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Willmar, Minn., Utilities will remain Chamber member

WILLMAR — The Willmar Municipal Utilities Commission has approved a resolution supporting membership in the Willmar Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce.

The resolution, approved Monday, was drafted with the help of City Attorney Robert Scott in res-ponse to a City Council directive asking the utility to look at its relationship with the Chamber and define the benefits.

Utility General Manager Wes Hompe said the utility has been a Chamber member since 1975.

The resolution states the commission finds continued Chamber membership is related and beneficial to the utility’s delivery of services for the following reasons:

- The Chamber provides direct access to the business community, which can be especially valued for communicating services to businesses or obtaining business support for an initiative.

- The utility has a seat at the Chamber’s Public Policy Committee. The utility can tell how public policy decisions will affect the utility and form business support for utility positions.

- Membership provides opportunities to develop utility leaders. The Chamber’s Leadership Perspectives Program allows utility managers to have an understanding of how various community components fit together by getting first-hand education from community leaders, resulting in a more effective utility manager.

- Membership provides support for competitive telecommunications. The Chamber, the utility and other telecommunication providers worked to attract En-Tel, a new provider, through the Kandi-Link effort, which caused incumbent providers to upgrade their services and reduce rates.

- The Chamber provides timely educational and informational opportunities.

- The Chamber helps the utility assimilate new residents and cultures through multilingual information that describes rules, policies and laws to help new arrivals who need to connect to electric, water and heating services.

“This has been a hot topic as everybody knows,’’ said Commission President Steve Salzer. He pointed out that the utility pays $1,000 a year in dues but receives a discount for attending the Leadership Perspective Program.

Commissioner Jeff Nagle asked if commissioners should be aware of any areas of conflict with the Chamber.

Hompe could not immediately think of any. But he said when the utility does disagree with the Chamber, “we make it known.’’

Salzer said a report from the utility general manager is a standing agenda item for the Chamber’s Public Policy Committee.

“I think that’s good that we’re there talking public policy,’’ he said.

Hompe said he provides an update on utility activities at monthly meetings, and discussion among committee members helps eliminate duplication of efforts.

Bruce DeBlieck, the City Council’s liaison to the utility, said the council has had considerable discussion about Chamber membership and public purpose. As long as the utility documents public purpose, membership is proper, he said.

Commissioner Joe Gimse asked if the resolution must be approved annually.

Scott, attending via teleconference from his office in St. Paul, recommended the commission approve a more streamlined version when membership is renewed and make reference to the resolution that demonstrates public purpose.

During discussion, the commission approved an amendment offered by Gimse that the general manager or designee shall serve on the Public Policy Committee. Gimse said he supports membership and said he wanted the utility to have input from business because energy is a huge issue for business.

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