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Consultant to city of Willmar, Minn., sees no benefit to city-county human resources collaboration

WILLMAR -- While Kandiyohi County is interested in collaborating with the city of Willmar on delivering services when collaboration makes economic and strategic sense, there is no apparent benefit to the city or county with sharing human resource duties, a consultant says.

The finding by the firm Brimeyer Fursman of Maplewood apparently contradicts a proposal by Willmar Mayor Frank Yanish to have the city, county and Willmar Municipal Utilities create a single human resources management department.

Yanish released his proposal two weeks ago in a white paper developed with participation of an ad hoc advisory group of roughly eight individuals whose names the mayor has refused to release.

Yanish said a consolidated human resources (HR) program, shared by the three entities, would produce a savings to city and county taxpayers of approximately $400,000.

But the Brimeyer Fursman report said HR functions are at capacity with Rice Hospital, Willmar School District, and the county. None of the three has the capacity to contract with the city, and the only viable HR partner is the municipal utility.

The finding is among recommendations on an organizational review of city operations. The 22-page report was presented to the City Council Monday night by consultant Richard Fursman.

Fursman's report said his team spoke at length with the county for the purposes of exploring shared services. One of the services investigated was HR. The county has one HR person who handles a significant workload.

It was determined that the county could not take on the city's HR responsibilities without considerable expense. Also, the types of benefit packages and the policies governing employees would require the county to re-tool and hire additional staff.

The city would not realize the full benefit of the HR position if the person was housed at the county, the report said. The costs to contract with the county would be just as high to the city as hiring its own HR director.

"While the county is interested in collaborating on service delivery when it makes sense economically and strategically, there is no apparent benefit to the city or the county with either cost reduction or service enhancement with sharing HR duties," the report said.

In March, the city contracted with Fursman for $25,000 to conduct an organizational assessment of city operations. Multiple interviews and focus groups were conducted in March, April and May to gather comments from the council, employees and the public. A survey of council and employees was also conducted.

In mid-May, the council received and reviewed the preliminary draft that recommended a reorganizational option dealing primarily with external services.

External services are defined as services consistently delivered by city employees to most of Willmar's population. Services include public works, wastewater treatment, police, fire, engineering and planning.

The council has not acted on the recommendation.

In his final report presented Monday, Fursman recommended a reorganizational option for dealing with internal services.

Fursman defines internal services as services primarily delivered by city employees to augment the efforts of external services staff. The services include information technology, finance and clerk's duties.

Currently, those three areas have been relatively stable compared with changes being experienced with external services.

Fursman recommends the city establish a "3-department" model, which would involve creating a human resources department, eliminating the clerk-treasurer department, and making permanent the current information technology reporting structure in which the IT department reports directly to the city administrator.

The model does not predict adding employees.

The new human resources director would be in charge of hiring and employee maintenance.

The finance director would absorb many of the functions of the clerk-treasurer while relinquishing human resources duties, and would be responsible for financial management, accounting, treasury and clerk functions.

The communications director would be responsible for computer and technology services, the website, WRAC public access television and official city records.

The report says human resources management is currently shared by all departments, but mostly divided among the administrator, finance director and clerk-treasurer. The current system is confusing and time-consuming for any employee needing information for HR-related questions.

Fursman highly recommends that all "shrinkage" in employee numbers occur through attrition (including early retirement) or reassignment; otherwise, a negative impact on employee morale would be likely.

The full Brimeyer Fursman report can be viewed here.

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