Editorial: Willmar City Council must walk the walk of leaders, Mayor needs to improve his leadership

Where has the leadership gone on the Willmar City Council? Are Willmar citizens satisfied with city leaders becoming known as a bunch of angry old men?...

Cartoon by Chris Britt

Where has the leadership gone on the Willmar City Council? Are Willmar citizens satisfied with city leaders becoming known as a bunch of angry old men?

These are serious questions that have solely been raised by the public and private behavior of Mayor Frank Yanish and various individuals on the City Council.

As we stated in October, dysfunction, anger and inappropriate comments have become the “new normal” for the mayor and the City Council. Sadly missing is the leadership and vision that is so critically needed to move Willmar forward.

The examples in recent weeks are as follows:

  • City Council member Steve Ahmann tried this week to call a special closed council meeting to “discuss personnel issues” citing a City Charter provision. However, under Minnesota’s Open Meeting Law, public bodies are not allowed to close meetings simply for “personnel matters.” Apparently he had not even consulted the city attorney on how to close a meeting.
  • Mayor Frank Yanish proposed a resolution in early November calling for Willmar to look for ways of “cooperating” with other cities and government entities. Yet at the Nov. 8 Labor Relations Committee meeting, Yanish commented in essence he was “disappointed” with another government entity and apparently is not talking with select officials. 
  • The mayor and City Council want cooperation with others, but send mixed signals. On Oct. 1, the council approved and the city later paid $5,000 to fund the Vision 2040 project, which would help develop a long-range priority plan for Willmar and Kandiyohi County. Then at their Nov. 19 meeting, council member Jim Dokken moved and seconded by Ahmann to seek to take back their funding, claiming they didn’t know what the appropriation was to be spent on. Yet they had received an extensive presentation on Vision 2040 at a previous committee meeting.
  • At times, the mayor and the City Council members appear to be having a tough time getting along with each other due to personal or ideological differences. During Yanish’s budget presentation to the Nov. 26 Finance Committee meeting, other council members questioned the funding cut for West Central Integration Collaborative. Yanish’s response was “Councilman, if I can add to that, in the city we have a new mayor. Get over it.”
  • The City Council wants to develop and improve Willmar, but cuts funding for the 2013 budget for the community’s Leadership Perspectives program. This is a community leadership program for developing effective community leaders with vision, insight and the ability to get things done.
  • Council member Ron Christianson criticizes others for not talking to him directly about concerns. Yet he allegedly called one Willmar business leader “evil” during a personal conversation with a third party, rather than talking directly to the individual about his own concerns.
  • Mayor Yanish and some City Council members are taking disagreements and/or criticism from members of the community personally and cannot seem to get beyond that point. Our city leaders need to remember that others are not perfect either and good leaders move beyond disagreements in order to work for the betterment of all in Willmar.

Willmar leaders should not be caught in petty disagreements, personal vendettas, being angry old men or just believing this city is a kingdom. Willmar is changing and our leaders must grow, improve and meet the needs of our community. This city is no longer your father’s city, but a growing, diverse and vibrant city.
The mayor and the City Council have taken some very positive steps in the past two years. The challenge here is that the poor city leadership examples above and others in recent months are hurting Willmar’s reputation and raising concerns among


Willmar citizens, business and community leaders and other government officials within Kandiyohi County and across west central Minnesota.

In fact, a citizen group called Moving Willmar Forward plans to present a proposal called “Working Together” Monday night to the City Council. They are seeking to engage the City Council and the community in a renewed effort of mutual respect, cooperation, trust and civility. The public is invited to attend the meeting Monday night.

As a regional center, Willmar should be viewed as a leading community with a strategic vision, strong leadership, outstanding governance, innovative organization, creative policymaking, strategic partnerships and regional leadership.

Willmar’s mayor and City Council need to walk the walk of good leadership by seeking good governance policies, trusting each other and their city staff, conducting an organization review, engaging the community and leading our community forward.

The time to start moving forward is now for the betterment of Willmar that we all want.

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