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City Council: Hiring administrator is top priority

WILLMAR -- Local elected officials agree that hiring a replacement for longtime City Administrator Michael Schmit, who will retire at the end of July, is the biggest issue facing the Willmar City Council right now.

Council members who met Friday to discuss current challenges and future needs say the city continues to face issues relating to storm water flooding, increasing cost of electricity, revitalizing downtown, economic development, railroad crossing noise, diversity, transportation, privatizing government services, declining revenue and the level of city services.

But filling the administrator's post with the best qualified person is necessary before those issues can be addressed.

"We have to resolve that issue first before we can actually get into the others because we know there's going to be a change of the guard,'' said Mayor Frank Yanish following the seven-hour work session at the Minn-West Technology Campus.

Council members will host their first round of interviews with six prospective administrator candidates on May 10 and 11, and plan to select two for a second interview on May 24. A representative of the search firm has said background checks will be part of the final interview process.

All eight council members, plus department heads, met with David Unmacht, director of organizational management and human resources group at Springsted Inc. of St. Paul. They discussed immediate and long-term goals and priorities, strategies and ideas on how to move forward with results from the work session.

The council has these goal-setting work sessions every two years after a general election.

Yanish, who attended his first planning session as mayor, said unity has been an issue on the council. Council members and staff spent some time discussing the unity issue. The council has had some split votes on controversial issues.

"Yes, it has been an issue,'' Yanish said. "I'm a firm believer in disagreeing. That's a good thing, but we have to civilly disagree in order to get things done.''

Unmacht, who has more than 26 years of local government management experience, said his purpose was to help the council and staff talk and work through various issues and stimulate discussion related to those issues, to probe some of the details and help develop a work plan.

Unmacht said he thought the council and staff did a nice job of putting issues on the table. Unmacht said members realize they have many ongoing day-to-day challenges.

He said the most successful cities are organized and prioritized because money is tight, people are strapped and resources are constrained.

"So you can't be all things to all people anymore. What city councils are doing is saying we know we have to deliver these basic services and they're all doing that. But we also know that we have to invest in certain other things and that's really what today was about: what are those things,'' Unmacht said.

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