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Rice officials: City must vote unanimously on its charter amendment

WILLMAR -- Rice Memorial Hospital officials want Willmar City Council members to understand they must vote unanimously on a charter ordinance amendment that would extend the term limits for Rice Hospital Board members.

The importance of the 8-0 vote was stressed by Rice Board President Wayne Larson during the Monday afternoon meeting of the council's Finance Committee and by Rice Chief Executive Mike Schramm during the Public Works/Safety Committee meeting Tuesday afternoon.

Larson and Schramm attended the meetings to give council members a chance to ask questions before the council conducts a hearing Oct. 19 on the proposed amendments.

The Charter Commission is proposing two charter sections be amended to extend the terms of Rice Board members -- as well as Municipal Utilities Commission members -- from two 3-year terms to three 3-year terms, and allowing board members and commission members to serve additional terms after vacating the duties for one year or more.

The hospital board and utilities commission say the extended term limits would let members take greater advantage of their hospital and utility knowledge before their terms expire.

The ordinance must either be approved by unanimous vote of the council or by a vote of the general populace in a general election. The next general election will be in November 2010.

Larson said it is "very important that everyone understands that in order for this to be passed by an ordinance, it requires the unanimous council vote. I understand that if eight council members are not present on Monday night, the action will be delayed until the next meeting where there would be eight.''

Larson said the hospital board requested the change in 2008.

"(The recommendations) are really just to allow the appointment of retiring board members who are coming to the end of their second three-year term.''

He said the Rice Board has three members whose terms will expire on Dec. 31. He said the four remaining members "are really very new,'' with two having served less than a year.

"We have a very young board,'' said Larson. "If we had to have three more new people appointed, the administration feels that the lack of experience ... would be particularly difficult, particularly when (Schramm) is new. He has been with us about six months and is doing an excellent job. But he, too, has a learning curve.''

Finance Committee member Jim Dokken said he is finishing his fifth year as council liaison to the Rice Board. "(The change in the charter is) important for the three members whose terms are expiring, especially with all the health care transition that's going to take place over the next number of years. It's important this be done,'' he said.

Denis Anderson, Finance Committee chairman, served four years as liaison and said he concurs with Dokken.

"It's a learning curve,'' he said. "I think it's a very good idea and hopefully it will pass.

Larson said he was sure the utilities commission felt the same way, "that there's a learning curve that is wasted if you don't get enough service out of the members of the board. And it's not a jail sentence. You don't have to serve nine years. If the board member doesn't work out, it is a matter of appointment after three years.''

Schramm stressed the importance of extending the terms of hospital board members due to the complexity and issues of hospitals and health care in general.

The amendments would allow the board members whose terms are now expiring to be reappointed for another three years.

"From the city's standpoint, certainly the hospital is a very important institution. If you want to be able to keep a hospital strong, having a good, solid, knowledgeable board is a key issue,'' said Schramm.

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