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Willmar, Minn., Council holds closed session to discuss fired utility GM's lawsuit

WILLMAR -- The Willmar City Council met in closed session for about 35 minutes Monday night with attorney Paul Reuvers of Bloomington to discuss the discrimination and breach of contract lawsuit filed Friday by fired Municipal Utilities General Manager Bruce Gomm.

The council first approved a motion offered by council member Denis Anderson to add to the agenda the intention to hold a closed session to discuss the lawsuit.

The council then approved a motion by Anderson to go into closed session pursuant to the attorney-client privilege as allowed by state statute Section 13D.05 to discuss the lawsuit.

Council members along with Reuvers, Mayor Frank Yanish, City Administrator Charlene Stevens and City Attorney Rich Ronning left the council chambers and met in the next-door conference room from 7:04 p.m. to 7:40 p.m.

After Yanish reconvened the open session, Gomm spoke during the council's open forum. Gomm said he wanted to continue his efforts to try to keep the council as informed as possible.

"As you know the City Council has authority over the Municipal Utilities Commission and I have throughout my tenure as general manager done my best to keep you informed as you know with personal visits to you when there (were) issues addressing City Council,'' he said.

"At this point I just wanted to offer an opportunity for you to ask any questions of me if there was anything that you had that you wanted directly to ask me or anything I can help you understand,'' he said.

Yanish asked Reuvers if speaking to Gomm was appropriate.

Reuvers, who is representing the city and the utilities, said he did not think discussion in an open forum was appropriate since the matter is in litigation. But Reuvers said Gomm should be entitled to say what he wants in the time allotted during the open forum.

Yanish asked Gomm if he had anything else to say.

Gomm cleared his throat and paused about 12 seconds before saying that that was all he wanted to say. "Thank you for the opportunity,'' he said.

In a brief interview after the council meeting adjourned, Stevens told the Tribune that Reuvers had called the closed meeting to discuss Gomm's lawsuit. Stevens repeated Reuvers' statement that the city will defend the claims raised in the lawsuit.

Members of the audience included Utilities Commission members Dave Baker, Matt Schrupp and Steve Salzer. They did not address the council.

In other business, the council approved three-year contracts with two unionized employee groups.

The agreements with two units of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees provide no general pay increase in 2011 due to budget reductions and loss of revenue in 2010 and 2011, according to Stevens.

For 2012, the agreements provide a 1 percent general wage increase and a one-time lump sum payment of $660. Stevens said the one-time payment is not added to employees' base pay increase.

For 2013, employees will receive a 1.5 percent general wage increase.

One agreement covers about 30 appraisers, clerical staff, custodians, wastewater treatment plant operators, engineering techs, information system technician, cable system coordinator and park and recreation employees in the AFSCME general unit.

The other agreement covers 23 employees in the AFSCME public works unit.

The agreements were recommended by the council's Labor Relations Committee.

The agreements resulted from mediation requested by the city and conducted by the State Bureau of Mediation Services on Feb. 21 at City Offices. Present at the session were Stevens and city labor attorney Frank Madden and AFSCME business agent and union stewards.

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