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Willmar, Minn., mayor offers option for combined city-county-utilities human resources department

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WILLMAR -- Willmar Mayor Frank Yanish has posted a "white paper" on the city of Willmar's website in which Yanish proposes a third alternative to two options suggested in a consultant's organizational assessment of the city.

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Yanish is proposing what he calls Option C, under which the city, the Willmar Municipal Utilities and Kandiyohi County develop a single human resources management department. Yanish said neither the utilities nor the city uses a "professional human resources management group.'' Find the study at this link: http://bit.ly/19qr0yU

Yanish says the white paper was written with participation of an ad hoc group of roughly eight individuals whose expertise, the mayor said, includes business and industry, government, finance and organizational development. He refused to name the members of his advisory group.

Yanish says a consolidated human resources program, shared by the three entities, would produce a savings to city and county taxpayers of approximately $400,000. He did not explain how he arrived at that figure.

Yanish says Options A and B proposed in the organizational assessment being conducted by Brimeyer-Fursman of Maplewood would cost city taxpayers about $200,000 a year. Those two options explore creating a new position or realigning a current position to oversee "external services" provided to taxpayers, such as public works, planning, etc.

The Tribune asked Yanish on Tuesday to identify the individuals in his ad hoc advisory group. Yanish said he first wanted to check with the members, saying he did not want to release their names without their approval. After checking with a couple of people and after thinking it over further, Yanish said he had no comment about the members of his advisory group.

Yanish said the human resources proposal is a starting point.

"If we're going to save money, we have to start collaborating with the county and state and wherever we can to make sure we can keep up the service that the constituents are used to,'' he said.

The mayor said he is taking comments from the public at fyanish@willmarmn.gov.

Kandiyohi County Administrator Larry Kleindl said he heard about Yanish's proposal by reading it on the city's website last week when the white paper was first posted publicly.

"We're reading it just like anybody else," said Kleindl in an interview last week. Kleindl sent messages to the county commissioners as soon as he saw the proposal to give them a heads-up.

Yanish said he has since talked to County Board Chairman Harlan Madsen, and that Madsen told him that the issue would be raised at the next county meeting.

The county and city have discussed other collaboration options in the past, and the county is interested in being "at the table" as a "good collaborative partner," Kleindl said.

But Kleindl said sharing a human resources director has never been discussed and at this point in time is not a viable plan.

The county currently has one HR employee who handles more than 400 employees.

"We're at the max," said Kleindl, who questioned the feasibility of the proposal and the mayor's estimated cost savings.

Kleindl said he also wonders why Yanish didn't talk to the county first before releasing his proposal to the public.

Willmar Municipal Utilities General Manager Wesley Hompe told the Tribune on Tuesday that staff members had looked at the proposal internally. Hompe said a combined human resources function in theory seems like it makes sense, but he said the "devil is in the details.''

Hompe said the subject has come up before. Hompe said he has no idea about the basis for the cost savings.

Hompe said the utility has human resources functions that are provided by utility staff, but he said the utility does not have an HR department.

"We're too small for that,'' he said.

The City Council in February entered into a contract with Brimeyer-Fursman to review the existing organizational structure and identify gaps and/or duplication of services, as well as efficiencies to be gained, and proposed options for a new organizational structure and recommendations on staffing levels, workload and span of control, among other things.

The consultants proposed two options for delivering "external services,'' which are defined as services consistently delivered by city employees to most of the population.

Option A would create the position of external services director. The position would report to the city administrator. Reporting to the external services director would be planning and development, public works, facilities maintenance superintendent, city engineer, wastewater treatment, and community education coordinator.

The study said the external services grouping has a number of interdependent relationships happening on a daily basis. Their missions should be in alignment and they would benefit by working as a cohesive group even more than they are now, the study said.

The study suggested shrinking areas and expanding others. The study highly recommended that all shrinkage occur through attrition or reassignment; otherwise the impact on morale will be devastating.

Option B would instead retain the position of public works director/city engineer with revised responsibilities. The position has been vacant for over a year pending a council decision on selecting an option. Until a decision is made, a staff member was appointed interim public works director and a private engineering firm has been hired to oversee and approve city engineering plans.

The public works/engineer position as defined under Option B would report to the city administrator. The position would be responsible for coordinating the engineering staff, supervising the public works superintendent and the wastewater treatment plant superintendent and overseeing consulting contracts. Community education and recreation and the planning and development departments in this option would continue to report separately to the administrator.

Fursman did not recommend Option B because the public works director would not have much time to do engineering work. The only way a significant amount of engineering could also be done would be for the city to add another civil engineer to the staff to concentrate on that task alone.

Tribune staff writer Carolyn Lange contributed to this story.

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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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