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Council approves resolution to appoint commission

WILLMAR -- The Willmar City Council has approved a resolution calling for the Charter Commission to be convened. Council action is required to convene the commission.

The resolution was introduced by council member Steve Gardner and was approved 7-0 Monday night, with Gardner and Rick Fagerlie, Denis Anderson, Ron Christianson, Doug Reese, Bruce DeBlieck and Jim Dokken voting in favor. Cindy Swenson was absent.

Gardner said the resolution came out of the council's Oct. 1 work session and covers the consensus of council members that the commission should be convened.

The Charter Commission will consist of nine members, all of whom shall be qualified voters of the city. The mayor and each council member will nominate one member.

The resolution states that council members and the mayor will be excluded from commission membership.

City Attorney Rich Ronning will submit the names of nominees to the district court. The court will appoint the members and the commission will begin its work no sooner than Jan. 15, 2009.

Fagerlie asked if anyone who served on the last Charter Commission was still living in Willmar.

Ronning said the terms of all members of the last commission have expired. He thought that perhaps three members still lived in the city if anyone wanted to ask them to serve again. City Administrator Michael Schmit said two former commission members are still living in Willmar.

Reese asked if a council member's nominee must come from the council member's ward or from the city at-large.

Gardner said he did not sense there was a requirement that the nominees come solely from the wards of council members making the nominations.

"I believe the resolution leaves that open to each and every council member,'' said Gardner.

Mayor Les Heitke asked if someone who is referred by a council member or the mayor is automatically on the commission.

Schmit said the name would be referred to Ronning, who would file the necessary paperwork to send the names to district court. Schmit said the resolution does not mention if the names would return to the council for final approval.

The council's Labor Relations Committee, which Gardner chairs, in July recommended the council take steps to convene the Charter Commission. The committee acted after a local citizen, John Sullivan, told the council that the commission should be convened because state statute requires home-rule charter cities like Willmar to have a commission meet once a year. Any changes to the city charter must be reviewed first by the Charter Commission.

Council members have said issues have surfaced that would require Charter Commission consideration, such as extending term limits and providing compensation for members of Rice Hospital Board and the Municipal Utilities Commission.

Another issue is recognition of the name change of the Park and Leisure Services Board to the Community Education and Recreation Board. The name was changed after the Willmar Schools' Community Education Department and the city's Recreation Department merged.

Charter Commission members are appointed by the district court from a list of names provided by the council. The size of the commission, from not less than 7 to not more than 15, is specified by the council.