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Willmar Residents Want City Council Member Ron Christianson Gone

Ron Christianson

Ron Christianson

A veteran Willmar city councilman of 20 years has finally made enough enemies to inspire a citizen movement bent on kicking him out of office.

At Monday night's City Council meeting, a group announced its intent to formally recall Councilman Ron Christianson.

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Organizer Beverly Dougherty says that members of the Recall Ron Christianson committee have been working nonstop over the last three weeks to archive public records of Christianson's alleged "nonfeasance and malfeasance."

"He believes he's above the law," Dougherty says. "He wants to run the government, and he doesn't listen to anyone. He doesn't listen to the mayor. He tells him to be quiet."

Christianson declined to comment.

Christianson endorses a Facebook post likening food stamp users to wild animals.

Christianson endorses a Facebook post likening food stamp users to wild animals.

The recall movement's beef with Christianson stems from frustration with the Willmar council overall. Some citizens view the all-white, all-male council -- with the exception of Councilwoman Audrey Nelsen -- as an "old boys' club" entrenched in outdated worldviews about diversity and workplace equality.

Residents took issue with the mysterious firing of former city administrator Charlene Stevens in March. In an unexpected 5-3 vote, council members Christianson, Tim Johnson, Rick Fagerlie, Steve Ahmann, and Jim Dokken terminated Stevens's contract with no explanation.

Later, when Nelsen asked what their reasons were for sacking Stevens and whether any secret meetings had taken place prior to the vote, Christianson told her to quit discussing the past.

Stevens was a beloved city administrator, says local resident Jonathan Marchand. "She held herself and conducted herself very professionally, and was not going to be harassed into giving in to this old boys' network," he says.

When the Willmar Chamber of Commerce held its weekly breakfast chats at different businesses, Stevens would attend and inform people about hirings, hearings, and general city news.

When lead contaminants were found in an indoor shooting range in the basement of the city auditorium, Stevens temporarily shut down the range until she could scrub the facilities. That rubbed certain city council members the wrong way, Marchand says.

"There's a belief on this council that, number one, won't have anything to do with taking away their opportunity to shoot guns, and number two, it's not going to be done by a woman," Marchand says.

Stevens's spontaneous firing was the final straw. The recall committee started to meet shortly after.

People weren't paying attention when they reelected Christianson to the council this year, Dougherty says. "Part of that is the younger generation tends not to vote, so he's been put in by his own little group of people who get out and vote. Due to a couple Facebook pages, people are all so shocked at his racism, and the comments he makes publicly."

She says getting rid of Christianson is just the start -- the other four council members who voted with him to fire Stevens should go as well.

In November 2013, consultant Carl Neu declared the council "dysfunctional and incapable of setting a vision and goals as a result of deep-seated personality differences and beliefs," according to the West Central Tribune.

"Neu said he could admire the longevity of some council members, some having served between 10 and 20 years. But Neu said he was not sure all that longevity leads to maturity and capacity to lead as a council," wrote the Tribune's David Little.

Mayor Marv Calvin says he wasn't able to vote on Stevens's termination because Willmar has a weak mayor form of government. If he had the power, he would have supported her.

"If I were in [Christianson's] shoes, it would be a wakeup call," Calvin says. "I would look in the mirror and ask if I'm representing the citizens who elected me. That's what I would do personally. Mr. Christianson of course is entitled to what he feels is correct in his eyes."

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