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Proposed charter amendment would require Willmar, Minn., council to appoint city attorney

WILLMAR — The Willmar City Council will hold a public hearing March 4 on a City Charter amendment that for the first time would require the council to appoint a city attorney. The amendment is recommended by the Charter Commission.

0 Talk about it

The city attorney amendment is one of many charter changes that the commission has been working on for more than three years and has asked the council to enact.

The charter, which is the city’s governing document, is silent on appointing a city attorney. Up until now, the services of a city attorney have been provided under contract with a law firm.

After longtime City Attorney Rich Ronning retired in March 2012, the council hired the St. Paul law firm of Flaherty and Hood for legal counsel and hired the Anderson Law Firm of Willmar for city criminal prosecution.

The proposed amendment includes new wording that requires the council to “appoint a licensed attorney(s) who shall be an officer of the city and shall be called the city attorney(s).’’ Alternately, the council may contract for legal services with a licensed individual or law firm.

New wording also states that “such attorney(s) shall perform the duties required of the council, and that such duties including the enforcement of the charter shall be enumerated in a city ordinance.’’

City code currently has no ordinance spelling out the city attorney’s duties. But that situation will change because the council voted Monday night to director City Attorney Robert Scott of Flaherty and Hood to draft a general ordinance defining the city attorney’s duties. The move was recommended by the council’s Labor Relations Committee.

The charter since the early 1990s has required the council to appoint a city administrator. But the charter never referred to an ordinance spelling out the administrator’s duties.

That situation will also change because the proposed charter amendment would include wording that refers to an ordinance that will require the administrator to enforce the charter and will spell other duties.

City Clerk-Treasurer Kevin Halliday said Charter Commission members unanimously agreed that the duties should be listed in an ordinance, which is easier to amend, rather than be listed in the charter, which is more difficult to amend.

Halliday reminded the council that affirmative votes are required by all eight council members to amend the charter.

He said the March 4 hearing date provides time for the winner of the Ward 4 special election Feb. 12 to fill the vacant seat on the council in time for the hearing.

In other business, the council:

  •  Watched as Fire Chief Gary Hendrickson administered the oath of office for new city firefighters Jesse Hyatt, Ross Livingood, Jim Deleeuw and LeRoy Gabrielson.
  •  Approved the fund balance policy. It establishes guidelines for the level of fund balances available for current and future spending in the governmental funds, addresses minimum fund balances and sets a stabilization amount for use in emergency situations.
  •  Received the report of 2012 proposed street and other improvements and set Feb. 19 as the date for a hearing to take public comments on the report.
  •  Voted to take public comments March 4 on an ordinance amendment that would increase the fee charged by the city for responding to false alarms from $250 to $500. The fee would be charged after the fifth false alarm per year. Alarm systems would need to be registered and charges would be waived for the owner providing evidence of system servicing and repair.
David Little
David Little covers the Willmar City Council, Willmar Municipal Utilities and other city news.
(320) 235-1150