Willmar City Council OKs policy requiring its presence on hiring committees
WILLMAR — The Willmar City Council voted 4-3 Monday night to establish a formal written policy that requires a council presence on committees that interview and hire city department heads.
The motion that establishes the policy is similar to a motion that the council tabled 30 days ago. That motion had included committees interviewing and hiring supervisors and confidential employees.
But language referring to supervisors and confidential employees was dropped last night after City Attorney Robert Scott issued an opinion that said the motion cannot include supervisors and confidential employees.
Council members voting to establish the policy were Ron Christianson, Steve Ahmann, Tim Johnson and Rick Fagerlie. Voting against were Denis Anderson, Audrey Nelsen and Bruce DeBlieck. Jim Dokken was absent.
Last month the council tabled the motion by Christianson to establish the policy requiring the Labor Relations Committee chairperson or chairperson appointee to be present on interview and hiring committees.
Last night Christianson first offered a motion, which was approved, to remove his original motion from the table. Then he offered an amendment, which was approved, to eliminate language referring to supervisors and confidential employees.
Scott said the amendment was consistent with his opinion that the motion could not extend to confidential employees and supervisory employees. But under city ordinance, the amendment would be appropriate because the council has the ability to approve any hires for department head positions, he said.
Current ordinance states that the city administrator “shall oversee and supervise the hiring, discipline and removal of all employees of the city of Willmar, except hiring, discipline and removal of Municipal Utilities employees, Rice Hospital employees, and employees of the Legal Department. Hiring, discipline and removal of department heads shall be subject to approval of the City Council.’’
During discussion, DeBlieck said council members should not be serving on a hiring committee.
“That is our city administrator’s responsibility,’’ he said. “This undermines the authority of the city administrator of all city employees.’’
Nelsen spoke against and said she had a concern about who would be the appointee and the message it would send to candidates and staff. She said training was needed when someone is involved in the hiring process and she asked what would be the role of that council person.
“We have a good process in place. I believe it has worked well with past hiring. I believe there is an intimidation factor’’ with a council member on the committee, she said. “I believe is an issue of trust and respect for some people on the (council) and I believe that is inappropriate.’’
Christianson repeated the reasons he made last month, in which he said elected officials are responsible for services delivered in Willmar. To make sure services are given to citizens, the council needs to be involved in hiring department heads.
“They’ll take orders from the administrator,’’ he said. “I just want to make sure we get the right person for the job. There’s no secret to hiring the right person. I think it’s best for Willmar that we do this.’’
Anderson, serving as mayor pro tempore in the absence of Mayor Frank Yanish, said he opposed the motion. He said the discussion gets to the philosophy of trust and respect. One of the council’s big duties is to hire an administrator empowered to hire department heads, among other duties.
“I guess I don’t agree that there’s no secret to good hiring. It’s a big task. It’s not an easy process, especially when you’re hiring highly qualified individuals,’’ he said.
Christianson said he was not making the motion out of lack of trust and respect for anybody.
“I see no reason why you wouldn’t trust a council person to be on that committee. We should have a say on who we think might be the best department head,’’ he said.
Ahmann said he didn’t think the policy will do any harm and he asked if staff would be feel uncomfortable with a council person on the committee.
City Administrator Charlene Stevens said the process has worked well. She did not think adding a council member will necessarily improve the process.
“I think it does send a mixed message to the candidates as to who they report to: the administrator or to the council member involved in the process,’’ she said. “Whether you intend it or not, having a council member on that panel might be intimidation.’’