Coleman names council critic to head public works

St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman has appointed City Council President Kathy Lantry to lead the city's Public Works Department.

In naming Lantry to the job, Coleman has offered one of the key jobs in his administration to an occasional critic. Last year, she challenged him to extend the city's library hours and improve the condition of its streets.

But Lantry said the two have a good working relationship.

"I expect that I will push him. He expects that I will push him," said Lantry, who has served on the council for 17 years and been its president since 2004. "And because of that, both of us do our jobs better. I don't see that that's going to be any different in my new role."

Lantry, who announced last year that she would not seek a fifth term, will take on her new role and resign her council seat on March 1. She will earn $136,000 as public works director, up from the $58,491 she earned as a council member, which is technically a part-time position.

Under the city's charter, the council will have 30 days to appoint her successor. Voters will choose a long-term replacement in November. The council will decide whether to elect a new president in the coming weeks, or to wait until Lantry steps down.

In her new job, Lantry will oversee a department with more than 380 employees and a 2015 budget exceeding $136 million. Its spending dwarfs all other city departments and accounts for nearly a quarter of the city's overall financial outlay.

Lantry said she was surprised when Coleman offered her the public works job late last week. She did not apply for it.

"Her strong leadership, astute understanding of the department and trusted, longstanding working relationships with city employees make her the ideal candidate to lead the Public Works Department," Coleman said in a press release announcing the appointment.

The city paid St. Paul-based Springsted Consulting $10,000 to help recruit candidates, after former director Rich Lallier announced his retirement in October. It also advertised the position on its website for more than two months.

"The search yielded 23 candidates, many of whom had very strong backgrounds," Coleman's Communications Director Tonya Tennessen wrote in an email. "Kathy Lantry immediately emerged as the top pick."

Editor's note (Jan. 21, 2015): The original version of this story incorrectly reported the number of years Lantry served on the council. This story has been updated.