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Willmar City Council approves job description for new city position that will focus on equity and inclusion

A new city of Willmar position, the director of community growth, will initially be funded with $450,000 from Blue Cross Blue Shield.

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WILLMAR — The city of Willmar has created a new position to focus on equity and inclusion initiatives. The position will initially be funded by $450,000 from Blue Cross Blue Shield.

The Willmar City Council on Monday, in a split 7-1 vote, approved the job description for the director of community growth, who will administer citywide coordination of programs, education and outreach in the areas of equity and inclusion. The job listing will be posted and will remain open until filled in order to begin interviewing candidates as soon as a resume is received.

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Councilors Vicki Davis, Andrew Plowman, Justin Ask, Julie Asmus, Rick Fagerlie, Michael O’Brien and Audrey Nelsen voted in favor of the job description; Councilor Tom Butterfield voted against it.

Blue Cross Blue Shield of Minnesota approached the city of Willmar with the idea to develop a staff position within the city that would build upon the work accomplished with the grant-funded health and wellness initiative, which developed outreach to the city’s diverse population, according to City Administrator Leslie Valiant.

Through the Healthy Together Willmar initiative , which Valiant was referencing, Blue Cross Blue Shield provided the city of Willmar with $2 million over the course of five years between 2016 and 2021 to actively engage the community in building relationships, supporting leadership development, bolstering existing networks and funding community initiatives that impact health.

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Some of the outcomes of the initiative were community art projects, mental health awareness education programs, and healthy living and eating well programs.

“They’d like to see some of those things that started with the health and wellness program continue, and they believe that with the equity and inclusion person on staff that that would continue,” Valiant told the council.

The funding will be a jump start for the city to fund such a position within city administration to support equity and inclusion, which she said is strongly needed. The city is not contractually obligated to continue the position once the funding stops, and Blue Cross Blue Shield is not providing any guidelines for the position, according to Valiant. The city has complete control.

“They are going to help fund this position to get us started in this position and then gradually the city would continue to fund this person in our budget,” she said.

Although the person in this position will first focus on the city, it is hoped the position soon would promote countywide initiatives and work with the business community, she added.

"We want them to be very agile and to develop programs," Valiant said. "And it’s going to take a year, year and a half, two years to develop that program.”

The office for the position will be downtown in the WRAC-8 building.

“They’ll have an open door-type policy,” she said. “They will be more reachable than if we would put them in City Hall."

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Plowman asked what type of a background someone would have to fill this position.

City Operations Director Kyle Box explained that the ideal candidate for the city would be someone who has already been working in a similar position, whether it be in another city, a business or organization.

“This field of work is already out there, whether it’s provided in the public or private sector,” he said, noting the ideal candidate could have a background in a number of different areas, but experience in an equity and inclusion manager position will be one of the biggest factors.

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“This is a unique role, right? It’s wanting to build community,” Box continued.

He said the position could be a resource internally for the city, but also a resource for businesses, nonprofits and other government agencies.

"It’s our community resource to share our message. It’s kind of a special role,” Box said.

Fagerlie asked how the city will measure success in the job.

Valiant explained that there will be a matrix, but the level of outreach to the community and the programming that is established will show how well the person in the position is doing, noting it will take time to build up the outreach and programming.

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“I’m excited about this. I would be excited about this if you weren’t coming with $450,000, but the fact that you are is amazing," Ask said of the partnership. "I’m excited about this new partnership Blue Cross and Blue Shield brings us. I think that those programs are going to come.”

He also noted that he thinks it is “incredibly valuable” to have a person “championing” equity and inclusion involved in a high-level administrative position within the city, and who will be sitting at the table with the council and city administration during strategic planning.

Davis echoed Ask’s sentiment.

“I’m very grateful to Blue Cross and Blue Shield for seeing potential in our community and blessing us a second time by coming here with it," she said. "We were a part of what they did (in the Healthy Together Willmar initiative) and it was amazing. They were very generous and I encourage you to be thankful.”

Mayor Marv Calvin said the city needs this kind of position.

"This is really showing that we are a leader in regional centers. I think we are about the first, if not the first, regional center that will have a position of this type in the city. Other cities have it; they’re just not in the city — maybe they’re in a nonprofit or someplace else, but not in the city. So I think this is really a key step forward.”

The salary range for the position will be approximately $92,000 to $120,000 per year, and they will be under the leadership of the city administrator and operations director and above city department heads.

Jennifer Kotila is a reporter for West Central Tribune of Willmar, Minnesota. She focuses on local government, specifically the City of Willmar, and business.

She can be reached via email at: jkotila@wctrib.com or phone at 320-214-4339.
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