NEW ULM - Brian Gramentz, New Ulm's city manager for more than a decade, has dedicated his life to public service for the last 31 years. He served a diverse array of communities before joining the City of New Ulm and has crafted his skills with personal experience.
As he continues his work on the wide variety of city matters ranging from snow plow policy to property taxes, he says his responsibility is to execute the will of local residents as efficiently and cost-effectively as possible. Reflecting on his career, he said he has greatly enjoyed serving New Ulm and hopes to do more in the future.
Brian Gramentz has been New Ulm’s city manager for over a decade. He described his role as being responsible for making sure the will of New Ulm residents is accomplished.
City Manager Brian Gramentz’s unique hobby is creating stained glass windows. This one is located inside St. Michael’s Housing. He donated the stained glass to the building several years ago when the City of New Ulm helped run the facility.
Gramentz was born in nearby Springfield in 1955. He grew up in Brown County and ended up enlisting in the U.S. Air Force in 1974. His aptitude testing presented him options for service, including working as nuclear missile maintenance technician and working as a radar technician. He chose the radar technician position, hoping it would be a more stable job located above ground. He ended up serving his term at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Fla. until 1977.
Following that, he earned his Bachelor's Degree in Public Administration in 1981. He wasn't originally on track to become a city worker. He initially considered pursuing Pre-Law, but found many classes didn't work out for him. He then considered pursuing law enforcement and was even accepted into the Minnesota State Patrol Academy. But, he found the lifestyle didn't suit him and he returned to MSU. Finally, while looking for a career that suited his personal interest, Gramentz settled on Public Administration. Simultaneously during this time, he met his wife Lori at a dance hall in Sleepy Eye, eventually marrying her in 1978.
After earning his degree, Gramentz started his first job that same year as city manager of Eagle Lake. Just 26 at the time, he also oversaw all the city's finances, utilities and miscellaneous regulations, like dog licensing. He said that Eagle Lake was the most challenging place he has ever worked, due to the massive learning curve required after college. But, he said that what he learned in Eagle Lake he took with him for the rest of his career.
"College gives you the ability to think. But, [your education in] public administration doesn't teach you specifically how lift stations work or how to calculate special assessments or to invest money," said Gramentz, "It's tough going from zero to 60 mph right out of college. But, it taught me a lot."
He said the position offered him more control on affecting change, but it also made him the only target for people's complaints about city services, like utility rates.
While working this job, Gramentz and his wife had their first son Benjamin in 1982. He also decided he wanted to pursue a Master's Degree for future prospects and training. He fit taking MSU's course around his career and new family. The classes were time-consuming because they were held in off-campus locations in the Twin Cities. Working at it only a few classes at a time, he obtained his Master's in Public Administration in 1989.
Gramentz went on later to work in several other communities while his family grew with the addition of his son Christopher in 1985 and his daughter Jessica in 1987. He worked as city manager in Winsted, South Dakota in 1985, Sioux Center, Iowa in 1988 and Hudson, Wisc. in 1996. Finally, he moved back to Minnesota and took over the city manager position in New Ulm in 2001. He said he thought New Ulm would be an interesting town to work and it had the benefit of being closer to his parents in Springfield.
He said his favorite place to work prior to New Ulm was in Hudson. He said the city kept a small town vibe while being with 10 miles of the metro, which granted it attention from major developers and businesses. During his tenure with the city, the big push towards developing the area had begun.
"It was exciting times. We dealt with bringing in 400 person industries from Milwaukee. There was a lot of growth and a lot of growing pains," said Gramentz.
He also said his most accomplished project and his most controversial project both occurred in Sioux Center. His most accomplished project was the five year redevelopment of that city's downtown district, which he oversaw form inception to completion of the mall. He said he was proud of the project success and glad they were able to maintain public involvement every step of the way. He received an award from the ICMA for the project in the category of Program Excellence-Citizen Involvement. Conversely, his most controversial project was the expansion of the city's corporate boundaries, which nearly doubled the city's area.
"The problem was the city lines were skipping every other house on some streets. The expansion put a lot of people, who had been using city streets and the city library, under the city taxes and regulations," said Gramentz.
City Manager's function
Gramentz said he considers the explanation for why he became a city manager similar to why most police officers entered their jobs: a desire to help people and make somewhere better. He said that while the police help with criminal matters, the city officials deal with more personal and logistical matters. Examples he gave were getting people to work after a blizzard or improving public health.
He said he had not grand vision for the city's future because the city's future is dictated by New Ulm residents. He described his job as being responsible to make sure the City Council's will is executed in the way that is best for residents. He also said the city manager's responsibility is to keep city department effectively and peacefully working together for the city's good.
Active in Work, Active in Life
Despite the large amount of work that Gramentz performs as city manager, he also finds time to be very active with many hobbies.
His most unique hobby is creating stained glass windows and panels. He said he was always fascinated by the beauty of church stained glass and its special draw to people. He said that he first tried it out during his time in Sioux Center and has been hooked ever since. He said the work is both fulfilling and therapeutic.
"When you deal with city work, it's paperwork that never really ends. I enjoy having something I can complete, something that has a beginning and end to it," said Gramentz.
He has had eight of his pieces used in a church in Iowa and one of the largest pieces he ever worked on is installed in St. Michael's Housing in New Ulm. He donated the piece to the building years ago when the City assisted in running it.
Gramentz is also avidly involved with the outdoors. He hunts, fishes and performs archery, though not competitively. He enjoys landscaping and gardening around his home.
Tied into that is his and his wife's enthusiasm for riding motorcycles, particularly to their vacation destinations. They usually motorcycle travel an average of 3,000 miles, or a two week trip, every summer. On their trips, they have traveled to the Grand Canyon and Glacier National Park.
"There's a big difference in traveling [by motorcycle]. You can smell the flowers in the air and feel the sun's heat. It's a strong connectivity that you miss when you inside a care," said Gramentz.
Looking to the future, Gramentz said he enjoys living in New Ulm and looks forward to working on helping the city run better.
(Josh Moniz can be e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org)