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Willmar, Minn., community group to offer its strategies to improve city government to council

WILLMAR -- A 15-member community group is offering strategies to develop an increased level of mutual respect, cooperation, trust and civility among the mayor, City Council, city staff and residents.

The hope, according to the group called Moving Willmar Forward, is to re-establish a shared understanding of the roles and the responsibilities of each of these individuals and groups.

Moving Willmar Forward member Wayne Nelson is slated to present the group's "white paper'' laying out suggested strategies during the Willmar City Council meeting, which begins at 7 p.m. Monday in the chambers at the Municipal Utilities Building.

This summer, various community leaders have discussed recent developments in the city's governance, according to the white paper. The city has undergone a tremendous change over the last 18 months with a new mayor and a new city administrator, each of whom are "learning the ropes" after replacing a long-term mayor (15 years) and city administrator (26 years).

The paper says the transition, though abrupt, doesn't happen overnight.

"It will and does take time to build trust in the abilities of new leaders. We believe the city's leadership is more than capable of leading the city to the next level as an even stronger regional center, but it seems clear that doing so while adapting to new leadership in the midst of increasing challenges and opportunities is difficult,'' the paper said.

Over the last couple of months, people including business leaders, elected officials, government employees, community advocates, citizens and the media have been concerned about the current state of affairs within and outside the operations of the city, according to the paper.

The one common thread in the conversations has been that the mayor, council, city administrator and city staff are good people trying to do good things.

"That said, we are coming forward united to demonstrate public concern for the need to improve the manner in which elected and appointed officials conduct business within and outside city government,'' the paper said.

"Our goal is to develop between the mayor, City Council, city administration, city staff and its residents an increased level of mutual respect, cooperation, trust and civility. Our hope is to reestablish a shared understanding of the roles and responsibilities of each of these individuals and groups,'' the paper said.

Those involved have met five times and invested many hours of time to develop short- and long-term strategies that they believe represent the overall consensus of the community regarding what those roles and responsibilities ought to be.

Members of the "Working together...Building a better place to live and work'' team are Nelson, Dave Baker, Bob Dols, Gary Geiger, Kathy Schwantes, Ken Warner, Ken Behm, Beverly Dougherty, Pat Solheid, Laura Warne, Russ Bennett, MaryAnn Doyle, Michael Schmit, Clark Vollan and Ron Erpelding.

"It is our view the role of the city administrator is similar to the CEO of a $15 million business with the mayor serving as the board chairman and the City Council as the board of directors,'' the paper said.

The board chair and the board set policy and the CEO implements that policy. The CEO reports to the board and is responsible for insuring employees are qualified, trained and capable of doing their work and following the established business plan of the board and board chair.

The team said it is ready to work in partnership with the city.

"We are an All-America City, we are a regional center and we are a community that will work together to develop and implement a shared vision,'' the paper said. "To do so, we must respect our differences, strive to reach consensus and move forward together.''

In other business at Monday's regular meeting, the council will hold the Truth-in-Taxation hearing at 7:02 p.m. The hearing is held under a 1989 Minnesota law that helps property owners understand how the property tax is determined and how they can get involved with local budgeting issues and taxation, according to City Clerk Kevin Halliday.

The process, known as Truth in Taxation, occurs once a year and gives property owners an opportunity to review information pertaining to a property tax proposed for their property and to react to local budget decisions before the decisions are finalized.

The council will consider using $93,000 in surplus revenue to reduce the $240,000 increase in the proposed 2013 property tax levy by $93,000. The council will consider using the remaining $147,000 levy increase for street and infrastructure work in addition to street work already budgeted.

The council will consider setting the levy at $3,992,734 and will consider adopting the 2013 budget at $31,725,416.

The levy and budget recommendations are included in the Finance Committee report.

Also on the agenda for Monday, the council will take comments from the public during the open forum and will receive reports from the Labor Relations Committee, Public Works/Safety Committee and the Community Development Committee.

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