St. Louis Park chooses Richfield staffer as city community development director

Karen Barton, Richfield’s assistant community development director, will become St. Louis Park’s community development director in July. (Submitted photo)

When the time came to select a new community development director, St. Louis Park City Manager Tom Harmening said he did not face a difficult decision.

Longtime St. Louis Park Community Development Director Kevin Locke has left his role to work for the city in a part-time role relating to the proposed Southwest Light Rail Transit line. To fill Locke’s position, Harmening chose Karen Barton, an assistant community development director in Richfield, for the position. The St. Louis Park City Council confirmed the appointment June 19.

“After a very extensive recruitment process, I’m very pleased to bring to you for your confirmation Karen Barton as our next community development director,” Harmening informed the council.

Barton has more than 20 years of experience in community development and has worked for another first-ring suburban community with similarities to St. Louis Park, Harmening said.

“She deals with issues just like we do all the time, whether it be housing, planning, community development, economic development,” Harmening said. “I am very, very pleased that she decided to apply for the position, and it wasn’t a hard decision to hire her.”

After Harmening’s comments, Mayor Jake Spano said to Barton, “I know that’s true. I also know there were a lot of folks that were very, very qualified and excellent candidates, and you rose above all of them. So, we’re very, very fortunate.”

Barton said to the council, “St. Louis Park is known to be a very innovative, progressive, inclusive community, (with a) great reputation for staff and leadership, and I am very much interested in joining the team here and working to further the goals and vision of the community.”

Spano said he had reached out to a friend, who he did not name, who serves on the Richfield City Council. The mayor said his friend gave Barton a positive recommendation.

Spano jokingly said he apologized to his friend for stealing Barton away from Richfield.

“He said, ‘She’s done great things for us, and she’s going to do great things for you,’” Spano said, adding that his friend was sad to see Barton leave Richfield but that he was excited about her future.

Barton plans to begin her new role Monday, July 17.

In a June 20 statement to media, Harmening said, “Throughout the interview process Karen impressed us with her experience and skills. We look forward to her taking the helm of the city’s community development department, where one of her first big tasks will be to oversee development of the city’s 2040 Comprehensive Plan Update, using data gathered in the Vision 3.0 process.”

The city has been conducing a major visioning process in which community members provide feedback about how they would like to see the city change. Past visioning processes have led to the Excelsior and Grand project after residents said St. Louis Park needed a downtown-style area, and the controversial, ongoing Connect the Park project after many residents said the city should add more sidewalks and trails.

When she begins her new job, Barton will lead the city divisions of planning and zoning, housing and economic development and redevelopment, according to the city’s statement. She will develop recommendations for the city council, economic development authority, planning commission, board of zoning appeals and housing authority board related to land use, zoning, economic development and redevelopment and housing, according to the statement.

Barton has worked in her role in Richfield since 2008. Previously, she worked for Arden Hills, Crystal and Brooklyn Center and in the private sector.

Locke served as the city community development director for 13 years. His phased retirement, in which he transitioned into a part-time role as a light rail transit project specialist, began in May.