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Council seems more interested in convening Charter Commission

WILLMAR -- Willmar City Council members seem more interested now than they were last February in convening the Charter Commission, if discussion at a Wednesday night work session is any indication.

No decisions were made, but discussion indicated the council is moving toward calling the Charter Commission, said Mayor Les Heitke after the one-hour session at the City Office Building.

"I expect at the next (council) meeting or one after that that a council member will probably make a motion to ask the council to support a motion to ask to convene a new Charter Commission,'' Heitke said in a interview.

"It was a good meeting and I think the council is probably going to move forward with this,'' he said.

The council voted in late August to hold another work session to discuss the Charter Commission.

During the first work session in February the council seemed less interested in convening the commission.

However, the council's Labor Relations Committee in July recommended the council take steps to convene the Charter Commission. The committee acted after a local citizen, John Sullivan, told the council that the Charter Commission should be convened because state statute requires home-rule charter cities like Willmar to have a commission meet once a year.

Any changes to the city charter must be reviewed first by the Charter Commission.

Council members say issues that have surfaced, which would require Charter Commission consideration, are extending term limits and providing compensation for members of boards and commissions such as Rice Hospital Board and the Municipal Utilities Commission.

Another issue is recognition of the name change of the Park and Leisure Services Board to the Community Education and Recreation Board. The name was changed after the Willmar Schools' Community Education Department and the city's Recreation Department merged.

Attending the work session besides Heitke were Denis Anderson, Ron Christianson, Jim Dokken, Bruce DeBlieck, Doug Reese and Steve Gardner. Cindy Swenson and Rick Fagerlie were absent.

Charter Commission members are appointed by the district court from a list of names provided by the City Council. The size of the commission, from not less than 7 to not more than 15, is specified by the council.

Consensus of council members was that the size of the commission should be 9 to possibly 11 members. Council members felt an odd number of commission members would be better than an even number.

City Attorney Rich Ronning clarified council members' questions about Charter Commission statutes and procedures.

Although the council could recommend issues for the Charter Commission to consider, the commission has the prerogative to decide what its members will consider, Ronning said.

He said the council could amend the charter by ordinance to provide compensation to boards and commissions after the issue has been reviewed by the Charter Commission. But the ordinance must be approved by a vote of all eight council members.

Extension of term limits beyond the current two consecutive three-year terms was requested by Rice Hospital Board and the Utilities Commission to make more effective use of the educational time invested in their members.

Ronning said term limits recently came into existence because a commission had one member who served for almost 30 years. Ronning said the individual tended to dominate that commission. He said successive mayors were reluctant to embarrass the individual by not reappointing that person to the commission.

Ronning said the compensation issue has come up numerous times, but commission and board members continue to serve without compensation.

Council members agreed that the Charter Commission should be convened.

"It seems to me if we're going to be a charter city, then let's be a charter city and let the Charter Commission do what they need to do, have the charter reviewed,'' he said.