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Finalist for finance job is a familiar face

Finance director candidate Robin Hanson talks with mayor Todd Larson and council member Jason Bartholomay at a Monday night meet-and-greet session.

As a finalist for the city finance director position, Robin Hanson was a familiar face to many who attended a meet and greet event Monday evening at city hall.

Nine applicants applied for the finance director position vacated in June by Teresa Walters. Then four candidates were selected to take part in first-round interviews with city administrator David McKnight in July.

Hanson's work history includes more than 15 years of financial and accounting experience, including her tenure with the Minnesota Housing Finance Agency from 1987 to 2000.

"Many of the skills translate into the city finance job like my accounting and finance background," Hanson said.

At the state housing agency Hanson worked in leadership and management roles while she worked on long-range financial policies, program budgets, coordinated information systems within accounting and finance divisions that were a part of different housing programs.

Hanson said she is ready to tackle the challenge of being a city finance director.

"This is a different set of operations in how the city operates," she said. "There will be new sources of revenue with taxes, and appropriations, but the bonding and auditing will be similar."

Prior to working for the Minnesota Housing Finance Agency, Hanson worked as a public tax accountant and auditor at the public accounting firm KPMG Peat Marwick in St. Paul and Minneapolis from 1983 to 1987. Hanson worked as a public auditor for three years and worked in the tax department for one year.

Hanson has lived in Farmington since 1999 with her husband, Scott. They have raised three college-aged children, Zach, Sam and Jacob. She has had leadership roles in a number of local groups, including the Farmington Youth Athletic Association and the Farmington Tiger Fan Club.

This isn't the first time Hanson has looked into becoming Farmington's finance director. She applied for the position when longtime finance director Robin Roland left the city but withdrew her application after the first round because the timing was not ideal for her family.

Now the timing is ideal, Hanson said, because her youngest child just graduated from high school.

"Now I have the opportunity to explore it," Hanson said. "It will be a lot to learn and I like to learn; it will be very interesting to understand how the city operations work, and it will be challenging at the same time," Hanson said.

McKnight stressed how important it is for him to include the opinions and feedback from city staff and council leadership before making the important recommendation.

"Council is going to have a different relationship with her than I do. We will be working together every day. This is one of the most important positions in my world," McKnight said.

Council members Jason Bartholomay and Terry Donnelly visited casually with Hanson, and city council candidate Doug Bonar told Hanson he was excited about her being a finalist.

"I don't have any questions for you because I already know you personally and semi-professionally," Bonar said to Hanson. The two worked together on a school district strategic planning group.

Mayor Todd Larson said he wants to make sure the candidate chosen is comfortable in the job and has the right personality.

"I want them to be David's right hand ... so I want the chemistry to be just right," Larson said.

Larson said he is impressed by Hanson's confidence.

"She seems very confident that she can step into the job and learn it; she won't be able to hit the ground running, but she can learn it," he added.

"There is nothing wrong with learning the system from the ground up," Larson added.

Larson was happy he and council were included in the process of making the decision, unlike when the previous finance director, Teresa Walters, was hired by former city administrator Peter Herlofsky.

"I never met her before, but got a memo from Peter on who he hired," Larson said.

The mayor said he trusts McKnight to use his knowledge and good judgment to make the best decision.

Larson said there is no doubt Hanson is known and respected by so many for her community volunteer work and leadership, and that is just a bonus to what she could bring besides her experience in finance and accounting.

Hanson also sat down Monday to meet and answer questions from some city administrative heads. She will meet other department heads in the next couple of weeks, McKnight said, due to juggling of schedules and vacation time.

In the next few days McKnight will gather feedback from city finance staff, city administrative staff and council leadership and he will decide how to move forward in the candidate selection process.

Even though many know, like and respect Hanson in the community, McKnight said "We want to make sure we are hiring the right person for the job, no matter where they live - that is most important."

During the interview process, McKnight said he admired Hanson's approach to planning and prioritizing and the process in how she communicates if she needs more information.

The city finance director will oversee three in the finance department. Two years ago the city council eliminated an accountant position due to budget constraints.

The city finance director salary range is $76,447 to $93,684, McKnight said.

McKnight plans to make a recommendation to the city council after he has gathered feedback from council members and city department heads.

"September is still the time we have in place and there is still a good chance of that, but it depends on tonight," McKnight said.

Any potential job offer would be contingent upon a complete background check.

The next step would be to make a job offer with the goal of having a new finance director in place to be approved by the city council by the first council meeting in September.