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Tribune editorial: Election creates new era for Willmar City Council

City of Willmar voters have spoken, calling for a new direction on their City Council by electing three new proactive members and re-electing a moderate councilman.

This was a strong statement for a new era for the City Council and the city of Willmar as a new majority will work together and proactively represent all the residents of our fine city.

Ultimately, the voters have long tired of the futile and frivolous actions of some city leaders in recent years and wanted a new direction in city leadership.

And the voters spoke strongly on their preference; with Kathy Schwantes winning 65 percent of the Ward 1 votes, Julie Asmus winning with 66 percent of Ward 2's votes, Fernando Alvarado winning 61 percent of Ward 3's votes, and Shawn Mueske, running unopposed, capturing 98 percent of Ward 4's votes.

Ward 1 voters elected Schwantes, a southwest Minnesota native, a deeply rooted Willmar resident and a longtime civic volunteer. She brings a positive attitude, a creative intelligence and an abundance of exuberant energy for her ward and the city.

Ward 2 voter elected Asmus, a west central Minnesota native, a retired law enforcement official and longtime community and civic volunteer. She brings a commonsense approach needed to serve her ward and the city.

Ward 3 voters elected Fernando Alvarado, a New Englander who moved to Willmar, raised and educated his family here and now wants to give back to this city. He brings a positive and welcoming vision for his ward and our city.

Ward 4 voters re-elected Shawn Mueske, a longtime educator with significant civic experience on the Willmar City Council, Willmar City Charter Commission and Willmar School Board. His record, experience and wisdom have been a valued addition to this City Council, as well as his ward and the city.

The 2016 election may well become a bellwether of our city's history as the three newly elected members will join the current forward-thinking members in 2017 resulting in a refreshing majority with a positive narrative and attitude about Willmar.

Kudos to council members Mueske, Audrey Nelsen, Andrew Plowman, Rick Fagerlie and Denis Anderson last week for setting the example and supporting the importance of continued investment in downtown Willmar. They have not given up on downtown Willmar and their support disavowed the personal agendas of the council's old anti-downtown faction.

A prime example of the importance of downtown was Saturday's Holidaze events and parade, which brought many people to downtown Willmar signaling the start of the holiday season, just a day after a major blizzard brought a white and frosty look to the city.

Willmar works best when we all work together. Another prime example is the turn of the century when all in the city worked together to meet critical priorities, such as building a new YMCA and other strategic projects. The city's many efforts, led by a forward-thinking City Council, was recognized with the All America City honor in 2005. It is time to return to this team approach for Willmar.

The time has come some City Council members to cease their animosity toward various community sectors, such as downtown Willmar advocates, the Willmar business community, minority population groups, or Willmar city employees, just to name a few groups. There is no room for hatred, nativism or retribution on the part of any Willmar city leader.

There will be old and new challenges in 2017 for the City Council.

First and foremost, will be the need to collectively identify and set strategic priorities for the City Council and the city.

Second, develop a new normal for the City Council, where members can discuss, disagree and not take disagreements personally and work toward a positive future and not be stuck a 1950s vision of Willmar. Basically, the City Council should build upon its recent positive direction of working together.

The City Council of 2017 will have the necessary tools and leadership to create a new city narrative, the ability to make functional and wise decisions, and, hopefully, lead our fair city in a positive direction forward.