City officials on Friday hired Joe Lindenberger as the new Norwalk Park and Recreation superintendent, following a "grueling" process that included a problem-solving exercise, interviews and assessments, Mayor Sue Lesch said.
Lesch said Lindenberger outshined the other candidates by a long shot. He became the new superintendent effective Friday, replacing Ken Leber, who retired after 32 years with the department.
Lindenberger will be the third superintendent in 35 years.
"That's pretty incredible," Lesch said.
As superintendent, Lesch said Lindenberger will oversee a department with nine full-time employees and about 75 part-timers. As the recreation director, Lindenberger said he oversaw a staff of about 100, mostly seasonal help including umpires, referees and scorekeepers.
Sixty people applied for the position, including two from Norwalk, Lesch said. She and a panel interviewed six candidates by phone and four in person. Lindenberger was the unanimous choice, Lesch said.
The panel included Norwalk Safety-Service Director Linda Hebert, Norwalk Public Works Director Josh Snyder and park board members Patti Arlin-Smith and Jim Hagemeyer.
Lindenberger has worked in the department for 22 years. He served as the department's recreation coordinator until 1998, when he became recreation director. He graduated from Monroeville High School in 1989 and Bowling Green State University in 1994, with a sports management degree.
Lindenberger said he is "optimistic, tickled pink, ecstatic and relieved" that Lesch hired him as the new superintendent.
While Lindenberger's salary is not set, it will involve steps ranging from $53,000 to $60,000, Lesch said.
Lesch stressed that Lindenberger's hiring came after a process.
"I do not believe in coronations," the mayor said. "I have always, always had a process."
Lesch said her process for hiring department heads has always included assembling a team to conduct interviews.
For this search, Lesch took Hebert up on her suggestion to include park board members. Lesch added they know what issues the park and recreation department faces.
The hiring process included an hour-and-a-half interview for each candidate. Lesch called it an "experiential" interview, one that included a question asking candidates to consider a scenario and how they reacted. Lesch said the question allowed interviewers to ascertain how candidates dealt with a difficult situation -- such as an irate citizen entering the Ernsthausen Community Center and demanding to speak to someone.
Candidates for the position also took a management assessment, inquiring about their managerial style.
"Joe did exceptionally well on the management assessment," Lesch said.
Lindenberger said he respects the interview process and feels better knowing he had to compete for it.
Candidates craved the position, Lesch said. Some could not believe the quality of the facilities the city has, she added.
Lesch said people were pressing her to hire Lindenberger.
"Joe needed to prove to me he's the best candidate," the mayor said.
Lindenberger, 40, lives in rural Norwalk with his wife, Brandy. Between the two, they have seven children, ages 5 to 14.