Division Manager Cevin Petersen retired Friday, May 30, capping a 36-year career in both the public and private sectors, including 28 years with Anoka County.
Petersen came to Anoka County in 1986 from Blue Earth County, where he had been human services accountant and then finance director, to be chief accountant, then director of accounting and budget and since 2006, division manager of finance and central services.
His first job out of college was with Burroughs Corporation from 1978-1982. “I have been fortunate to have fallen into a good environment no matter what,” said Petersen of his career.
A retirement party for Petersen took place at the Anoka County Government Center May 29. Speakers included County Commissioner Matt Look, who has chaired the board’s Finance and Capital Improvements Committee for the past three-plus years, and former longtime County Commissioner Dan Erhart, who was a member of the Finance and Capital Improvements Committee for 20 years or more and its chairperson for several of those years.
“It was a surprise to all of us,” Look said of Petersen’s decision to retire. “I was saddened by his decision. Now we face the challenge of finding someone to replace Cevin.”
He has been very supportive of the county board and “very instrumental in helping us implement some of the changes” that have been made in county government, reigning in spending and moving from bonding to paying cash for projects, according to Look.
“Cevin is someone I respect very highly and I have enjoyed working with him and felt totally at ease with him implementing the policies of the county board,” Look said. “I always slept well at night.”
The county is going to miss Petersen’s expertise and leadership, according to Erhart. “He was so good at working with other county employees,” Erhart said.
And with his computer expertise, Petersen was a leader as the county moved forward with computer systems, he said.
Petersen has been dedicated, has an excellent sense of humor and is someone you went to for accurate information, Erhart said. “Cevin has been a wonderful source of information,” he said.
Born in Fargo, N.D., Aug. 16, 1954, his family moved to Mankato in 1962. In 1972, he graduated from Wilson Campus School, which was a pre-kindergarten through 12th-grade school that was part of the Mankato State University campus, then graduated from Mankato State University in 1977 with degrees in business administration, computer science and business education.
Petersen initially planned a teaching career and interviewed for a business teaching position at Coon Rapids High School in 1977, but when he did not get the job, he turned instead to a business career, according to Petersen.
He had done a computer science programming internship at the University of Minnesota and “kind of liked it,” Petersen said.
In 1978 he was hired by Burroughs Corporation for a computer programming position in Detroit, Michigan, which is where his wife, Sue Bengelsdorf, spent some years as a child growing up; they were married in 1977.
“I was fortunate,” Petersen said. “They offered a job to a kid, a B student from Mankato State, in research and development work with top graduates from the likes of MIT, Villanova and Princeton.”
When the work establishing a medium-size business system was shelved, officials from other Burroughs’ locations in the U.S. came to Detroit to recruit members of the team, of which Petersen was a member, to their offices.
Petersen first went to Miami, Florida, where he spent two years before moving on the Burroughs’ office in Atlanta, Georgia. “There was too much crime there so it was time to get of Dodge,” he said. “We did not want to raise our two boys, who were very young then, in that kind of environment.”
Atlanta was not the Petersens’ “cup of tea” either, so they decided to move back to Minnesota and by chance got a job in 1983 with Blue Earth County thanks to Terry Johnson, who at that time was finance director of Blue Earth County and later became Anoka County’s division manager for finance and central services and later county administrator.
“Terry was looking for someone to install a new computer system,” Petersen said.
When Johnson left for Anoka County six months later, Petersen became finance director, but in 1986 he got a call from Johnson recruiting him to come to Anoka County to help him put in place new computer systems in the county’s finance department, he said.
And in 2006 when Anoka County Administrator Jay McLinden died following a short illness, Johnson was installed as county administrator and Petersen took his place as division manager for finance and central services.
He has enjoyed his time with the county because of the people he has worked with, the support of the county board – “I have really appreciated learning from all of them and they have all had a vision for the county’s long-term prosperity,” he said – and the ability to do “creative stuff” and be an innovator, Petersen said.
When he became a division manager, his job expanded to oversee the county’s information technology and the facilities management and construction departments. “Working in the finance department tends to be the same thing every day, but in information technology and facilities construction, there is always something different each day,” Petersen said. “There are issues to be dealt with that need immediate attention.”
One of the things that Petersen said he is most proud of in his tenure with the county has been the steady improvement in its bond rating over the years to AAA, which is the highest credit rating that can be achieved and results in lower interest rates. “That is a testament to the county’s financial management and stability,” he said.
Another is putting in place three financial systems to make county government run more efficiently, Petersen said.
He is also proud of the fact that Anoka County has received the certificate of achievement for excellence in financial reporting for 26 straight years from the Government Finance Officers Association as well as its distinguished budget presentation for the past 16 years. “That doesn’t happen every place,” Petersen said.
Petersen has also earned the professional certification of Certified Government Financial Manager, which is recognized as the mark of excellence in federal, state and local government.
Over the years Petersen has been with the county, he has seen it evolve into a much more metro urban county than it was and it also has become a much more professional organization, he said.
In the past two years, the county board has also put in place a policy where cash is paid for projects in an effort to lower debt, instead of bonding and increasing debt, Petersen said.
In his years with the county, he has seen the county budget increase from $73 million in 1986 to $286 million in 2013, but as federal and state funding for mandated programs has not kept pace with their growth, the county property tax levy as a percentage of the budget has increased as a result, according to Petersen said.
Because of the growth in mandated programs and state and federal governments not giving the county any more money, a challenge for the county board will be to deal with what he expects will be “very tough budget years in the future,” Petersen said.
“While the county can continue to keep taxes at one of the lowest levels in the state among counties, it is going to be harder for the board to reduce the tax levy in the future as it has done the past two years,” he said.
According to Petersen, he is retiring now “because I can.”
“Life’s pretty short and I need to enjoy it as much as I can,” Petersen said.
He and his wife, Sue, plan to continue to live in their Coon Rapids home. Sue works part time in the Anoka County Attorney’s Office and is not retiring, Petersen said.
Petersen has “honey do” projects to take care of at their house, plus some remodeling work at his parent’s lake place, not to mention playing golf, which he enjoys a lot, he said.
Their sons, Ryan, 34, and AJ, 32, live in the Uptown area of Minneapolis and Ramsey, respectively.
For many years, Petersen was active on the sports scene in Coon Rapids, coaching youth basketball and baseball and serving as president of the Coon Rapids High School Baseball Boosters in 1996 and 1997, when his sons were involved in those sports.
He was also the pole vault coach for the Coon Rapids High School track and field team from 1997-2010. In that time, both his sons were pole vaulters on the team and AJ was a state champion.
Petersen has been pole vaulting since he was in fifth grade and his father, Chuck, was track and field coach at Mankato State.
During his time at Mankato State, Petersen captained the track team in 1975 and 1976, set indoor and outdoor school records in the pole vault and received all-American honors in the pole vault in 1975. In 1997, he was inducted into the university’s Athletic Hall of Fame.
In his pole vault career, Petersen said his best vault was just shy of 17 feet. “When I started in fifth grade I was so young I did not realize how scary pole vaulting can be,” he said. “You have got to have a couple of screws loose to be a pole vaulter for so long .”
He admitted he has missed the pit a few times on landings, Petersen said. “It does not feel good when that happens,” he said.