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Commission will ponder next steps for Willmar, Minn.'s City Charter

WILLMAR -- Willmar Charter Commission members will convene in the next couple of weeks to discuss the next steps they might take after proposed charter amendments failed to receive the required affirmative votes of all eight City Council members to adopt the changes by council action Tuesday night.

Charter Commission Chairman Shawn Mueske says those next steps can include a broad range of possibilities from taking the amended charter as defeated by the council to the voters in the November general election to making any kind of modifications that were requested by some council members and perhaps having more meetings with the council.

"The unfortunate thing is that if we do go and make any of those changes, that (proposed amended charter) would have to be republished again and the whole hearing process starts over again. But we'll see which direction they want to go,'' said Mueske.

According to City Clerk-Treasurer Kevin Halliday, the city's cost for legally publishing the proposed amended charter was $5,216. A second publishing may cost less, however, because Mueske told the council that the second phase of the commission's work will be to look at reducing the length of the charter.

A motion to adopt an ordinance amending the charter, give it a number and legally publish it was defeated 6-2. Mueske said the council's decision was anticipated.

"We weren't surprised,'' he said. "However, I would say as the chair I'm pleasantly surprised that we were able to get a super majority vote from the City Council. But of course in our case, we needed a unanimous decision.''

Council member Ron Christianson had stated on a number of occasions leading up to Tuesday night's vote that he opposed some amendments.

One amendment would have required a super majority vote of six rather than five council members to overrule an action of the Municipal Utilities Commission, Rice Hospital Board and Planning Commission.

Another amendment required the council to adopt the Minnesota Mayors' Association Rules of Order for City Councils. Currently, the charter directs the council to adopt its own rules and order of business.

The charter, which is the city's governing document, was last reviewed in 1993. In October 2008, the council appointed the Charter Commission. Since holding its first meeting in March 2009, the commission sought advice from the city attorney and from city department heads, studied the charters of other cities and held work sessions with the council to discuss proposed changes.

In October 2009, the council approved amendments recommended by the Charter Commission to extend the term limits for members serving on the Municipal Utilities Commission and Rice Hospital Board. The terms were extended from two three-year terms to three three-year terms.

The utilities commission and hospital board requested the expanded number of terms to allow members to take greater advantage of their acquired hospital and utility knowledge before their terms expire.

In addition, the council approved an amendment that makes official the unofficial practice of reappointing board and commission members to additional terms after vacating their duties for one or more years.

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