Amy Nelson

It wasn’t business but social visits that first brought Amy Nelson to Yankton several years ago. Reflecting on those initial introductions, Amy recalls being impressed by the beauty of the area and friendliness of the community.


Those favorable first impressions made it easy for this Ortonville, MN, native to pursue Yankton’s city manager position when she learned about the need.

“When people ask me why I wanted this job I always answer, ‘Because it’s Yankton!’ Having the opportunity to do what I love in the place I want to be is a once in a lifetime opportunity,” Nelson says. “This position also affords me the opportunity to grow professionally. I’m proud to join Yankton’s excellent team of city employees and am excited to serve a progressive and forward thinking City Commission.”

Amy brought city management experience with her, having worked as the first Canton, SD, city manager for four years. She also filled the role of assistant city administrator in Minnesota and worked as a department head for the City of Evanston, WY.

What assets does she see in the Yankton community?

“I think Yankton’s biggest assets are its recreational facilities, recreational potential and its strong economic base and growth opportunities,” Amy says. “You can’t overlook the high quality of education and medical facilities here either. There’s also an unbelievable spirit of volunteerism and many non-profit organizations.

All these elements make Yankton a well-rounded community.”

Challenges Amy believes she and fellow city administrators will grapple with include finding the path that leads to future growth and learning to embrace the changes it brings.

“I believe Yankton is at a crossroad,” Amy says. “I sense a lot of energy and enthusiasm in the community. We are on the cusp of doing things, big things. None of them will be easy and all of them will take time. However, community leaders are more than capable. I’m fortunate and proud to be part of the legacy I expect we’ll leave.”

In the task of managing city employees, Amy says she brings a “functional” style to the job. She likes to set clear expectations, provide feedback and follow through to review results.

“In order for this style to be successful, I’m consistent, show others my appreciation and always hold up my end of the deal,” Amy says. “By adopting this style, I’ve earned trust and credibility among the people around me. I expect to see that same result in Yankton.”

Amy has no illusions about the adversity and difficult decisions related to her position.

“In those situations I do my best to be magnanimous and treat people as I would like to be treated,” Amy says. “I think one of the most important skills necessary to managing the city successfully is being a good communicator. That includes listening. It’s also critical to be able to multi-task. In a typical day I’ll discuss a highway reconstruction project, work on a land use issue and then work on the budget. There’s never a dull moment in the office and you never know what’s coming up next. It’s important to be flexible and prioritize your schedule.

“It also helps to have a thick skin,” Amy adds. “You can get beat up from time to time, but that comes with the territory. You have to be pragmatic about it and press on.”

Amy’s determination to achieve her career goals is rooted in the support and encouragement she found in her family. While she recognizes that her gender does influence her work to some degree, she has never allowed the fact that she’s female to direct her ambitions.

“I was brought up by parents who told me and my sister we could do anything we wanted to. So we did,” Amy says. “I have no feminist delusions. No one wants to hear me ‘roar.’ There’s no ‘girl power’ that’s linked to my career success, just my own unique personal power. There are many exemplary people in leadership roles here in Yankton. We are good at what we do because of who we are as individuals, XX and XY.”

Minnesota State University Moorhead is where Amy earned her undergraduate degree in political science. She went on to Minnesota State University in Mankato to complete her graduate degree in urban planning. Growing up in Ortonville, she and her family lived at Big Stone Lake.

“My parents stressed the importance of working hard and taking pride in all work. My father was a steamfitter, creating, assembling and repairing piping systems. My mother worked as a teacher’s aide at the high school. It was important to my parents that my sister and I complete our education and be able to pursue careers. They value education and always reminded us that no one can ever take away what you learn. My parents are also community-minded. They have been role models to us in many ways, encouraging us to serve our community.”

Completing a proper education and connecting with a great mentor have been valuable assets in Amy’s career advancement.

“Education is an essential and wise investment,” Amy says. “When I began my career in government, I was fortunate to secure an internship in Oakdale (MN) where I found a great mentor in Craig Waldron and his staff. There I learned to surround myself with people who are leaders in their respective fields so I could call on them for insight. It’s important to maintain those kinds of relationships.

They’ll benefit you for your entire career.”

Getting involved in community organizations is helping Amy learn more about Yankton. She also recommends that women in professional roles seek interaction with others in their field.

“As City Manager, I belong to a number of organizations where I can interact with peers serving in similar positions in other communities,” Amy says. “If you encounter issues, chances are someone else in your field has experienced something comparable and they’re usually happy to help by sharing their experience.”

Ongoing training and education are also important to career success.

“Practices change and you change, too,” Amy says. “Stay abreast of nuances in your trade and refresh your skills to help you continue to reach your goals.”

Running and fitness activities such as yoga occupy some of Amy’s leisure time. Traveling, volunteering and sharing time with friends are also important to her.

“I see myself as a hard worker and am inherently positive about things,” Amy says. “Both these characteristics have served me well in city management. I’m able to make tough decisions when I have to and take risks when I believe they’re beneficial to the community I work for. I also maintain my sense of humor and don’t take myself too seriously.”