City Council responds to proposals of the Charter Commission
WILLMAR -- Most Willmar City Council members believe the mayor should retain the power to veto council action on ordinances and resolution.
Council members made their thoughts known during discussion Wednesday about a Charter Commission proposal to extend the time period from 96 hours (four days) to seven days during which the city clerk must present to the mayor a record of the proceedings of any adjourned council meeting.
No change is being proposed to the following seven-day time period in which the mayor can approve or veto council action.
City Clerk-Treasurer Kevin Halliday said seven-day period needed to prepare the council minutes "is what is happening now.''
The charter, besides giving veto power to the mayor, gives the council the power to override a mayoral veto by the affirmative vote of six of the council's eight members.
The discussion about extending the time period devolved into whether the mayor should have any veto power at all. Council members Denis Anderson, Doug Reese and Steve Ahmann supported the veto power.
Council member Jim Dokken said he did not support the mayoral veto. Ron Christianson said Willmar has a strong council-weak mayor form of government and he questioned why the mayor should have veto power.
Mayor Les Heitke said he favored the seven-day decision period. He proposed specifying seven "business days'' to provide time to research issues. Heitke said he used the veto twice during 16 years as mayor.
Council and commission members discussed major charter changes during a nearly 90-minute meeting at the Fire Station. The commission asked the council to provide feedback about proposed charter changes.
Since its first meeting in March 2009, the commission has been studying and proposing modifications that would bring charter language into conformance with present city practices, and proposing changes suggested by council members, the mayor and organizations that participated in the discussion.
Commission Chairman Bob Bonawitz said members received some good feedback. Unfortunately, the commission probably needs much more time to go through all suggested changes.
"But I think this was a profitable evening,'' he said after the meeting.
The commission is proposing the charter require the council appoint a chief city administrative officer who shall be called the city administrator, with powers and duties spelled out. The appointment is in conformance with current city operations.
Among other things, the change would remove the council's power to hire, discipline and remove department heads. Bonawitz said the revisions were based on conversations with the mayor and council members.
Anderson favored the idea of the administrator having the power to hire and fire and run the staff. Christianson said he thinks voters want the council to have the final authority to hire, fire and discipline.
Commission member Joe Thompson cautioned the council against "micromanaging'' the city.
Commission member Audrey Nelsen said the commission wanted the charter to reflect the way the city currently operates.
Another change proposes the council adopt the Minnesota Mayors Association Rules of Order for City Councils. The charter requires the council to adopt its own rules and order of business, but no rules and order of business have been adopted.
An attorney for the League of Minnesota Cities, who was asked by the council in July to review several charter changes, said Roberts Rules and other commercially available rules of order have provisions that conflict with state statues, which the attorney said may create confusion and disrupt proceedings if the charter mandates their use.
The attorney noted the Mayors Association rules "comports with Minnesota law.''
Bonawitz said the commission felt that requiring the rules made sense.
On another issue, council members said they did not support the commission's proposal to remove the Municipal Utilities Commission from the council's overriding power. They said taxpayers are responsible for the solvency of the utilities, along with the city-owned Rice Hospital.
The commission is not recommending council's overriding authority be removed from the hospital board. Bonawitz said the utility's major concern for requesting more autonomy was the inability to determine salaries.
Presently, officials from the city, utility and Rice Hospital meet in closed session to discuss salary negotiations.
Commission members suggested the council and utilities commission work on improving communication between the two groups.
Council member Doug Reese thanked resident John Sullivan for suggesting over a year ago that the commission be revived, and Reese thanked commission members for their service. Commissioners are appointed by the district court.