I moderated the Willmar City Council Candidates' Forum for the League of Women Voters on Tuesday night. The West Central Tribune took a lot of heat, particularly from council members Jim Dokken and Tim Johnson, for criticism they've leveled at the mayor and some members of the council for having the temerity to question city staff and not rubber stamp everything set before them. The paper has been most strident against Mayor Yanish and Councilmen Ron Christianson and Dokken, but Johnson and Steve Ahmann have also felt the wrath of Publisher Steve Ammerman and Editor Kelly Boldan. Johnson last night said any dysfunction on the council was "overblown" and the paper was "obsessive" about reporting any conflicts. Johnson praised the staff but said it's the council's duty to "verify" and said asking questions is not micromanaging. Wasn't it Ronald Reagan who said, when it came to nuclear arms treaties with The Soviety Union, "trust but verify." Johnson also blasted the paper for what he felt were incorrect, sensational headlines saying the Lakeland Drive sewer project would be delayed because the Public Works/Safety Committee withdrew their endorsement of a certain engineering firm for the project. In the end, the council did indeed chose a firm other than the one recommended by staff and the committee. As for my position on the whole matter, I feel there's a little bit of truth on both sides...the council, with Johnson and Mayor Yanish, do indeed ask more questions of the city staff which is under the management of new(er) City Administrator Charlene Stevens than former Mayor Les Heitke and councilman Steve Gardner asked of then-City Administrator Michael Schmit. Perhaps as a result, the city has lost Police Chief Marv Calvin, City Engineer Holly Wilson, Schmit and others, although the timing of their departures may be purely coincidental. You'd have to ask them. As for the newspaper using the editorial page to blast the city, that's their business, but getting people angry against the mayor and certain council members because they are doing what they feel they were elected to do seems to me more like making the news than simply reporting it. Some may accuse me of favoritism toward city staff instead of the mayor and council members because I regularly have Stevens and City Planning and Development Director Bruce Peterson on the Open Mike Show. But the practice of having the city administrator on to preview that night's council meeting agenda goes back more than a decade, and the door is always open to phone calls or even guest appearances, if the mayor or council were ever to ask. I am not the one pitting one group against the other...I am simply doing my best to report the news.