Bleess ready to work hard for Winnebago
It’s nearly 5:15 p.m. and all the lights at City Hall in Winnebago are turned off.
Austin Bleess sits at his desk glaring at a computer screen.
He’s crunching numbers; preparing for next year’s budget.
“It’s going to be interesting to see what happens,” says Bleess.
Winnebago’s new city administrator has only been on the job since June 21, and already he’s looking at what the state’s budget woes may mean to the city in the way of state aid.
One shouldn’t be too surprised about the 25-year-old’s work ethic and his willingness to put in more than an eight-hour workday.
“I told them I’d do whatever it takes … to get the job done,” he says, referring to his interview with the City Council before being offered the job.
The first 10 days have been a whirlwind of activities.
It has involved sitting down and getting acquainted with city employees.
Of course, there’s been plenty of self-introductions and meeting people, a lot of people.
Sandwiched in between that are all the meetings he’s had to attend.
High on the administrator’s “to-do list” is hiring a part-time administrative/accounting assistant.
Eight people have applied for the job and interviews are set for today.
There’s been plenty of on-the-job training; payroll, computer programs the city uses and other duties inherent to the position.
Helpful and cooperative city staff, Bleess says, have helped make his transition into the job easy and smooth.
“They’ve all been great and answered any questions that I have,” he adds.
Bleess smiles when asked if during the first week in Winnebago he answered any phone calls, “Hello, this is Austin Bleess, Wells community development director.”
That probably hasn’t happened.
Bleess is too organized, having all his daily duties marked down on a calendar.
The decor of his office hasn’t changed, nor has he re-arranged the furniture. At least, not yet.
However, Bleess has added a personal touch.
Above his computer, hanging on the wall, there’s a picture of Bleess with former first lady Laura Bush.
In 2005, he worked as an intern in the office of the first lady from September through December.
At age 20, he was among 80 picked from a pool of 1,000 applicants heading for Washington, D.C.
There’s no question his time at the nation’s Capitol and meeting the Bushes was an everlasting experience.
Another photograph with President George W. Bush sits on a round table.
Bleess describes the Bushes as “down to earth” and took the time to talk to the interns.
“He (the president) was hilarious, telling some jokes,” he says. “For someone who is the leader of the free world and spent an hour with us, that was something. It was fun.”
Bleess says he has seen “W,” a movie about the former president.
When asked about Bush being depicted as being very disappointed and angry after losing to a Democrat in a congressional race, Bleess pauses for a second.
“All great politicians lost their first election,” jokes Bleess.
One has to wonder whether he was referring to Bush, former President Richard Nixon or himself. A self-proclaimed history buff, Bleess adds that Abe Lincoln also lost an election.
Bleess isn’t a stranger to the political arena.
He served as a communication specialist for Republicans in the Minnesota House of Representatives and in 2006 lost his bid for a House seat in the Minnesota Legislature.
For now, there are no political aspirations.
Bleess’ main focus remains doing what’s best for Winnebago.
He admits the city has been through some “rocky times” and bad press in the past year.
“You have to try and calm the waters and get things back to normal,” he says. “We have to make sure everybody is working together.”
The clock in his office shows it’s 5:30 p.m., time to attend another meeting.
Bleess is off to meet with members of the Winnebago Area Chamber of Commerce.
So far, he’s a man of his word — doing whatever it takes.