Rockford’s new administrator brings legal expertise to position

Future Rockford City Administrator Dan Madsen (center) posed with a couple of pheasant hunters on opening day.   To his left is Ron Schara, and to his right is Gov. Mark Dayton.

Future Rockford City Administrator Dan Madsen (center) posed with a couple of pheasant hunters on opening day.
To his left is Ron Schara, and to his right is Gov. Mark Dayton.

by Linda Herkenhoff

The Rockford City Council, at its Jan. 14 meeting, unanimously approved hiring Dan Madsen as the city’s administrator and special counsel.  He will step into the position being vacated by Nancy Carswell, who has held it for over two decades. Carswell announced her retirement plans late in 2013.

Madsen’s title with Rockford will be a little different from Carswell’s and different from most city administrators. Madsen has a law degree and will be able advise on matters benefiting from a legal opinion. And, although it may seem like an unusual position for an attorney to aspire to, hearing Madsen explain it, it could be a good fit.

After receiving his Juris Doctorate from William Mitchell in 2005, Madsen worked as a judicial law clerk for judges in Steele County. He did a lot of research while clerking and discovered that the cases he found most fascinating had to with municipal law.

“I felt that I had experience and information that could benefit a city in making decisions that would help, not hurt, them” he said.

In 2008, Madsen took the top job at the city of Madelia, Minn., serving not only as city administrator, but also taking on the roles of special counsel, zoning administrator, economic development authority director and utilities director.

The Madsen family, left to right: Dana Marie, Dan, Amy and Donovan Thomas.

The Madsen family, left to right: Dana Marie, Dan, Amy and Donovan Thomas.

Aside from the full range of administrative duties — including licensing, ordinances, policies, regulatory compliance, human resources and applicable legal matters — Madsen has directed 11 full-time and 67 part-time employees, leads all departments including public safety, municipal liquor sales, public works (water and wastewater utilities), planning and zoning, and parks and recreation (including a golf course, pool and campground). He wears a lot of hats in Madelia, has worked hard and become invested in the city with a population of 2,300 that calls itself “The Pride of the Prairie,” and he concedes that he will miss it.

The jump to Rockford, though, is something he’s ready for. With twice the population, several new and exciting projects in the works, and its proximity to the cities, Madsen thinks that Rockford will be an excellent place to put his expertise to use. An avid outdoorsman, he’s hunted in the area and has been down the Highway 55 stretch of Rockford many times. Since interviewing for the position, he’s come out several times to get a feel for the area. He’s spoken to residents, vendors and service providers in the city and found something he wasn’t even looking for, a little bit of nostalgia.

“Rockford reminds me of what I love about Madelia; good, friendly people and a council that is proactive and pragmatic,” he said.

Another plus for Madsen, who lives in Chaska with his family, is a considerably shorter commute. As it is, his commute is about an hour and 20 minutes each way to Madelia and back. He hopes to be able to cut that in half by working in Rockford.

Madsen said that he likes being involved with activities and projects in the communities he lives and works in, and that has translated into coaching for a number of teams including varsity soccer in Owatonna and youth hockey in Chaska, where his son plays and his daughter is preparing to.

“We’re a big hockey family, “ says Madsen.

Rockford City Council members, as well as Carswell, speak highly of Madsen and expressed enthusiasm over the hire. The city’s attorney, Mike Couri, told the council at a recent meeting that he is well acquainted with Madsen (through the Minnesota City Attorney’s Association) and felt that he was a good choice for the city.

Madsen said he’s looking forward to his new position with the city of Rockford and is grateful that Carswell will be able to help with the transition.

“She’s leaving some really big shoes to fill,” he said of Carswell.

The city of Madelia may be sharing the very same sentiment.

 

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