Columbus City Administrator Patrick Vander Sanden looks back on memories, challenges as he departs
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Columbus City Administrator Patrick Vander Sanden looks back on memories, challenges as he departs

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Vander Sanden reflects on memories, challenges

KEVIN DAMASK

kdamask@wiscnews.com

Patrick Vander Sanden fulfilled a dream and a major career aspiration when he was hired as Columbus city administrator in the spring of 2013.

Vander Sanden, a 1990 Columbus High School graduate, was coming home.

After more than six years leading his hometown, Vander Sanden is moving on. He accepted an administrative position with the Wisconsin Department of Transportation. Vander Sanden’s final day at City Hall is Oct. 18.

At the DOT, Vander Sanden will manage local government programs and grants. One of the grants Vander Sanden will be managing is the Local Roads Improvement Program, along with helping municipalities receive funding for bridge infrastructure improvements. While he’s leaving City Hall, Vander Sanden and his family will remain in Columbus as he commutes to his new position in Madison.

“I feel like I’ve had a pretty good run; accomplished some good things,” Vander Sanden said. “This job will always be special to me because I’ve always wanted to serve my community in this role. I just saw other opportunities that give me a better work-life balance.”

Being a city administrator in a small community can be an all-consuming position. Besides holding regular office hours, Vander Sanden attended City Council meetings that could stretch late into the night, put in extra time during budget-preparation season and, was one of the first people to respond when Columbus faced a dangerous flood event or natural disaster.

Vander Sanden, who is married with two school-aged children, found juggling his administrator duties with family time challenging. He said, on average, city administrators spend 5-7 years in the position.

“It’s a lot of time commitment,” Vander Sanden said.

While he held other municipal government positions in the Madison area, Vander Sanden always had Columbus on his mind. The opportunity to return in 2013 was too appealing to pass up. He said the past several years have presented chances to learn and grow.

“I’ve learned the most here,” he said. “Just about being a manager, a leader, a teammate, so everything that’s happened here will benefit my career in the future. It’s all very valuable.”

Looking back, Vander Sanden believes he accomplished a lot to help the community. Dealing with city road repairs is a constant issue in Columbus. While there is still plenty of work to tackle, Vander Sanden feels the city has made strides in addressing street reconstruction.

“Working with the mayor and the Council, there has really been a pretty strong stretch of investment in repairing city roads,” Vander Sanden said. “Obviously the James Street reconstruction was huge. I’ll always remember my role in that when I drive up and down James Street. I feel that sense of accomplishment.”

Columbus also witnessed commercial business expansion during Vander Sanden’s tenure. On Columbus’ west side, the city’s fourth tax incremental financing district, welcomed the development of Ottery Brothers Truck Wash, Duffy Fleet Services, Fromm Family Foods, and Drexel Building Supply. In 2018, the city opened Hall Road, which helps large trucks navigate through the new business development.

“The value there has really grown and it’s a TIF district that’s doing what it’s supposed to,” Vander Sanden said. “When that TIF becomes mature, there will be that great influx of increased tax base. That’s something I’m really happy about.”

Vander Sanden reflected on some of the challenges as well, including the 2015 wind storm. Electrical power was disrupted throughout the city. Large trees was snapped off or up-rooted and homes were damaged. Earlier this year, spring flooding caused residents to evacuate their homes, especially along the Crawfish River.

“They’re not positive memories, but it really affirmed the faith in the hard work of the city team, volunteers and the community as a whole to respond,” Vander Sanden said.

In addition, Vander Sanden fondly remembers the city’s determination to re-establish a municipal court after eastern Columbia County proceedings were moved to Randolph in 2018. The court, under the direction of Judge Ed Schellin, was re-ignited a few months ago.

In the past couple years, the city has dealt with several staff changes and department head departures. Vander Sanden said while it has posed challenges, the staff changes are not unique to a typical small community.

Vander Sanden said he’ll miss working with Columbus city employees.

“It’s sometimes not the easiest job to work in the public sector and I see professionalism, hard work and dedication every day from people that work in the city,” Vander Sanden said. “I hope they know how much I appreciate them and will continue to as a community resident.”

The city is considering hiring a recruitment service to help find Vander Sanden’s replacement. As for the 2020 city budget, he said most of the groundwork has been finished and Financial Director Kim Manley is taking the lead, along with help from City Council.

Follow Kevin Damask on Twitter @kdamask or contact him at 608-963-7323.

Follow Kevin Damask on Twitter @kdamask or contact him at 608-963-7323.

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