WI: Kevin Lahner, City of Burlington, City Administrator

Posted on February 23, 2014

Fifty Nifty Takeaways

What do we hope to learn from this series? We hope you will gain a better understanding of the unique characteristics of local government in each state, we hope you will learn that there are others like you who are motivated to make a difference through the public sector, and we hope you will learn that it is best to learn from others’ mistakes than yours.

Our Take on Wisconsin

The 50 Nifty returns to America’s Dairyland to hear from Kevin Lahner, Burlington city administrator. Andy Pederson, Village of Bayside, Village Manager led us through our initial visit to the Badger State.

Honey_badger_runs_backwards_gifIt’s appropriate that we visit with Kevin as his background in the Southwest and Midwest reflects the areas where ELGL is experiencing growth. Kevin began in Texas by attending the University of North Texas MPA program and then serving as the Keller (TX) assistant city manager. Following the  stint in Texas, Kevin migrated his professional career to the Midwest. 

We must admit our knowledge of Wisconsin is limited to Scott Walker, Miller Lite, Paul Ryan, cheese, the Green Bay Packers, Summerfest, and the honey badger (although we aren’t completely sure that has anything to do with Wisconsin) so before we hear from Andy let’s educate ourselves on America’s  Dairyland.

Wisconsin is the 23rd state by total area and the 20th most populous. The state capital is Madison, and its largest city is Milwaukee, which is located on the western shore of Lake Michigan. The state comprises 72 counties.

imagesThe most common property tax assessed on Wisconsin residents is the real property tax, or their residential property tax. Wisconsin does not impose a property tax on vehicles, but does levy an annual registration fee. Property taxes are the most important tax revenue source for Wisconsin’s local governments, as well as major methods of funding school districts, vocational technical colleges, special purpose districts and tax incremental finance districts. Equalized values are based on the full market value of all taxable property in the state, except for agricultural land. In order to provide property tax relief for farmers, the value of agricultural land is determined by its value for agricultural uses, rather than for its possible development value. Equalized values are used to distribute state aid payments to counties, municipalities, and technical colleges. Assessments prepared by local assessors are used to distribute the property tax burden within individual municipalities.

Welcome-To-WisconsinThe cities of Wisconsin have been active in increasing the availability of legislative information on the internet, thereby providing for greater government transparency. Currently three of the five most populous cities in Wisconsin provide their constituents with internet-based access of all public records directly from the cities’ databases. Wisconsin cities started to make this a priority after Milwaukee began doing so, on their page, in 2001. One such city, Madison, has been named the Number 1 digital city by the Center for Digital Government in consecutive years

Drinking has long been considered a significant part of Wisconsin culture, and the state ranks at or near the top of national measures of per-capita alcohol consumption, binge drinking, driving under the influence, and proportion of drinkers. Factors such as cultural identification with the state’s heritage of German immigration, the longstanding presence of major breweries in Milwaukee, and a cold climate are often associated with the prevalence of drinking in Wisconsin. The minimum legal age for recreational consumption of alcohol is 21 unless accompanied by a parent or guardian. Wisconsin is the only state that treats a first offense drunk driving (OWI) as a traffic violation and not a misdemeanor.

Rest assured Wisconsin has its share of interesting laws including,

LaCrosse: You cannot “worry a squirrel.images (1)

Milwaukie: If one is thought of as offensive looking, it is illegal for him to be in public during the day.

Racine: Missiles may not be shot at parade participants.

Sheboygan: Only police officers may shoot birds.

St. Croix: Women are not allowed to wear anything red in public.


Kevin Lahner


Burlington City Administrator

Experience: Assistant City Manager, City of Keller and Assistant to the Town Manager, Town of Flower Mound

Education: University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, B.S., and University of North Texas, MPA, Public Administration

Connect: LinkedIn and Twitter

Published Article: The Time for Transparency Is Now

Background Check on Kevin

hall1-mSince 2008, Kevin has managed 100 employees and a $19 million budget for the City of Burlington, WI.

Kevin served more than 2 years as the assistant city manager in Keller, TX. In this role, he leading the economic development department, participating in executive level planning and development meetings, participating in all budget meetings, coordinating all city-generated communications, conducting public presentations and overseeing the administration and facilities departments.

His first local government job was the assistant to the city manager in Flower Mound, TX where he lead legislative outreach efforts, participate in executive level planning and development meetings, conductpublic presentations

Background Check on Burlington

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Connect: Facebook, Twitter, and World Wide Web

Burlington (population 10,464) is located in Racine County and is nicknamed “Chocolate City, U.S.A.”, because of the Nestlé chocolate factory built there in 1966. It is also home to an annual ChocolateFest on Memorial Day weekend.

Burlington has a mayor-council form of government, with a city administrator.The mayor is the city’s chief executive, responsible for seeing that state law and city ordinances are enforced.[18] City services provided are public safety, water utility, wastewater utility, economic development, financial management, and parks maintenance.

The Common Council is composed of eight aldermen, two in each of Burlington’s four districts.[20] In every year’s spring election, one alderman is elected from each district. Aldermen serve two-year terms.

Notable residents:images (2)

  • Tony Romo, starting quarterback of the Dallas Cowboys
  • Frank Cannella, sometimes referred to as the “father of the infomercial” industry
  • Gregory Itzin, the actor who portrays fictional president Charles Logan of TV’s 24, was a former resident

Lightning Round

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Best piece of advice from your parents. “No matter what you do, work hard and do things the right way.”

In a dream world, which bands would headline your retirement party? The Black Keys, Slaid Cleaves



(Complete the sentence) Before I die I want to…….complete an ultra-marathon.

Three most influential books in your life.

Drive by Daniel Pink



The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck

A Good Life by Ben Bradlee

download (2)If you could FaceTime with five people (dead or alive and not including family members), who would be on the list?

Aldo Leopold

Abraham Lincoln

Stephen Colbert

Kevin Spacey

Steve Jobs

Describe the inside of your car. Consistently almost clean

What’s the meaning of life? Life on this earth is short. Make a positive impact while you can.

Q & A with Kevin


Give us three bullet points that best describe local government in your state.

  • In a period of transition
  • Multiple versions of governing systems
  • Heavy state involvement in local decision making

We’ll assume you didn’t grow up dreaming about a career in local government. What was your dream job as a 12-year old? What was your first local government job? How did you end up in local government?download

  • Hunting Guide
  • Public Information Officer – Town of Flower Mound, Texas
  • A former competing newspaper reporter asked me if I wanted a stable job that earned way better money than I was making as a reporter. I said yes.

Give us your top three career accomplishments.

  • Completing a public-private partnership with private investors, the state, Burlington Common Council and Community Development Authority to purchase a blighted portion of our downtown, clean up environmental contamination and turn it into a successful hotel and retail area.
  • Completing  the redevelopment of a parcel that included the removal of a former city landfill. As part of the project the City removed landfill materials and recycled old tires, appliances and metal products to produce a developable site along our major commercial corridor. The project was the first of its kind in the United States.
  • Created and implemented a government transparency program that has transformed the City’s budget process and resulted in state recognition and workshop presentations.

We often learn from our mistakes. Name one or two career mistakes that you have made that you think we could learn from.

images (3)Several years ago, I “blew-off” a constituent who was extremely upset by the method we used to count patrons at our library. I thought the complaint was rather ridiculous. Eventually, the individual used this issue to rally against a library bond proposal and run for the City Council. The end result was political upheaval that eventually resulted in my boss and mentor resigning his City Manager position. The lesson – don’t ever blow off someone even if you think their concerns are minor or border on the ridiculous.

Our experience has been many of our friends, family, and neighbors are not well versed in what it is we do in local government, many think we are a “planner” or “mayor”. Has this been your experience?  

Yes! I don’t know how many times I have had to answered the question, so….”are you like the mayor?”

How can local governments better communicate their role in the everyday lives of the community?

My favorite saying is: “ Just keep sayin’ it, sayin’ it and sayin’ it.” My staff gets tired of me repeating myself.

Would you encourage your family and friends to consider a career in local government? 

Maybe. They would have to be tough, especially in today’s vitriolic political environments. However, the rewards are often quite fulfilling and can create a lasting legacy.

download (1)Hypothetically, if we find ourselves interviewing for a job in front of you, talk about three steps we can take to make a good impression.

Be real. Don’t overstate your accomplishments or gloss over your weaknesses.

Be nice to everyone involved with the interview.

Be succinct.

AdministratorMentoring is such an important part of local government. Name three of your mentors.

Mark Hafner – Police Chief, Keller Texas

Dennis Jordan, City Administrator, Lake Geneva, Wisconsin

Darrell Hofland, City Administrator, Grafton, Wisconsin

(Complete the sentence) In 2018, local government will be …………in desperate need of bright young people to fill important management roles.

What question(s) should we have asked you? 

What do you do when you are not working? I am an avid runner and have completed 7 marathons. I am also an avid outdoorsman that loves to take my children out hunting, fishing, camping and hiking whenever possible.

Supplemental Readingdownload

Kevin Lahner settles in at his new home

Interim city manager a success in new career

Interim Keller city manager resigns

Fort Worth – Boom Town?

A Quickly Expanding Midwest ELGL

Now Open: ELGL Southwest

On Campus with University of North Texas MPA Program

WI: Andy Pederson, Village of Bayside, Village Manager


50 Nifty Profiles

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