League of Minnesota Cities Honors Outstanding City Leaders

By Mary Jane Smetanka

The 2018 C.C. Ludwig and James F. Miller Leadership awards were presented on June 21 during the League of Minnesota Cities Annual Conference in St. Cloud. The winners were Apple Valley Mayor Mary Hamann-Roland and Waconia City Administrator Susan Arntz. The C.C. Ludwig Award for elected officials and the James F. Miller Leadership Award for appointed officials honor individuals who have consistently done outstanding work to improve the quality of their own cities as well as cities throughout the state.

Mary Hamann-Roland

C.C. Ludwig Award Winner
Apple Valley Mayor Mary Hamann-Roland says she’s an optimist, and to prove the point she tells the story of being an enthusiastic 8-year-old at a fishing derby. Seconds before the contest ended, she caught the biggest fish and won a bike.

“I’m from a family of nine kids, and I never would have had my own bike,” Hamann-Roland says. “The first lesson is believing it and doing it and winning.”

That optimism and focus have fueled her rise from the Rosemount-Apple Valley-Eagan School Board to later becoming the mayor who was concurrently president of both the League of Minnesota Cities and the Minnesota Mayors Association, and subsequently had leadership roles at the National League of Cities.

Giving her best to her community

Within three years of moving to Apple Valley, Mary’s husband passed away. “I had no family here, but the children loved their teachers and friends. We laid down deep roots, and this community became our family,” says Hamann-Roland, who was elected mayor in 1998. “It makes me want to do the best for this community.”

Apple Valley City Administrator Tom Lawell says Hamann-Roland’s leadership in founding an environmental studies high school in cooperation with the Minnesota Zoo is indicative of her passion and commitment.

“She has abundant energy and works hard every day to make our city a better place,” Lawell says. “She gets the value of partnerships at all levels. She knows if you can leverage your resources, you can do a lot for your community.”

Lawell says that as Apple Valley developed over the last 20 years, the city had to work with businesses and the Chamber of Commerce to navigate those changes. Hamann-Roland was a good partner in that process, listening to people, determined to find solutions, and always optimistic.

“She talks with everyone she meets and is a very supportive individual,” Lawell says.

Bringing in a variety of viewpoints

Hamann-Roland believes that differences in opinions and perspectives contribute to stronger outcomes. “Groupthink is not a good idea,” she says. “We’ve learned to work together, and it’s helped us achieve success,” including two AAA bond ratings and an ISO rating of 2 for fire department service and water quality, which puts Apple Valley at the top 2 percent of cities in the nation.

In 2003—when it was clear that Apple Valley was going to lose its state local government aid— Hamann-Roland helped lead an effort to build collaboration among Dakota County cities with the aim of improving services and saving money. That led to the creation of the High Performance Partnership (HIPP), which she co-chaired.

A direct outcome of HIPP was the Dakota Communications Center, which consolidated six 911 answering points operated by five cities and the county. A second result was the HIPP Dark Fiber Committee, which she co-chaired, and from that a broadband board was created to help advance broadband service and the interconnection of all cities in Dakota County.

Hamann-Roland was also part of the drive to draw rapid transit bus service to Apple Valley. The service began in 2013. “We got our foot in the door and were able to achieve an urban partnership agreement that was only one of five in the country,” she says. “It was critical to inform people about how important the service was.”

Apple Valley is unusual among Twin Cities suburbs in paying for street reconstruction through its property taxes, with no individual assessment of homeowners. “We made road reconstruction a priority and funded it,” she says.

A passion for the arts and future leaders

One of the things Hamann-Roland is passionate about is the Apple Valley Arts Foundation, which she founded when she was still on the school board. The foundation sponsors 10 summer concerts in a park and gives away bikes and bike helmets to children.

“It’s a way to use the arts to build community,” Hamann-Roland says. “In Apple Valley children are heard and seen as growing leaders.”

Her own children are grown and on their own now. “I raised the kids by myself and a lot of times they came with me to meetings and community events. They learned so much and now they are community builders,” she says.

“I’m passionate about local government and about our kids, and I want them to live in a world worth living in,” Hamann-Roland adds. “Whatever we focus on is what we achieve in this life. The best way to predict the future is to create it.”

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