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Consultant: Council has control over the direction Willmar, Minn., goes in

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WILLMAR — The success or desire by an organization to make changes will come from the top, says a consultant assessing the Willmar city government’s organizational structure.

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As the top elected body, the City Council has “tremendous responsibility in this process and the tone that’s set and energy that’s given toward it,’’ says Dr. Richard Fursman, president of Brimeyer Fursman of Maplewood.

Fursman, a former administrator and manager, was hired by the Willmar City Council last month to address future concerns and position the city for effective decision-making and action.

Fursman has already met with each of the eight council members. Also, he will meet March 11-12 and March 18-21 with department heads, supervisors and line employees, according to City Administrator Charlene Stevens.

She said Fursman is in the participatory assessment phase during which he will talk to officials, staff and other stakeholders about city services and delivery of those services. This phase also includes obtaining feedback from the community.

According to Fursman, research and his own experience show that projects are more successful with active participation and also that ownership by employees, the council and the community increases.

Fursman will start with the planning, engineering and public works departments because the city has not filled the vacant engineer position and officials are looking at some alternatives to restructure that position, according to Stevens.

“I had asked him to start there. I felt that maybe there was an opportunity to look at some things differently there,’’ Stevens said.

Fursman will present a final report by the end of June. Stevens agrees with Fursman who said the study is off to a good start.

“I’m pleased with the start of the project and pleased with the timeframes that he has developed,’’ Stevens said.

Fursman outlined for the council Monday night the process he’s using. He said an organization can make all the structural changes it wants. But if the culture doesn’t support it, it’s going to fail.

“It also will fail if we don’t use everybody. I think it’s critical that throughout the process when I talk about feedback, I’m also going to the staff for solutions. I think staff is going to be fully engaged and you’re going to be fully engaged in order for it to be effective,’’ he said.

Fursman said there’s an opportunity to come together more on some controversial issues.

“I don’t mean you have to vote identically on these things,’’ he said. “I’ve been with a lot of organizations, a lot of boards, both private companies, nonprofit and councils, that don’t vote unanimously on issues. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I don’t think we always want to be in lock step. But when we do have controversial issues, I’m hearing from you as a group that it would be nice at least to come together on some of those.’’

Fursman said not all council members would agree with all of his comments.

“Most people want to get a sense that we move beyond some of the issues that tend to anchor us and free us from those decisions, free us from mistakes and disagreements,’’ he said.

Fursman said most agree the relationship with the community is very good. But he said relationships have been strained with the business community and the press.

“If we’re going to have a strong economic development strategy when attracting business when speaking with residents, these partnerships are critical,’’ he said.

Regarding the press, Fursman said council members feel that they don’t always see things eye-to-eye when it comes to how the council is reported.

“We feel like we have a pretty good product that we put out: we’re proud of our community, we feel pretty good about the work that staff does, we feel good about our position in the state and region. We think we have a bright future,’’ Fursman said.

“This is the message I’m hearing from you. It’s not always reflected in how we’re being reported. You wouldn’t pick up that sense all the time,’’ he said.

Another opportunity is opening lines of communication with staff, giving consistent direction, conveying a unified message of where the city is going and that administration and staff understand their role in it.

Fursman said he will look for duplication of services and areas where services or staff could be shared and efficiencies found.

Also, Fursman urged the council to allow staff to be innovative and become a better, stronger team. He said many ideas are going to come directly from staff.

“I think an important message that I’m hearing from a number of you is that while we don’t want screw-up after screw-up, we want people that take chances in their jobs when they’re experimenting with new ideas to take some opportunities to do some things differently,’’ he said.

“Right now, there isn’t a sense that we’re a bonded team, probably. … Not that we’re going to agree on everything, but if we were a bonded team and at least identify where we want to go together, this organization would be unbeatable.’’

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David Little
David Little covers the Willmar City Council, Willmar Municipal Utilities and other city news.
(320) 235-1150
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