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Editorial: Utilities needs to figure out what it's doing

The special meeting Thursday shows that the Willmar Municipal Utilities Commission continues to muddle its way through the current upheaval. Commissioners were called to a special meeting to consider proposals for an organizational assessment -- an assessment that has been proposed with no clear objectives it would seem as no one at the meeting could specify them.

The proposals originated at the apparent request of Commissioner Dave Baker, who was elected president of the commission Thursday. Baker was not in attendance, but other members said he had expressed interest. He has most recently served as vice president.

The three proposals the commission was considering Thursday range in cost from $7,750 to $35,000 and seemed to vary widely in what services they would offer. The commission members themselves appeared unable to clearly articulate the purpose of the assessment.

A good question was raised by City Council member Jim Dokken, who was serving as the council's liaison Thursday. Dokken asked what the commission's specific objective was and why it was seeking an organizational and management assessment. decided that Commissioner Matt Schrupp and the two interim co-general managers will draft a scope of services to be presented Monday.

The Tribune commends Dokken and Laumer for asking what the commission was seeking to accomplish with the assessment. It is high time other City Council and Municipal Utilities Commission members start asking more questions as well. The commission certainly needs to know what it wants and why before contracting for any assessment. More importantly, the utility's owners -- Willmar taxpayers, both residents and businesses -- would need to know the same things, especially if there is any possibility of a sale of the power plant and related infrastructure to another power supplier. Fortunately, the commission tabled any further consideration of the assessment proposals on Thursday. Sometimes the best thing to do to do nothing. The issue is back on the agenda Monday's regular meeting. While the plan had been to send the matter to the commission's Labor Committee, it has now been The commission on Thursday conducted a special meeting specifical- to consider three proposals for an organizational assessment, but none the commissioners nor staff at the meeting could say what the objectives were. That's a disturbing glimpse of how the commission is currently operating, isn't it? The commission should know and state what the purpose of this assessment is. Is it to improve the utility's organizational structure? Is it seeking to streamline the util's staffing in order to reduce operating expenses? Is it to review the utility structure order to explore a possible sale of the power plant and infrastructure a regional power supplier?

And when newly installed Municipal Utilities Commissioner Carol Laumer asked what objectives were stated in the request for proposals provided to the prospective consultants, it was revealed there had not been any formal request for proposals.

Steve Salzer, newly elected vice president, said the commission was trying to look at the organizational structure of the utility, but he could not answer her question about what was in the request.

When Salzer then asked how the proposals were obtained, interim co-general manager Larry Heinen said Baker, a member of the Labor Committee in 2011, contacted some firms to request proposals. Heinen said there was no official request for proposals that listed any objectives.

Individuals on the Willmar City Council and the Municipal Utilities Commission are finally asking questions about what is going on within the commission and at the utilities. That is a positive step.