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Editorial: Willmar leadership hurts city

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opinion Willmar, 56201
West Central Tribune
(320) 235-6769 customer support
Willmar Minnesota 2208 Trott Ave. SW / P.O. Box 839 56201

The dysfunction of the Willmar City Council and Mayor Frank Yanish is continuing and is a problem for this community.

The West Central Tribune criticized the City Council and Yanish in September and called on them to start acting appropriately and demonstrate the critical forward thinking leadership this regional center city needs and deserves.

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This has not happened and, in fact, has gotten worse. Frankly, dysfunction and inappropriate comments have become the "new normal" of this City Council. They include:

Councilman Ron Christianson is quick to criticize or ridicule fellow council members, city staff, business leaders and/or community members. Yet he gets angry when his actions are questioned and criticized, often seeking to bully his critics.

Christianson allegedly called one Willmar business leader "evil" recently during a personal conversation with a third-party.

Christianson allegedly has criticized city staff and leaders stating he does not "trust" the individuals or city leadership, when he is part of the city's leadership.

He often criticizes the downtown improvement efforts, but then "flip flopped" into micromanagement by criticizing the downtown group for eliminating flower plantings for budget reasons after the City Council cut its budget this year.

Councilman Jim Dokken often views his role more as a micromanager within the city of Willmar; instead of a policymaker which should be his role. He says City Council knows best to manage the city of Willmar, rather its managers.

Dokken often proclaims the need for the city to innovate and prepare for a "new normal" of government. Yet he recently voted against the idea to invest in a consultant to review the city of Willmar's organizational structure, similar to recent studies conducted by the Kandiyohi County and the Willmar Municipal Utilities Commission.

Despite his rhetorical call for more government cooperation and collaboration, Dokken recently voted against city participation in a proposed Vision 2040 project to study future needs of Willmar and its various government and private entities. A similar project called Vision 2020 occurred in 1999 and 2000, which led to identification and action on critical community issues.

This "do nothing" faction here often takes up the bully role, believing that an obstructionist "no" is the only answer, rather than working toward viable alternatives.

Christianson and Dokken were joined this summer by Councilman Steve Ahmann in opposing the Southwest Minnesota Housing Partnership's $3.6 million redevelopment proposal.

Christianson said simply "doing nothing is not going to do any harm."

That sounds like a broken pearl of wisdom. It appears to be more like retribution on Christianson's and Dokken's part as they failed to defeat the partnership's Westwind project, which was successfully built and created a new neighborhood in southwest Willmar.

It is unfortunate that Council members Tim Johnson and Ahmann on occasion appear to be unduly influenced by the "do nothing" faction and follow their dysfunctional patter. Often times, these individuals cannot separate their own personal or political roles from their City Council role. In fact, Johnson recently supported the city's proposed organization study in committee before he voted against it after the issue came before the City Council.

Ahmann told an city employee earlier this summer that if the individual was his employee, the individual would be fired.

Mayor Frank Yanish recently complained to multiple individuals about not being invited to a specific Willmar-related meeting. The mayor later apologized for his inappropriate response, especially after finding the invitation in his mail.

Yanish and some council members simply tend to blame the messenger when individuals or this newspaper raise criticisms, attributing it to a city-wide conspiracy against the city's leadership. Often members of their political support group put on their rose-colored glasses and quickly jump to the council and mayor's defense.

The "do nothings" and associates fail to look in the mirror and hold their own behaviors to the same standard they demand of city staff and others within the community.

The growing dysfunction of Willmar's leadership is hurting our community and its image with other local government and business leaders locally, regionally and around the state. This can become counterproductive to the city's well-being and hurt future business development.

This City Council needs to reform its behavior and its leadership.

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