BAXTER -- It's not every day the same person that could recite the ins and outs of local government aid and then minutes later sit down at a piano and play Gershwin.
But Baxter's new city administrator can.
For 20 years of his professional life, Dennis Coryell was a solo pianist with the Radisson Corp. He traveled the Midwest playing exclusively at hotels, six nights a week, building a reputation as a musician -- a career miles away from having anything to do with city government.
Flash forward another 20 years and the 59-year-old Coryell and his wife, JoEllen, have moved into a home in Baxter and Coryell is settling into his new position as Baxter City Administrator.
"I reached 40 and I started thinking, 'What am I going to do, keep playing piano?'" said Coryell, a Michigan native. "I got to admit, I liked it, but people would always ask, 'What's your real job?'"
In October, the Baxter City Council selected Coryell from a field of four candidates for the city administrator position, which had been vacant since Dec. 31, 2002. On Friday, Coryell began moving into his office and getting to know his co-workers.
"It's been going real well," said Coryell. "The staff has made me feel really comfortable, filling me in slowly on projects. And I'm learning the technology."
For Coryell, pursuit of that "real job" started in St. Paul.
He gave up playing piano professionally and enrolled at Hamline University to obtain his law degree. But upon graduation, he found he didn't have the connections in the Twin Cities law community needed to land a job so he stayed at Hamline and picked up his master's degree in public administration.
After working as a legal intern with the city of Minneapolis, Coryell took a job as city clerk in St. Peter. Two years later he moved to Wyoming to become city administrator, a position he held for about 12 years.
"I like managing things. It seemed like a good fit," said Coryell of his decision to go into public administration. "It does get into your blood."
In his past work as a clerk and administrator, Coryell said he'd been to the Brainerd area several times for conferences. When he saw the Baxter City administrator position advertised he jumped at the opportunity, not only because of the position but because of the desirability of living in a resort area.
He also wanted to move to a position with a larger staff where he could delegate. In Baxter, he likes the fact that the staff is a cohesive unit and located under one roof.
"I didn't have anyone in Wyoming," where he had a front office staff of two people, said Coryell. "I wore a lot of hats there."
Along with getting to know the Baxter staffers, Coryell is becoming acquainted with city projects. He likes the idea of being able to work on something different everyday. He also likes the fact that Baxter staffers are just 20 feet away from each other in the office, allowing a more personable approach to being administrator.
"I don't manage by e-mails or memos," said Coryell.
When he learned he had the administrator job, Coryell said he looked at Baxter City Council minutes and The Dispatch Website to learn about his new city. A couple things surprised him. One was the amount of controversy surrounding the Wal-Mart Super Center, which Coryell thought odd considering the number of such businesses along Highway 371. The other was size of Baxter.
"It's not just a suburb of Brainerd -- here they have their own metro area," said Coryell.
His first project will be working on union contracts for the city. He is also planning to meet with other area administrators.
Coryell knows it will take time to adjust. His theory is that although he will be useful in a couple of weeks, it will take at least two years to become intimate with everything going on in the city.
"It feels like starting over, but to me that's an exciting thing -- nothing to wring my hands about," said Coryell. "I'll be asking a lot of questions."
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