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EDC: Deadlock on board appointment; 3 vacancies remain on operating board

WILLMAR — Almost five months into the year, appointments to the joint operating board of the Kandiyohi County and City of Willmar Economic Development Commission remain incomplete, and the wait got a little bit longer with a failed vote Thursday to appoint the sole nominee so far.

On a 3-3 vote, the EDC’s joint powers board deadlocked on whether to approve the appointment of Linda Kacher.

The split left the board short of the necessary four votes for the appointment to succeed — and it left the seven-member joint operating board still short three members.

Board members who voted in favor of Kacher’s appointment voiced dismay afterward over the outcome.

“I can’t tell you how disappointed I am that we’re even talking about this,” said Ron Christianson of the Willmar Council. “I’m embarrassed.”

The vote divided along city-county lines. Christianson, Steve Ahmann and Denis Anderson, all of the Willmar City Council, voted to support the appointment. Jim Butterfield, Harlan Madsen and Dean Shuck of the Kandiyohi County Board of Commissioners voted against.

The situation added to the tensions that have surrounded the Economic Development Commission for much of the past year as it fended off accusations of conflicts of interest and improprieties in how it was handling its reserve fund.

None of the allegations was ever substantiated, and Denis Anderson, chairman of the joint powers board, pleaded Thursday for an end to the conflict.

“I’m hoping that we’re going to move forward, that we’re going to have some common goals,” he said. “We’re going to be positive.”

Still, frustration spilled forth after the failed vote over Kacher’s appointment to the operating board.

Kacher, who was named by Willmar Mayor Frank Yanish as his nominee to the EDC operating board, did not have a unanimous endorsement from the City Council, which had voted 5-3 earlier this year to support her appointment.

She was willing to serve, however, and should have been allowed to do so, said Ahmann.

“When has the City Council ever turned down someone who wants to volunteer their time and talent?” he said.

Christianson speculated openly that a conspiracy theory was afoot to derail Kacher’s appointment to the EDC operating board. “Evidently you’ve been lobbied very hard,” he told the three county commissioners who sit on the joint powers board.

Later in the discussion he raised the issue again. “Too much of this is going on behind our backs,” he said.

The joint powers board will conduct a special meeting May 21 to attempt once again to fill the three vacancies on the operating board. Two of the vacancies came about when the terms of Milan Schmiesing and Rick Nordin expired on Dec. 31. A third vacancy occurred in March with the resignation of Robert Enos.

It’s becoming increasingly difficult for the operating board to function with almost half of its positions left empty, Anderson said. “We are handicapping the operations board. We need to get those positions filled.”

But except for Kacher, there have been no other candidates.

Madsen, who’s responsible for nominating a candidate from his commissioner district, said he is close to making a recommendation but has struggled to find someone willing to serve.

“Some said they want nothing to do with it, which is disappointing, frankly,” he said.

The controversies that have repeatedly thrust the Economic Development Commission into the public spotlight are scaring away potential board candidates, he said. “I’ve had that told to me. We’ve got to get past that.”

County Commissioner Jim Butterfield urged the joint powers board to reach a resolution at next month’s special meeting and move forward.

“We have three people to appoint. I think that we can come together and get these three appointments,” he said.

Anne Polta

Anne Polta covers health care, business/economic development and general assignment. Her HealthBeat blog can be found at Follow her on Twitter at @AnnePolta.

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