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Willmar, Minn., mayor considers request to make appointments to city-county work group

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WILLMAR — Willmar Mayor Frank Yanish said he will consider a request from Kandiyohi County Board of Commissioners Chairman Harlan Madsen to appoint two council members, along with City Administrator Charlene Stevens, to serve on a work group to explore joint opportunities with the county.

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Madsen made the request in a letter dated Tuesday to Stevens. Madsen said two commissioners and County Administrator Larry Kleindl would also serve.

"I feel pretty good about this one,'' Yanish said before he read Madsen's letter at the Tuesday night City Council meeting.

The letter concluded by saying that maintaining the status quo is not appropriate nor realistic in a changing world and said both entities "must forge ahead with research, discussion and good planning to position ourselves as a vibrant regional center for our future.''

"Where have I heard that before,'' Yanish said. "I think we've talked about that.''

Yanish asked City Clerk-Treasurer Kevin Halliday if immediate action was needed. Halliday said Yanish could make the appointment now.

Yanish said he would wait and think about it and make a good decision.

Council member Denis Anderson asked for clarification on how the council's Aug. 20 vote of 5-3 to stick with the present organizational structure affects Madsen's request.

"If this is looking at possibly making job combination, job changes and things like that, we just passed a motion a week ago and we talked about it here briefly. But we're going to stay with the organizational chart that we have. How can we — and I think we should — but how do we get around the motion that we're not going to make any changes?'' Anderson asked.

"I think we have a problem. I think we're going to have to look at that and I suggest it go to committee to look at it and come up with some sort of solution to that because I think with the motion that we passed, our workforce and our structure is set,'' Anderson said.

Yanish said he did not think the motion would be all inclusive in not working with the county.

Anderson asked City Attorney Robert Scott for clarification.

Scott said it was a council policy matter and council members could change their mind.

"You did take a vote at the last meeting to stick with the current organizational chart,'' he said. "But there's nothing to preclude the council from taking a different vote if it determines that that's the direction it wants to go at a future meeting.''

"I'm all for it,'' Anderson said.

In 2010, city and county officials discussed possibly merging their assessing departments. But no merger decisions were reached.

In other business, the council approved a request from the Labor Relations Committee to increase the number of paid on-call firefighters from 35 to 40. The motion at the committee meeting to increase the roster was made by Ron Christianson and seconded by Anderson

During the committee meeting, Fire Chief Gary Hendrickson discussed the challenges of staffing a volunteer department and potential retirements in the next two to three years and proposed increasing the allowed roster to 40 firefighters.

The allowed maximum is 5 below the maximum allowed 13 years ago. In 2000, the approved number was 45. That number dropped in 2009 when about 14 firefighters quit due to retirements or deferred retirements. Following that exodus, the council agreed on a staffing level of 35.

In other business, the council approved a Labor Committee recommendation to fill a vacancy created by a promotion in the Public Works Department. Stevens had said that two internal promotions had occurred for public works superintendent, as well as working foreman, resulting in a vacancy for an operator. Stevens recommended the position be filled in order to fully staff the department.

During the committee meeting, Christianson made a motion, seconded by Anderson, to fill the vacancy.

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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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