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City of Willmar land transfer to Jennie-O to require hearing

Offices of Jennie-O Turkey Store in Willmar are shown in this February file photo. An expansion of the company’s headquarters is planned. The city of Willmar is expected to transfer two parcels of land for the project. An ordinance is required to complete the land transfer, and a public hearing must be conducted. (Tribune photo by Ron Adams)

WILLMAR — The transfer of city-owned land to Jennie-O Turkey Store for the company’s proposed Phase I corporate expansion will require an ordinance and a public hearing to transfer the land.

That’s the opinion of city staff who previously had not closely reviewed City Charter provisions that require a land transfer be authorized by ordinance — and an ordinance requires a public hearing.

The requirement is found in Section 2.12, 1(G), under ordinances and resolutions. The charter states that certain acts of the council shall be by ordinance, including authorizing the conveyance of any city lands.

“City staff just made a mistake,’’ City Administrator Charlene Stevens said in an interview this week. “We didn’t closely enough review the charter on the land conveyance and recognize its part of the charter. It’s an unusual provision. I’ve worked for a number of cities. Typically it’s not a provision. I wasn’t familiar with it. We just kind of missed it. The city attorney also missed it.’’

The issue of a public hearing first surfaced during the March 3 council meeting when the council voted to direct city staff to develop an agreement with Jennie-O Turkey Store for the land transfer.

The approximately 8 acres consists of two parcels located between the south end of the Public Works maintenance property and County Road 5. The proposed $238,072 sale price would be written down to $0 under the city’s land write-down policy that provides certain credits for jobs created and market value created.

Jennie-O plans to use the parcels for an expansion of its corporate headquarters.

During the council meeting two weeks ago, Councilman Steve Ahmann and a citizen, Linda Kacher, spoke in favor of conducting a hearing on the land transfer.

Stevens told the council at that time that a hearing was not required.

But after reviewing the charter, Stevens says an ordinance is required to transfer the land and that a hearing is required on the ordinance.

Stevens said the charter does not state that the transfer itself requires a public hearing, but the transfer must be done by ordinance and that’s what triggers the requirement for a public hearing. Anytime there’s an ordinance, it requires a public hearing. But she said it was not clear, so it was missed.

So on Monday night, staff will ask the council to introduce an ordinance authorizing the transfer of the land to Jennie-O and to introduce the ordinance for a public hearing April 7.

In terms of where the city is with the Jennie-O project, the council will still be able to have the hearing April 7, Stevens said.

“The action the council took at the March 3 meeting was direct us to develop an agreement with (Jennie-O Turkey Store) for the land transfer. They didn’t take any action that’s contrary to the City Charter,’’ she said.

Stevens said staff is working on a draft agreement that could be reviewed by the Community Development Committee March 27 or as late as April 3, and have the agreement ready for council consideration April 7.

Stevens said she and City Attorney Robert Scott notified council members by email of the ordinance and hearing requirement.

Staff also notified Jennie-O.

Jennie-O President Glenn Leitch told the Tribune in a statement: “We respect the fact that the city needs to follow certain guidelines and procedures. We look forward to a timely resolution. If we are to build this year, we would want to break ground very soon, so the (headquarters expansion) structure is closed in by this fall.”

The council will meet at 7 p.m. Monday in the chambers at the Municipal Utilities Building, 700 Litchfield Ave. S.W.

Among other agenda items, the council will receive reports from the Labor Relations Committee, Finance Committee and Public Works/Safety Committee; and will receive a presentation from Willmar Area Food Shelf Executive Director Christie Kurth.

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