The Anoka County Board April 11 upgraded its public information unit to communication department status and named internal candidate Erik Thorson as the new director.
According to the resolution changing the unit to a department, the duties of the public information unit were initially directed to external communications within the county, but the scope has expanded significantly to include different kinds of communications both externally and internally.
“With the expanded duties, the county would be best served changing the public information unit status to that of a department with the name Anoka County Communications Department,” the resolution states.
And as the first director of the new department, the board unanimously named Erik Thorson, who had been public information specialist with the county since April 2008.
Thorson had been, in effect, interim head of the unit since Martha Weaver left the public information manager position in December 2016 to take a job with US Bank, said County Administrator Jerry Soma.
In seeking a department director, the county advertised the position and received some 70 applications, narrowing that number to 17 for a first round of interviews before picking six finalists, one of them being Thorson, he said.
Soma and Anoka County Board Chairperson Rhonda Sivarajah interviewed the finalists and determined the best candidate was already working for the county, according to Soma.
“Erik has been leading the unit the past three months and has done very well,” Soma said. “Erik has shown he is best suited for the job and we are confident he will serve for many years.”
Sivarajah said she was “very pleased” to announce that Thorson is the new director.
“It was a very competitive process,” she said.
Thorson has shown “very calm leadership” and having someone who is very calm and steady lead the department is vital and important, Sivarajah said.
“We have a wonderful team who work well together,” she said.
According to Thorson, he is “very proud, humbled and honored” to be offered the job as communications department director.
“I have enjoyed working for Anoka County, and this is an exciting new challenge in my career,” Thorson said. “I thank the board for its trust and we will continue to provide great customer service to residents.”
Born in Los Angeles, California, Thorson grew up in the west central Minnesota community of Kerkhoven and graduated from Kerkhoven Murdock Sunburg High School, then spent three years in the U.S. Army before attending Ridgewater Community College in Hutchinson.
He started his career in the communications business at the KSAX TV station in Alexandria as a production coordinator and team leader in operations, then moved to KVLY TV in Fargo, North Dakota, to become creative services producer, which was followed by a stint in Omaha, Nebraska, as promotions producer-editor at KETV TV, before coming to the Twin Cities in April 2001 to become promotions producer-editor at KSTP TV, where he produced topical and image promotion videos and public service announcements as well as scheduling talent and crew, according to Thorson.
After several years in the television industry and a “tour of Midwest TV stations,” he decided it was time for a change and was hired as public information specialist for Anoka County, Thorson said.
“I have always been interested in public service and wanted to do something different,” he said.
It was also closer to home. Thorson and his wife, Kristie, live in Ramsey with their three children, Rylee, 16, Landon, 13, and Braeden, 9.
In his job as public information specialist, Thorson was involved in all facets of the unit’s work, including print, events, electronic media and marketing.
His video production work has brought the county several awards at both the state, regional and national level, including most recently at Bright Ideas in Government award from the Ash Center at Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts, for a video, “Pie, With a Side of Property Taxes” which was designed to make the state’s complex property tax system easier to understand, a project which also won a local government innovation award from the Association of Minnesota Counties.
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly identified Erik Thorson’s daughter.