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Council sets hearing for October on City Charter amendments

WILLMAR -- The Willmar City Council voted Monday night to hold a public hearing Oct. 19 on proposed ordinance amendments to the City Charter that would extend the term limits of Rice Hospital Board and Municipal Utilities Commission members.

The Charter Commission is recommending charter amendments that would extend the term limits from two 3-year terms to three 3-year terms.

The hospital board and utilities commission are asking for the expanded term limits to allow members to take greater advantage of their hospital and utility knowledge before their terms expire. The board and commission had asked the Charter Commission to recommend extending term limits to four 3-year terms.

The term limit amendments are the first proposed charter changes brought to the council by the Charter Commission since the commission began meeting March 5 to review the charter for possible changes. The council in October 2008 called for the commission to be convened. Commission members were nominated by the council and appointed by the district court.

City Clerk-Treasurer Kevin Halliday, who attends the twice-monthly Charter Commission meetings, said adoption of the amendments requires an affirmative vote by all eight council members. Council member Bruce DeBlieck indicated he may not attend the Oct. 19 meeting.

Mayor Les Heitke asked if the hearing would be held the same night that the vote would be taken. City Attorney Rich Ronning said holding the hearing and tabling a vote until the first council meeting in November would be permissible.

Halliday recommended the timetable because the Charter Commission wants to expedite the hospital board's request to retain some quality members when their terms expire at the end of the year. If the council approves the amendments on Oct. 19, the amendments would take effect in 90 days.

"We're into the later meeting in January, but (the hospital board) can live with that, should the mayor recommend them to serve another term and the council adopt that, that will have to fall into place, too,'' he said.

Council member Ron Christianson asked if the Charter Commission -- while it is open -- can bring any issue to the council, request a hearing, and changes would go into effect upon an 8-0 council vote.

Halliday said the council must pass the recommendation in its entirety. If an ordinance has 20 parts to it, the council can't say it likes 10 parts and "line-out'' the other 10.

Halliday said the Charter Commission has a number of options. If the council defeats a proposed amendment, the Charter Commission could alter the proposal and return it to the council. Also, the Charter Commission could bypass the council and propose the amendment to the populace in the next general election. A simple majority of one-half plus one of those voting is needed, said Halliday.

Heitke asked Halliday about new charter language that would allow a hospital board and utilities commission member to be appointed again when one year has elapsed from the date of the expiration of the member's most recent term.

Halliday said the Charter Commission wanted the language written into the charter.

Heitke said the council has exercised that option several times, even though it's not written in the charter now.

"That's correct,'' said Halliday. "They feel it's important to make it clear and they want the wording in there.''

In an interview after the council adjourned, the Tribune asked Halliday why the Charter Commission recommended three 3-year terms and not four 3-year terms.

He said the Charter Commission has a variety of members with varying opinions. One thinks terms should not change to provide an opportunity to move more citizens through these leadership roles. Another thought four 3-year terms was an enormous commitment by a citizen and that three terms would be better.

However, the commission voted and agreed place the amendments before the council, said Halliday.

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