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Willmar City Council meeting gets personal

WILLMAR — Discussion about proposed training for Willmar City Council members who participate in city department head interviews got personal at Monday night’s council meeting.

The discussion centered on a motion by Councilwoman Audrey Nelsen, seconded by Councilman Bruce DeBlieck, that the council follow City Attorney Robert Scott’s emailed recommendation of Sept. 6. Nelsen read the email, which recommended that whoever serves as Labor Relations Committee chairman work with the city attorney on basic legal standards and requirements for conducting interviews.

The council later amended the motion to mandate that all four Labor Relations Committee members receive training.

The motion also stated that training be optional for other council members, and that any of the four committee members be allowed to serve on an interview committee.

The council on Oct. 7 approved a motion by Councilman Ron Christianson that said the Labor Committee chairman, or his or her committee appointee, be present at every hiring panel involving department heads.

Monday night’s discussion began after DeBlieck asked Councilman Steve Ahmann, who is chairman of the city’s labor panel, if Ahmann was going to take the training to participate in the interview process or if Ahmann appointed someone else to those duties.

DeBlieck asked the question near the end of the agenda under old business.

“I think the staff is waiting for that to happen before they can move forward with interviews for prospective staff that we’re looking at hiring,’’ said DeBlieck.

Ahmann said he did not want to see the chairman be in charge of everything. He said he did not believe the council had any training in hiring City Administrator Charlene Stevens. Ahmann, a home builder, said he has hired employees, and he thought mandatory training was a little redundant in some cases.

“I’m versed on a lot of issues. When you conduct business and do interviews, you have to be very detailed and accurate in addressing statements so not to be discriminating and setting up a precedence for a suit later on. And why limit it to one person? If anybody wants to be on the committee, do it for everyone. This could be done for everybody if they want to,’’ he said.

Christianson said training was not part of his simple, four-line motion. He said Nelsen’s motion would supersede his motion, and he thought it was “kind of retribution’’ and foolishness.

Nelsen and DeBlieck were among three council members who voted against Christianson’s motion on Oct. 7.

DeBlieck also read Scott’s email and said the recommendation “to me says that person needs to work with the city attorney to be trained for legal standards to be on an interview committee.’’

Nelsen said she believed her motion offers some protection to the city “to make sure that we are following the guidelines and there is an established process for the interviews.’’

Christianson said he opposed the “very well-rehearsed motion and second.’’

Nelsen said she resented the statement.

“I think the only reason you don’t want this is because you want to be part of that interview panel, and I think it should not be personal. There’s nothing wrong with following the city attorney’s recommendation,’’ she said.

“Nothing personal, Mr. Christianson,’’ added DeBlieck, “but this is a protection to the city that anybody sitting on a city hiring committee to at least know the basic legal standards and the requirements for conducting interviews.’’

Christianson said it was not personal.

“I don’t mention anybody’s name at this meeting like mine is quite often at the meeting and in the paper and editorials,’’ he said. “I’m dealing with an issue here. Put the issue on the table, as council person did.” Christianson was apparently referring to Nelsen without mentioning her name.

Christianson continued, “We discuss it, don’t say anything about the other people, don’t get personal about it. Is it a good idea or bad idea? Discuss it, vote on it and move on. I didn’t mention anybody’s name.’’

Nelsen said Christianson was the one who said the issue was retaliation for losing. Nelsen said she did not feel that way.

Councilman Tim Johnson said he understood the training would be the same whether it’s to the Labor Committee chairman or any other member, and would not be lengthy or involved. “So whoever gets the training, the city gets the protection that we seem to be concerned about,’’ he said.

Ahmann said he did not feel comfortable delegating to himself the responsibility for sitting on an interview committee and he moved to amend Nelsen’s motion to require all committee members to be trained and offer it as an option to the rest of the council. The motion to amend was approved 6-2 on a voice vote with Christianson, Ahmann, Johnson, Rick Fagerlie, Denis Anderson and Jim Dokken in favor, and Nelsen and DeBlieck against.

The amended motion was then approved on a voice vote with no one voting against.

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