Editorial: A critical need for better city leadership in WIllmar this New Year
Mayor Frank Yanish will address citizens and the Willmar City Council on the state of the city Monday night. It will be interesting to see the mayor’s version of this city’s current affairs and what his vision for the city in 2013 might be.
The question is what will we hear: Yanish’s rose-colored view? His kitchen-cabinet influenced agenda? Will he address the real issues of Willmar? Or will he continue this recent culture of retaliation apparently embraced by the mayor and some members of the council in late 2012.
Monday night will shed some light on the future direction of this mayor and this council for 2013. Citizens should attend or tune in on the public access channel.
Here are some serious issues facing these city leaders in the coming year:
* Leadership — Can Yanish become the mayor this city so badly needs and bring some strategic leadership to the city? Leadership is not just frugal budgeting or being a talking head for an ideology. Nor is it being a “ditto” basher of fellow citizens.
* Be responsible to the citizens — Yanish proudly displays the city’s organizational chart on his city web page listing the council reporting to the city electorate. Councilman Jim Dokken at a recent December meeting also proudly noted the council reports to its citizens. Yet when Willmar citizens and business people recently brought growing concerns to the council’s attention, Yanish and Councilmen Ron Christianson and Steve Ahmann criticized the citizens’ group for bringing their concerns forward and how the concerns were raised. Being an elected official in Willmar carries the responsibility of representing and listening to all citizens, even those who criticize you.
* Transparency — Yanish and Dokken have made transparency a key point of their election campaigns. Yet in recent months, Yanish has been allowing various council members to bring forward new business issues under “Miscellaneous” at the very end of the meeting, without the topics being listed on the agenda. This procedure allows individual council members to ambush fellow council members and citizens on various topics. This strategy also precludes others from being prepared to discuss these new issues. That is not being transparent or forthright.
* True transparency — The last time the council met for organization purposes in 2011, Yanish and the City Council met in a separate room for an hour before the first City Council meeting to discuss and decide an acting mayor designate and appropriate committee assignments. We challenge the mayor and the City Council to sit in the Council Chambers and publically discuss these appointments and vote publically on the acting mayor designation and committee appointments. True transparency is not meeting behind closed doors to make such decisions and then just bringing the decision list to the City Council meeting and rubber stamping that list “approved.”
* Walk your talk — Christianson and others criticized the Moving Willmar Forward citizen group for not bringing their concerns through the council’s committee process. Yet on Dec. 17, Ahmann and Christianson both sought to bring up separate new business issues up directly under “Miscellaneous,” without following the council’s committee process.
* Collaboration — After Yanish’s call in November for more collaboration and cooperation with other government and public entities, city leaders have demonstrated otherwise. After approving funding to participate in the Vision 2040 project in October, Dokken and Ahmann sought to retract the funding. And recently the council approved the mayor’s recommended budget reduction of 50 percent for the West Central Integration Collaborate, a major collaborative integration effort among city and county governments and school districts in the county.
* Culture of retaliation — Recent months have seen a growing culture of retaliation develop toward public individuals and entities that criticize Yanish, individual council members or the council. Kudos go to both council members Denis Anderson and Bruce DeBlieck for raising this retaliation concern last month. It is a legitimate concern.
Here are examples of recent actions that look like retaliation against individuals and/or organizations, who have recently raised criticisms about the council:
— In November, Dokken and Ahmann sought to retract city funding for the proposed community vision project, Vision 2040. This project’s predecessor, Vision 2020, and the current proposal had been coordinated by the Willmar Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce. This action was taken after a city business leader criticized some on the council.
— In early December, the City Council cut $1,000 in funding from the Leadership Perspective program, which has been coordinated for years by the Willmar Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce and trains about 40 community leaders per year. This action was taken after a city business leader criticized some on the council.
— On Dec. 17, Ahmann made a motion seeking five years of financial data from nearly 14 entities that receive city funding and who pay dues to the Willmar Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce. This is after various Willmar-area business individuals and community leaders participated in the Move Willmar Forward effort, which raised concerns about the council.
— On Dec. 17, Christianson made a motion to seek legal bid alternatives to the West Central Tribune. This happened after recent Tribune editorials criticized Yanish, Christianson and other council members.
— Yanish has declined to renominate Willmar Municipal Utilities board chairman Dave Baker for another term. This occurred after Baker participated in the Moving Willmar Forward effort, which raised concerns about the council.
— Yanish, Christianson and Ahmann have been talking individually to entities and businesses questioning their Chamber membership. This happened after a Willmar business leader criticized some on the council.
— Ahmann was offended Dec. 17 that the retaliation question was raised by fellow council members. It is a fair question.
The real question is: What do each of these actions look like to Willmar citizens?
* Be adults — Both Ahmann and Christianson stated they were frustrated that none of the Move Willmar Forward group has spoken individually to them about their concerns and said that they were willing to talked individually with citizens who have concerns. Yet recently Christianson refused invites to attend any meeting with a specific business leader in attendance to discuss concerns because of prior criticisms.
* Be professional — Christianson, who in 2012 called a Willmar business person “evil,” is insulted that a Willmar business leader called some city council members “knuckleheads.” We would suggest one not act so stubbornly and hardheaded to create a “knucklehead” perception of one’s self in public and quit blaming the messenger.
We again commend city council members, like Anderson and DeBlieck, who have sought to do the right thing — specifically what’s best for all in the city of Willmar — and for standing up for Willmar citizens by bravely questioning inappropriate actions. We also thank Yanish and the entire council for their public service as it is not an easy job.
We call on Yanish and all city council members to put aside their personnel feelings and agendas, talk to all citizens when they have concerns, move in good directions, provide solid and strategic leadership, and address the critical needs of this city in 2013.
That is what Willmar citizens want. It is what they deserve in 2013.