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Utilities Commission says new city attorney should attend meetings

Willmar Utilities Commission President Dave Baker is pictured during Monday's meeting in Willmar. Tribune photo by Gary Miller

WILLMAR -- Willmar Municipal Utilities Commissioners approved a motion Monday stating they want the new city attorney to be present during the commission's twice-a-month meetings.

Longtime City Attorney Rich Ronning will retire March 31 and the City Council has interviewed representatives of a Willmar law firm and a St. Paul law firm that are interested in taking over Ronning's role as city legal advisor as well as city criminal prosecutor on April 1.

Both firms said they would have an attorney present if so desired, although the St. Paul firm said it could also be present via telephone or other electronic means.

The commissioners made their desire known after City Council member Jim Dokken said the commission is accustomed to having Ronning present when his legal opinions are needed, and Dokken asked if the attorney should attend each commission meeting.

Dokken said it might be good for Mayor Frank Yanish and City Administrator Charlene Stevens to hear the commission's thoughts. "You're an important part of our city.'' Dokken said.

Doug Lindblad said it seems to work out well to have Ronning or the attorney present to make a ruling. "It doesn't happen at every meeting, but I think it's nice,'' he said.

Matt Schrupp said representation from the attorney should be present to make sure policies are followed.

Steve Salzer said commissioners "call on Rich quite often, more than we probably realize.''

Bart Murphy, director of water and district heating division who has attended commission meetings the past 26 years, said it's essential that commissioners have legal representation at their meetings, just as at council meetings.

Commission President Dave Baker recommended a motion be included in the minutes to represent the commission's support.