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Nowthen has a city administrator for the first time in its 14-year history after hiring a former CenterPoint Energy area manager to run the largely rural Anoka County city of about 4,800 people.

Scott Lehner was sworn in during a City Council meeting Aug. 11, after the council voted 5-0 to award him the job. His annual salary will be $97,000.

The history-making move came after three city staff members, including the clerk and treasurer, abruptly resigned last year after making claims they were bullied, harassed and intimidated by the mayor and a City Council member.

Their departures led the city to move in a different direction and hire a city administrator to provide leadership, oversee day-to-day operations and guide long-range planning, said Mayor Jeff Pilon.

"We found somebody who could do both," Pilon said. "We wanted to do something to affect people in a positive way. Scott comes with a wealth of management experience."

Lehner, who lives in Elk River, does not have any experience with running a city. But officials said he has built relationships with city managers in neighboring communities during his 28 years with CenterPoint.

"He was the liaison between the gas company and the cities," said Nowthen interim city administrator Frank Boyles, who served as city administrator for 26 years in Prior Lake before he retired. "When stuff hit the fan, like when a gas line gets cut, he was front and center directing the troops."

Lehner developed strong relationships with public safety officials in the area and has a deep knowledge of Nowthen, qualities that resonated with the City Council, Pilon added.

"He banks locally, he's been to our farmers market, eats at our restaurants," Pilon said. "He's a very congenial and outgoing person, somebody who can be a leader without being a boss. He seemed like a good fit."

More than 20 candidates — including some from places as far as Maine, Texas, Arizona and South Africa — applied for the job, Pilon said. The city examined resumes and conducted interviews with five finalists. "Scott was the guy," Boyles said.

Nowthen previously operated with a city clerk and treasurer, deputy clerk and administrative assistant. When the three staff members quit, the city was left with just public works employees and its contracted staff. Two of the employees who quit filed to collect unemployment benefits, but an unemployment law judge rejected their claims.

Nowthen brought in Boyles to run the city. In a memo to the state auditor seeking help getting the city's house in order, he said he found issues ranging from haphazard filing and missing files to the former employees issuing pay raises and benefits without City Council approval and failing to properly close the books on previous years.

Boyles will stay on for another month to help train Lehner, who has agreed to take additional training offered by the League of Minnesota Cities. "We are pleased with what we see so far," Pilon said.

A reception to introduce Lehner to the community will be held Aug. 23.