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Anoka County Administrator Terry Johnson retires in April. While officials debate strategy for hiring his successor, a once-retired county employee could provide an interim solution.

Jerry Soma, 66, the county's Human Services division manager, would be a logical person to turn to for a year or until a permanent administrator is hired, Commissioner Dan Erhart said last week.

The job is the most powerful nonelective post in county government. The administrator is the person who oversees division managers, whose visions and expertise influence the commissioners he or she sits beside at board meetings.

Respected, experienced and obviously familiar with the county, Soma is the only name that has been seriously considered as an interim successor to Johnson, say high-ranking county officials.

"I like what I'm doing," Soma said. "If the County Board wants me to do something else, I would have to consider it."

Soma retired eight years ago but returned to his current position working under contract. He owns a home in Arizona and his wife is retired. He has not set his own retirement date, saying that it is something he evaluates year to year.

Board members met at a work session Tuesday to discuss, among other topics, how to choose Johnson's successor. There are no announced candidates.

"I want to first find out from the board members what we really want in a county administrator," said board Chairwoman Rhonda Sivarajah.

"We don't want to rush into this. We really need to evaluate the position and what we want to do."

Johnson, who took over as administrator in 2006, has a background in finances and has paid close attention to bottom lines. His predecessor, the late Jay McLinden, was "detail oriented," said Sivarajah.

The next administrator?

Sivarajah said it has yet to be determined whether the person will emerge from a national search or in-house. Nor does she put a timetable on making a hire -- although she noted that some cities take nine months to find an administrator.

An interim administrator makes sense, she said.

"We really need not rush into this," she said.

Erhart said the possibility of an interim administrator or "acting" administrator was the "one option we discussed."

While he and Sivarajah have butted heads on issues, they seem in agreement in assessing Soma.

"Jerry is a great person," Sivarajah said of Soma. "He understands the county. But that's really a board decision."

Paul Levy • 612-673-4419