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Council defeats move to bring all members into contract talks

WILLMAR -- An attempt to bring all Willmar City Council members into the negotiations process with city employee labor groups failed on a 5-3 vote Monday night.

Council member Ron Christianson offered a motion, seconded by Jim Dokken, to have all eight council members -- rather than the four-member Labor Relations Committee -- meet and have a chance to speak during upcoming consideration of contracts with two employee groups.

The Labor Relations Committee is scheduled to meet at 4:45 p.m. Thursday to consider contracts with two American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees labor groups. The committee and City Administrator Charlene Stevens have been negotiating contracts with the groups for some time.

Christianson quoted state law that allows the governing body of a public employer, by a majority vote in a public meeting, to decide to hold a closed meeting to consider strategy for labor negotiations, including strategies or developments or discussion and review labor negotiation proposals.

He said the time and commencement of the place of the closed meeting shall be announced at the public meeting.

Christianson said the council as a governing body can set a date and have all members meet and speak to negotiations instead of just four committee members. Council members can attend any committee meeting but are not allowed to speak if they are not a member of that committee.

Christianson's intent was to have the full council at the labor meeting.

"I would like my voice to be heard and my opinion,'' he said. Otherwise, the only way to have his voice heard is through Tim Johnson, who also represents Ward 2. Johnson is a Labor Committee member.

Christianson had earlier suggested at the Sept. 15 meeting of the Community Development Committee that the entire council be engaged in labor negotiations.

At the Sept. 22 Labor Committee meeting, Chairman Steve Ahmann raised Christianson's suggestion. The committee agreed to continue negotiations with the current strategy in place, but in the future to engage the full council in a workshop to discuss overall strategy.

Ahmann said he would agree to engage the full council if that was what the council wanted. But he said the council would be changing policy and would have to set some parameters around that.

"I'm a little apprehensive voting for this. But without knowing what the full policy changes would be if we approve this motion now, we're not setting any parameters around it and I'd just as soon bring it back to committee or have some recommendation from staff. I don't want it to get cumbersome,'' he said.

Labor Committee member Doug Reese said the council had a work session where parameters were discussed and staff has been negotiating contracts within those parameters.

"I think for us to have a discussion and maybe changing some of those parameters, this is the wrong time to be doing that,'' he said. "For them to go into negotiations now with different parameters that may be more confining, I think we'd be setting ourselves up as a city for some difficult negotiations if we change negotiation strategies.''

Johnson did not think the motion was an attempt to change the guidelines given to the city administrator and he didn't know where it would make any significant change in discussion. It's give-and-take, he said, to reach an agreement.

Dokken said he did not know what parameters would change, but said eight members would be voting and not four. Dokken said he thinks the council has a mandate, with the overwhelming election of Mayor Frank Yanish, to do things differently.

Before calling for the vote, Yanish said he supported Christianson's motion.

Voting in favor were Christianson, Johnson and Dokken.

Voting against were Ahmann, Reese, Denis Anderson, Rick Fagerlie and Bruce DeBlieck.

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