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City Public Works boss resigns for position at MnDOT

WILLMAR -- City Public Works Director Mel Odens will resign his position to take a job with the Minnesota Department of Transportation. His last day with the city is July 9.

Odens will become the district st-ate aid en-gineer at the District 8 office in Willmar.

He has been the city's public works director for nearly 14 years. He started on Oct. 28, 1996. He previously worked in Pierre, S.D., and has a civil engineering degree from South Dakota State University in Brookings.

In his new position, Odens will manage the state aid highway system in the district's 12 counties, be a liaison between government and business leaders and the general public, and work with the district management team.

Odens said he's enjoyed working for the city.

"It's been a great experience to work not only with the community but with all the staff here in the city,'' he said.

City Administrator Michael Schmit said Odens developed and implemented a sound infrastructure program.

"He's done a good job of developing some pretty good programs that are addressing a lot of our infrastructure needs,'' said Schmit. "I think he's a very likeable person and has developed a respect of virtually all the different people and organizations we work with.''

Schmit said he will explore all possibilities and options before making a formal recommendation to the council about a possible replacement.

Those options could include filling the position from within the department, possibly reorganizing the department to better serve the community and save money, and consolidation of departments. At some point, Schmit said he will bring the matter to the council's Labor Relations Committee.

Schmit said department director positions "in this day and age given the economic environment with which we operate'' are no different than any other positions.

"All our projects have either been bid or contracts been let. We've got Donohue to assist with wrapping up the wastewater treatment plant project,'' said Schmit. "Although I think Mel will be terribly missed, we're at a point in the summer where I think we have some time to think this through before we make any decisions as to how we should proceed.''

Schmit said the council ratifies the administrator's appointments to department director positions. But he thinks the council will probably be more involved in exploring ideas and options.

City Council members were notified by Schmit last week about the resignation. Doug Reese, chairman of the council's Public Works/Safety Committee, said the council appreciates Odens' engineering abilities and his abilities to deal with the public.

"We hate to see him leave but we wish him the best, and we know this is probably a step up for him,'' said Reese in an interview Tuesday afternoon after the Public Works Committee meeting.

During the meeting, about a dozen property owners and citizens from southwest Willmar were present to indicate their displeasure with continuing property flooding when storm sewers back up during flash rain events. The most recent event on June 11 flooded the intersection and residential lots in the neighborhood of 10th Street and Kandiyohi Avenue Southwest.

Homeowner Laura Becker, 1010 Kandiyohi Ave., received approval from Reese to be placed on the agenda. Becker thanked the city for building the storm water pond at 10th and Kandiyohi where a house damaged by flooding was removed, but she said the pond doesn't hold all of the city's water.

She said the most damage is caused by the "backwash of water'' that cannot drain down County Ditch 23A to the southeast because it is full. She said the council is destroying homes and property values by using their lots as storm water ponds.

Reese said he sympathizes with the residents but said the city has undertaken several projects to provide some relief.

Reese was reluctant to allow all the others to speak during the committee's meeting, but he said they could address the full council during the open forum portion of next Monday's meeting.

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