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City of Farmington hires new human resources director

Jennifer Gabbard is the new human resources director for the City of Farmington. She brings leadership skills after working for the cities of Shakopee and Minneapolis. Kara Hildreth / Contributor

FARMINGTON — When Jennifer Gabbard was a girl, she dreamed of becoming a lawyer and practicing law inside an office outfitted with a big oak desk and leather chair.

Today she is happy she found her calling in city government where she can combine her passion of working within a city's legal realms and alongside teams of people in many facets of city government.

Gabbard, 44, is the new human resources director for the City of Farmington that currently employs about 92 full-time staff and 30 ongoing, part-time and seasonal summer workers.

Prior to joining Farmington city staff, she worked as a human resources manager who reported to the assistant city manager in Shakopee.

"It was a bigger over there but this was a far better opportunity for me," Gabbard said.

Former longtime city human resources director Brenda Wendlandt retired from the City of Farmington on Jan. 25 after more than 20 years. Besides the HR duties of managing recruitment, training, benefits and payroll, Wendlandt managed the city's communications and IT.

Farmington City Administrator David McKnight said the City Council will discuss how to fill the roles of communications and IT during a future work session.

During her undergraduate studies, Gabbard was a political science major planning to become a prelaw student. It was one undergraduate class that changed her career path.

"I wanted a big oak desk and a leather chair when I was 7 years old — my mom knew a lawyer and that was what his office was but then I got into International Torte 101 and I left the building," she said about her undergraduate studies. "When I got the book, it was 8 inches high and I said 'No thank you.'"

Leaving college her junior year, a friend called her about a great opportunity to work in human resources.

"It turns out HR was a really good mix for me because it is legal ... but it is a people person job and I like to be out and amongst people," Gabbard said. "When you are first starting a role, I think building those relationships is of the utmost importance, and I have been meeting with department heads and getting tours of facilities and operations which is really kind of cool."

After working in private enterprise for several years, Gabbard said she was laid off during the recession — her position was a new role that the company could expend. She was led to a succession finding service that helps people find the next job opportunity. A job counselor put her in a values card sort, an online service that allows users to put in different columns the different values they want to be a part of in their next opportunity.

"It was a great thing to do because he came back to me and said you need to be in public government because that is what you are saying based on your values that is where you want to go," Gabbard said.

Two months later, she was hired to work with the City of Minneapolis as a human resources manager where was employed for more than nine years. Then she worked in human resources for the City of Shakopee for just under three years.

She decided to pursue the Farmington career because it is a great opportunity and closer to home so it will improve her work-life balance.

"My family is a big center of my life," Gabbard said. Her husband, Chris, works in the IT field and the couple live just outside Farmington with their two children who attend Farmington schools.

When asked what she likes about working within city government, she paused for a moment.

"There is so much to like about it — private enterprise is very different because there is profit and there is really only one source of business. You normally don't get the exposure in private enterprise that you can get in city government," Gabbard said. "We are a public entity family — my mom worked for Ramsey County and my sister works for Ramsey County and my husband works in IT in public government."

As an avid traveler, Gabbard said she plans to get acquainted with Farmington and will be committed to taking daily walks downtown to learn about the community.

"Being in city government is a direct way you can learn about your community, you can make a direct impact to your neighbors and your friends just by being an employee with the city of Farmington," Gabbard added.

The day she told her son she got a job offer from the City of Farmington, she said her son jumped up and down.

"His first words were 'Mom, can you come and have lunch with me,'" Gabbard said.

She is happy to report she has eaten lunch with her elementary son twice and even surprised him on his birthday for lunch.

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