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Vote on lobbyist is moved back by the EDC

WILLMAR -- No super majority, no vote.

A decision by the Kandiyohi County and City of Willmar Economic Development Commission on hiring a lobbyist for the upcoming legislative session has been put off until next week, after the EDC joint powers board fell short Thursday of the super majority required to decide the issue.

The six-person joint powers board contains three representatives from the Willmar City Council and three from the Kandiyohi County Board of Commissioners. The super majority requirement is intended to prevent votes from becoming deadlocked.

But two members of the board were unable to attend Thursday's quarterly meeting, which meant the remaining four couldn't take official action.

A special meeting is being scheduled for late next week when a majority of the board can be present.

"It needs to be six here," said Ron Christianson, chairman of the joint powers board.

The board is under a deadline of sorts: The 2010 legislative session opens Feb. 4, making it urgent to decide soon on hiring a lobbyist to help push through a veterans home proposal for Willmar.

The recommendation from Steve Renquist, executive director of the Economic Development Commission, is to hire former Minnesota Sen. Dean Elton Johnson and his lobbying firm, Bringing People Together. Johnson was one of six lobbyists who submitted proposals last month for consideration.

Renquist called Johnson "our best choice."

The former senator and Senate majority leader comes with experience on both sides of the political aisle, is a retired military chaplain and is both knowledgeable and well-qualified to lobby for the veterans home, Renquist said.

The veterans home would provide both geriatric and mental health care to Minnesota veterans -- a combination of services that many veterans advocates say is badly needed. A bill has made it through the legislative conference committee the past two years in a row, only to be dropped before the end of the session.

Local officials believe this could be the make-or-break year to get the project approved.

"We've been so close for two years. I think we can push this over the top," Renquist said. "It is the right thing to do for our veterans."

"I do definitely believe that this is the opportunity," agreed board member Harlan Madsen. "If it is not accomplished this year, then we'll have to rethink."

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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