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Craig Waldron leaving Oakdale for new digs
Longtime city administrator will teach at Hamline full-time starting this fall
When Craig Waldron took a job as Oakdale’s city administrator in 1993, he had no idea he would still be at the helm over 20 years later. But when he took the reigns, the city quickly blossomed into its growth heyday and Waldron became spellbound with his work in the community and never looked back.
“When I came in, the city administrator’s average ‘lifespan’ was about five years, which is pretty typical in most communities,” he said. “I just became enthralled with Oakdale. I fell in love with the community and time just flew by.”
Waldron will soon bid farewell to a storied career with the city to start a second one at Hamline University in St. Paul, leaving a long-lasting legacy in his wake.
“It’s a perfect fit for him,” Oakdale Mayor Carmer Sarrack said. “There is a time and a place for everything, and he has the opportunity to share his knowledge with the younger generation. He’ll do a great job there and he will be greatly missed by the city.”
Prior to becoming Oakdale’s administrator, Waldron worked in a number of administrative and planning positions for the State of Minnesota, the city of Mankato, and more recently, Roseville, where he served as community development director for eight years.
Much of Oakdale was undeveloped when he started the position, and Waldron was recruited chiefly for his economic development background, which was a priority for Oakdale at the time.
“I was on the city council when we hired him,” Sarrack recalled. “He did a lot of work to improve the Rosedale Mall, and we knew we would need someone with an economic development background to help guide commercial and industrial development.”
Sarrack added that Waldron is a man of “very high ethics” who is respected in the local community and throughout the state.
“It’s been a great 20-something-years working with him.”
Washington County commissioner and former Oakdale mayor Ted Bearth echoed Sarrack’s comments on Waldron’s ethical nature.
“Craig’s probably the most ethical person I know. He’s patient and does a great job grooming staff,” Bearth said. “He’s a good people person and gets along with everybody.”
He said Waldron has done an outstanding job for the city, which would not be where it is today if not for his hard work.
“In those days, we didn’t have much out here at all. Most of that is attributable to Craig,” Bearth said.
“I was smart enough to hire him; it’s my claim to fame,” he joked.
The administrator says he’s proud of much of the development and redevelopment that has taken place in Oakdale while he has been there, such as the Tartan Area Civic Arena, the Oak Marsh Golf Course, Tartan Crossing (the site of the former Oakdale Mall) and the industrial park.
Waldron is quick to share the credit with city council members, mayors and other elected officials, as well as city staff and department heads for working together to help drive economic development in the city throughout the years.
“They’ve been outstanding to work with and have made me look good. I’m a very lucky person,” he said.
Mentoring new talent
Waldron’s expert leadership and strategic planning have brought him praise from colleagues both near and far. He has been honored with several awards over the years, including both the coveted City Manager of the Year Award from the Minnesota City/County Management Association in 2005, and the International City/County Management Association’s Award for Career Development in 2011. ICMC’s Career Development Award recognizes a government administrator “who has made a significant contribution to the career development of new talent in professional local government management.”
Waldron has served as a mentor to aspiring government administrators since his arrival in Oakdale through an administrative intern program he created. He estimates that close to 30 current and past city administrators were interns in the program.
“We recruit them, and if we have an opening here we get to keep them and grow them. It’s been an interesting synergy,” he said.
In neighboring Lake Elmo, city administrator Dean Zuleger says when he moved to the Twin Cities, he could not find a home that fit his family’s needs and within budget in the Lake Elmo market, so he purchased one in Oakdale because of Waldron.
“I looked around to see what cities were the best managed and it was a no-brainer,” he said. “I’m proud to live in a city managed by him. He’s the man -- the best city manager in the east metro.”
Zuleger says he looks to Waldron as a mentor and comes to him whenever he has a question about the east metro.
“He graciously and unconditionally took me under his wing, even though he had no obligation to.”
The next chapter
Teaching at the university level is nothing new to Waldron, who has taught master’s and doctorate-level courses in public administration, economic development, public finance and public ethics as an adjunct professor at Hamline, Metro State, St. Thomas, Mankato State and the University of Minnesota since the mid-1970s.
“I absolutely love teaching and I love Hamline. Getting to work with the next generation of leaders to make sure they have a good footing is very rewarding for me,” he said.
Waldron is leaving Oakdale a bit earlier than he had originally planned. A tenured professor at Hamline announced they were leaving recently and Waldron spoke with the powers that be at the university who were looking for someone with his professional and educational background. Waldron himself has a doctorate in public administration from Hamline University.
“Those windows don’t open very often, and the more I thought about it, the more I realized I should seize the opportunity.”
He says he’s been fortunate to have two jobs that he has loved in life--that of a city administrator and college professor.
He admits that leaving the post he has held in Oakdale won’t be easy, but he looks forward to what lies ahead.
“There’s a lot I’m going to miss,” he said. “I’m going to miss our staff, elected officials, citizens, our business community. The people in this organization and in this city are amazing and I will miss working with all of them.”
Waldron, who turns 64 next month, says his last day with the city of Oakdale will be in mid-August. He will begin teaching full-time at Hamline in September.
Joshua Nielsen can be reached at email@example.com or 651-748-7822.
“I can’t say enough good things about Craig Waldron. It has been a pleasure working with him the entire time I’ve been on the city council. He is truly an example of what a great city administrator should be. Over the years, I’ve heard from countless people from all over the state who’ve worked with Craig in some capacity, and each person has sung his praises. The city of Oakdale has been fortunate to have Craig Waldron at its helm for so many years. While I’ll miss working with him, I’m excited for his new opportunity at Hamline University. After all, he’ll be teaching our future city staff, so his impact on not only Oakdale but local government in general will continue.”
— Oakdale city council member Lori Pulkrabek, via email from Sweden