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May 2007: Morris' money man adds it all up

Editor's Note: This story was originally published in the Saturday, May 26, 2007 edition of the Sun Tribune.

MORRIS, Minn. - Gene Krosschell would maybe like you to believe he fits the stereotype of an accountant. There's the simple, neat dress clothes, the straight face and the ability to answer almost every arcane question about municipal finance off the top of his head.

But often times, a wisp of a wry smile lets you know its a facade. And sometimes, Krosschell will give it all away.

Like the time a couple of years ago when a car careened off East Seventh Street and crashed through the outside wall of his office. Fortunately, Krosschell had left early to fish and was not in his office at the time that bricks and dust were flying everywhere.

"I'm glad the driver picked that time to turn my office into a drive-through," Krosschell said.

Krosschell has been with the City of Morris since 1984, and this summer he will take on additional duties as interim city manager.

Ed Larson is retiring June 30 and the City Council on Tuesday voted to have Krosschell assume Larson's duties until a permanent successor is hired.

Krosschell came to municipal administration from the private sector, which required that he learn an entirely different way of keeping the books. But he handled the transition with aplomb, and has helped keep the city's financial system a model for small government.

This year, the National Government Finance Officers Association honored the city with the Award for Excellence in Government Finance. It marked the 15th straight year the city has received the honor. A joke among city officials is that the wall in the City Council Chambers will have to be reinforced to support all the plaques Krosschell and the city staff are winning from the NGFOA.

"The testimony for Gene are all the awards," Larson said. "Our audit reports are glowing. If anybody in Morris has any questions about the financial operation of the city, they shouldn't have any concerns."

Krosschell was born on a farm near Edgerton -- yes, the Edgerton of Minnesota state high school basketball lore -- and he attended Southwest Minnesota Christian.

After graduating in 1968, Krosschell enrolled at Dordt College, in Sioux Center, Iowa, and earned a Business Administration degree with an accounting emphasis.

His first job out of college was at Hyster, makers of the lift trucks, in Indiana. Krosschell then was a bookkeeper for a car dealership for a couple more years before joining Heinold Oil, in Valparaiso, Ind., where he worked for 12 years as controller.

Krosschell met his wife, Brenda, while in Indiana, and they had a decision to make when he decided to make a career change. Brenda's parents had moved back to Kentucky, and Krosschell's family still were in Minnesota. They decided to head north and began combing through advertisements in newspapers.

Morris was looking for someone to replace Warren Smith, who left as the head of city finances to work in the private sector. Krosschell had no work experience in municipal finance, but his credentials were there.

"We saw Gene's name out there and we said, 'This guy fits what we're looking for,' " Larson said. " 'Let's call him up and talk to him.' "

To go into great detail about what Krosschell does would likely fill one of the thick government accounting standards books that sit on his desk. Every year, some type of accounting standard or requirement changes and it's his job to not only stay abreast of the changes but make them understood by those responsible for budgets.

"How many people actually sit down and read this stuff?" he said, holding up an annual report on city finances. "Some of this stuff is too theoretically complex, it's tough to explain it unless you have an accounting degree, and even then it's tough."

He, too, was overwhelmed by the switch from the private to the public sector.

"Where there is one set of books in private industry, you now have 30 sets of books -- everything like the library and public works, they are all separate," Krosschell said. "I remember thinking, 'My goodness, what did I get myself into?' "

"There were a lot of differences, such as in the terminology," Larson said. "But we knew that, given time, he'd learn it. And he did. He worked out very well for us."

And Krosschell has methods to avoiding the madness that comes with his job.

There weren't a lot of lakes near his home turf, so as a youth, his family often took summer trips to a resort in the Detroit Lakes area. As Krosschell and the other kids hooked enough sunfish to keep his father cleaning them until late in the evening, he got hooked on the sport.

When he and the family moved back from Indiana, "my first goal was, 'I've got to find a boat and go fishing.' "

Without it, he probably still might be digging a car bumper out of his back pocket, and he might never have discovered all the area lakes he's fished as part of a local, 15-team fishing league.

Krosschell's become a huge fan of muskie fishing, finding the patience and skill required for hunting the biggest fish far outweighs the enjoyment of constantly reeling something in. But now, with three grandchildren eager to learn his ways, he's the one baiting hooks for others.

"I totally enjoy being with my grandchildren," he said. "I'll have to buy a boat anchor so I can throw it out and catch sunfish again."

It's likely Krosschell and the city will "catch" another award for city financial reporting next year. An auditor recently appeared before the City Council and had high praise for the work done with the city's books. Is that what keeps Krosschell coming back to work each day?

"I should be a smart alec and say, 'the paycheck,' " he said. "But a lot of people wouldn't like this job. If they had to sit in a building all day, they'd go crazy -- people are suited to different things. Even back in high school, in bookkeeping class, I just really got it. I've always understood a set of books and what makes them balance."