OWATONNA — Despite Steele County Highway Department’s rough beginning to the calendar year, the reconstruction is all starting to come together.
On Wednesday, County Board Chair James Brady and Interim Administrator Jan Fransen officially made an offer for the county engineer position to Greg Ilkka of New Prague. After interviewing Ilkka the day prior, the county commissioners voted during their regular meeting to enter into negotiations with him.
The decision to begin negotiations with Ilkka come two months to the day following the last day on the job of former Steele County Public Works Director and County Engineer Anita Benson. Benson, who had been with the county for nine years, tendered her resignation in May, effective June 22.
Commissioner Greg Krueger stated during Tuesday’s meeting that he was very impressed with the background and experience Ilkka brought to the table, while Commissioner John Glynn said they should go immediately into a four-year contract with him.
Ilkka is currently the principal analyst for Scott County, a title he has held since October 2011. His primary role in that position is business process management. Before accepting the title, Ilkka was the county’s assistant engineer for 12 years.
Prior to working with Scott County, Ilkka was the public works director and city engineer for Prior Lake for three years, and the county engineer for LeSueur County for three years before that.
Ilkka received his bachelor of science in civil engineering in 1986 and his master of science in civil engineering in 1992, both from Michigan Technological University.
Directly out of college, Ilkka enlisted in the United States Navy Civil Engineer Corps. There he was responsible for facilities management for Navy and Marine Corps installations worldwide. He served active five years, two of those years with a Naval Mobile Construction Battalion, and 17 years in the Reserves before retiring 10 years ago. He was also mobilized to Kuwait in 2005.
While the Navy experience brought him a level of leadership skills he believes will be beneficial in Steele County, it is clear he has missed being a county engineer.
“Having been a county engineer before, there have been days that went by the past years where I said I left the best job,” said Ilkka.
He added that when this opportunity arose, he was ready for a new challenge.
During his time as the assistant engineer in Scott County, Ilkka said his primary role was taking care of relationships with the cities and townships, a quality be believes he can bring to Steele.
“Over a long career in local government, doing this work, it’s become very obvious that it’s all about relationships,” he said.
Ilkka added that a couple of the Steele County commissioners emphasized the aspect of relationships with other agencies being important, which helped attract him to the position.
“When you have that collaboration, it’s kind of amazing what you can accomplish,” Ilkka said.
About the same time as Benson resigned, assistant county engineer Becky McCarty, who started with the county in August 2016, also resigned, her resignation effective June 14.
Benson’s and McCarty’s resignations came after the board’s April 11 decision to eliminate the highway maintenance manager and maintenance supervisor positions effective May 31 and replace them with a new consolidated position in an effort to restructure the department’s organizational chart and trim personnel costs.
On June 13, the board hired Alan Forsberg, a retired longtime Blue Earth County engineer as the interim highway department head. Forsberg began work on June 20 — two days before Benson’s last day — and officially took over the department head responsibilities on June 23.