Canton turns over Monona city administrator role to Collins

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Dan Canton will retire as Monona’s city administrator at the end of this week. Barb Collins, who was previously mayor and most recently served as deputy clerk, will now step into the position. (Photo by Audrey Posten)

By Audrey Posten, North Iowa Times

Monona City Administrator Dan Canton will retire at the end of this week, relinquishing the role he’s held for nearly 10 years to Barb Collins, who’s most recently served as the city’s deputy clerk.

Canton started in Monona on June 24, 2010, following 10 years with the city of Minneota, Minn., and 18 as manager of a cooperative oil company in southwest Minnesota. The job, he said, offered he and wife Linda an opportunity to be closer to a rural property they own outside Decorah. The couple fell in love with the spot, which they’ve named Birch Point, as newlyweds in the 1970s.

“We just absolutely had to get back to Iowa,” he shared.

At the time he was hired, Canton warned this would be his last job, but promised the city council 10 years.

Technically, he said with a smile, “I lied to the city council. I didn’t quite make it 10 years. More like 9.5.”

Canton packed a lot into that time span. He recently compiled a list detailing all the projects the city’s been involved in through the past 10 summers. It’s three pages long.

“It’s been fulfilling,” he said, “from the projects we’ve completed to the volume of stuff that’s went on.”

According to Canton, the accomplishment that was most fulfilling was securing funding for Monona’s pool parking lot and Bulldog Boulevard projects, both of which utilized permeable pavers to better control stormwater runoff. 

“The bulk of those projects were funded through a funding mechanism that a lot of people didn’t even know about. They were tied to two sewer loans,” he explained. 

Of the $260,000 parking lot project, the funding mechanism paid $245,000, costing the city of Monona just $15,000. Bulldog Boulevard wasn’t quite as good, Canton acknowledged, but still covered $160,000 of that $210,000 to $220,000 total.

“Those are the most gratifying, when you get two projects funded with hardly any cost to the city,” he said, “and they were interesting too.”

Another accomplishment Canton is proud of, which runs in the same environmentally-friendly vein, is the city’s participation with the Turkey River Watershed Management Authority. The move, he said, helped improve storm water practices in Monona, including projects at the Innovative Ag Services elevator, the new Family Dentistry Associates of Monona office, Casey’s General Store, Dollar General, Gordon Estates and the swimming pool.

Canton encouraged the council to join the Turkey River Watershed, “and it didn’t take them long to say ‘Let’s do it,’” he shared. “Even though the city of Monona isn’t on the downstream side—we’re on the upstream side—the council recognized the importance of joining, and that was a smart move. Those [projects] are all important to water quality and flood management. It improved a lot of stuff.”

However, Canton is quick to note he doesn’t work alone. These and other projects couldn’t be completed without the help of Monona volunteers, the visioning committee, chamber, city staff, mayor and city council.

“In cities of this size, you carry out the wishes of the council. My job is to give them as much information as I can to help them make a decision,” he said. 

Canton said he’s lucky to have had council members (and mayors) who’ve taken active roles, even going so far as to crawl into sewer manhole structures. Everyone brings different qualities to the table.

“I have a fantastic administrative staff, and I’m going to miss that too,” he stated. “There’s a certain amount of stress in the job, but if everyone’s pulling on the same rope, it can be fun.”

Despite losing Canton’s experience, the city shouldn’t miss a beat with his retirement. Collins has a strong background in accounting and financials.

“I started off with the original Wilke’s Grocery Store and then it changed to Moore’s and then to Quillin’s. I’ve done books for many businesses for the last 35 years,” she shared.

Six years ago, Collins ran for mayor, driven by her love for the community.

“I think it’s the perfect place to live because you can still have the benefit of bigger cities not far away, but you can live here,” she said. “I wanted Monona to continue to grow, and I thought, ‘I can do this and help it on its next stage.’”

Collins later resigned as mayor to take the position as Monona’s deputy clerk. She’s been learning a lot under Canton for the past few years, and her combined experiences gave her the confidence to pursue the new role as administrator.

“These are big shoes to step into, following him, but I wanted to do it,” she said. “I know the mayor part and the financial part. Now, I’ll just have to learn more about the administrative part.”

“It will be challenging,” she admitted, “but I’m looking forward to it. Because of the council we have and the volunteers we have in this town, it makes the job a little easier here.”

If she doesn’t understand something, Collins said she’ll work tirelessly to find an answer. 

“Barb is tenacious,” Canton stated. “She’ll hammer away at something until she figures it out. And that’s important to the residents, to have confidence in what the folks at city hall are doing.”

Collins said she’s excited to continue moving Monona forward. She’s anxious to help the city resolve its sewer issues in a cost-effective manner, and she hopes to see the community’s trail system completely paved. That recreational opportunity is important to older residents, she said, while also drawing in younger families. Collins also wants to focus on housing and continue working with the school district.

If residents have any concerns, she encourages them to contact city hall. She and the friendly staff are always willing to answer questions.

“Our residents are why we’re here—to make their lives easier,” she said. “We’ll listen and try to explain what we can do.”

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