Finance director officially steps into administrator position

Sarah Cotton has left her role as the finance director for the city of Lino Lakes and now holds the title of city administrator. Former City Administrator Jeff Karlson has retired.

LINO LAKES — Former Finance Director Sarah Cotton has officially stepped into the role of city administrator, even if it was a bit earlier than planned.

Last August, the council passed a resolution granting Cotton a conditional offer to succeed City Administrator Jeff Karlson upon his retirement. Karlson was originally planning to retire Aug. 31 but decided to retire July 31. His last day at City Hall was June 12, but he will be paid through the end of July.

At the June 22 meeting, the City Council officially appointed Cotton to the position with a standing ovation. Mayor Rob Rafferty said, “This is really exciting for me. I have worked alongside Sarah for many years now. I know she is going to be an excellent individual in this position.”

Cotton, a resident of East Bethel, has been the city's finance director for almost five years. Before working for cities, she worked in public accounting for KPMG, a multinational professional services network, for three years and as a financial analyst for Cummins Power Generation for four years. She worked for the city of Isanti for about four years as a finance director and finance director/assistant city administrator. That's where she first became interested in the role of city administrator.

“I got a little taste of it,” she recalled. “I really enjoyed it. I realize (the position) is going to be a challenge, but I am up for a good challenge.”

A few 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 now holds a bachelor's degree in accounting from Minnesota State University-Mankato and a master's degree in public administration from Hamline University.

Even though Cotton's first day in her new role was June 23, she said it doesn't really feel like she is the city administrator yet because she is so focused on finding someone to be a great fit for her old position, and someone else to fill another vacant position within the finance department.

“I feel like I haven't officially been able to put on that city administrator hat yet,” she explained.

Cotton said she is most looking forward to working on a project that will really benefit the residents. She did not provide a specific example but said something along the lines of a big park project or new facility. “Something that really highlights the city of Lino Lakes and some of our positive attributes,” she said.

Cotton is also excited for the opportunity to sit down with the council in the future for a strategic planning/goal-setting session to better identify the council's priorities and get some direction as to what initiatives she should focus on.

As with any change in leadership, there will likely be changes. “Obviously, there will be some changes as I get a chance to really step in and evaluate the organization and where we are at,” Cotton said.

One of the main things Cotton plans to focus on right away is the organization's culture. She plans to sit down with each of the departments to better understand their needs. She said she would also like to see the city improve its communication with residents.

“One of the reasons I decided to stay at the city of Lino Lakes and take on this role is that we have really amazing staff here. They are extremely dedicated to the city, to their roles. I feel like they go above and beyond,” she said. “Knowing that you have an amazing staff makes it easier to step into a role like this. I am proud of them and I feel their support.”


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

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