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Willmar, Minn., Council gives city administrator favorable job performance evaluation

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WILLMAR — After one year and eight months on the job, City Administrator Charlene Stevens has received a favorable job performance evaluation from the Willmar City Council.

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Voting in favor of the evaluation Monday were Steve Ahmann, Jim Dokken, Denis Anderson, Ron Christianson, Audrey Nelsen, Bruce DeBlieck, Tim Johnson and Rick Fagerlie.

The evaluation was recommended by the council’s Labor Relations Committee, which met in closed session last month to evaluate Stevens.

Ahmann, committee chair, said the City Charter requires a summary of the evaluation conclusions be reported at the next open council meeting following the closed session.

Ahmann said Stevens did not request the committee meeting be open to the public, which is allowed under the Minnesota Open Meeting Law. As a result, the session was closed.

The law allows the council to close a meeting to conduct employee performance evaluations.

The law requires closed meetings, except those closed under attorney/client privilege, must also be recorded and preserved.

Ahmann provided a brief summary of the conclusions.

“Ms. Stevens is performing the duties as required as city administrator,’’ read Ahmann. After he read the report, the council voted to file the minutes of the report.

The committee met April 24 for 3 hours and 27 minutes, but Stevens was not present during much of the discussion because the meeting was disorganized and members were not prepared to begin the discussion with her, according to sources wishing to remain anonymous.

They say Stevens did not attend the entire meeting but divided the first 90 minutes to 2 hours attending the gateways open house being held that night in the upstairs conference room and waiting in her office until the committee was ready to meet with her.

Ahmann asked where the Tribune obtained its information. Ahmann said all that information is confidential. Ahmann said he would not respond to the question or any other questions about what happened during the meeting.

“None of that stuff is supposed to be discussed,’’ he said.

Stevens’ first day on the job was Aug. 1, 2011, replacing Michael Schmit, who retired July 31, 2011. Stevens’ contract, signed June 1, 2011, states she and the council would mutually agree on the evaluation process, form, criteria and format for the annual performance review.

To that end, Ahmann and Dokken, vice chair, met with Stevens and they came to a mutual understanding about the process.

However, the council voted 4-4 April 1 with Mayor Frank Yanish casting the tie-breaking vote in support of a motion that overturned that process in favor of using a printed form on file at the City Offices that had been used to evaluate Schmit.

Ahmann supported the contract and voted against the motion.

“They decided that they just wanted to make it simple and go back to the same process we did before,’’ Ahmann said in an interview Monday morning.

Ahmann said the previous form was not detailed. He said it was “the same form, same everything’’ that the committee used with Schmit.

Ahmann served as Labor Committee chair from 2009 through 2012, and since being reelected to the council in last November’s general election continues to serve as chair because, as he says, “nobody else wanted it.’’

Ahmann was chair when the committee evaluated Schmit. Ahmann said much of that process and the evaluation forms had already been set up by Schmit and the council when Ahmann joined the council.

Ahmann said Schmit would be excused and committee members would talk among themselves. Schmit would then return to the meeting and the meeting would be adjourned.

“We followed the same procedure as what was done with Mick Schmit,’’ said Ahmann. “That’s what the council voted on, so I did exactly what the council wanted.’’

The committee minutes list Ahmann, Dokken, Anderson, Christianson, Nelsen, DeBlieck and Johnson as present, along with Yanish and Stevens. Fagerlie was absent.

According to the minutes, the meeting was called to order at 4:45 p.m. The meeting was closed at 4:48 p.m., and reopened and adjourned at 8:09 p.m.

Ahmann had no comment when the Tribune asked if the committee’s meeting length was a typical length of time for previous evaluations.

“I can’t divulge anything,’’ Ahmann said.

Ahmann said he was “up for change’’ and had options for evaluation forms. When the Tribune asked what the future process might be, Ahmann said the committee will be discussing different processes.

Ahmann said he thinks there is room for improvement. Ahmann said he contacted the League of Minnesota Cities and obtained forms that he thought were much better than Willmar’s. But he said the council decided to go back to the old forms.

“We’ve got time to work on it,’’ he said. “I think we can improve on the process a little bit, on the form. That’s quite obvious because I tried to change the process and the form.’’

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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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