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Editorial: Ahmann is making ill-advised comments, council member should know better

One does not have to wait too long to see more dysfunctional behavior by some Willmar City Council members. The latest example is Steve Ahmann.

The majority of the council members are sincere, dedicated and consistent public servants. Unfortunately, the dysfunctional behavior of a few on the council continues to hurt the city of Willmar and its citizens.

At the City Council meeting Monday, Ahmann got vocal about his tax abatement concerns during discussion of a proposed tax abatement for Torgerson Properties of Willmar, which would assist in the redevelopment of their hotels and Willmar Conference Center complex.

Ahmann was highly inappropriate when he questioned the additional 30 jobs coming with the Torgerson Properties redevelopment for their Willmar site.

“We’re getting part-time jobs, maybe a few additional jobs,” Ahmann said. “We have no guarantee the jobs create any kind of benefits, which means that the employees that they hire would all be eligible for social assistance programs, which is going to add to the tax rolls of the citizens.”

Every additional job in a city like Willmar is important. There are many who need or just want  part-time jobs, like a college student or others seeking part-time work. Stigmatizing part-time workers as automatically getting “public assistance” is inappropriate.

While he raised concerns about tax abatements Monday night, Ahmann stated at a March meeting of the Willmar Design Center that the city should consider supporting a tax abatement for a possible community-owned grocery store.

According to the meeting minutes and sources, Ahmann said if the grocery project would create 20 jobs and have a positive impact, that the city should consider it.

At the same meeting, Ahmann reportedly said that downtown Willmar needs a “big box store” and that is what the Willmar Design Center should be focusing on.

Ahmann said further that Willmar has $49 million, so if we need to give $1 million to get a big box store downtown, then that’s what we should do. And if the city needed to demolish buildings and create parking, then that’s what we should do.

His opinion is naive and ill-advised.

Willmar’s major retailers voted with their feet for more than 40 years and have relocated First Street for their own business reasons. That is a reality and is not going to be reversed. To think otherwise is naive.

Downtown Willmar has evolved into a good mix of major medical facilities, various service-type businesses and small- to medium-sized retailers and some housing. Downtown includes a great mix of longtime businesses, who stayed because their locations work for them, and new businesses, who found a good location for their startup business. Downtown also has become the preferred location of many multiculturally-owned businesses. Every business downtown is important and valuable. Ill-advised talk by a city official about tearing down buildings in downtown creates uncertainty for every business located downtown.

Public official carry a responsibility for what they say, how they say it and when they say it.

Making inappropriate, naive and ill-advised statements is poor leadership as well as dsyfunctional. Ahmann should know better.