Craig Mattson was born in the Swedish Hospital in Minneapolis just after World War II. His brother had been born before the war, and his parents moved to the West Coast to build airplanes, P-38s. Though his father could have stayed out of the military because of the work he was doing, Mattson said his dad felt guilty and joined the Navy in 1942, serving for the remainder of the war. After the war, the family moved back home to the farm in Minnesota.
Mattson is a wellspring of knowledge about local history.
“My grandfather owned land that went from the Mississippi River to Earle Brown farm,” he said. “Back in the ‘30s and ‘40s, Earle Brown started the highway patrol. When he died, his land went to the University of Minnesota. … He owned property that had outposts on them in Brooklyn Park and Brooklyn Center. Those homes still exist.”
After the war, Mattson’s family moved back to his grandfather’s farm. His parents had saved some money and were able to build a house on the farm.
“I went to Earle Brown Elementary School,” he recalled.
Mattson later moved to St. Cloud, where he coached local students in hockey, football and track. His contacts there led him to coach in Warroad, where his official title in the school system was community education director.
“That included the hockey program, adult education and enrichment,” he recalled.
Mattson and his wife had their first child while in Warroad, but when his wife became ill and needed more treatment than what was available locally, he began looking for jobs closer to the Twin Cities.
“I came to Oakdale as the community service director,” he said. “I was fortunate to work with a city administrator named Dennis Villa. He wanted us to understand, in order to be effective in our role, we had to understand that we had an impact on the organization as a whole. We had to understand how other departments work.”
Mattson took turns working with other departments, including public works, planning, engineering and police. When Villa left, the city needed a new administrator. Mattson worked for some time in a role as part a shared position, and in 1980 he was officially named the city administrator of Oakdale. As he looked to grow his career, he realized that he would need to go back to school. By the time he finished school, while also helping to raise three children and navigating further family health problems, he’d racked up an impressive tenure at Oakdale.
“At that time, the lifespan for a city administrator was two to five years,” he said. “I had been in Oakdale 13 years and as administrator (for) eight.”
His favorite time of his career was working at Grand Rapids, Minnesota, the next place he was hired as administrator. He was able to use what he learned in the beginning of his career about mission, goals, leadership and communication.
“During my time there, we got the city fiscally sound, doubled the size of the civic center, remodeled the city airport terminal and lowered the tax base,” he said.
After a decade in Grand Rapids, in 2001 Mattson became the administrator in East Grand Forks, where he worked for five years. He helped manage the city during a massive flood and was proud of the help he provided in building up the city’s bond rating and cash reserves.
“In 2006, I came to Wyoming. I had two kids living in the Cities,” he said. “They (the city of Wyoming) were merging with a township. I looked at it as a second opportunity at Oakdale. If I had known what I learned in Grand Rapids, I could have done better in Oakdale.”
Little did he know that the economic collapse of 2008 was just around the corner.
“I came in 2006, when housing was developing, and the merger wasn’t completed until 2008, when the housing crunch hit,” he said. “It didn’t matter what I knew because the economy was crumbling. I had 10 years of just trying to keep our head moving in the right direction.”
Though a shaky economy made city government work more difficult, Mattson had a set of goals in Wyoming that involved using the experience he’d gained in previous cities to help at his new job.
“With Wyoming merging with the township, it was very similar to Oakdale at the time I was in Oakdale,” he said. “I also wanted to employ a mission vision and goals like I had learned in Grand Rapids and give them a kick-start to their new community and maybe help them not make some of the mistakes Oakdale did with growing pains. Once the merger did take place, we did accomplish some significant things.”
In 2011, after Eric Peterson became mayor, the City Council had its first vision retreat, which resulted in a set of goals for the future.
“A lot of the things that we laid out have been set in place, including the water tower and street reconstruction projects,” he said. “We revisited that in 2013 and made sure we were on track, and that confirmed that we were on track. … One of the major accomplishments was that there wasn’t a lot going on in the budget.”
Mattson said that even though the size of the city increased from 3 square miles to 20 square miles, he felt that staff managed their departments to provide effective service without ballooning the budget or taxes. He also believed planning ahead on street improvements saved taxpayer money, and he hailed the building of a new water tower as a major accomplishment.
“We now have the water capacity we need for industrial and business development as well as an increase in residents,” he said. “We built it with the idea (that) in order for the city to continue to grow, we needed it.”
He added that the proposed development by the Village Inn could not happen without the water tower.
Of his time in Wyoming, he said that he always wishes he could have done more.
“I wasn’t able to do as much as I planned, but time ran out,” he said. “I got to be 70, and it was time to retire.”
Mattson has been a public servant for over 40 years. He began his retirement the first of the year.
“I am taking the first month to just relax, but I don’t think I will be able to sit still,” he said. “I will try to find something to do part-time – maybe consultant work. I could help in cities when administrators leave or teach part time. I want to keep busy doing something. I would love to get involved in hockey again.”