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City Council opposes loss of veto power over Municipal Utilities Commission

WILLMAR -- Four Willmar City Council members say they oppose a proposed change in the city charter that would remove the council's veto authority over the Willmar Municipal Utilities Commission.

Council members Steve Ahmann, Bruce DeBlieck, Doug Reese and Denis Anderson say they do not support a Willmar Charter Commission recommendation to remove language that gives overriding power to the council over the Utilities Commission.

Ahmann says he does not agree with the change, which would remove the council's right to oversee and have veto power over the Utilities Commission.

DeBlieck says the council needs to maintain its authority over the utilities. "I do not believe that we should be giving that power up,'' he said.

Reese said the city has two entities -- the Utilities Commission and Rice Hospital -- that come under the authority of the council. Reese says he does not know why the Charter Commission would say the council should relinquish the veto power over the Utilities Commission and not the hospital.

"I am not in favor of relinquishing that veto power over either because we are the representatives of the taxpayers and residents in the city of Willmar and who is ultimately responsible for the MUC and Rice but the taxpayers?'' said Reese. "I'm not going to give it up. I won't vote for it.''

Anderson said he would like to have the Charter Commission reconsider and think about the section relating to the utilities. "I don't think there is much appetite on the part of the council to go along with that and perhaps there can be something more amenable than what it is now,'' he said. "I agree it's not something I'm in favor of.''

Council members stated their opposition during discussion Tuesday night about how to handle the charter review they ordered on July 19. The review was recently completed by Rachel Carlson, staff attorney with the League of Minnesota Cities.

The council ordered Carlson's review after receiving the Charter Commission's recommended changes. The recommendations were made after nearly 17 months of study by the Charter Commission.

The council discussed three options for handling Carlson's review and voted to send her report to the Charter Commission for its continued review.

Two other options were also available to the council: act on the previously presented charter changes and direct the city attorney to place them in ordinance form; or reject portions of the changes and refer those sections back to the Charter Commission.

Reese said Carlson's review was in-depth and detailed, and he said sending the report to the Charter Commission was appropriate.

Ahmann said the commission has done a good job, and he asked City Attorney Rich Ronning to also conduct a review.

Ron Christianson and Jim Dokken said the proposed changes should return to the council in sections rather than all at once for council members to consider.

Anderson said the council could certainly receive the whole document but perhaps vote on sections at different times.

"I'm not in favor of trying to discuss and dissect the whole thing at one setting,'' he said. "We can work that out to everyone's satisfaction.''

In related business, City Clerk Kevin Halliday said the district court has appointed attorney Joe Thompson to fill a vacancy on the Charter Commission.

Home rule charters are, in effect, local constitutions, said Carlson in her report. State law gives cities a wide range of discretion in the contents of a charter. The charter may provide for any form of municipal government as long as it is consistent with state laws that apply uniformly to all cities in Minnesota.

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