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City of Willmar, Minn., votes to interview 3rd candidate for city attorney

WILLMAR -- Willmar City Council members delayed a decision Monday on selecting a law firm to replace Rich Ronning, who retires March 31 after serving as city attorney for the past 37 years.

They voted 4-3 during a special session prior to Monday night's regular meeting to interview Anderson Law Offices of Willmar.

Anderson would be the third law firm to be interviewed. Representatives of the law firms of Flaherty and Hood of St. Paul and Anderson, Larson, Hanson and Saunders of Willmar were interviewed by council members March 8.

The city had issued requests for proposals from law firms interested in providing civil and prosecutorial services that have also been provided by Ronning and had set a Feb. 23 deadline for receiving proposals.

A committee of department heads reviewed three proposals and recommended the Flaherty and Anderson firms for interviews.

The council interviewed the two firms on March 8 but made no selection and continued the session to Monday evening. After discussion, council members voted again to continue the meeting after a majority decided they wanted to interview attorney Thomas Anderson.

Anderson's proposal said he established his office on March 12 and City Administrator Charlene Stevens said Anderson hand-delivered his proposal to City Offices last Thursday.

Stevens said the council could continue the special session until the next regular meeting April 2, but that would not provide enough time to have a contract in place before Ronning's last day.

Council member Jim Dokken urged the council to not rush and to make the best choice possible.

Ron Christianson said he was disappointed the city did not receive four to five proposals and said he wanted to interview Anderson.

Denis Anderson did not think interviewing Anderson was fair to the other two firms since they submitted proposals on time and Anderson missed the deadline. Doug Reese and Bruce DeBlieck also questioned whether the council should interview Anderson.

Voting in favor of recessing their meeting to 4:45 p.m. on Thursday and interviewing Anderson were Christianson, Dokken, Rick Fagerlie and Tim Johnson. Voting against were Anderson, Reese and DeBlieck. Council member Steve Ahmann came late to the meeting and did not vote.

Anderson's proposal said he is currently interviewing legal staff. Anderson is a native of Willmar and previously worked as full-time associate attorney for the Willmar law firm of Johnson, Moody, Schmidt and Kleinhuizen P.A.

Anderson said 80 percent of his work was involved in criminal defense and 20 percent in civil litigation.

Anderson offered a two-part compensation proposal: $107,000 in 2012 for criminal work only, with gradually increasing fees through 2015; and $175,000 in 2012 for civil and criminal work, with increasing fees through 2015.

As an alternative, Anderson proposed an hourly fee of $165 per hour for civil work.

Kandiyohi County has submitted a proposal for prosecutorial services.

The city's 2012 budget for legal services is $196,000.

Ronning's last official appearance at a council meeting was Monday night and Mayor Frank Yanish thanked Ronning for his service since April 1, 1975.

Ronning thanked his wife and two sons "who have put up with a workaholic most of their life'' for their support and understanding; past and present mayors, city councils, department heads, staff, Rice Hospital and Municipal Utilities for their cooperation; his support staff; law enforcement; court administration and judges; and Willmar citizens and taxpayers for allowing him to serve them.

Although he won't be around city hall or council chambers much in the future, Ronning said he isn't leaving Willmar and he asked his listeners to pass along any good lawyer jokes.

"I've always enjoyed a good lawyer joke,'' he said, telling one of his all-time favorites: "Do you know what's brown and black and looks good on an attorney? A Doberman.''

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