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Willmar, Minn., committee favors filling new vacancy in Police Dept.

WILLMAR -- The Willmar City Council Labor Relations Committee will recommend the council fill a vacancy and return the number of sworn officers in the police department to 32. The council will consider the recommendation Monday night.

City Administrator Charlene Stevens and Police Chief David Wyffels made the request to the committee this week to fill the vacancy created by the retirement of Del Wagner.

Stevens said the council earlier this year determined that 32 sworn fficers was the appropriate level and had authorized filling two vacancies that had reduced the number below 32. Stevens said those vacancies have since been filled, and she and Wyffels asked that the latest vacancy also be filled to maintain the force of 32 officers.

Stevens said the latest vacancy will be filled from an active eligibility list that was created in June. Stevens proposed the officer would come on board for field training in January. She and Wyffels said the department is field training the two latest officers and does not have the capacity to field train a third prior to January.

Wagner had also served as the gang enforcement officer. The chief said the city is seeing an increase in gang activity this summer. Wyffels said he would fill the gang enforcement officer position with a promotion from within the department.

"We may shortchange that patrol sector by one and try to get that gang officer earlier before the Jan. 1 date,'' Wyffels said.

Wyffels said gang activity had been down because some of the key players were sent to prison for five to six years. However, many of the opposing gang members are being released from prison now.

Committee member Denis Anderson asked Wyffels what a gang enforcement officer does.

Wyffels said in general terms the officer is present wherever gang members are present.

"The mere presence (of the gang officer) causes them to move their activity elsewhere,'' Wyffels said. "It's a problem that we recognize and need to get on top of it.''

Anderson said it's good to know what the department is doing, but he said the council did authorize 32 positions and those are in the budget. He said the city has tried to operate with 31 and apparently that's not working.

"I can't image why we wouldn't just continue on with what we had approved once before,'' he said.

Committee member Tim Johnson clarified that the council has not made a decision on what Police Department staffing level would be, whether more or less. Johnson said he did not disagree with filling the position but said he does not remember that the council had decided on 32.

Committee members discussed whether a motion was needed to fill the position, and Doug Reese offered the motion, seconded by Johnson, which carried.

In other discussion, Stevens said a vacancy in the assessing department was filled with a clerical staff member and she said the clerical staff will be restructured.

The council voted in early September to fill the vacant assessing position from current clerical staff.

Regarding the city engineer vacancy, Stevens stated her belief the city needs a full-time city engineer but said she is considering some reorganization and will return to the committee for further discussion.

During the interim, the council has hired the firm of Bolton & Menk of Willmar to serve as city engineer until a decision is made to fill the position.

She noted the city has filled the vacant engineering technician-surveyor position with a contract with the firm of Bollig Inc., of Willmar, which will be completing final plans in early February for 2013 construction projects.

Anderson asked how much was budgeted for the engineering tech position. Stevens said the city will have some salary savings, but she said a budget adjustment will be needed this year because Bollig's $85,585 contract is about $20,000 more than the budgeted amount.

Regarding a vacant assistant laboratory director position that occurred Friday at the wastewater treatment plant, Stevens said she will review the position, perhaps look at some changes and return with a recommendation.

Stevens said the city received more than 30 applications for the vacant fire chief/fire marshal position created by the Aug. 9 resignation of Marv Calvin. The council has voted to fill the position and Stevens said the list of applicants will be narrowed and interviews scheduled.

The council will meet at 7 p.m. Monday in the chambers at the Municipal Utilities Building, 700 Litchfield Ave. S.W.

Along with the Labor Committee report, the council will receive reports from the Finance and Community Development Committees.

The council will hold hearings on the following: an ordinance amending the animal ordinance; an ordinance managing surface water and prohibiting illicit discharge and connection to the storm water system; and an ordinance repealing the local option sales tax.

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