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Group’s concerns hit home with Willmar, Minn., City Council

Wayne Nelson on Monday addresses members of the Willmar City Council at the Municipal Utilities Building. The Willmar City Council took the advice of a citizens group concerned about city governance and voted to commit to doing an organizational study of city government. Nelson urged the council to take those steps. Tribune photo by Gary Miller1 / 4
Photo by Gary Miller2 / 4
Photo by Gary Miller3 / 4
Photo by Gary Miller4 / 4

WILLMAR — The Willmar City Council took the advice of a citizens group concerned about city governance and voted to commit to doing an organizational study of city government.

The council initially voted 7-1 Monday night to commit to the study with council member Ron Christianson voting against, but Christianson later asked to have his vote changed to a yes vote.

The group, Moving Willmar Forward, issued a ‘white paper’ citing its concerns and recommendations which included authorizing city staff to issue a request for proposals from firms to do the organizational study.

“Let’s work together, respect our differences and stand together for the good of the city of Willmar and begin with a roadmap,’’ said Wayne Nelson as about 40 people including most from the group were in the audience.

“Prepare now for a future with less government financial resources, identify ways to cooperate with other governmental entities to provide services in a more efficient and cost effective manner, investigate and evaluate options already implemented by others including visits to observe firsthand how changes were implemented,’’ he said.

Nelson said completion of a study now allows for implementation during “windows of opportunity’’ like retirements. He urged the council to involved current employees from the beginning.

“They best understand how services are delivered now and alternative ways they could be delivered in the future,’’ he said.

Council member Steve Ahmann said it was good to see citizen participation but he asked what lack of council action led to the formation of the group. He asked why none of the group members had talked to him. He said he found the lack of communication shocking.

Nelson said the group of 15 business people and individuals formed during the last 30 to 35 days to discuss concerns they and others had heard in the community. Nelson said there were no particular council actions or inactions.

“Primarily we gathered because of what other citizens were seeing at the council table, some things they saw didn’t think were right or was concerning to them,’’ Nelson said.

He said those concerns were the health of Mayor Frank Yanish, micromanagement by council members, a strained relationship between Yanish and City Administrator Charlene Stevens, and the perception of lack of trust.

Yanish said he fell some time ago, but said he is well.

Nelson said some of the issues being discussed were very sensitive.

“We wanted the same message to go out at one time,’’ he said. If funding the study was a problem, Nelson said the group had a minimum of $5,000 to contribute toward the cost.

Christianson suggested the request be sent to committee for discussion because there were too many emotions involved.

“This group should have come to committee first. That’s how we’re structured,’’ he said.

Christianson said he was not opposed to the study. He said the council previously considered but voted against hiring Springsted Inc. of St. Paul, the city’s financial advisor, to perform an organizational study because the firm had a conflict of interest in providing information to the council.

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