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Tribune Opinion: Willmar City Council members need to look in the mirror

Summary: It is time for Willmar City Council members to leave the schoolyard pettiness at home. Returning and new Willmar City Council members must put on their “big person pants,” forget personal agendas, get down to conducting the business of the city and help move Willmar forward.

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Councilors Audrey Nelsen, left, Vicki Davis, Andrew Plowman, Rick Fagerlie and Mayor Marv Calvin take the oath of office in January 2019 during a Willmar City Council meeting at the Kandiyohi County Health and Human Services building in Willmar. Erica Dischino / West Central Tribune file photo

The Willmar City Council, long known for its internal turmoil, is once again harming the city of Willmar’s reputation. It is time for all the returning City Council members and Mayor Marv Calvin to look in the mirror and ask themselves individually are they doing everything they can for the betterment of Willmar.

The Dec. 12 headline in the West Central Tribune, “Distrust reigns: Miscommunication continues to hold Willmar City Council back,” appears they are not.

These miscommunication and mistrust allegations have reared their ugly heads once again in our city government. As these issues continue festering among council members, the mayor and city staff, Willmar residents suffer.

Lack of communication appears to be a major issue among current City Council members.

“Communication is an issue and it is holding us back,” Councilor Audrey Nelsen said in an interview with the West Central Tribune.

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A primary cause of the miscommunication may simply rest in the council’s own committee structure. Every city administrator in recent years (and Willmar has had many) has advised the City Council that the committee structure is not a good governance structure.

The City Council operates now with four committees — Finance, Labor, Public Works/Safety and Community Development. Four council members sit on each committee. While the committee meetings are recorded and available to anyone, not all discussion topics are recorded completely in the official minutes. There have long been complaints that other councilors do not receive the complete information on every topic discussion at any committee meeting.

Personality conflicts or broken relationships between individual City Council members combined with political agendas have also long been a problem with the City Council over the years.

Currently, the lack of communication between Councilor Nelsen and Mayor Calvin is a serious problem. Calvin told the Tribune that Nelsen “is the queen of ‘no’ and that is a problem.” Nelsen told the Tribune that Calvin tries “to bring things more through the back door than the front door.”

Nelsen has also had a pattern of personality conflicts with other City Council members individually. At times, she has not been able to have policy disagreements without taking the debate personally.

And both Nelsen and Calvin have heard from other elected and government officials around the state that Willmar needs to start acting like the regional center it is. How true.

The City Council has an opportunity in 2021 to have a fresh start and open a new chapter.

First, Councilors Shawn Mueske, Kathy Schwantes and Fernando Alvarado are leaving the City Council after serving one full term. We thank them for their city service. None of the three chose to run for re-election for various reasons, including current antagonistic relationships within the City Council itself.

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Second, three new members will join the City Council, including Michael O’Brien representing Ward 1, Justin Ask representing Ward 3 and Tom Butterfield representing Ward 4. They will bring fresh perspectives to the City Council and change the council dynamics.

Third, the City Council will soon begin a search for a new city administrator to replace Brian Gramentz, who informed the council earlier in December that he plans to vacate his position by June 1. Gramentz was originally hired as an interim administrator in June 2019 and as a full-time administrator in January 2020. Gramentz has been true to his word to serve only as a transitional administrator for the short term for the city.

The city of Willmar has had six interim or full-time administrators since 2015: Charlene Stevens, Kevin Halliday, Larry Kruse, Mike McGuire, Ike Holland and Gramentz. The new administrator in 2021 will make seven. The City Council may want to reflect on why they’re seeing such a continued turnover of city administrators in Willmar.

It is time for Willmar City Council members to leave the schoolyard pettiness at home. Returning and new Willmar City Council members must put on their “big person pants,” forget personal agendas, get down to conducting the business of the city and help move Willmar forward.

This editorial is the opinion of the West Central Tribune Editorial Board, consisting of publisher Steve Ammermann and editor Kelly Boldan.

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