Watching Red Wing's city council meeting stream live last night helps Bluestem understand the sentiments expressed in Winona Daily News editor Brian Voerding's signed editorial, Our view: What is Red Wing’s mayor thinking?:
As Winona County continues to trudge through the frac sand debate and every associated issue, we should be thankful at least for this:
Our elected officials haven’t done anything nearly as stupid as the ones north of here.
Red Wing mayor Dennis Egan was recently hired to lead a lobbying group for the frac sand industry. He doesn’t think it’s a conflict of interest to be the mayor of a town that has dealt with and will continue to deal with the processing, trucking, shipping and other businesses leaping at the chance to handle the dusty gold companies are digging out of southeast Minnesota and western Wisconsin mines.
Clearly he doesn’t think much at all.
Even if he chooses not to vote on a single issue or permit related to frac sand, he’s still nothing more than a lobbyist lawmaker—which should be an oxymoron.
We never thought we’d be in a position to praise our elected officials for steering clear of frac sand interests.
But then again, it has proved impossible to define just how alluring a boom industry can be to people responsible for regulating it. In Buffalo County, for example, the long-time zoning administrator turned in his resignation and signed on with a frac sand development company not long after companies began crossing the county line. Without his leadership, the county is still struggling to figure out how to deal with the industry. . . .
The editorial board at the WDN has been fairly pro-sand, so this isn't a good start for the Minnesota Industrial Sand Council, although Bluestem is beginning to think we should cheer its hiring of the Red Wing mayor.
Since Dennis Egan, the Mayor of Fracsandville and Red Wing, promises that the Minnesota Industrial Sand Council is all about "best practices" in the industry, let's take him at his word.
What we're seeing with this hiring is what corporate mining interests believes is a "best practice."
Certainly, the general public and the rest of Red Wing's elected officials don't agree with Dennis Egan and the MISC about what's "best" for Southeastern Minnesota. Star Tribune staff writer Tony Kennedy reports in Mayor's new frac sand job ignites debate in Red Wing:
Minnesota's frac sand debate spilled into City Hall here on Monday night, with citizens pledging to recall Mayor Dennis Egan and the City Council launching an investigation into his involvement with a sand-mining trade group and lobbying organization.
At an intense City Council meeting attended by about 50 people who applauded the harshest rebukes of the mayor, two City Council members directly asked Egan to resign as mayor or step down as executive director of the Minnesota Industrial Sand Council. He steadfastly refused either option, saying he has no conflict of interest that can't be managed on a case-by-case basis by recusing himself from city action on sand-mining issues.
"I deeply care about Red Wing,'' said Egan, who was elected in November to a four-year term before he went to work for the sand council.
But Council President Lisa Bayley said Egan's post with an industry that has encountered public opposition in its plans to expand sand-mining operations in Minnesota has taken a negative toll on the city and could hurt economic development.
"The public confidence has been so severely shaken,'' Bayley said. "What we have here is a pretty massive inherent conflict.''
Council Member Michael Schultz drew applause when he asked the mayor, "Do you want to be the mayor of Red Wing or the executive director of the sand council?'' . . .
The council voted 7-0 to hire the investigator.Kennedy also notes that the City Council will ask Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson's office for some advice:
The council also agreed to ask the Minnesota attorney general for guidance on the legal structure and possible grounds for a petition drive that Red Wing resident Dale Hanson pledged to pursue as a way to remove Egan from office. Hanson said a recall petition needs a minimum of 1,900 signatures to prompt a citywide vote in which Egan, a former Red Wing Chamber of Commerce president, could be ousted.
Best practices: okay then. Read the whole article at the Strib. Over at Minnesota Public Radio, Elizabeth Baier reports in Red Wing mayor defends sand mine lobbying job:
Bayley asked Egan to choose between his role as mayor and executive director of the sand council. She said the city shouldn't need to spend money to investigate the mayor's position with a lobbying group.
"A week and a half ago, we didn't even know about this issue. I really kind of resent being put in this position that we're the ones being made to make this call," she said. "We'll do what we can within the limited confines of state statue and our code of ethics and go from there and really just keep a open mind about how we go forward."
Bluestem thinks that this added financial burden to the City of Red Wing underscores the costs of frac sand mining to communities and individual property holders. We should thank the newborn Minnesota Industrial Sand Council for its ability to peel back discourse to its core as swiftly as its members are able to strip the lovely bluffs and farmland of Southeastern Minnesota.
Although the city is currently considering any sand mining proposals, residents like Marlene de Boef questioned Egan's ability to balance the two jobs.
"If you are mayor, you are mayor everyday, all day. You are the face of Red Wing for the outside world. And you can't say. 'Well, this afternoon, I am not going to be mayor,' because the perception is, you are mayor all the time," de Boef said.
It's unclear how long the city's investigation into Mayor Egan's position will take. A group of citizens has also started to gather signatures for a petition to recall the mayor.
The price of sand just got more transparent, and we can all thank the Minnesota Industrial Sand Council and its fearless leader, Red Wing Mayor Dennis Egan, for that early valentine.
Photo: The sun shines down on pretty Red Wing (above); a 2012 slurry slip into the St. Croix River (below).
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