For this week’s blog, we talked with Ike Holland, the Chief Administrative Officer for the City of Willmar. During the second day of the Minnesota Community Assembly, Ike led a Q&A session about Willmar’s current structure of government, and met with citizens afterwards to answer follow-up questions and hear concerns.
Ike also participated in the second weekend of the community assembly in Willmar by leading a Q&A about voting and participation. Below you’ll find his perspective on the assembly, the importance of local government, and why he’s excited to see the assembly results.
The project spans three weekends in Willmar: September 15-16, September 29-October 1, and October 13-15.
What drew you to participate in the Minnesota Community Assembly?
I had read about the assembly in the newspaper and I had received a postcard announcing this was going to happen. My curiosity was piqued, as community involvement and local government is part of my job. I was definitely interested in learning more about it and I thought participating would be great.
Were you familiar with community assemblies before the event?
I’ve seen open forums but I haven’t seen a process like this, where there’s an organized, dedicated group participating.
What was your general impression of the Community Assembly?
I was definitely impressed by the enthusiasm of the participants.
If there’s one thing you could tell all of your community members, what would that be?
I would say the basic message I would give to them would consist of two things:
- It’s not hard to participate in local government
- We do encourage people to give us feedback in how we’re doing in our services. I know a lot of people have the impression that we don’t want feedback, and that’s something I’m always working on, in fact I talked to staff about it earlier today. Local government, in general, gives the impression that we don’t care about their opinion. I don’t think it’s intentional, but there’s a couple things driving municipal services that would contribute to this impression. First, municipal services, such as the police, fire, and water department, generally have a monopoly on their services. Citizens therefore don’t have a choice, so this can sometimes drive apathy in terms of providing feedback. Second, there’s no profit motive. The government doesn’t go out of business if they do a good job or bad job, and that’s not what revenues are dependent on.
What are you working on specifically to increase participation with the Willmar City Government?
We want to increase our social media outreach in the community, so that we can get feedback from that communications effort. Second, we want to increase our outreach programs. Our police department, for instance, does a very good job at community outreach. We had 4 events over the summer where people could come out and interact with police officers, and we hosted fun community and kid-friendly events. I will continue to budget for outreach events such as this.
What does a healthy local government mean to you?
Providing those services that people expect from their local government. Usually these are health and safety services, such as the police force, fire services, and community health services, including restaurant inspections and building inspections. That’s the primary purpose. If we’re doing a good job with those things, generally the community is happy with the local government.
What will you be interested in seeing at the end of the community assembly?
I want to know their opinion of services we provide, and of any suggestions they will have for improvement that the city can do in any capacity.
Any concluding thoughts about the community assembly?
I think that more communities should initiate something like this on their own, in their own communities, to encourage local participation. It does improve the organization, and it builds trust and a communications link that is needed for a healthy community.
As the City Administrator, Ike is responsible to the city council of Willmar for the administration of all city affairs. The administrator is charged with supervising many departments and divisions of the City, except Rice Hospital in Willmar, the Municipal Utilities Commission, and the legal department. Ike also evaluates the performance of employees, sets general personnel policies, approves staff appointment, prepares and submits the annual budget to the city council, advises the Mayor and council on administrative and financial needs, and builds relationships with federal, state and local agencies.