Former Little Canada city administrator looks back on 28 years in post

courtesy of City of Little Canada • Joel Hanson, Little Canada’s former city administrator, said farewell to his job of 28 years on June 22. On June 25 he started his new job as South St. Paul’s city administrator.

Little Canada’s now former city administrator, Joel Hanson, says his favorite thing about his time with the city was changing people’s expectations about what municipal government could do for them.

“It’s having people who sometimes come to City Hall with a cynical outlook that we don’t care or listen,” he says, “and having them walk away thinking we do care and can solve problems.”

Though Hanson says a city can’t always say “yes” or fix everyone’s problems, when it can, “that’s very gratifying.”

Hanson’s last day as an employee of the City of Little Canada was June 22 — on June 25 he started his next job, as South St. Paul’s city administrator, replacing the retiring Steve King, who’d worked for the city since 2003.

The 61-year-old says he’s taking on “one more challenge” before contemplating retirement, himself saying “they have some interesting issues to deal with there.”


Building services

Hanson landed in Little Canada in December 1989. The bulk of the city had already been developed by the early 1990s, Hanson says, so much of his nearly three decades as city administrator were spent building upon what was already in place.

That work included getting properties hooked up to city water mains, getting the city fully involved with winter plowing, getting a parks system up and running — “They purchased a lot of parkland just before I started here,” Hanson says — and putting in place a streets maintenance program.

There was also, in those early days, Little Canada’s property tax levy.

“We were the highest ranked city in the metro for property taxes,” Hanson says, pointing out that lowering the property tax levy “was not a lot of fun” because of the need to balance existing debt with infrastructure planning. In the end, Hanson says, he’s leaving with Little Canada having the sixth lowest property tax burden in Ramsey County.


No rookie

By no means did Hanson land in Little Canada as a rookie. His first job in the public sector was as city administrator for Rush City, his hometown, which is roughly 50 miles north of Little Canada up Interstate 35.

He says he’d “literally just taken a job as an underwriter” with Federated Insurance when the job in the city, then of around 1,400 people, opened up. He was there for a decade.

Though he got a bachelor’s degree in public administration from St. Cloud State University and a master’s degree from Hamline University, Hanson jokes he got a “doctorate from the School of Hard Knocks,” based on various experiences on the job.

“I ran the hospital the last three years [in Rush City],” he says. “It was interesting.”

The 28 years in Little Canada, Hanson says, were marked by city staffs and councils that worked well together, which isn’t always the case. “I take a lot of pride in that,” he says, pointing out people from both sides always put the good of the city ahead of their personal agendas.

Hanson says he’s most proud of the staff development he’s overseen in Little Canada over the years. Many current staffers started in different positions and moved up through the ranks — “We have a really good staff and we’ve had a really good staff.”

Hanson says he’ll be staying in he and his wife’s Little Canada home and commuting to South St. Paul, which he says, like the city he served so long, has a good sense of community.

“South St. Paul may take it up a couple notches,” he jokes, pointing out the city’s unique situation of having shared boundaries with its school district.

In all, Hanson says he had a lot of fun with his former job.

“I never imagined being in Little Canada 28 years back when I started here,” he says.


Little Canada has begun the process of replacing Hanson in earnest, and that process will stretch through the summer. The city council will select finalists on Aug. 21 and final interviews are scheduled for Sept. 11 and 12.

In the meantime, Hanson says the city will rely on the city staff that developed under his leadership, with department heads working together to handle the city administrator’s workload until a new person is hired.


– Mike Munzenrider can be reached at or 651-748-7813

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