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Charter commission will make its case to City Council Monday

WILLMAR -- The Willmar Charter Commission will present a draft of its proposed City Charter amendments on Monday.

Commission Chairman Bob Bonawitz said at a Charter Commission meeting Thursday that he will make the main presentation about the commission's work for the past year and a half. He invited other commissioners to add their views if they want.

The commission has been split on one of the biggest proposed changes -- removing the City Council's veto power over the operation of the Willmar Municipal Utilities Commission. The utility and Rice Memorial Hospital are both city-owned entities.

Many of the votes to insert the MUC change into the charter were split 5-3 or 6-2, members said at the meeting Thursday. Most other issues were addressed without controversy.

The controversial nature of the suggested change was apparent even at the Thursday commission meeting.

Some members wanted to know if their side of the issue would be presented to the City Council. Bonawitz, a former MUC member, said he would try to cover everything that was discussed. "Anyone here can get up and speak," he added.

"Some issues passed, and some failed," said commission member Mike Nitchals, who said he would be in favor a vote on the entire document. "There are a lot of things we've touched on that aren't even controversial," he added. Nitchals is a former general manager of the Municipal Utilities.

But commission member Audrey Nelsen said that she felt she would have to vote against the entire document at this point, because of her objections to the change regarding the MUC.

Commission member Shawn Mueske said he thought it would be difficult to explain to the council and the voters why the council would still be able to veto the Rice Hospital Board but not the MUC.

Former mayor and city clerk Richard Hoglund, also a member of the commission, said after the meeting that he was not in favor of the change, either. "I think there should be veto power," he said.

After the meeting, Nitchals said the MUC asked for the change, and he voted in favor of it because "it made sense" and would be in the best interest of the city's utility operation. "The (MUC) reported that there were things that were not moving forward," he added.

Bonawitz said the request from the MUC had to do with personnel decisions and other day-to-day operations. As the charter now reads, he said, any of those decisions can be vetoed. In the past, some MUC actions have been put off because of concerns about City Council reaction, he said.

The proposed change will preserve the council's veto power over major contracts, land sales and rate increases, Bonawitz said.

The commission is set to meet next on July 28. Commissioners said they hope to have some idea by then of the City Council's views of the charter revisions. After they have addressed council reactions and have a final draft, they will hire the League of Minnesota Cities to review the charter.

Linda Vanderwerf

I cover education issues for the West Central Tribune and have worked for the paper since 1995. I have worked in journalism since 1981.

Follow me on Twitter: @lindavanderwerf

(320) 214-4340