New planning director begins job

Published 10:20 am Thursday, July 10, 2008

It’s Angela Knish’s way today in the Mower County planning and zoning department.

She was hired by the Mower County Board of Commissioners to replace Daryl W. Franklin, who retired after a distinguished three-decade career in public service in Mower County.

But Knish also inherited a job tainted by the actions of Lowell Franzen, the former Mower County feedlot officer, who essentially permitted himself to operate a hog confinement feedlot operation that became the giant, 4,832-sow Santos Group LLC/Holden Farms Inc., Northfield operation in Section 30, Lyle Township.

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When Franzen did set in motion a series of actions that created a controversy to be decided in district court if decided at all.

The Franzen-Franklin linkage — real or imagined — remains.

Knish knows about it. All of it.

She plans to put “all that stuff” behind her and conduct herself to the high expectations and focus on the always in lux state of planning and zoning issues.

“At this time it is too early to set any specific goals,” Knish said. “I’m just trying to catch up and get a grasp on the duties.

“At some time, I want to set down with the planning commission and the county board to discuss what goals they want for the county,” she said. “It’s not my goals; it’s what the community wants and what works good for the community. I’m not here to take anybody’s side. I’m here to take them through a process or to tell people what that process is, not to take any side.”

Knish is a native of Dodge Center.

After graduating high school, she went to Faribault Technical College to study accounting.

She has had several work experiences before planning and zoning challenged her.

“I tended to switch jobs a lot,” she said. “I found myself in positions where I was a fast, mover-and-shaker and climber and there was just no place to go, so I switched jobs a lot.”

When she was passed over for a permanent job in the Rice County Attorney’s office because she didn’t have a college degree, she returned to school to get one.

“I turned my lemons into lemonade,” she said of the disappointment.

Knish sought a bachelor’s degree from Minnesota State University, Mankato.

While earning her college degree, she worked in the Waseca County highway department. When a part-time position opened in the Waseca County planning and zoning department, Knish grabbed it.

It proved to be fortuitous for her.

When the department head left, Knish was appointed to replace him as the interim planning and zoning administrator.

“I liked all the challenges and changes that occurred. Nothing was ever the same. There were feedlot issues, wind towers, cellular towers, everything. The constant change really attracted me to that work,” she said. “I was happy and satisfied.”

Abruptly, she quit and returned to college.

“My parents said I was nuts,” she said.

Knish graduated from MSU in 1999, earning a degree in urban and regional studies and a minor in geography with an emphasis in geographical information systems and cartography.

Waseca County hired her a third time to be the planning and zoning administrator; a position she held until taking the Mower County job May 30.

When she was forced to give up the feedlot inspection portion of her Waseca County job, it was a disappointment.

The opportunity to pursue feedlot issues in Mower County was one of the things that attracted her to the new job.

“Not every girl will tell you that,” Knish laughed.

Her management style is to “set a good example.” She also likes to be a team player and maintain a close-knit relationship with her colleagues.

“Sometimes when someone has to make a tough decision, that’s me,” she added. “I want to have an open-door policy, build trust and teamwork and camaraderie, but sometimes, the bottom line ends with me.”

Knish has her work cut out for her: four townships dissatisfied with what they perceived as a more lenient set of zoning laws from Mower County now govern their own townships with their own ordinances.

“I think it is always good to have checks and balances and have accountability; especially when you’re in a public job, because you should be doing things in an appropriate and upright manner always,” she said, not dodging any questions about the legacy she inherits.

“When one doesn’t look good in the public eye, it tends to pollute other innocent people in the public eye. I think as public employees we are held to a higher standard and we should be,” she said.