Willmar and Kandiyohi County begin planning for a new normal

Both the city of Willmar and Kandiyohi County are looking at ways to continue operating in the public sphere during the peacetime state of emergency in Minnesota due to COVID-19. This could mean fewer meetings and the use of more technology.

The city of Willmar is investigation different ways to hold its city council meetings during the COVID-19 crisis. While the March 16 meeting is being held as normal, City Administrator Brian Gramentz said that could change for upcoming meetings. Erica Dischino File Photo / West Central Tribune

WILLMAR — While it is imperative the city of Willmar and Kandiyohi County continue to operate, especially to keep departments such as police, fire, sheriff and public health running, how that business is done will need to change, at least for the next several weeks due to the growing risk of COVID-19.

"We're in the process," said Willmar City Administrator Brian Gramentz. "We have to be flexible."

The city council meeting Monday night was scheduled to go ahead pretty much as normal, with a few exceptions. Mayor Marv Calvin had restricted the public forum. This means residents who attend the meetings will not be able to speak unless it is during a scheduled public hearing. The city is also requesting anyone who has traveled outside of the United States in the last 12 days to not enter any city buildings. Some city buildings, such as the Willmar Fire Hall and Willmar Community Center are also restricting public access, Gramentz said.


The Kandiyohi County Board of Commissioners meeting on March 17 was also scheduled to go forward. County Administrator Larry Kleindl said the plan was to space people out more but presentations would still go on. This includes discussions about the county's COVID-19 response and what changes might need to be made in the future.

"We are developing those plans," Kleindl said.

Both the city and county livestream their meetings, so the public can still watch them, without having to be at the meeting in person. The city and county have their own YouTube channels or meetings can be found on the WRAC-TV website .

"We encourage people to watch them online," Kleindl said.

In a good stroke of luck, the Willmar City Council was only scheduled to have its regular meeting this week, with no committee meetings on the calendar. This has given the city more time to come up with plans on how to continue city business while protecting councilmembers, staff and the public. The next city council meeting is scheduled for April 6. State law does allow for telephone or electronic meetings if there is a health pandemic or emergency declaration.

"The city will have to decide what they will be doing in three weeks," Gramentz said.

It is not just city meetings Gramentz is concerned about. There are also questions regarding staff working from home or what happens if an employee has to stay home and can't work. How will the city operate?

"There are decisions the city council will have to make," Gramentz said.


The county is also working on plans for its staff. Kleindl said a lot of the county's responsibilities, such as child and elder protection and mental health services, usually have to be done in person, so his office is communications with the state about what is allowed in regards to remote work. He is also working on procedures for staff, on how they can work from home and whether they have to stay at home after traveling.

"All those little things you haven't thought about, that is what we are talking about," Kleindl said.

In his nearly 39 years of working in public government, Gramentz said he has never had to deal with anything like what is currently happening. In his opinion, it would be better to be safe than sorry.

"We have to plan for the worst," Gramentz said.

As a public service, the West Central Tribune has opened this article to everyone regardless of subscription status.

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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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