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Mayor-elect: 'We're going to do the best job we can'

Frank Yannish will be sworn in as Willmar mayor at the City Council's Jan. 10 meeting. He brings with him a bold agenda and the desire to change how things get done in city politics. "In my opinion, we have received a mandate," he says. Tribune photo by Ron Adams

Mayor-elect Frank Yanish says he's received a mandate from Willmar voters. Yanish, who easily defeated incumbent Mayor Les Heitke in the Nov. 2 general election, will be sworn in for the four-year term as mayor at the Jan. 10 City Council meeting.

"We do believe that the people have spoken. We're going to do the best job that we can for the city of Willmar,'' he said. "In my opinion, we have received a mandate. In the mayor's race we won all 12 of the precincts in the city and we also won the absentee vote."

Yanish says things will be done differently at council meetings.

"It's going to be a much more friendly atmosphere and the city staff, the council, the mayor, so that we can work together and get things done,'' he said.

Yanish talked about his goals for the coming term.

He wants to make Willmar, including the downtown area, a destination.

He also wants to improve the transportation system between here and the Twin Cities.

"We have a good working relationship with our legislators, and I think we can get some of that done or started at least,'' he said.

One issue Yanish wants to resolve is the federal government's release of the old airport property that would allow businesses into the new industrial park. Release is required from the Federal Aviation Administration.

"It's important that we get that resolved real soon,'' he said.

Yanish has some ideas for resolving the long-standing storm water issue.

"I think it really relies on the Grass Lake situation and the Lake Wakanda situation and working together with our state senator and the (state Department of Natural Resources),'' he said.

The Grass Lake basin was drained more than a century ago for agricultural purposes. Restoration of the wetland would provide treatment of city storm water as part of a larger plan that also aims to improve water quality in Lake Wakanda.

This fall the city of Willmar withdrew from the Grass Lake project, however, when the city was informed it would not be awarded storm water storage credits from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency.

"I think it's resolvable," Yanish said. "It's not going to happen overnight, but it's something that can be resolved. But we have a lot of different people with a lot different positions on it. We have to make sure that everybody is in the same playing field.''

He said train whistle noise can be solved in a cost-effective manner.

"It's not a huge project. It's something that obviously you have to budget for, but is something that can be corrected.''

With Local Government Aid possibly being cut next year due to the state's budget deficit, Yanish said everything in the city budget will be on the table.

"We have to look at everything, including the possibility of contracting some things out that can be done better and less expensively than within the city,'' he said.

In an effort to make city government more transparent, Yanish favors taping committee meetings for WRAC-8, the local cable access system. Most recommendations to the council are first discussed and made by committees.

Yanish said some people feel they are not being listened to. By taping the meetings, everyone will be more accountable as to what was said, what was done and how the decision was arrived at.

"By putting it on WRAC-8, that will resolve that problem and I think it will make for better decisions that people know that other people are watching,'' he said.

Committee meetings would be moved from the City Office Building to the Municipal Utilities Building where cameras and audio system are installed in the council chambers.

All four re-elected council members say they're ready to work with Yanish.

Bruce DeBlieck from Ward 1 said he does not think Yanish is bringing any particular agenda.

"I expect things to pretty much carry on and the city run pretty much along the same lines as it has been,'' he said. "I'm sure he'll have some changes, but I don't think there's any real drastic changes he's going to want to make.''

Ron Christianson from Ward 2, who has disagreed with Heitke in the past, said it's good to have a fresh face as mayor.

"I'm sure we'll have less contentious meetings, probably work together a little better,'' said Christianson.

He was sure the council will look at the 287(g) program, in which local law enforcement officers receive federal immigration enforcement training, and work on train noise and storm water problems.

"If Willmar has money to put in a sprinkler system at yellow softball field, maybe we have some to put in a quiet zone,'' he said. "I think some things are going to get done that have been on the burner for a while.''

Rick Fagerlie from Ward 3 said he is "pretty easy'' to work with.

"I try to actually listen and hear the facts and vote accordingly,'' he said. "I should have no problem working with the new mayor. Hopefully now we can get the storm water issue problem solved or continue to work on it; maybe some quiet zones.''

Ward 4 council member Doug Reese said Yanish will be the fourth mayor he has worked with, "and I've never seen difficulty with the transition. I've been able to work with all of them.''

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