WILLMAR — The new year is a time of change and that was true during Monday's Willmar City Council meeting. The eight-person council welcomed three new members and one returning member, even as COVID-19 forced the meeting online.
"The city of Willmar conducted a general election on Nov. 3, 2020, which resulted in citizens re-electing one council person to their respective ward and electing new council members to Ward 1, 3 and 4," said City Clerk Judy Thompson.
Julie Asmus was sworn into her second term as a representative of Ward 2. Joining the council are Michael O'Brien replacing Kathy Schwantes in Ward 1, Justin Ask replacing Fernando Alvarado in Ward 3 and Tom Butterfield replacing Shawn Mueske in Ward 4.
"Congratulations to each one of you," Thompson said.
Despite a false start due to the challenges of holding the ceremony virtually, Eighth Judicial District Judge Jennifer Fischer administered the oath to the council members.
"Thank you for serving," Fischer said after the oath.
Pastor Jon Dahl, from Bethel Lutheran Church, gave an invocation after the oath of office and Pledge of Allegiance. He talked about the importance of working together, even though everyone is different.
"If we can come from our different backgrounds and if we put the best of who we are forward, we can continue to create a city and a dwelling that is good and vibrant and welcoming and growing, even as we experience and work through the bumps and hardships of our life together," Dahl said.
He also thanked the council for the service, skill and humanity it is offering the city.
"I pray 2021 can be a coming together year for our city, our country and our world. Thank you for being leaders and being such a big part of making Willmar the best she can be," Dahl said.
Following the swearing in ceremony, the council completed the reorganization of the board.
Councilor Rick Fagerlie was re-elected as the mayor pro tempore. He acts as the mayor's back-up if Mayor Marv Calvin cannot fulfill his duties due to absence or disability.
The assignments to the four council committees were decided on. One council member from each ward serves on two committees. The Finance Committee will include Councilors Fagerlie, Audrey Nelsen, Andrew Plowman and Julie Asmus; and serving on the Labor Committee will be Councilors Vicki Davis, Butterfield, Ask and O'Brien. Fagerlie, Davis, O'Brien and Butterfield will sit on the Community Development Committee and Nelsen, Plowman, Asmus and Ask will serve on the Public Works/Public Safety Committee.
Councilors were also assigned to other boards and commissions that require council representation, either as full voting members or as a council liaison. This includes organizations such as the Kandiyohi County and city of Willmar Economic Development Commission Joint Powers Board, the Human Rights Commission, the Invest in Willmar steering committee and project subcommittees and Municipal Utilities.
The virtual setting caused some complications Monday night and lengthened the time it took to take votes and complete the reorganization, as did confusion on the process of setting committee and board assignments, actions the council takes every two years.
Calvin admitted during the meeting that it wasn't running as smoothly as he had hoped, as frustrations began to bubble up. He wanted to start the year on the right foot after the past few years of some dysfunction and miscommunication.
"I am trying to get through this without controversy, I am trying to start this year in a positive direction," Calvin said. "We are not headed in that direction, it is very discouraging."