Willmar City Council tries to learn to be decision makers at retreat

The Willmar City Council attended a two-day retreat to discuss not only how to be better leaders and decision-makers, but also to try and learn the steps to take to make big decisions, such as whether to move forward with a city hall project.

The Willmar City Council and city department directors met in a two day council retreat Friday and Saturday at MinnWest Technology Campus. The event was facilitated by Cheryl Glaeser of Achieve Consulting. The group hoped to learn how to better work as a team and create steps to assist them in making the big decisions. Shelby Lindrud / West Central Tribune

WILLMARWillmar City Council members want to be good leaders and decision makers and, after a two-day retreat over the weekend, they hope they have learned some steps and tools to help them achieve that goal.

"We have a lot of unknowns, but in the midst of unknowns there are great opportunities for growth, expansion and really challenging the status quo," said Mayor Marv Calvin at the start of the retreat Friday afternoon.

Retreat facilitator Cheryl Glaeser, of Achieve Consulting, led the council and department directors through exercises on creating a vision; discussed what people thought the roles and responsibilities of the council are; talked about the council's shared values; and learned about each other's strengths and how to use them as a cooperating group.

It has been a few years since the council looked at its vision. Since then, there have been two council elections, thus creating a new body with new ways of looking at and thinking of things. The general feeling is the council vision might be in a need of an update. Having one shared vision gives the council something to work towards together and to lead their decision-making.

"To work together effectively it is very beneficial to have a shared vision," Glaeser said.


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Council members worked on creating a new process to help make decisions, such as asking broad-ranging questions, trusting staff to gather the information the council needed and not to get so bogged down into the details that making a decision almost becomes impossible. The council has struggled with striking the right balance between being too involved in the process and not involved enough.
"Our desire to do better is there," said Councilor Andrew Plowman.

Learning to trust and move forward

Glaeser wondered if part of the reason the council has had difficulties is the constant turnaround the city had gone through with city administrators over the last several years. She added the council needs to learn to let go of the past, which means focusing on moving forward with new city administrator Leslie Valiant.

"You guys have had a rough road; there have been challenges here for a long time," Glaeser said.

Trust is also important. The council needs to trust its members, Valiant and city council staff.

"Trust can never be earned if you don't extend it first," Glaeser said. "If you start from a distrustful position, you are never going to extend that trust."

Interim Willmar Public Works Director Gary Manzer and Willmar Finance Director Steve Okins read vision statements written by the council and staff during the retreat. Glaeser said more work is needed before a final shared vision statement can be created and implemented. Shelby Lindrud / West Central Tribune

The group did spend significant time on Saturday discussing the big issues that have been facing the council for years — City Hall, staffing and street improvements. Everyone broke into small groups, taking turns talking about the three subjects and what they needed in order to move forward.


"What is on your mind related to these three issues?" Glaeser asked.

For all three issues the council had a consensus that work sessions will be needed, to give the council a block of time to just dive into the issue.

Interim Public Works Director Gary Manzer said completing a street rating system for the city's road system would be an important first step in making future road decisions, as would working closely with Willmar Municipal Utilities.

"So we have data that is consistent, available and up to date," Manzer said.

But when it came to the City Hall project, there was a lot of uncertainty. While there was consensus that some sort of upgrade was needed, it is no longer clear if that means a new building or remodel of the existing structure. The council wants a space needs analysis for city hall, the community access channel studio and the community center to be completed before making any new decisions.

All of this could mean rescinding the motions already made, such as the site and professional service contracts previously approved, and starting again.

"We need everyone on the same plane," Plowman said.


On Saturday retreat participants broke into three groups to discuss steps needed to move forward with the proposed city hall project, staffing needs and a new street improvement plan. Here City Administrator Leslie Valiant, left, writes notes as Councilor Rick Fagerlie shares his thoughts. Councilors Tom Butterfield and Audrey Nelsen listen. Shelby Lindrud / West Central Tribune

While the retreat ended without any firm direction on the big issues, Glaeser hopes the council walked away with some new tools. She wants to continue working with the council moving forward as members lead the city of Willmar into the future.

"I hope you are feeling you made some progress," Glaeser said to council members as the retreat came to an end.

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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