Willmar Mayor Frank Yanish, the business man who campaigned in 2010 on the need for more city government transparency, apparently does not believe that transparency applies to his actions.
Shame on Mayor Yanish.
Yanish last week released a major position paper on city reorganization. In his proposal’s opening paragraph, he specifically credited an eight-person “ad hoc advisory group” for helping him craft his proposal.
The mayor proposed an old idea of a joint human resources department between the city and Willmar Municipal Utilities. He also proposed including Kandiyohi County in the joint HR department, but he had never spoken to anyone at the county before making the proposal.
We commend the mayor for seeking out “effective government,” including government reorganization and/or collaboration.
However, “effective government” also includes open and transparent governance by all public officials, including the mayor. The mayor’s refusal to tell the public who the eight volunteers are on his “ad hoc advisory group” is not being open or transparent. Is the mayor ashamed to have the volunteers’ names revealed to the public? Are the eight volunteers ashamed that they volunteered for the city? Or is this secret group controlling the mayor and his actions? It makes no sense and it simply is not good governance. Frankly, Yanish is just not being forthright with the citizens of Willmar. This is not surprising with this mayor, who appears to be more interested in driving his own political agenda rather than practicing open and transparent governance.
In fact, if the mayor truly was seeking the wide spectrum of public input for his “ad hoc advisory group,” he would have publically sought out volunteers. Instead he invited specific members for specific reasons and never announced it publicly.
The mayor’s refusal to name these individuals insults the trust of all those who voted for him, who believed his promise of government transparency. His decision not to release the names is also a slap in the face to all Willmar citizens, who deserve open, honest and transparent government.
Yanish’s refusal to release names is in specific violation of the Minnesota Data Practices Act, Statute 13.01, subd . 3, that “establishes a presumption that government data are public and are accessible by the public for both inspection and copying unless there is a federal law, a state statue, or a temporary classification of data that provides that certain data are not public.”
Furthermore, Minnesota Statute 13.43, subds. 2 states that the “name” of any “current and former employees, volunteers and independent contractors of a government entity is public” data.
The law cannot be more clear than that.
Yanish’s “ad hoc advisory group” is not just a one-time meeting, but has been a regular scheduled meeting organized by the mayor. In fact, this group has been meeting at 9 a.m. every Thursday recently at the Willmar City Hall. This group includes eight people, allegedly including even some Willmar City Council members.
There is absolutely nothing inappropriate about these individuals meeting with or advising the mayor or for the mayor to solicit their advice. And we commend and thank those individuals for volunteering for the city.
The inappropriate action here is Yanish’s refusal to disclose public data about the volunteers on his “ad hoc advisory group,” which has been meeting regularly at city hall.
The West Central Tribune has filed a Minnesota Freedom of Information request with Yanish requesting access to all public data concerning his “ad hoc advisory group.” He has not yet responded to this request.
Citizens certainly have cause to wonder just what the mayor and/or his committee members are afraid of or are trying to hide.
This is not the transparent mayoral governance that Yanish promised during the 2010 election.
The citizens of Willmar have the need and right to know just who is serving on Yanish’s “Secret Eight” team.