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Attempt fails to reconsider Willmar City Council spending oversight

WILLMAR — An attempt by Willmar City Council member Denis Anderson to get the council to reconsider its Sept. 3 decision to increase its oversight of city spending failed Monday night when Mayor Frank Yanish broke a 3-3 vote.

Anderson offered a motion, seconded by Audrey Nelsen, to reconsider the vote made two weeks ago “whereby all expenditures over $10,000 in vehicle equipment replacement program and capital improvement program be presented to the appropriate committee and that these expenditures go to the full council for approval prior to any checks being issued for items in the vehicle equipment replacement program or capital improvement program.’’

Anderson was one of three council members in the minority who voted against the decision to require council approval of expenditures over $10,000. Anderson said he offered his motion because he thought the council was operating with some bad information stated at the previous council meeting.

Anderson said he did not remember any unwritten policy as was previously stated that all expenditures went through a committee first before the money was expended. Anderson said he checked council minutes from 2009 through August 2011 “and didn’t find any mention of any of that sort of thing coming to the committee.’’

Even though it was a period of budget cuts, unallotments and Local Government Aid cuts, Anderson said the city bought five police cars, one police pickup, tow wastewater treatment plant pickups and a tractor. In 2010, he said the city bought 5 police cars, a waste treatment pickup, 2 public works pickups and a truck for the wastewater treatment plant.

Also, Anderson said the statement was incorrect that $200,000 was allocated for downtown gateways for the next five years. He said $200,000 for the next three years was correct.

Council member Ron Christianson, whose motion two weeks ago to increase oversight was approved 4-3, said he recalls many times that the council stands by a previous motion. He didn’t understand Anderson’s motion, other than to claim they were being sore losers.

“They are sore losers,’’ he said. “It’s common sense to have the council review every expenditure over $10,000. It’s common sense.’’

Anderson said the motion was not about winning but is about the city. He was concerned some council members may have made a decision based on incorrect information.

Council member Rick Fagerlie asked what’s wrong with knowing in advance what the city administrator is buying until after it happens. “I just want to know ahead of time what we’re buying.’’

Anderson said the council has a vehicle replacement policy approved by the council.

Nelsen said the council annually approves the capital improvement plan.

“We go through the list and we approve them. It’s at that time we should know why we need it,’’ Nelsen said. “The time to look at it is when we approve the capital improvement plan.’’

Council member Bruce DeBlieck echoed Nelsen’s statement.

“The items are talked about at budget time. It’s our responsibility to know what’s in the budget to be purchased, not to chastise staff after they buy something that we’ve authorized them to purchase.’’

Steve Ahmann asked how items are placed in the plan. Before City Administrator Charlene Stevens came to the city, said Ahmann, items went through the Public Works Committee.

Stevens said the five-year capital improvement plan was started last year and outlined for the council. A staff committee makes recommendations. Stevens said the process was used in 2013 and will be used for 2014.

Anderson called a vote to close debate. Voting in favor were Anderson, Nelsen and DeBlieck. Voting against were Christianson, Ahmann and Fagerlie. Yanish voted in favor to end debate.

Christianson reminded Yanish that the mayor doesn’t have to vote on a tie vote, and said he believed Yanish did not understand the question at hand.

Yanish called the vote on Anderson’s motion to reconsider, with Nelsen, DeBlieck and Anderson in favor and Christianson, Ahmann and Fagerlie against.

Christianson then declared the motion failed.

Nelsen called for point of order, saying Christianson should not be cueing the mayor as to what to do at a public meeting. She called it “totally inappropriate.’’

Yanish asked City Clerk Kevin Halliday to repeat the motion, and Yanish voted against.

David Little
David Little covers the Willmar City Council, Willmar Municipal Utilities and other city news.
(320) 235-1150