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Charter Commission will reconsider Council's 'super majority'

WILLMAR -- The Charter Commission is recommending an amendment that would increase from 5 to 6 the number of affirmative City Council votes needed to override actions of the Municipal Utilities Commission, Rice Hospital Board and Planning Commission.

Commission Chair Shawn Mueske says increasing the threshold to override those actions would be consistent with the charter's present threshold of 6 affirmative council votes needed to override the mayor's veto of any ordinance, resolution or motion.

Charter changes require either a vote of the public or 8 affirmative council votes. But one council member has indicated he's opposed to raising the council veto threshold, so Mueske says it's back to the drawing board for the Charter Commission on this issue.

Since March 2009, the commission has been reviewing and discussing the charter and has met a couple of times with the council during the process to get feedback on proposed amendments. Council members and commission members met in a work session Wednesday evening to discuss several proposed amendments.

"The one area where there is still disagreement between the commission and a few members of the council is the threshold for veto authority,'' said Mueske in an interview following the 90-minute meeting at the fire station training room.

Commission members said their proposed "super majority'' was a compromise from their earlier proposal to remove the council's veto authority over the utilities commission and hospital board. Council members indicated they opposed that idea.

Mueske said the commission backed off that position and came up with 6, which would be a super majority and would be the same threshold as the 6 affirmative council votes needed to override the mayor's veto of any ordinance, resolution or motion.

"We thought it was a consistent measurement. But there are still council members that believe that that threshold should remain at 5 and we will have to go back and examine that,'' Mueske said.

During discussion, council member Ron Christianson said he did not support raising the threshold. He said the council is not micromanaging the utilities or hospital board. "We trust them. When have I not trusted them?'' he asked.

Council member Doug Reese said he did not have a problem with increasing the threshold. He and several others said they favored improving communications and being updated on issues facing the utilities commission and hospital board.

There was minor disagreement on a proposed amendment that would require the council to adopt the Minnesota Mayors Association Rules of Order for City Council. Presently the council has not adopted rules of order, said Clerk-Treasurer Kevin Halliday.

Christianson said the association's rules were mainly for statutory cities. He said Willmar is a charter city and said the council can make its own rules.

Commission members discussed their belief that the council should adopt rules of order and the commission discussed a number of options. Mueske said the commission believes the association's rules seemed the most appropriate, but the rules could be modified.

Council members may discuss rules when they meet in a work session today at the MinnWest Technology Campus to set strategic goals.

Mueske said the council "should figure out the rules issue, get back to us and if it's something we can live with, I think that issue will be put to bed.''

Mueske said the commission could end its discussion and present a draft charter to the council -- possibly next month -- for City Attorney Rich Ronning to prepare in ordinance form. If all 8 council members approve, the amended charter is adopted, said Mueske.

"If not, it will come back to the Charter Commission,'' he said. "They need to decide whether or not they will take the changes to the voting public.''

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