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Somali merchants, told to vacate downtown mall, seek Willmar, Minn., City Council help

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WILLMAR -- Spokesmen for Somali merchants who must vacate their leased space in the eastern portion of the downtown Centre Point Mall because the building has been sold have asked Mayor Frank Yanish and the City Council for any possible assistance.

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Yusaf Ahmed, director of the African Development Center in Willmar, and community leader Abdi Duh asked Yanish and council members if the elected officials could talk to the bank which is selling the building to extend the Sept. 30 deadline for vacating the premises and help business owners find new locations.

The business owners received a letter Aug. 16 from Citizens Alliance Bank of Clara City that the bank had sold the building and was terminating the tenants' leases. The name of the new owner has not been disclosed.

Ahmed and Duh spoke during the open forum portion of Monday night's council meeting. They and four business owners attended.

Ahmed said the sale was unexpected. "This is like a bombshell,'' said Ahmed. He said the community has a good number of small businesses that have to move. He asked Yanish and council members to ask the bank to give the business owners more time.

He said Somalis are by nature entrepreneurs.

"They work hard, promote business and try to play by the rules,'' he said. "We are law-abiding people. We work hard. We try to integrate into the community.''

Yanish asked Ahmed how much time they need. Ahmed said he didn't know.

Council member Ron Christianson said it was unfortunate the business owners had only month-to-month leases. He said government is not here to intervene in a private matter. Christianson suggested the business owners talk to the rumored new owner. Christianson also said he would talk to the new owner if he knew who it was, but he did not know if he would have any influence on them.

City Attorney Robert Scott said the issue is a community concern, and the council and staff could do some outreach to the new owner and advocate for a better outcome.

"But there is nothing the city can do to mandate that,'' he said.

Council member Steve Ahmann suggested the business owners talk to Steve Renquist, director of the Kandiyohi County and City of Willmar Economic Development Commission, and Bruce Peterson, city director of planning and development, about programs that might help.

In other business Monday, the council approved an application submitted by Robert Enos of Willmar to the Charter Commission. City Clerk-Treasurer Kevin Halliday said the commission has two vacancies created by the resignations of Audrey Nelsen who was elected to the council last fall and John Sullivan who moved out of state.

City Administrator Charlene Stevens said the application will be submitted to the chief district judge who makes the appointments. Nelsen said the Charter Commission has submitted two names of its own to the judge.

Enos already serves on the Economic Development Commission. His appointment by Yanish to that body was confirmed by the council.

Council member Denis Anderson asked Yanish if city policy allows an individual to serve on more than one committee.

Yanish said that Enos will resign from the EDC if he is appointed to the Charter Commission.

Halliday said the policy is unwritten but has been adhered to a hundred percent. ''I believe if they are under the full control of the council, we do not do that,'' he said.

Christianson indicated he does not like unwritten policies.

"So we do have unwritten policies,'' he said. "I brought one up at the finance meeting about reviewing the (capital improvement program) before any monies got spent. I believe that's an unwritten policy also, but we'll talk about that later.''

Anderson said the council can easily resolve the policy issue by referring it to a committee.

"There is no urgency but at some time we can talk about it,'' he said.

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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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