WILLMAR - Bob Enos says the Willmar City Council’s first priority is to start listening to all Willmarites, rather than a chosen few.

“Willmar will go nowhere unless we have a dynamic plan of action that gets all Willmarites onboard, all pulling in the same direction,’’ said Enos, a council candidate for the four-year term from Ward 3 in the Nov. 4 general election.

“The only way to set priorities for the public good is to ask the public. Our leaders have been terrible at this, and considering the technology and social media at our disposal today, there is simply no excuse for it,’’ he said in response to a series of questions posed by the Tribune.

Enos would focus on three areas.

First, reduce the size and expense of government. Eliminate duplication, improve efficiency, control spending, and rein in taxes. “We cannot devote tax dollars to every new idea that comes along. Instead, we must pick our shots very carefully and choose for success.’’

Second, diversify Willmar’s economy. While agriculture and meatpacking are the backbone of the local economy, the city must attract new business opportunities. Otherwise, young people will continue to leave Willmar in search of greener pastures in this new economy, he said. “We must aggressively court manufacturing, service industries, and high technology: industries that employ higher-paying, knowledge-based workers.’’

Third, he said Willmar “should begin a long overdue community conversation among its races and ethnicities, to openly acknowledge the problems with our current ‘social contract.’ ’’

“Talking about race relations doesn’t make us racists any more than talking about terrorism makes us terrorists. There’s a great deal of pent-up frustration over this issue and it’s not healthy. It’s time to re-focus on our common interests, and re-negotiate the ground rules for living together peacefully and productively,’’ he said.

Enos and his family moved from Massachusetts to Willmar in 2008. He said Willmar has struggled with profound social and economic changes for at least a generation. Living in the midst of those changes, it can be difficult to see the forest for the trees, he said.

“I offer a fresh perspective, a useful array of skills, and tremendous motivation to help create new solutions for Willmar’s challenges. I want to help because, well, I can,’’ he said.

Enos holds a bachelor’s degree in political science and a master’s degree in government management. He headed planning and contracting for a capital city’s $12 million annual program and built a career in business consulting and entrepreneurship in New York City, helping dozens of companies become more strategic in their thinking, more competitive, and more profitable, he said.

He took early retirement as vice president of a prominent Wall Street economics consulting firm and became a full-time caregiver for his brother.

“My professional life gave me skills, focus, and tough-mindedness,’’ he said. “Caregiving has taught me compassion. I believe this is a winning combination for public service, and I hope the voters will agree.’’

When asked for his solution to catching up on unmet infrastructure needs, Enos said he did not understand the sudden calamity about it.

“Facilities management is not rocket science. We look at our budget parameters, we prioritize a ‘to do’ list in accordance with the people’s wishes, we develop a work plan, and we get to work,’’ he said.

Enos said taxpayers will answer the question of whether the city should incur more debt to speed up the process if they are given the opportunity and information needed to make informed decisions.

When asked what is right with Willmar, he said it’s the people.

“I understand ‘Minnesota Nice,’ but the people in this county are special. When I moved my family to Minnesota, I could have chosen any county to live in. I spent over a year visiting cities and towns at a 100-mile radius of Minneapolis. I chose Kandiyohi County, and within the county, I chose Willmar. I’ve found Willmarites to be humble, honest, hard-working, and compassionate. I also recognized its growing pains, and yet, I wanted to be a part of this city. That’s why I call Willmar home,’’ he said.

Enos said the term “dysfunctional” has been misused, overplayed, and is not constructive. He said the council has experienced “gridlock,” but so have other legislative bodies at every level in America.

“We can’t get anything of value accomplished if we are only willing to talk to people we like and agree with,’’ he said. “That’s not politics, and it’s not leadership.’’

Enos does see dysfunction in Willmar governance. The City Charter sets clear boundaries for where executive decision-making responsibility belongs, and where day-to-day operations responsibility lies, he said. Enos said senior city staff overstep those boundaries long and often, and that’s wrong.

“Now to be fair, the City Council oftentimes exhibits weak leadership. When this happens, a power vacuum is created, and when that vacuum is created, senior staff members are too quick to fill it,’’ Enos said. “The first step in solving this problem is to re-establish boundaries, and to do so with actions, not just words.’’

Enos said the Tribune’s question of how council members should balance the advice of staff and their constituents’ wishes suggests these are competing interests and is wrongheaded thinking.

He said voters elect a government to which senior employees are accountable.

“Senior city staff would do well to remember that their advice is just that: advice,’’ he said. “At the end of the day, the buck stops with our elected government, not its hired help.’’

Newsletter signup for email alerts