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City Council members favor veto power over MUC, Rice Board

Willmar City Council member Jim Dokken discusses details of Willmar's charter Wednesday at the city office building. Council members said they support City Charter provisions that give the council overriding veto authority over the Willmar Municipal Utilities Commission and the Rice Memorial Hospital Board. Tribune photo by Gary Miller

WILLMAR -- Willmar City Council members told the Charter Commission on Wednesday that they support City Charter provisions that give the council overriding veto authority over the Willmar Municipal Utilities Commission and the Rice Memorial Hospital Board.

"It's important to keep it,'' said council member Denis Anderson.

Anderson and other council members invited to express their views on possible changes to the charter spoke in favor of retaining the veto authority.

Charter Commission member Audrey Nelsen said the request to amend the charter and remove the council's authority was made by the Municipal Utilities Commission. She said a similar request has not come from the Hospital Board.

Ultimately, the responsibility for the utilities and the hospital falls to the council, Anderson said.

Council member Bruce DeBlieck, the council's liaison to the Utilities Commission, said utility staff members make good business decisions, but he said the veto authority should remain with the council.

The Willmar Municipal Utilities is unique among municipal utilities in Minnesota. Of approximately 850 cities or towns, 125 have municipal electric utilities. Of those, 70 to 75 are governed directly by their city councils. The other 50 or so have governing commissions, most of which have appointed members.

Willmar is the only city in which the council has overriding veto power over the commission's action, said Charter Commission member Mike Nitchals.

Council member Ron Christianson said the council should have overriding veto authority over all appointed boards and commissions such as the Planning Commission.

Regarding appointed boards and commissions, Charter Commission Chairman Bob Bonawitz said the members have discussed the issue of unfilled vacancies on boards and commissions. He asked council members if any changes are needed.

Council members said the charter provides for the mayor to nominate appointees and for the council to approve the nomination. The council has no authority to make appointments.

Christianson said a 1992 charter revision gave the mayor the power to recommend appointments. He said the mayor received powers that should not be there.

Council members said they are sometimes unaware of proposed appointments until the night of the council meeting and they are presented without input from council members.

Among other issues, Anderson said the charter should require the mayor to present his proposed budget 30 days before the council is required to certify the preliminary levy to the county auditor. Council members were unhappy that they had to certify the preliminary levy before the mayor presented his budget.

Also, Anderson suggested the charter provide residency requirements for council members. He said there is no time frame for length of residency in a ward. He suggested a council member be required to be a resident of the ward for some period of time, perhaps three months.

There was some discussion about term limits. Council member Steve Ahmann suggested the mayor's term of office should be reduced from four years to two years.

The Charter Commission has been meeting twice a month since March 5. Bonawitz said he thought the session with the council was valuable.

"We're able to cover a lot of issues that we have been discussing over the last few months and to obtain their input and comment was very valuable,'' he said.

The Charter Commission has made its first recommendation: extend the term limits for Utility Commission and Hospital Board members from two three-year terms to three three-year terms. The council will hold a hearing Oct. 19 on the proposed change.

After the Charter Commission completes its information-gathering effort with other officials, and groups named in the charter, members will carefully go through the charter and vote on changes for the council to consider.

Bonawitz said he doesn't know whether changes will be presented piecemeal or in sections. He understands the commission will need to be deliberate because the council cannot eliminate a certain section in a proposed change.

"It would have to be all or none,'' he said.

There is no deadline for completing the review, "but my guess is it's going to be well into next year before we get all of this together,'' Bonawitz said.

Other Charter Commission members present were John Sullivan, Shawn Mueske, Eileen Huberty and Richard Hoglund. John Tradup and Ron Andreen were absent.

City Council members Jim Dokken and Doug Reese also attended.

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