By Adam Hocking
MARSHFIELD — When Marshfield City Administrator Steve Barg reflects on what he is most proud of throughout his career, his mind does not immediately go towards some initiative or accomplishment during his public service. He thinks first about the way he treats people.
“I guess one of the things I’m most proud of is being seen in the light of someone who tried to do their best, who really just tried to do what was for the public good, who tried to be honorable, who tried to be fair and even-handed no matter what was being thrown at him,” Barg said. “Really at the end of the day, I want to be judged on whether or not I was the kind of person that people could talk to and walk out of the room and say, ‘Well, he treated me fairly. He gave me a fair shake.’”
Barg previously worked as the city administrator in the city of Ripon for 13 years, and prior to that he held the same position in Isanti, Minn. Combining the three jobs, the 55-year-old Barg has been a city administrator for 20 years. He has been in Marshfield for 4 ½ years.
Growing up in government
It was not happenstance that brought him into this field. Barg has been interested in city administration since his youth.
“Quite honestly, what I’m doing right now is all I’ve ever wanted to do,” Barg said — aside from a brief dalliance with the idea of being a CPA. “What I’m doing right now I’ve wanted to do since I was about 12.”
Barg’s father was a city council member when he was growing up in Princeton, Minn., and he would come home from meetings and tell a young Steve about the issues that were discussed.
“A lot of people, you know (age) 11, 12, would have been like, ‘Who cares? Can I go out and play or something?’ I was always interested in it,” Barg said. He added that he never wanted to be an elected official, but knew he wanted to be involved with coming up with recommendations and solutions for the consideration of elected officials.
Barg said the decision to come to Marshfield from Ripon was influenced by a combination of factors. He wanted to tackle the challenge of a slightly larger city, and he also wanted to wait to leave Ripon until his children were off at college. Barg has family in Minnesota, and his wife’s family is located in Oshkosh, so Marshfield also serves as somewhat of a midway point.
The task at hand
As city administrator, Barg’s role is to manage the day-to day operations of the city.
“If I had a title apart from city administrator, it would probably be chief administrative officer,” Barg said. “I’m responsible for overseeing all the departments, making sure that we’re carrying out the mission of the city on a daily basis.”
He added that his role is different from Mayor Chris Meyer’s in that the mayor is concerned with working with the common council and setting the direction of the city from a legislative perspective.
Barg’s role with respect to the common council is to provide recommendations based on his and other city staff’s expertise and then to implement whatever course of action the council chooses.
“I’m here to make sure that every day we’re meeting the requirements of the citizens and keeping things running,” Barg said. He added that, though like anyone he has his own political views, his job is to try to bring people to consensus and find common ground on issues of local importance.
Barg said he has learned that, unlike private industry where a CEO can make a decision and can implement it immediately, government is much slower than that with many more voices involved.
“It’s (government) not intended to be fast. You don’t have to have public hearings in the private sector,” Barg said. “I think that I’ve learned over time that pragmatically government is really messy, … but the public good requires that to happen. It requires an opportunity for all the voices to be heard.”
“You don’t go into government if you’re not prepared to be a voice among a lot of voices because that’s what you are,” he added.
The biggest misconceptions Barg sees regarding local government are sentiments that government employees are not hard workers and that the government tries to operate without a great deal of transparency, both notions he rejects. He said that by and large the people of the Marshfield city government are dedicated workers and that being open and transparent is a major goal of his. He added that in the coming years he wants to undertake a serious customer service initiative by coming up with easy ways for citizens to give feedback to the city.
“I want to find out how we’re graded,” Barg said. “Civic engagement is essential to that.”
Mayor Chris Meyer had high praise when asked about Barg’s work for the city of Marshfield.
“Steve is incredibly focused on customer service, and our customers are the residents of Marshfield. We are here to serve them and respond to their needs. Steve is also a collaborative leader, working with people to solve issues,” Meyer said. “Most importantly, Steve is compassionate and cares about the people we serve and the work we all do.”