LINO LAKES — Knowing that City Administrator Jeff Karlson plans to retire in 2020, the City Council took action to show its support for who it feels should fill his shoes.

At the Aug. 12 meeting, the council passed a resolution granting Finance Director Sarah Cotton a conditional offer to succeed Karlson upon his retirement, which he says will be sometime in the summer of 2020.

“It is not the customary way of anointing somebody to replace someone, but after Sarah had been working here a couple years, I was able to see how professional she was and how she picked up on things rather quickly. I came to the conclusion that she would make a really good city administrator,” Karlson said in a follow-up interview.


A couple of years ago, Karlson said he sat down with Cotton to ask her whether she ever saw herself becoming a city administrator/manager, or if she planned to stay in the finance world. Cotton said she had thought about it, and Karlson recommended that she go back to school to obtain a master's degree in public administration. That's exactly what she did.


Cotton, a resident of East Bethel, has been the city's finance director for four years. Before coming to Lino Lakes, she worked for the city of Isanti for about four years as a finance director and finance director/assistant city administrator. “That's kind of where I got my initial interest in the role of city administrator,” she recalled.  

As of last week, Cotton has a master's degree in public administration from Hamline University. She also holds a bachelor's degree in accounting from Minnesota State University-Mankato and maintains an active CPA license. Before working for cities, she worked in public accounting for KPMG for three years and as a financial analyst for Cummins Power Generation for four years.

“I was looking for a challenge. I am really excited about the opportunity to serve the city of Lino Lakes and its residents in a different capacity,” Cotton said in a follow-up interview. “I am excited to move into that leadership role and work with the rest of management team, who I think I have a really good relationship with.”

She added, “A lot of my work right now is focused on the budget and the audit… I will get to step into some different shoes and work on those same things through a different perspective, have a different lens.”

Karlson explained, “I felt strongly that with Sarah's skills, she might want to seek other job opportunities elsewhere without knowing that the council is committed to considering her as my replacement. I really wanted to get it out there to the council and have them recognize that we have an excellent finance director that could replace me.”

At the Aug. 12 meeting, Mayor Jeff Reinert said, “Jeff has done a fantastic job and we are sad to see him go. When Sarah came on board she was just fantastic, a breath of fresh air ... I can't say enough about her and what she does for the city. She would more than likely have many opportunities beyond the walls of this city, so we wanted to make sure that she stays here and that we get to keep her, because she is a true talent.”

Councilwoman Melissa Maher added, “She will not only be filling big shoes, but she is going to be leaving big shoes, too. It is going to be a big responsibility to hire somebody to take her place as good as she is.”

Even though Cotton is honored that the council showed its support for her in a new role, Cotton said she loves her job as finance director and would be okay with staying in that role too.

As for Karlson, he said he finally decided to retire because he turned 65. “My goal has always been to retire from public administration at that time,” he said. Karlson has been the city administrator for nine years. Before coming to Lino Lakes, he served for 13 years as the director of administration for the city of Coon Rapids.

Many of his retirement plans are still up in the air, but Karlson said he plans to become more involved with True Hope, a ministry that serves orphans in the Ukraine. He has served on the organization's board of directors for five years and traveled to the Ukraine eight times. He also plans to spend more time reading and writing, and may even run for elected office.

“It is wide open; I haven't really decided yet. I think I will just see what opportunities come along and be open to those,” he said.


Editor Shannon Granholm can be reached at 651-407-1227 or

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