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Updated: Steve O'Malley to retire as La Crosse County administrator after 19 years

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Longtime La Crosse County administrator Steve O’Malley will retire this summer, he confirmed to the Tribune on Monday.

O’Malley has been the only person to serve as county administrator since the position was created in 2003. He told the Tribune he will turn 66 next month, saying in an email, “It is time for me to retire.”

His retirement will take place sometime in August, though the exact date is currently undecided, pending the completion of several projects and remaining leave time that he has accrued.

Steve O'Malley

O’Malley

In a memo to La Crosse County Board members that was shared with the Tribune, O’Malley said that he informed his executive management team of his plans to retire last November, and County Board chair Monica Kruse in January.

“They are all well prepared to provide continuity of operations and are ready to support the board in selection of the next county administrator,” he said.

O’Malley was appointed as administrator in 2003. He was the first person to assume the newly created position, a role with more responsibilities and power than the coordinator position it replaced.

He has served in the profession for 37 years, and before coming to La Crosse County, he served as the deputy city manager of Burnsville, Minnesota.

The Wisconsin native graduated from UW-Eau Claire and was elected to the Eau Claire County Board of Supervisors at age 19, serving three terms. He then went on to work in Eau Claire County’s personnel department before becoming the Marinette County administrator in 1987.

In 1990, he became administrator of Rice County, before his job in Burnsville in 1996. He also earned a master’s degree in public administration from UW-Oshkosh in 1998.

O’Malley’s current contract doesn’t expire until Dec. 31, 2023, but he said in his memo and told the Tribune that he wanted to avoid transition during the 2024 county board election cycle.

“At the start of the county board term, really allows this new board to decide how to fill the position,” O’Malley told the Tribune in an interview.

The Executive Committee will discuss and set the process and timing of the transition at its meeting Wednesday, and O’Malley said in his memo that he is willing to “fulfill any consideration and direction” from the body.

“It has been a privilege and honor to serve as the first La Crosse County Administrator. I am very proud of all that we have accomplished and look forward to supporting this transition,” O’Malley said.

O’Malley plans to give an overview of his 19-year career at Monday night’s La Crosse County Board planning meeting.

Most recently, O’Malley has helped lead the county to its healthiest financial position in decades. He told the Tribune that last year was the county’s “most successful year” it’s had in his career, saying “every fund” was in a strong position.

“It’s been very positive,” he said, praising the work of the county staff that he’s helped lead.

Supervisor and state Rep. Steve Doyle, who served as the board chair in 2003, told the Tribune that hiring O’Malley was “the best thing I did in my tenure.”

“La Crosse County continues to have the fifth lowest per capita property taxes, we have taken innovative steps in dealing with our Lakeview population, we have a criminal justice system that other counties come to learn about, and a stellar bond rating,” Doyle said in an email.

Doyle said, “Every time I think that Steve won’t be able to pull another rabbit out of the hat, he finds another rabbit.”

The search to hire O’Malley in 2003 was nationwide, and it’s expected the search for his replacement nearly two decades later will be as well.

The La Crosse County Board will lead the search for the county’s next administrator, and while O’Malley will not be part of that process, he told the Tribune that someone who can continue the county’s strong financial picture and meet the needs of the community are good qualities in a successor.

O’Malley said he plans to continue living in the community after his retirement and will be available to assist his successor if needed.

This story was updated at 12:15 p.m. to include a statement from supervisor and state Rep. Steve Doyle.

"It has been a privilege and honor to serve as the first La Crosse County administrator. I am very proud of all that we have accomplished and look forward to supporting this transition."

Steve O'Malley

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