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Willmar Council directs city attorney to prepare charter for public hearing

WILLMAR -- After more than two years of discussion and review, the Charter Commission has completed work on proposed amendments to the City Charter.

"Back in March of 2009 we started our work and over two years later we're glad to say we are done at least with the final draft we're presenting,'' Charter Commission Chair Shawn Mueske told the City Council on Monday.

On a voice vote the council directed City Attorney Rich Ronning to put the draft in ordinance form. Ronning did not know when he would have the ordinance completed and ready for a public hearing. After receiving the ordinance, the council under state law has 60 days to take action.

Charter changes can be adopted either by a majority vote of the public or by a unanimous vote of all eight City Council members.

But a unanimous council vote may not be likely because member Ron Christianson opposes two proposed amendments.

If there is no unanimous vote, the amendments return to the Charter Commission. The commission could submit the charter to the public for a vote, or resubmit controversial sections and ask the council to act on sections where there is agreement.

State law does not allow the council to pull out selected sections and act on its own, said City Clerk-Treasurer Kevin Halliday. However, the council can act on selected sections if they are presented by the commission. That's what happened last year when the commission presented and the council approved an amendment that extends the term limits for utility commission and hospital board members.

Christianson opposes an amendment that would increase from five to six the number of affirmative City Council votes needed to override actions of the Municipal Utilities Commission and Rice Hospital Board. Halliday said neither the utilities commission nor hospital board requested the super majority.

The commission says the super majority would be consistent with the charter's present threshold of 6 affirmative council votes needed to override the mayor's veto of any ordinance, resolution or motion.

Christianson expressed his opposition to the super majority at a joint City Council-Charter Commission work session on April 27. Commission members agreed to reconsider the matter. But at their May 24 meeting, commissioners voted to retain in the super majority.

In an interview after the council meeting, Christianson explained why he opposes the super majority.

"They say we're overseeing the Municipal Utilities Commission too much,'' he said. "I think we as elected officials are representing the public and the public owns the utility. The public owns the hospital. We need to retain as much control over both of those as we can because we own them.''

Christianson also opposes an amendment that would require the council to adopt the Minnesota Mayors Association Rules of Order for City Councils. Presently, the council has not adopted rules of order, although the charter presently states the council shall adopt its own rules and order of business.

The commission believes that the council should adopt rules of order. The commission discussed a number of options and said the association's rules seemed the most appropriate, although the rules could be modified.

Christianson said the association's rules are mainly for statutory cities. He said Willmar is a charter city and said the council can make its own rules.

"We control our own destiny being a charter city,'' he said. "The others are controlled by the state. I think we're very civil at our meetings and we can get the job done without having a set of rules in place.''

Christianson also said he was disappointed that the amendments were presented in one chunk for an up or down vote rather than in separate sections.

"You know how I feel on a couple of items. I would say it's at risk,'' he said.

Halliday said the commission could submit amendments section by section.

"They are choosing not to,'' he said. "The whole draft is there before you.''

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