Willmar Mayor Marv Calvin reflects on his time in office
Willmar Mayor Marv Calvin, during an interview Tuesday with West Central Tribune, reflected on what went well and what could have been better during his time leading the city.
WILLMAR — As his term came to an end, Mayor Marv Calvin reflected on his time in office and offered some advice to Mayor-elect Doug Reese during an interview Tuesday with West Central Tribune.
Calvin considers some of the biggest accomplishments of his tenure to be the improvements that were made to Willmar’s park system and the addition of housing options.
The park system was improved using the local option sales tax, which was approved by the residents of Willmar through a vote in 2018 and was passed by the Minnesota State legislature in 2019.
More than $21 million went into improving the park system, with shelters and other improvements at Robbins Island Regional Park, the addition of turf fields and a softball complex at the Willmar Civic Center, improvements to Swansson Park and the addition of an events and recreation center at the Willmar Civic Center.
These projects were completed with the opening of the events and recreation center in November of 2022.
There have been numerous multi-family housing projects that have taken place in the last several years in Willmar, adding to its affordable housing stock and providing improved housing for residents.
One of the things that Calvin would have liked to see more of is the development of more single-family housing.
Although Calvin did not have any regrets about his time in office, “I think there were a lot of opportunities that went past us that were lost for various reasons,” he said.
For instance, there were developers that wanted to bring a project to Willmar, but ran into resistance from a council member or at a committee meeting. “There were a lot of housing projects early on that did not come to fruition,” he added, noting there were some housing projects that fell through due to certain council members stating they didn’t want “those people” living in Willmar.
Calvin said he does not think most of the council members think that way anymore, but said, “You have to support projects and what the community wants to bring to town. As mayor, you have to support it and explore it. The council makes the votes, but it's the mayor encouraging businesses to come to town and expand here, to sit and have that cup of coffee and say, ‘What do we have to do to get you to want to come here?’”
Another example of a missed opportunity is “a really nice business that was coming to Willmar,” Calvin said. “We were at the point where we were ready to ink the deal and took a break for lunch. They drove down First Street and, seeing all the 'Help Wanted' signs, decided to go to a different community.”
One of the toughest things Calvin faced during his tenure was the COVID-19 pandemic. He noted there was a lot of information coming to the city regarding masking and getting vaccinated, and people had varying opinions regarding the advice coming from the Centers for Disease Control.
Although Calvin never said people were required to mask or get vaccinated, he did encourage it in the interest of public safety, and some people did not like it.
Another difficult situation Calvin faced was a revolving door of city administrators. “That was tough,” he said, noting there was turnover in other staff, but that was mostly due to people retiring or moving on and moving out of the area.
“The administrators leaving was due to council issues,” Calvin said, noting he would get calls from the city administrators asking him to tell a council member to get off their back or they would leave. “There was a lot of that micromanaging of staff by council members and interfering with their ability to do their jobs.”
During the last meeting of his term, Calvin acknowledged Leslie Valiant, who was hired in June 2021 as the city administrator, praising her for the job she is doing leading the city. The moment seemed to be emotional for both Calvin and Valiant, and West Central Tribune asked him to expound on that during the interview.
“Leslie and I have been friends for quite a while, ever since I started as mayor and even before that,” he said, noting that Valiant was hired as city administrator in Spicer during “a bumpy time for them” and they would confide in each other. “The friendship that we have, the fact that she really took a risk to come to Willmar, then looking at the good work she's doing in Willmar, hiring for key positions. Leslie and I think a lot the same as far as the future of Willmar.”
He stated it would have been fun to keep working with Valiant if he had continued on as mayor.
One of the things that Calvin said he thinks helped the city function better during his term was ending the committee structure and having the entire council hear information at the same time about city business.
“I think the staff likes that much better,” he said. “When I first started in 2002 (as Willmar Fire Chief/Marshal), the committee structure worked well because what they said happened is what happened.”
The committee structure was ended due to committee members not always providing the entire council with accurate information about what was said or done during committee meetings, Calvin noted.
Providing the entire council with accurate information, rather than “all this smoke and mirrors stuff” has improved the way in which the council conducts business, he added.
“There will be a strong push to go back to committees,” Calvin commented.
When asked if he had any advice for incoming Mayor-elect Reese, Calvin said, “Listen to his heart and listen to the constituents and trust your staff and trust your city admin. There will be a lot of times that the council will be taking the city in a direction you don’t agree with, but listen to city administration.”