Willmar council decides to try work sessions

WILLMAR -- The Willmar City Council voted 7-1 to give work sessions a try, shelving its current committee structure. Instead of having separate committee meetings throughout the month, the council will conduct work sessions for about 90 minutes p...

WILLMAR - The Willmar City Council voted 7-1 to give work sessions a try, shelving its current committee structure.

Instead of having separate committee meetings throughout the month, the council will conduct work sessions for about 90 minutes prior to the City Council meetings, to gather information and ask questions regarding city business, projects and plans.

"I think it's a more efficient use of staff, council and the public's time," Interim City Administrator Mike McGuire said.

Only Councilor Ron Christianson voting against the change to a work session structure. Christianson said he would be willing to give the work session a try, but he still prefers the committee structure.

"I'm happy to try it, but I'm opposed to shutting down the committees," Christianson said.


The City Council had four standing committees that usually met twice a month in the second and fourth weeks. The committees were Finance, Public Works and Public Safety, Labor, and Community Development. One councilor from each of the four city wards sat on a committee.

There has been discussion about going to a work session format for several months, due to concerns about committee meeting attendance and the sharing of information to all council members and not just the four members of the particular committees.

"We would be more efficient. All eight people would get the same information," Councilor Audrey Nelsen said.

The preliminary plan for the work sessions is for them to be held twice a month and start at approximately 5:15 p.m. and last for about an hour and a half. A regular council meeting will take place at 7 p.m. as usual, after the work session. The meetings are on the first and third Monday of the month.

No action would be taken on items presented at the work session, unless it is an emergency or timely situation. Instead the council will vote on any work session issues at the following council meeting, usually two weeks later.

City staff members will present a resolution at the next council meeting to lay out the specifics of the new work sessions.

"Set some priorities about what work session means. Some ground rules," City Attorney Robert Scott said.

Steve Brisendine, director of Community Education and Recreation, had concerns about current projects and plans, and how action will be taken on those as the work session structure gets worked out.


"Projects will be pushed back. Pushing it back to the end of February pushes back bidding for a number of things, which makes it difficult to get things done in a timely manner," Brisendine said.

Mayor Marv Calvin said that as the work session procedure moves forward, there could be cases when the council will need to act on things more quickly.

"Maybe some of those time-sensitive things, particularly the roof at the Civic Center, need to come directly to us at the next meeting," Calvin said, adding it's known there are things that need to be acted on sooner rather than later as the council has not had a committee meeting for over a month.

Councilor Shawn Mueske had some concerns regarding acting on issues immediately after the work session. He worries councilors with questions won't be able to get them answered before a vote.

"I find that a break in protocol and completely unethical in my opinion. There is timeliness and then there is railroad," Mueske said.

Access to information for the council was not the only concern. Christianson worried about the public being in the know as well. Without committee meetings, or having the same information shared during the council meeting, the public might find it difficult to understand what the council is doing or feel like things are being done in secret.

"The public will be uninformed and sometimes misinformed," Christianson said.

The work sessions will be open to the public, the same as the committee meetings had been. The work sessions will also be recorded, just as the committee meetings, as the city charter demands.


"At minimum we will have the audio, but hope, even on a time delay, we'll have the visual," McGuire said.

While the motion passed with a large margin, a few of the council members said the decision was not easy.

"I was on the fence and I gave it a lot of time. Change is a little difficult," Councilor Andrew Plowman said. He said the work session will be more conducive for the transfer of information and make it easier for both council members and the public to schedule their time.

"It sounds like it is a definitely worth a try, a noble attempt," Plowman said.

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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