With an extensive military background and previous experience serving as a tribal administrator in California, retired U.S. Army Lt. Col. Brian D. Winningham sets his sights on uniting the City of Dickinson as the new city administrator and has remarked his first week as “incredible.”
“I’m truly excited about this opportunity. I think that I am prepared and the time and place is perfect,” Winningham said.
Winningham began his new role as the chief administrative officer on Monday and is looking forward to addressing issues facing the citizens of Dickinson now and into the future.
“I think we have a great city government right now. I think we have incredible employees. The people that I’ve met here are very resilient. Most people are really happy that they live here which is really a good sign and so, I want to be a part of that,” Winningham said. “As far as what I see as the next event arising challenge, I don’t know. This is my first week and I’m doing my best to try to find out where I can fit in and how I can immediately help. It’s going to take some time.”
Originally from California, Winningham began his military career by enlisting in the U.S. Army in 1989 and graduated in May 1994 from Point Loma Nazarene University and San Diego University ROTC. He was commissioned a 2nd Lieutenant in the infantry. While also in the military, Winningham graduated with a bachelor’s degree in religion and philosophy and completed his master’s in national security and strategic studies at the U.S. Naval War College in Newport, R.I.
Winningham’s service ranges from commanding the 720th Ordnance Company (EOD) Mannheim, Germany, to deploying multiple teams in support of Operation Enduring Freedom including commanding EOD forces during Operation Avid Recovery, in Lagos, Nigeria. Finally culminating his career, Winningham served in the Office of the Secretary of Defense at the Pentagon as the Chief of EOD Policy and Mine Action, and completed a Congressional Fellowship, serving as legislative affairs officer on Capitol Hill.
Winningham noted that his previous experience as a tribal administrator for the Tule River Tribe of California prepared him for his role in a smaller city, in which he led 26 tribal departments and 35 director level managers on behalf of the nine-member tribal council. His role as the tribal administrator for the second largest tribe in California presented various difficulties, owed in part to its remoteness as a city surrounded by mountains and 58,000 acres of forest.
“All those experiences throughout my time in the military serving in foreign embassies and our U.S. embassies has put me in a good position to handle problems and to solve problems and to help people, and that is now my new mission — which is the mission of the City of Dickinson, is to celebrate small town values, promoting opportunity, enhancing quality of life. I believe in that,” Winningham said, adding that he hopes to be here for a long time to make a difference.
While already thinking about relocating to the northern Midwest, Winningham knew that he wanted to settle in a small or medium-sized city and began looking for an opportunity from Idaho to Wyoming for government leadership roles. When the city administrator position for Dickinson popped up on the radar, the emblem of the City of Dickinson initially drew Winningham to apply for the position. Intrigued by western culture and heritage, Winningham had a feeling the western edge would be the right fit for his background and family.
“The best surprise is not knowing what you’re going to really see once you get here over periods of time. And so over the last two weeks, I’ve got to experience … the secret of the country right now. I think Dickinson is really a jewel that is unknown,” he said.
Among the contemporary challenges facing the western gateway of North Dakota, the coronavirus pandemic has certainly altered the way people do business. Winningham understands the importance of listening to the people so as to not overstep as a government but also work as a team, caring for one another, he noted.
“... For a large part of the population, it can be deadly. For some, it can just be a really bad sickness. For some, it hasn’t been so bad,” he said, explaining, “so you have to be aware of that and you have to serve the citizens the best we can even though we have to keep ourselves protected and protect others from the pandemic.”
The recommendations he will bring to the commission will have to weigh the opposing views on how to best handle the ongoing pandemic in Dickinson while balancing the rights of its citizens. His leadership experience in guiding the direction of the City Commission will be a challenge, but one that Winningham believes he prepared adequately for.
“It’s not difficult to follow orders because I’ve done it for the last 30 years in the military career. So I think relationships are one of the most important things that you can foster. If you don’t have relationships with people and you aren’t agreeable, … your work life becomes more miserable and I do not want that to happen for anyone,” he said.
Though Winningham has only been in Dickinson for a short period of time, he and his wife Poppy Simmeramn of Porterville, Calif., and their four children have high expectations and goals for the city.
“My heart is to absolutely take care of people. So I don’t know about other city administrators but I would say for me, my strength has always been to take care of people, understand their story and then try to fit where I can either solve problems or support them being better. Meaning, I like other people to be the heroes of their story,” he said, adding, “I would hope that somebody around me feels the same way. But I can’t expect other people to act the way I do unless I model it.”
With an air of optimism, Winningham will be officially sworn in at the Dickinson City Commission meeting at City Hall at 5 p.m. Dec. 15.