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Erik Burgess, Published November 11 2013

Dilworth city administrator to retire after 34 years with city

DILWORTH – It’s time for Ken Parke to be a full-time grandpa for a while.

Dilworth’s long-time city administrator will announce his retirement at tonight’s City Council meeting. If it’s accepted by the council, his last day will be April 30, 2014, marking more than 34 years with the city.

Current and former colleagues said Parke, 58, has been an experienced leader and one of the key players in Dilworth’s recent success.

“Dilworth is a better place because of Ken’s service,” said Rep. Paul Marquart, DFL-Dilworth, who was the city’s mayor from 1990 to 2000.

Parke told The Forum on Monday that he’s been seriously thinking about retiring for at least a year, and that he’s ready to move onto other, unspecified “business opportunities” in his life.

“Obviously, I’m not going to be able to sit around and not do anything,” Parke said. “I’ll definitely keep busy in the metropolitan area.”

Parke lives in Dilworth with his wife, Sara. He has two daughters, one in St. Paul and another in Dilworth with a son-in-law and two young grandchildren, ages 1 and 4.

“It’s quite different than your own children when you have grandchildren,” Parke said. “It’s very enjoyable having them around.”

Parke ran unsuccessfully for Clay County commissioner last year, but said another try for public office “isn’t high on my priority list.” He said he might pursue a new career in real estate after taking next summer off.

Mayor Chad Olson said Parke’ upcoming retirement marks “the end of an era,” but Olson said he’s looking forward to the city’s next chapter.

Parke started as the city’s financial officer in 1979, a position he held until 1992. That’s when Dilworth’s city clerk retired, and the city moved to a city administrator-system of government. Parke applied and got the job.

Marquart said Parke has always been the “financial guru” of City Hall, known for his professionalism and his “meticulous” bookkeeping.

“Not only did he know the budget inside and out, but he knew the city inside and out,” Marquart said. “He knew the people. He knew the issues.”

Parke was also the experienced “voice of reason,” Olson said, pointing to the housing crash in 2008 that left the city with 65 lots in the Summerwood development. The city has only 12 of those lots left after selling 24 last year.

“He laid the roadmap,” Olson said, “and that experience was very instrumental in (our) success.”

Parke said he is most proud of the growth Dilworth has seen over his tenure. When he started, the city had about 2,500 people. Now, it’s more than 4,000.

“That’s been rewarding to me,” Parke said.

The city is also looking for a new police chief. Former Chief Josh Ebert retired in September, and Dilworth is working with the Clay County Sheriff’s Office to see if it’s possible to contract the sheriff for Dilworth’s police force.

Parke said his leaving is not related to the police chief situation, and that he hopes to have that issue resolved before he retires.

The City Council will start the conversation about finding Parke’s replacement this month, Olson said, adding that he’d like to see an outside firm help make the hire. He hopes to have candidates ready by early next year.

“This is arguably the most important hire in the city of Dilworth,” Olson said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter

Erik Burgess at (701) 241-5518