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Willmar council makes small changes to meeting structure

Shelby Lindrud / Tribune file photo

WILLMAR — A majority of the Willmar City Council voted this week to stick with its current work session structure for the foreseeable future, while also adding a separate labor committee meeting to the schedule.

"I believe it is worth a shot, to strive to be better," Councilor Andrew Plowman said.

The council also agreed to use the fifth Monday of the month, which occurs five times in 2018, as a special work session if needed.

"We would use that to get caught up. We could have that meeting longer, it wouldn't have to hold to that hour, hour-and-a-half," Mayor Marv Calvin said Monday.

The City Council decided in January to cease having four separate committee meetings — Finance, Labor, Community Development, Public Works and Public Safety. Those committees, made up of four council members, one from each ward, usually met individually twice a month. There had been concerns about lax attendance and insufficient sharing of information with the entire council.

Instead of those committee meetings, a 90-minute work session of the full council membership was added prior to the regular City Council meetings on the first and third Mondays of the month, which is when the council members would receive all the information members used to discuss in committee.

The council added a caveat at that time that members would revisit the meeting structure after six months, to see how it was going and if changes were needed. Those discussions started in August.

The motion at Monday's council meeting, to continue the work sessions and add a stand-alone labor committee, passed with six yes votes. Councilor Rick Fagerlie voted no, while Councilor Ron Christianson abstained.

"They're both nos," Christianson said after the vote.

City Attorney Robert Scott said a resolution laying out the changes would be presented to the council at the next meeting for formal approval.

Christianson has been a supporter of the committee structure since the beginning, feeling it is easier and more comfortable for residents. He also feels the council isn't getting the same amount of information about city business in the work sessions.

"I think we should have all four committees personally. I think we are doing a big disservice to our taxpaying public. The mayor preached about transparency, we want to be as transparent as possible. And we're not without these committee meetings," Christianson said.

Fagerlie also prefers the committee meeting structure.

"Fourteen days without seeing each other is a long time. And email doesn't do it for me," Fagerlie said.

However, others expressed more favorable views of the work sessions.

"We are all at the table, we are all hearing the same thing at the same time," Councilor Audrey Nelsen said, adding she had public requests that the work sessions be aired live on WRAC, as the regular meeting is. "I do see it as a more transparent way for all of us to hear the same thing and experience the same thing."

There was a push to make the work sessions more efficient and perhaps even create a separate finance committee if the need remains. Calvin said City Administrator Ike Holland has been working on improved scheduling of the work session and distribution of information to the council.

"We haven't had time to get Mr. Holland's touch on it," Calvin said.

Instead of revisiting the meeting structure changes in a few months, the council put no mandated review in the motion. This allows the councilors the freedom to propose changes whenever they feel it is necessary.

"Consider it a work in progress. If it's not working, we should be responsible enough to make changes," Nelsen said.

There were also comments that the council's willingness to update the meeting structure is showing the council can make changes to how it does things to better serve the public.

"As long as we are taking proactive steps to be better and try to do better work together, I think that is the main thing. And that is a message that the community needs to see," Plowman said.