The critical thinking skills George Rindelaub learned at what is now the La Follette School helped his Minnesota county reduce its jail population.
"By involving multiple stakeholders such as judges, law enforcement, court staff, prosecutors, defense attorneys, probation staff and jail personnel, we were able to re-examine our entire criminal justice system, address its inefficiencies, add more effective programming, reduce recidivism and reduce our daily inmate population by nearly 20 percent," Rindelaub says. "We avoided building a multimillion dollar facility in the process."
La Follette School alum George Rindelaub (right) receives the Joe Ries Excellence in County Management Award from Minnesota Association of County Administrators president Duane Hebert. Rindelaub is administrator for Stearns County.
The 1981 alum's ability to approach problems creatively won him statewide recognition. The Minnesota Association of County Administrators honored the Stearns County administrator with the Joe Ries Excellence in County Management Award in December.
Rindelaub was recognized for his exemplary service and leadership in county management. He is known for empowering others to maximize their abilities while supporting them in reaching their goals. He encourages people around him to seek their full potential in solving problems facing the county, and he is always ready to support and dig in.
Colleagues describe Rindelaub as authentic, magnanimous and creative, a skilled mentor and leader who works successfully with elected and non-elected officials, as Stearns County's criminal justice reforms show.
"The critical thinking I learned at Wisconsin enables one to weigh alternatives to proposed public policy solutions," Rindelaub says. "Stearns County was experiencing a serious inmate overcrowding situation in our jail. Rather than begin plans to expand or build a new and more expensive jail we asked a simple a question: Who is in our jail? Do they need to be there? A thorough analysis concluded that our jail crowding issue was a result of a multiple of factors that could not be connected to any increase in crime."
After teaching high school social studies for five years in Minnesota, Rindelaub came to Wisconsin in 1980 to earn a master's degree from the Center for the Study of Public Policy and Administration, a precursor of the La Follette School.
"I saw myself working for a federal or state agency," Rindelaub says. "Only after learning how federal, state and local government partner to provide services did I see county government as an attractive career. Rather that concentrating on one agency or program, I now enjoy the variety of working with professionals in many fields such as criminal justice, transportation, human services, public health, taxes, real estate, economic development, veterans' affairs, etc."
He notes that his budget and public finance coursework helped him stand out as a job applicant, as did his work in the Wisconsin Legislature. With help from professor Dennis Dresang, Rindelaub secured an internship with then-representative John Norquist, who in 1988 earned a master's degree from the La Follette Institute and become mayor of Milwaukee. "That internship experience taught me that to make good public policy, you've got to 'follow the money,'" Rindelaub says.
Rindelaub held various staff positions in the Wisconsin Legislature before returning to Minnesota in 1983 to become a coordinator for Isanti County. "The La Follette School opened up opportunities for added experience within the state of Wisconsin that later enabled me to stand out as an applicant for other positions," Rindelaub says. "Nearly all the coursework encouraged me to become a more critical thinker. This is a skill that I believe enables public administrators to make sound judgments on a host of public policy questions."
To help ensure quality training for future public administrators, Rindelaub supports the La Follette School financially. "My donations to the La Follette School reflect my desire to see that future public administrators reflect the public service values developed by the school's namesake: Robert La Follette," he says.
Rindelaub started practicing those values in Stearns County when he became its top administrator in 1988. He serves a nonpartisan board of five elected county commissioners. "My duties include that of chief operating officer and chief budget officer for the county," he says.
He notes that Stearns County was one of the first in Minnesota to establish a special domestic violence court — and that court has been recognized as one of the most effective in the United States. In 2009, Rindelaub shared the Association of Minnesota Counties public cfficial of the year award with two other recipients. In 2011, Stearns County's web site was recognized as the No. 1 county site in the country.
The three years Rindelaub spent in Madison going to school and working in the Legislature made him a big believer in the "Wisconsin Idea," the practice of tapping university expertise to solve public policy problems. "As a public administrator in a county with three universities, I make it a point to try to involve the best and brightest of our students and faculty of these institutions in our government processes," he says.
Rindelaub emphasizes that his graduate training in Wisconsin made a difference in his career. "The school encourages students to follow their passion while insisting that they learn the basic tools required to analyze and manage public policy," Rindelaub says. "Our freedoms and liberties are dependent on a highly functional form of representative government. Officials elected to represent the will of their constituents depend on management professionals able to translate that will into public policy that is effective, efficient and fair."