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Push for action on proposed study of Willmar, Minn., city government

WILLMAR — The Labor Relations Committee will recommend the City Council move forward with requesting proposals from firms to perform an organizational assessment of city government.

The committee approved the recommendation Wednesday evening after City Administrator Charlene Stevens presented a proposed scope of work that would be performed by a firm.

The council will consider the recommendation Monday night.

The work plan is designed to provide information necessary for city staff and council to make decisions on the organization’s future.

Among the objectives will be a review of the existing organizational structure and identification of gaps or duplications or both. The study will assess the workplace culture and will involve soliciting feedback from employees.

Another objective will be to develop a succession plan as longtime employees near retirement and new employees are hired.

Other objectives are:

- Observe and identify opportunities for cooperation with other governmental entities.

- Make recommendations on current business practices and processes.

- Assess the city’s customer service and solicit feedback from a range of community partners.

- Assist in implementing the plan.

If the council approves the scope of work, the city would issue requests for proposals on Dec. 18 and proposals would be due Jan. 7. The council would award a contract for professional services on Jan. 22 and work would commence.

Stevens said this kind of work takes from 30 to 90 days to complete. She proposed an aggressive schedule because the city is operating with some staff vacancies, including a city engineer position that has been vacant since September.

During the interim period, staff members have picked up the extra work, including planning and development director Bruce Peterson who is serving as public works director.

He is not a licensed engineer, however, and the city has hired the firm of Bolton and Menk of Willmar as licensed engineer to approve plans and specifications and perform other duties requiring engineering expertise, said Stevens.

“People have stepped up to do those things, but that’s not an ideal circumstance,’’ she said. “In my professional experience, it’s not so good for organizational morale to be in that interim limbo situation without a vision of the future. That’s the reason for the aggressive time frame.’’

The city can extend deadlines, but Stevens said in her experience that three weeks is sufficient time for a firm to respond to the city’s request for proposal.

Three potential respondents, which were suggested to Stevens and which she suggested to the committee, are Fox, Lawson and Associates; Brimeyer Fursman; and Big River Consulting Group.

Fox, Lawson and Associates submitted a proposal to Kandiyohi County. Big River Consulting, which Labor Committee Chair Steve Ahmann referenced at a previous council meeting, has done some strategic planning for the Willmar School District. Brimeyer Fursman was recommended by the League of Minnesota Cities.

Stevens said requests for proposals will be sent to those three firms. Some committee members expressed interest in sending a request to Springsted Inc., which did a similar study for the Willmar Municipal Utilities. Also, the request will be posted on the city’s website.

Stevens said getting feedback from employees is a good idea.

“In my experience with organizational restructuring, they always include some kind of feedback from employees,’’ Stevens said. “It’s good to know from a leadership perspective, certainly from my perspective.’’

The committee’s decision was praised by Dave Baker, a member of the citizens group Moving Willmar Forward, which had urged the council Dec. 3 to perform a study. Four other members of the 16-member group also attended the committee meeting.

The group said a study would help the council prepare for less government financial resources, identify ways to cooperate with other government entities, adopt best practices, plan for retirements and involve current city employees in the entire process.

“I think our group thinks that because of the upcoming retirements and personnel changes and the possibility of working with other government entities, it’s a good time in the history of the city to take a look at those kinds of opportunities,’’ Baker said.

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