February 11th, 2013
Here’s my latest missive to the Red Wing City Council, the final comment before tonight’s City Council meeting. CLICK HERE TO WATCH IT. We’ll be watching on the train – hope signal is good tonight!
Greetings from Chicago. FYI, I’m beginning a long planned vacation, and it’s not possible to rebook Amtrak without significant penalty, so with regrets, I will not be able to attend tonight’s meeting.
You will have some difficult but necessary decisions to make tonight.
There’s an important point I want to make about “our” Mayor Dennis Egan, and the options before the City Council. It’s not binary — it’s not either/or. Several people have said that he needs to choose one position or the other, framing it that there needs to be a choice of whether he will be “our” mayor or to represent frac sand interests. But it’s too late for that. He has already betrayed the people of Red Wing and his oath of office. He’s shown us his moral and ethical views, he’s demonstrated an inability or unwillingness to take the issue seriously, and he has shown the extent of his denial. That can’t be undone.
The issue before the council is Egan’s fitness as mayor, and not whether he should be given a choice to resign one position or the other. Whether he resigns as the “voice of frac sand” or whether he is removed from that position as the PR liability that he is, it doesn’t matter at this point if he’s no longer representing frac sand. With the facts of this issue, and with the Mayor’s behavior and public statements, the bottom line is that he can’t continue as Mayor because has shown us that he cannot be trusted to put the City’s interests first.
Mayor Egan has demonstrated that he’s not fit for office. He shouldn’t be mayor.
Not only that, Steve Murphy and I agree that this is an impermissible conflict. If Steve Murphy and I agree on something, it MUST be right!!!
Thank you for our attention to this issue. I urge you all to act mindful of the Code of Conduct for Red Wing elected officials and your oath of office.
Carol A. Overland
Vacationing in Chicago and on the way to L.A.
p.s. I believe there are records of citizen complaints and comments that are missing from the packet and hope that the packets will be updated with all comments to date just prior to the meeting.
There is a lot more in the papers leading up to tonight’s meeting. I’m going to cut and paste so that when they disappear into archives, they’ll be accessible. First is the RW Beagle’s coverage:
“Even if I supported sand mine fracking in Minnesota (which I DO NOT), the mere appearance of conflict of interest and many other potential improprieties is enough to motivate me to attempt to recall Mayor Egan,” Hanson said in his blanket email.
Hanson anticipates that forming a steering committee, drafting the recall petition and submitting the paperwork to the city will take a week to 10 days. He then must gather at least 1,900 signatures or 20 percent of registered voters.
Carol Overland, a local attorney, is asking City Council members to oust Egan if he doesn’t resign. She was among the first to cry foul after Politics in Minnesota reported Feb. 1 the Minnesota Industrial Sand Council had formed to give frac sand mining operations, railroad, trucking and petroleum interests “a voice at the Capitol.” She blogged about it, sent emails and contacted City Council members.
The council instituted a moratorium, studied silica sand mining and, in October, passed an ordinance that makes such mining essentially impossible within city limits. Overland said this remains an economic, safety, health, land-use and power issue for all of Goodhue County.
Now from the Rochester Post Bulletin:
Red Wing Mayor Dennis Egan says he doesn’t see a conflict interest between his new job as a lobbyist for the frac-sand industry and his role as an elected official. The trouble is, a lot of people do.
One Red Wing resident described the situation succinctly. “How can you represent citizens and the industry at the same time?” asked John Tittle, a member of Save the Bluffs, a citizen’s group opposed to frac mining. “It seems like it would be a conflict. It seems kind of obvious.”
Egan said there are no applications before the city for frac-sand facilities and, more important, the city passed an ordinance in October that essentially bans frac-sand mining. If a new frac-sand project is proposed, Egan said he will recuse himself from the discussion.
Still, the Red Wing mayor’s role as executive director for the Minnesota Industrial Sand Council — a consortium of aggregate, trucking and petroleum companies with interests in frac sand and gravel — raises pertinent questions about whether he can balance his employer’s interests with his community’s.
The Mississippi River corridor is in the heart of the frac-sand boom. More than 100 silica mines and processing facilities have been permitted during the last four years in southeastern Minnesota and western Wisconsin. The region has rich deposits of silica sand, the hard, round grains used in hydraulic fracturing — commonly known as “fracking” — to tap hard-to-reach oil and natural gas deposits.
Regulation of the frac industry so far has been largely left up to county, city and township governments, several of which have declared moratoriums of silica mining and processing while the environmental concerns are studied. At the state level, a Minnesota Senate committee has scheduled a Feb. 19 hearing for bills on sand mining.
Red Wing City Council President Lisa Bayley said part of the agenda for this coming Monday’s council meeting is to discuss what position the city should take on frac-sand issues at the Legislature. Will Egan, who has registered in St. Paul to lobby for the sand council, recuse himself from that discussion?
Bayley and another city council member, Peggy Rehder, said Red Wing will continue to deal with issues regarding truck traffic and barge loading of frac sand from the city-owned dock. Will Egan, whose new employers rely on trucking and shipping to move silica sand, recuse himself from those discussions, too?
We agree with Rehder. Despite Egan’s explanation, he must avoid even the appearance of a conflict of interest. And it’s not as if he’s a lame-duck mayor with little time left in office. He was re-elected in November, so he could be wearing two hats for a long time.
And on to the letters. The next two are a hoot, because Steve Murphy and I are actually agreeing on something. As I told the Council, if Steve Murphy and I agree on something it must be right.
Politics in Minnesota reported formation of the Minnesota Industrial Sand Council to give frac sand mining operations, railroad, trucking and petroleum interests “a voice at the Capitol.” “Our” mayor is executive director of that voice.
Under the City Charter, our mayor has duties and responsibilities as the titular head, recognized as the official head of the city for all ceremonial purposes, to review city operations and make recommendations as he/she believes to be desirable and to review concerns on city activities raised by citizens and make recommendations as he/she believes desirable as to any corrective actions necessary.
Egan is to be representing voter constituents. We didn’t elect frac sand interests to be mayor. The ethics should prevent this representational conflict, but instead he’s taken the position as the frac sand industry’s lobbying arm, and he’s putting the call of the sand industry, and their money, in conflict with his duties as the titular head of the city. That’s wrong.
The city can act when an elected official puts his own interests or those of another in conflict with his duties to the city, or has the cloak of his elected position at the same time as he is paid to gain access or favor for a private interest. An elected official may be removed for cause (Charter, Section 2.05), and the City may also initiate an “Investigation of City Affairs” (Charter, Section 2.09). The Charter also authorizes Recall of the Mayor (Section 6.13-6.18).
And now Steve Murphy’s editorial:
The recent developments surrounding the mayor of Red Wing and his employment with the sand mining industry as a paid lobbyist are extremely troubling. It matters not how you feel about the issue of frac sand mining or the use of hydraulic fracturing to harvest gas and oil; the distressing concern at hand is both a matter of law and one of integrity. By: Steve Murphy, The Republican Eagle
The recent developments surrounding the mayor of Red Wing and his employment with the sand mining industry as a paid lobbyist are extremely troubling. It matters not how you feel about the issue of frac sand mining or the use of hydraulic fracturing to harvest gas and oil; the distressing concern at hand is both a matter of law and one of integrity.
I cannot claim to be an expert in the matter of conflict-of-interest issues. But, during the dry-cask storage debates of the early ‘90s I was accused of having a “conflict of interest” because of my employment with NSP.
The resulting lawsuit was hauled in front of the Minnesota Supreme Court, where the legal opinion rendered by Chief Justice Kathleen Blatz absolved me of any conflict. In the opinion of the court, the conflict standard was not met due to the fact that I was not making any financial gain — not in retirement payouts or medical plans or hourly pay, nothing. Also, the outcome of the overall nuclear debate, whether or not to shutdown nuclear power in Minnesota, did not impact my employment with NSP.
Because of the mayor’s actions, damage is being done to the stellar reputation that Red Wing and its residents have earned from people all across our state. It is also painting the elected members of the City Council with the same brush of political disdain.
The profession of lobbyist is already under assault. For those many lobbyists who are above-board and provide factual, accurate and comprehensive information to elected office holders and the public, this is giving them yet another black-eye.