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Proposed evaluation process with top city official in Willmar, Minn., overturned

WILLMAR — By a 5-4 decision with Mayor Frank Yanish casting a tie-breaking vote, the City Council has overturned a proposed evaluation process for City Administrator Charlene Stevens.

The decision means the cou-ncil will not be following a pr-ovision in St-evens’ contract, signed June 1, 2011, that provides the pro-cess, form, criteria and format for the annual evaluation to be mutually agreed upon by the council and Stevens.

Instead, the council decided Monday to follow a process in which council members complete evaluation forms that they then bring and discuss with Stevens at a closed meeting in a process that council members have used in the past with the previous city administrator.

The state’s Open Meeting Law provides for a meeting to be lawfully closed to the public for a performance evaluation.

Four council members voted in favor and four against a motion by Ron Christianson to use the past process, which he said was simpler than the process being proposed.

Christianson also said he did not support the suggestion, which was discussed at the March 21 Labor Relations Committee, that City Attorney Robert Scott be used as a conduit for the individual forms completed by council members. The method was used by the Willmar Municipal Utilities Commission, sending the forms to the attorney and Scott then returning them to the utility.

“Why are we changing it from what was done in the past? We fill out the forms, we meet as a council in a closed meeting, discuss it. The administrator comes in later. We go over it with the administrator. It’s discussed and we hand the forms in. We’re making the process cumbersome,’’ said Christianson, who is a Labor Committee member.

Christianson, saying his circle of trust has shrunk due to distractions to the council the last 12 months, said he did not want his form “floating around out there in anybody’s hands.’’

Council member Audrey Nelsen, who is not a Labor Committee member but attended the meeting, said she understood Chairman Steve Ahmann and Vice Chairman Jim Dokken would meet with Stevens to determine a process and that that was part of the agreement under her contract. Nelsen said the three of them would come up with a recommended process.

“I thought that that’s what they were going to do, to come up with an agreeable process among them and bring it back to the council to be reviewed,’’ Nelsen said.

Council member Tim Johnson, who is not a Labor Committee member, said he was not sure what happened in the meeting. He noted the meeting minutes said it was suggested the forms be sent to the city attorney. Johnson said he agreed with Christianson.

“I don’t know where it ended up,’’ he said. “Why send to the city attorney? It seems a little odd we’d involve someone in the process that we’ve not involved before.’’

Committee member Denis Anderson opposed Christianson’s motion.

“This is silly. We entrusted the chair and vice chair and Charlene to develop a process. Now we’re sticking our nose right in the middle of it. That’s crazy. Let’s let them do what we’ve asked them to do,’’ he said.

Johnson said a lot of discussion at the council meeting was not reflected in the committee’s minutes. Ahmann agreed.

“Yes, it was discussed that we get together to meet with Miss Stevens,’’ said Ahmann. “It was just consensus that the chair and vice chair meet with Miss Stevens.’’

Yanish called for a roll-call vote on Christianson’s motion to use the past process of evaluation after the voice vote was too close to call.

Voting in favor were Christianson, Johnson, Dokken and Rick Fagerlie.

Voting against were Ahmann, Nelsen, Anderson and Bruce DeBlieck.

Yanish broke the tie, as allowed by the City Charter, in favor of the motion.

The Tribune was unable to contact Stevens on Tuesday for comment. Neither Stevens nor City Attorney Scott commented Monday night during the meeting about the council’s decision.

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