St. Michael will be a good city for many years."

He said he took a common sense approach: such as to have good streets, good public works, and most importantly first-class services.

"We are first class, and we have good infrastructure and very low taxes. That takes a lot of work," Derus said.

So what’s Derus going to do in retirement? Go to work, of course, just not full time. That’s because Derus has already embarked on a new career in administrative consulting. He recently ended a term in Annandale helping that city transition into hiring its new administrator.

Aside from work, Derus said he has plenty to look forward to, such as music writing. Many people who know Derus might not know that he is an ardent music fan and musician. He even had his rock opera performed at a Minneapolis theater festival.

He also intends to spend more time fishing at the family cabin at Leech Lake, and with sons David, 27; Mark, 25; and Eric, 22.

"I look forward to catching up with friends, and reading," Derus said. "A job like city administrator takes up a lot of your thought time and a lot of energy. It’s a very rewarding job but it means you can’t do a lot of other things in your life."

The Minneapolis native said he and Laurie are very happy in St. Michael, and that he plans to remain active in the community post retirement.

He was full of thanks for all who helped make his career successful.

"I just would like to thank everybody I had the pleasure to work with, including the residents who were supportive," he said. "They expect good leadership and I think they got it from the staff and city council. The city will remain strong."