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Editorial: Proposed study is right step for city, Don’t blame critics

The Willmar City Council listen to a presentation during their Dec. 3 meeting. Tribune photo by Gary Miller

A citizens group called Moving Willmar Forward recently presented a report of concerns and suggestions to the Willmar City Council about city leadership and direction. The group called for the City Council to work toward strategies of building respect, cooperation, trust and civility among Mayor Frank Yanish, the City Council, city staff and residents.

The City Council listened on the issue of seeking an organizational assessment of Willmar city government. The City Council voted 7-1, with Councilman Ron Christianson initially voting no.

Both groups are to be commended for those recent actions. Both are taken with the intent of making Willmar a better place.

The Labor Relations Committee this week recommended a plan to seek proposals for an organizational study of the city. The City Council on Monday will consider this plan.

We recommend the City Council approve this plan for seeking organizational study proposals.

The disappointing part of the City Council’s discussion was the criticism and/or resentment toward the Moving Willmar Forward group or this newspaper for raising concerns about the performance of the City Council and the mayor.

Christianson blamed the group, some citizens and the media for a constant barrage of criticism. Both Christianson and Yanish said they believed council should not be pressured by “an outside group” in the city on this organizational study issue. Councilman Steve Ahmann blamed the group for not bringing their criticism forward in the right way or directly to him. Councilman Jim Dokken said the citizens are at the top of the city’s organization chart and that the city needs to involve the citizens more. Yet this citizens group’s concerns appear not to be relevant to Dokken, who said he believes the City Council is doing its job well.

Why do Christianson and Yanish consider this citizen group an “an outside group” in Willmar? Why does Ahmann criticize citizens for the method of the criticism? Why does Dokken say the citizens are at the top of the city’s organization chart, but doesn’t seem want to listen to those citizens who may disagree or criticize city leadership?

As public servants on the Willmar City Council, it is time for the City Council and Yanish to put on their big boy pants. The City Council members and the mayor are public officials and are subject to praise as well as criticism from citizens.

Every Willmar citizen and this newspaper have the right under the First Amendment to praise, to raise concerns and speak out in whatever manner they so choose. The responsibility of a public servant is to listen to all concerns, whether they agree with the criticism or not.

As former Councilmember Kelly Welch pointed out at the last council meeting, part of being a public official is getting into “hot water.”

In other words, public officials get criticized on occasion. If a public official cannot handle the criticism, maybe it is time for that individual to reconsider being a public official.

It is also important that this city’s public officials do not become vengeful or seek retribution against individuals or organizations that have criticized or disagreed with the city’s current leadership. Some wonder if the fact that some business people have criticized city leaders recently if punishment and retribution was really the motive for the city’s withdrawal of $1,000 in funding for the Leadership Perspective program managed by the business community through the Willmar Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce. Others are questioning why this city’s leadership is not supportive of a program to help nurture and grow leaders in the Willmar community. Apparently some on this council do not value Willmar leadership development.

We again commend the Moving Willmar Forward group for raising their concerns and a call to action. We again commend the City Council for moving forward on consideration of an organizational study. We encourage the City Council Monday approve the proposed plan to officially issue a request for proposals from outside organizations to conduct an organization study of Willmar.