Brandt Richardson has served nearly 22 years as county administrator in Dakota County, Minnesota, leading a workforce of some 1,800 employees under a governing board of seven commissioners. With a population of 402,006 residents, Dakota County is the third largest county in Minnesota. Among the prominent employers in the county are a variety of Fortune 500 companies and industries that include a major airline, many technology companies, and leading U.S. food distributors. The county population is well-educated and its unemployment rate is below the state and national averages. Money Magazine regularly cites cities in Dakota County as among the best places to live in the nation. Under Richardson’s leadership, the county has maintained continually low property tax rates and established a fiscally conservative approach to providing quality service.
“A significant number of experienced and knowledgeable employees retire every year. I understand the importance of educating a younger generation to take their place,” he said. “In order to keep government effective for the future, we need to offer opportunities to those just joining it today.” In recent years, Richardson has ensured the county will continue to achieve that goal by hosting young professionals through the Local Government Management Fellowship program, a partnership between ICMA, the National Association of Schools of Public Affairs and Administration, the National Forum for Black Public Administrators, and the International Hispanic Network.
Richardson believes in giving young graduates the chance to obtain meaningful positions in government and finds it rewarding to mentor Fellows in his field. “All of us have had role models and mentors who helped shape our careers and our values,” he said, “and I believe we have a responsibility in turn to those who will follow us.”
Richardson recalls one mentor in particular: Manuel Carballo, who taught him budgeting at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, and whose career touched federal, state, and local government. “Manny was a brilliant public servant and left a big impression on me,” Richardson says. “He taught me budgeting and finance, of course, but his real impact was allowing me to see his passion for public service and his ethics, and to benefit from his approachability. Manny served New York Mayor John Lindsay, governors of multiple states, and was at an elite level of public service—but his door was always open for me.” Manny died in 1984, after a sudden and shocking illness. “He was only 42, and his public service accomplishments in such a short career are stunning. He was beloved at Harvard and they confer the annual Manuel C. Carballo Memorial Prize in recognition of his service.”
Richardson believes that local government managers, like Carballo, have a real gift—a special capacity to lead—as well as a responsibility to share it. “We all make a difference with our work in our jurisdictions,” he says, “but the lasting impact we will have is by influencing the values, ethics, and commitment of future public servants…..and I can’t think of a better way to do this than through the Fellows Program.”
Richardson embraces the enthusiasm of the Fellows and strives to provide a yearlong experience that prepares participants to become leaders upon exiting the program. When they come to Dakota County, Fellows gain a better understanding of the responsibilities of all departments, learn the ins and outs of everyday operations, and are regularly advised by upper-level management. Just as important, Richardson knows that the most effective way to learn is by doing, and so he allows the Fellows under his guidance to participate fully in daily processes and multiple projects.
He also acknowledges the benefits to Dakota County. “While each one of our Fellows has found value in being exposed to the inner workings of local government, the truth is, our organization has found just as much value in them. The passion and enthusiasm they bring to their Fellowship experience undeniably reinvigorates other staff,” Richardson said.
Richardson’s commitment to the Local Government Management Fellowship program has resulted in Dakota County hosting more Fellows than any other government entity in the nation. Under his leadership, the county has welcomed nearly a dozen young professionals over the years. They have all left their mark on the organization, and many have excelled so much so that they were offered full-time careers upon completion of their Fellowship.
Several of those full-time employees remain in their positions today, using the knowledge and experience they gained as Fellows to help bring quality service to the residents of Dakota County.
Catherine Durham, assistant to the county administrator and a 2010 Dakota County Fellow, shared: “The LGMF was an excellent way to start my career in local government. As a Fellow, I had the opportunity to work on a variety of projects that were important to the organization and to work closely with the county administrator. Brandt has been an excellent mentor; his commitment to local government and his ethical leadership are apparent in all that he does.”
Dan Tienter, financial management analyst and a 2012 Dakota County Fellow, commented “Brandt’s long-standing support for this program provided a truly extraordinary experience; through his leadership I was afforded the opportunity to work with and receive mentorships from several well-respected and experienced public administrators.”
Brandt Richardson came to Dakota County with significant experience in public sector, having worked in Scott County, Minn.; Dane County, Wis.; and at the state of Minnesota in administration, planning, and management analysis.