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Willmar, Minn., City Council keeps status quo; does not act on study's organizational recommendations

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Willmar, Minn., City Council keeps status quo; does not act on study's organizational recommendations
Willmar Minnesota 2208 Trott Ave. SW / P.O. Box 839 56201

WILLMAR -- A majority of Willmar City Council members discussed but did not act during a special Tuesday night session on any recommendations in a consultant's $25,000 organizational study that a minority of council members said would create operational efficiencies.

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Instead, council members voted 5-3 on a motion offered by Ron Christianson and seconded by Jim Dokken to continue with the present organizational structure, but hire a city engineer and assistant engineer, fill the vacant survey technician position and discuss the possibility of a joint human resources position with the Municipal Utilities.

City Administrator Charlene Stevens said she has had those discussions with the utility and she did not think the utility was ready for a fully shared position at this time.

Council members voting in favor were Christianson, Dokken, Tim Johnson, Rick Fagerlie and Steve Ahmann.

Voting against were Denis Anderson, Audrey Nelsen and Bruce DeBlieck.

Mayor Frank Yanish asked Stevens what was to be accomplished.

Stevens said she wanted direction to move forward with filling the vacant positions. She said the city has delayed filling the vacancies as the city went through the study and stretched staff about as far as possible while waiting for the council to decide.

In late June, Richard Fursman of Brimeyer Fursman of Maplewood provided the council with his final report and restructuring recommendations. The council decided to have a further work session to discuss options and recommendation.

The restructuring options were divided into two parts: external services and internal services. Each part had two options.

External services focused on public works, planning and development, facilities maintenance, and engineering and wastewater treatment. Police and fire were also reviewed, but did not receive a lot of attention and there were no recommendations.

Of the two external services options, Stevens recommended Option A, which would create a community services director that would oversee the planning and development, public works, facilities, engineering, and wastewater treatment departments.

The option included filling the vacant engineering position and vacant engineering tech position. The engineer position would become a first-line supervisor position rather than a department director.

Also recommended was creation of a facilities maintenance supervisor. The option included filling a vacant engineering tech position that has been filled by contract for 2013, but which has not produced the desired results.

Stevens said her recommendation would create one coordinated division with a common mission. Employees would work better as a team, the city would gain some efficiencies and cross-training of staff and some coordination of efforts.

Ahmann said a job description, duties and responsibilities for the community services director were needed first before creating the position. Ahmann said the city engineer took care of all those duties.

"Who knows better about facilities and operations than a city engineer?'' he asked. "Seems backwards to me.'' He said the present system has been working fine for years.

Anderson said the city needs a city engineer that can do engineering work rather administrative and some supervisory work. Anderson said the council should strive to be better. He said the status quo is not where the city needs to be.

Stevens said the city has not had an assistant city engineer for the past two years after the position was vacated and was eliminated previously in the budget. Stevens said the engineer had served as public works director, which required the engineer to spend most of the time supervising and managing staff and not doing engineering.

Dokken said he wanted a defined mission statement and job descriptions and duties and responsibilities.

DeBlieck questioned why job descriptions would be written for positions under the different options that the city might not even fill. He favored looking at the the basic structure and then write job descriptions.

Christianson described the options as creating centralized power and making top-heavy government. He said the present structure has worked for years. He felt the council was "bullied'' into the study "by outside forces within the city that are trying to run the city behind our backs and I don't like it.''

He said the city needs to hire an engineer and assistant engineer "and get the department up to speed.''

Nelsen urged the council to look at the big picture. She said work isn't being done like it was 20 years ago nor is it going to be done like was done 10 years in the future.

"I think we should be brave enough to look at this and say, it may be time to do something different, have faith, to look forward, have some trust. This is a team we're looking at creating,'' she said.

Regarding Christianson's bullied comment, Nelsen said the council decided to go ahead and then stopped. "That might be your opinion but I don't believe it's the opinion of this community nor the people who participated in this study,'' she said.

Johnson said the city needs a human resources director and explore sharing that position with the utility.

After approving Christianson's motion, the council did not discuss the second part of the study dealing with internal services, which focused on finance, information technology, city clerk-treasurer functions, and human resources management.

Under that option, the city would initially hire a human resources director. With almost 100 full-time equivalents and four labor union contracts, the city handles personnel matters in a fragmented manner, said Stevens.

The council did not discuss internal services because Christianson's motion removed the need to discuss creating a human resources director and the meeting was adjourned.

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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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