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Mayor compliments city, criticizes council in annual address

Willmar Mayor Frank Yanish makes a point Monday during a council meeting. Yanish praised local business and economic development during his annual State of the City address but all also said the council needs to be more involved with what is happening in the community and he said the administration has not been as “open’’ as needed. Tribune photo by Ron Adams

WILLMAR — Willmar Mayor Frank Yanish praised local business and economic development and growth in population and labor force in his annual State of the City address Monday night to the City Council.

But Yanish criticized some council members and local critics, whom he did not identify, and the West Central Tribune, all of whom Yanish said have discouraged council discussion, particularly those with alternative options.

Yanish said the council needs to be more involved with what is happening in the community and he said the administration has not been as “open’’ as needed.

Yanish encouraged staff to make recommendations. But he said the council is responsible for questioning those recommendations and he said staff is the most knowledgeable about where opportunities exist to increase efficiency and reduce costs.

“I am pleased to tell you that the state of our city is good,’’ Yanish said to the television viewers and about two dozen people in the chambers at the Municipal Utilities Building.

Yanish listed 11 significant business projects in 2013 and said the value of all construction from January through November totaled $48.7 million compared with $17.1 million for all of 2012. He said seven projects are upcoming in 2014 but did not identify them, and he noted the overlay project on U.S. Highway 12 East and the Lakeland Drive project.

Yanish said retail sales were estimated at $650 million; unemployment in the city was 4 percent in October; the labor force was 25,000; population was estimated at 20,300; and median family income was more than $50,000 compared with $49,512 in 2010.

“I feel we have accomplished many things: two of the three (railroad) quiet zones are being completed and the airport land issues are mostly resolved and moving forward,’’ Yanish said.

But Yanish said things have not always gone smoothly “and it is no secret that we have some struggles. I promised transparency and that is what I have tried to give you, and it is my intention to work hard to get everyone back on the same page and to do what is best for our city.’’

Yanish said non-elected people are trying to run the city without the information that the council has. He said his role does not include management authority. But his oversight and budget-setting responsibilities raise the need for him to speak out.

“I have found that unfortunately the past mindset of some council members, local critics and the local newspaper have discouraged discussion of issues in council, particularly those with alternative options,’’ Yanish said.

“It seems that in the past things appear to have been ‘worked out’ prior to the meetings instead of in the public eye, and I feel it is in the best interest of our taxpayers to know how and why certain decisions are made and how their tax dollars are being spent,’’ he said.

Yanish said he intends to speak out more when he feels the council needs to provide direction to administration and he encouraged the involvement of both the council and himself at earlier stages than it has done in the past.

“Although we have some issues to work on, our city is in good hands,’’ said Yanish, who offered to discuss the address and take questions from council members.

Finance Committee Chairman Denis Anderson asked Yanish to explain his statement about things being worked out prior to meetings.

“I go back to our budgetary discussion of last fall and we had two or three work sessions that were televised for the public to see and I think we’re making an effort to be transparent,’’ Anderson said.

“I don’t feel that there’s instances where there’s some sort of backroom discussions on items and a decision is made before we meet. I’d like you to clarify that just a little bit,’’ Anderson said.

“Well, I’d like to know what planet you’re on, Denis, because there is some things that are going on behind the scenes that I don’t learn about until after the fact. And so, I mean that respectfully. For you not to understand or to see that this is happening, I feel bad for you,’’ Yanish said.

“I don’t,’’ Anderson replied, “because I don’t think it’s happening to that great an extent and I’m sure there are some things. But I think we so many times talk about not violating the Open Meeting Law. That’s our code, so we don’t do that. I just don’t see it that way.’’

Bruce DeBlieck disagreed that things are being done behind closed doors and he voiced agreement with Anderson.

“For the mayor to criticize a council member for him not knowing what’s going on, I don’t know if that really should be done here at this table. I do have real high regards for the council and their ability to do things above the board in the public eye and we’re entirely cognizant of what open meeting and Open Meeting Laws entail,’’ he said.

Yanish said he has the highest regard for the council.

“This council has been accused of being dysfunctional. This council is not dysfunctional. This is a good council,’’ Yanish said.

During the open forum, Jerry Gesch recommended department heads provide monthly reports of accomplishments and concerns, and he suggested council members go with them and see what their concerns are.

Also, he urged everyone at the table to think about what they’re saying.

“Your discussions should be professional and mature,’’ he said.

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