Divided Willmar City Council approves new meeting structure, unanimously moves forward with civility initiative

In a tie vote broken by the mayor, the Willmar City Council approved a resolution to dismantle its committee structure and move to an administrator-to-council method on how issues come in front of the council. The council also approved taking part in the Speak Your Peace Civility project, in an attempt to better work as a group.

The Willmar City Council is changing its meeting structure, doing away with the four committee process and turning to a more direct procedure which will reduce the number of monthly meetings council members attend. The hope is the new policy will be more efficient and help with information sharing. Shelby Lindrud / West Central Tribune file photo

WILLMAR — The Willmar City Council is again trying to be more efficient and civil during its meetings. At the April 19 council meeting, resolutions to try a new meeting structure and civility program were approved.

The council was divided on whether to upturn the council's traditional committee structure for a more direct arrangement, especially during a time of staff turnover. The vote was tied four to four, with Mayor Marv Calvin breaking the tie in the affirmative, causing the resolution to discontinue the committees to pass. This is the latest attempt by the council to find a better meeting structure.

Starting May 3, the council will no longer meet in four separate committees — Public Works/Public Safety, Labor, Community Development and Finance — to discuss issues prior to them going before the full council for a final vote. Instead, staff will go to the city administrator to add items to the council's agenda. Those items will then be presented to the entire council at the same time during council meetings.

"I would like to try this, to see if some of those issues resolve themselves, by going to a different process," said City Administrator Brian Gramentz.


Willmar City Administrator Brian Gramentz recommended the City Council try a new meeting structure which ends the committees and goes to a more direct process of creating the council agenda. Erica Dischino / West Central Tribune file photo

Those issues include weeks-long delays in getting council approval as matters had to go through at least one committee before reaching the council table, difficulty in finding a day and time for committee meetings that work for the involved council members and concerns that only half of the council would hear in-depth information about agenda items. Each committee was made up of four council members, one from each ward.

"I still like the idea of all council members getting the same information at the same time," said Councilor Julie Asmus, who also added that the committee structure isn't user-friendly or transparent for members of the public, who might have to go to one or more committees before the full council will act on a request.

Those voting against the measure said lately the council has been working better, since minor changes were made to the process, including putting significantly more issues on what is called the "consent agenda" and requires only one vote to approve everything that is included in the consent agenda for a meeting. This is instead of each issue having to be presented and voted on individually at the council meeting.

Most of those items placed on the consent agenda are meeting minutes from council committees or appointed city boards and recommended approvals from the various council committees. Council members can ask for individual items to be removed from the consent agenda for more in-depth discussion and individual action.

"I think the way it is going now is working well," said Councilor Rick Fagerlie.

There were also worries that now is not the time to completely change the meeting structure with pending staff turnover, including the city administrator , and various projects underway, including the proposed city hall and the projects funded by the local option sales tax.

"Now is not the right time to do this," said Councilor Tom Butterfield.


Others believed the exact opposite, that the committee structure doesn't work and needs to be changed.

"I don't know there is a perfect system out there. I don't think the committee structure works," said Councilor Justin Ask, who said the committee structure can be inefficient and repetitive and gives some committees more responsibility than others.

"I don't think it is a good way for the nine of us to communicate. Four of us have a conversation without the other five," Ask said, referring to the eight council members and the mayor.

There was discussion about changing the City Council meeting time to earlier in the day, as well as having more than two meetings a month. Those decisions have yet to be made.

"This might be better, it might end up being worse, I don't know," Gramentz said. "The only way to know is to try it."

The Speak Your Peace Civility Project asks participants to practice nine steps of civility including listen, show respect and don't gossip. Art by the Duluth Superior Area Community Foundation

Speak Your Peace

The council is also trying to communicate better and make their various meetings more civil. Following a March 29 presentation, the council unanimously agreed at the April 19 council meeting to start using the Speak Your Peace Civility Project.


"We received information relating to a community-based campaign to urge citizens to communicate in a more respectful way," said Councilor Vicki Davis.

Speak Your Peace was started by the Duluth Superior Area Community Foundation, and according to its website "is a campaign to improve communication by reminding ourselves of the basic principles of respect."

The project is focused around nine steps for practicing civility. Those steps are pay attention; listen; be inclusive; do not gossip; show respect; seek common ground; repair damaged relationships; use constructive language; and take responsibility.

Gramentz said cards with the nine steps will be created and given to council, staff and other board and commission members and posters will be hung in city facilities. Other program materials such as the video presentation and PowerPoint will also be made available.

"It is pretty simple stuff," Gramentz said.

There will be no consequences for not following the new civility program and it will mostly be self-policing.

"It is something you ask all the boards to put on their agendas and adopt, and review why it is important," said Councilor Audrey Nelsen. "Inappropriate behavior is hard for all of us, it needs to be addressed in each location we are working in."

The resolution to follow the Speak Your Peace passed unanimously, though there was some incredulity that the program was even necessary.

"I think it is disgusting we have to carry a card to be good to each other," said Councilor Michael O'Brien, who said he feels you should be good to people because it is what you are supposed to do.

Shelby Lindrud is a reporter with the West Central Tribune of Willmar. Her focus areas are arts and entertainment, agriculture, features writing and the Kandiyohi County Board.

She can be reached via email or direct 320-214-4373.

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