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Willmar, Minn., council has mixed opinions on organizational study (video)

Willmar Councilman Ron Christianson makes a point Wednesday during a special City Council workshop and Labor Relations Committee meeting while responding to the findings of an organizational assessment of city government. Tribune photo by Ron Adams2 / 2

WILLMAR -- Willmar City Council members had mixed reactions to a consultant's preliminary report of an organizational study of city government.

Summing up what he heard during a two-hour meeting Wednesday night, Richard Fursman of Brimeyer Fursman of Maplewood said he heard council members say the council is not viewed by the public in a very good light and that there's an opportunity to solve issues and problems.

Fursman said pressures faced by the council are sometimes not perceived in the light they ought to be by the public. Also, oftentimes only the discourse seems to rise to the level of awareness.

"We may have different values but we're all good people. We all have the best interest of the community in mind,'' he wrote in his notes.

Fursman jotted down some recommendations. Those were repair the relationship between the administration and some council members, and understand the role of the administrator and the council.

Other recommendations were gathering input from citizens more frequently; coming together as a group; bringing the community back in sync; building employee morale; eliminating distractions; and developing goals that are understood by the organization.

Fursman and his wife, Irina, discussed their preliminary findings and received council comments during a meeting of the Labor Relations Committee and other council members in a special workshop setting Wednesday evening at the Municipal Utilities Building.

The meeting attracted about 30 people in the audience, including some city employees.

The consultants were hired by the council in March and they undertook two months of interviews and surveys with elected officials, department heads and employees and community members.

The consultants said city employees and staff are feeling a significant amount of stress, confusion and anxiety related to their work, and there is a lack of clarity around overall organizational values, vision or strategic direction.

Individual departments believe that their values are clear and adhered to. But there is an overwhelming perception that the organization as a whole does not have a clearly defined set of values.

Irina Fursman asked council members for their response.

Jim Dokken said the council's main job is to set policy. He said the council needs to talk to citizens about delivering cost-effective services. He said the council has not heard enough from citizens.

Denis Anderson said council members may not like what Fursman is saying, but that's what Fursman was hired to do.

"We've got to come together as a group and try to move this forward,'' Anderson said. "The City Council hasn't sat down for a few years and talked about what are our goals, what do we want to do about a lot of things. We haven't done that. Shame on us. That's a place where we can certainly start.''

Bruce DeBlieck said the council has a credibility problem and lack of vision. He said nothing in the report is surprising.

"We need to look at moving forward and build on what we have and on what past councils have done and build the morale of the employees,'' he said.

Speaking to the rift cited in the report between Mayor Frank Yanish and City Administrator Charlene Stevens that the study said is harming the organization, DeBlieck said he thinks the problem does not hold true with all council members.

"I think we have a very good administrator. She has been doing a fine job, an excellent job. I think there's been some problems with some council members as to how they perceive it,'' he said.

Audrey Nelsen said that not listening to the report would be a mistake and she said this was a great opportunity to come together.

Ron Christianson said he couldn't believe what he was reading. He said the council's job is to deliver services and he said the council is being distracted by outside forces. He said he does not believe the council has a problem.

"We were doing the job prior to (new mayor, administrator and council member) coming here and we continue to do the job. But we get bastardized from outside forces that think we aren't going in their direction. It's a real big distraction to this council. That needs to be addressed,'' he said.

Christianson said the perception of council dysfunction has been created by what people read in the West Central Tribune. " .. and that's in our local West Central Inquirer, if you may," he said. "They blow things up and make it look like things are really bad. They haven't said very good things about the City Council or the city in the last 18 months, I would say.''

Fursman said he was reflecting staff and community impressions.

"We're not here to judge, to say you guys haven't done this. All we're doing is holding up a mirror as to what was told to us and throughout the organization,'' Fursman said. "We're not sure what the vision of the council is, and that's the message we got and that's what we're reporting back.''

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