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Council sets Dec. 19 hearing for amendments to Willmar, Minn., charter

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WILLMAR -- It was October 2008 when the Willmar City Council formed the Charter Commission with the task of revisiting and proposing amendments to the charter -- the city's governing document.

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"We are approaching the end of that process,'' Shawn Mueske, chairman of the nine-member commission, told the City Council this week.

Mueske said an ordinance amending the charter has been written, proofed and is ready for council consideration. He requested the council set a date for a public hearing on the ordinance and the council approved the request. The hearing will be conducted Dec. 19.

One amendment highlighted by Mueske was the preamble.

"We added a preamble,'' he said. "Most charter cities see the charter as like a constitution and most have a preamble, so we found one that we we're all very comfortable with.''

Mueske said section 2 under the preamble describes the form of government, which states "The City of Willmar intends to follow the form of government known as the 'weak mayor-council' form.''

"We have never claimed our form of government. We have done that using the language that is out there of weak mayor-strong council,'' he said.

Mueske said the charter adds descriptions of the duties of the city administrator and city attorney, most of which were taken directly out of the ordinance that created those positions.

"Both are memorialized in the charter,'' he said.

One amendment directs the council to adopt the Minnesota Mayors' Association Rules of Order for City Councils. Previously, the charter directed the council to adopt its own rules and order of business.

"We did add that in. That is a change that we talked about at great length that is an amendable set of rules and struck out the wording that the council had the prerogative to adopt its own rules and order of business,'' said Mueske. "And when there isn't one, we thought there should be a default and that is what we placed in there.''

Another amendment revises some of the powers and duties of the mayor to conform to what is currently being practiced, such as describing the annual budget as "the Mayor's'' annual budget and requiring city personnel to submit information needed to discharge the budget duty; and adding language regarding recommendations of the city administrator that may be suggested to keep the council advised of the city's financial condition.

One amendment retains the Park and Leisure Services Board.

""We thought it was important to maintain that and we've had some discussions about that in the past,'' said Mueske.

Another amendment requires a super majority of six rather than five council members to override actions of the Rice Memorial Hospital Board and the Municipal Utilities Commission. Neither the hospital board nor utilities commission requested the super majority, according to City Clerk-Treasurer Kevin Halliday.

"You'll recall that about a year into our work, there was a request to strike the veto authority,'' said Mueske. "That has not been the position of our commission for the last year and a half. But moving the veto authority from five to six puts it the same as the other mentions of veto throughout the document.''

Council member Ron Christianson thanked Mueske and asked if the commission intends to present the ordinance all at once rather than in sections.

Mueske said the commission discussed the request and was advised that it probably should be submitted all together instead of in separate sections because each one would have been a separate publication.

Christianson said he opposes four or five amendments and he reminded everyone that council approval of the amendments requires an affirmative vote of all eight council members. If one or more does not agree with it, the commission has the option of sending the ordinance to the public for a vote, he said.

Halliday said the vote must take place during a general election.

Two of the amendments opposed by Christianson are the super majority and the Mayors Association Rules of Order. He thinks there are one or two other council members who feel the same way.

In an interview, he said there is more council accountability with an override of five rather than six.

Also, he said the Mayors Association rules were written for statutory cities.

"We're not a statutory city. We're a charter city. We decided to have our own constitution to run by and we don't need those rules,'' he said. "We can run our meetings without having this book of rules.''

The charter was last reviewed in 1993.

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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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