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Council member Ahmann fails to sway votes on Willmar Council for policy to address business closings

Steve Ahmann, pictured in this undated photo, failed in two attempts to persuade the council to act on his recommendations. Tribune photo by Gary Miller

WILLMAR -- Willmar City Council member Steve Ahmann failed in two attempts Monday night to persuade the council to act on developing an action plan and recommendations that address local plant closings and job losses.

Ahmann first offered a motion that the council formally act to find a business to buy the site occupied by the long-time promotional products manufacturer Molenaar LLC. Molenaar was sold in April and will close in June.

The motion died after Ron Christianson withdrew his second.

Another motion by Ahmann to refer the matter to committee and staff and to bring recommendations to the Kandiyohi County and City of Willmar Economic Development Commission failed on a 4-4 vote. Mayor Frank Yanish broke the tie, voting against the motion.

Council member Audrey Nelsen questioned why Ahmann raised the issue at the end of the meeting.

Under recently-adopted parliamentary procedure rules, council members are supposed to identify at the start of the meeting any new items they wish to discuss. Those items are to be discussed under the newly-established categories of "old business'' and "new business.''

Those categories are now listed at the end of the agenda and replace the category formerly known as "miscellaneous.'' In the past, council members just said they wanted add something to the agenda under miscellaneous but didn't identify it until the miscellaneous portion of the agenda.

Ahmann first apologized that he should have maybe asked for permission to speak under old business. He said the city should have a policy addressing business closures and job losses.

"In the meantime we have 80 people that are unemployed. Rather than just looking at recruiting and helping new businesses, we also have to look at helping the people that lost their job,'' he said.

Council member Denis Anderson thought Ahmann's concerns might be better addressed by the EDC, which represents the city on economic development issues.

"I wonder if that wouldn't fit under their purview rather than us trying to jump in and fix something when that's what they do. I'd rather see that stay with the EDC,'' he said.

Ahmann agree that that's the final direction it should be going.

"But what I wanted to do with this motion is to get clarification and understanding from this council that they support moving in that direction to adopt that type of a policy,'' he said.

After the first motion died, Ahmann offered another motion, seconded by Christianson and Jim Dokken, to refer the matter back to committee and staff and to bring it eventually to the EDC. Ahmann said he wanted to have council support on this type of policy.

Dokken said the council's primary duty under the home-rule City Charter is to establish policy.

Council member Rick Fagerlie said the council has already set policy by having a joint agreement with Kandiyohi County for the EDC. He said the council has three members sitting on the board.

"If the EDC wants to make a policy like that, they can do that. You don't need our blessing,'' he said.

Council member Bruce DeBlieck echoed Fagerlie's comment

"They're charged with making those types of policy decisions. They can discuss this there,'' he said.

Anderson said the council runs into trouble when things are brought up "out of the blue'' and council members haven't had time to consider it and staff hasn't had an opportunity to react.

"I appreciate the concern. But I think we need to follow the structure, bring it up through the committee, rather than at the end of the meeting when nobody knows anything about what's going on,'' he said.

Ahmann said everything Anderson said was false.

"Our job is to think. We're here thinking and if it comes to me at this time I have a right to bring it up,'' he said. "This is simply saying we as a council want to have movement on this and if it means we have to think a little bit, let's think about, then it will go the EDC.''

The voice vote on the second motion was too close to call. Yanish requested a roll-call vote and the result was a 4-4 tie with Christianson, Ahmann, Dokken and Tim Johnson in favor, and Anderson, Nelson, Fagerlie and DeBlieck against.

Yanish broke the tie against the motion and it failed.

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