Contentious City Council debate stirs over Stevens’ employment
WILLMAR -- A contentious debate sparked by what some said were unprofessional comments made by a council member over City Administrator Charlene Stevens's employment with the city stirred the Willmar City Council meeting Monday night.
WILLMAR -- A contentious debate sparked by what some said were unprofessional comments made by a council member over City Administrator Charlene Stevens’s employment with the city stirred the Willmar City Council meeting Monday night.
Council members Audrey Nelsen and Denis Anderson and Mayor Marv Calvin said comments made by council member Ron Christianson at last week’s Labor Relations Committee meeting were unprofessional.
At the Jan. 28 committee meeting when an update of plans to replace retiring long-time employees was discussed, Christianson said the council should be planning for replacing Stevens.
Because Stevens was a finalist last year for the city administrator’s position in Lakeville, Christianson said Stevens has given her intention that she’s going to leave and the council should prepare to have someone in place when this happens.
Christianson told the committee that he doesn’t know that she hasn’t been out interviewing, but said he suspects that she has.
“When somebody’s a top three finalist for another job out of town, evidently they don’t want to be where they’re at,’’ he told the committee. “When they don’t want to be where they’re at, I want to replace that person. It’s time to talk about it. I suspect there’s applications out there. I don’t know. None of us know. The intentions are clear.’’
Christianson repeated his comments Monday night during the Labor Committee’s report on a recommendation to have Stevens and staff start work as soon as possible on updating the 2007 succession plan.
Nelsen, who was attending a Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities meeting in St. Paul, did not attend the committee meeting but listened to the audio recording, posted on the city’s website, of the meeting. She said everyone has a right to look for a job and she encouraged community members to also listen to the recording.
“I was appalled. I listened to the tape of the Labor meeting three times and the conversation that went on was totally inappropriate, unprofessional and I am appalled,’’ she said, adding that the “witch hunt we’re on needs to stop.’’
Labor Committee Chair Steve Ahmann said succession planning was related to all employees and said he has raised the issue over the past several years to handle “what-if’’ scenarios and how to move duties and responsibilities when someone retires.
Anderson repeated his comment, made at the Labor meeting, that it was wrong to make assumptions because someone looked for a job one time and that they are continuing to look.
Mayor Marv Calvin spoke in support of Stevens. Calvin, who also attended the Coalition meeting in St. Paul, said he listened to the Labor recording and said he was concerned about some of the things that were said.
Calvin said he talked to Stevens Monday morning and Calvin said he wants to keep Stevens.
“I know as a city employee you look for jobs elsewhere. She is looking out for her family,’’ said Calvin. “I asked her to stay at least six months if not a year. I don’t know if she’s looking.’’
Calvin deferred to Stevens, who said she is proud of her career, her work and abilities. The job in Lakeville was an opportunity for her family “and I felt it was a good opportunity to pursue. I think people’s career paths are very personal choices,’’ she said. Stevens said she never held it against anyone who looked for another job “and it’s disappointing that individuals would do that in my case.’’