Gold course discussion dominates mayor's forum
RED WING — About 30 people attended the first of Red Wing Mayor Dennis Egan's five community forums Thursday night at Minnesota State College-Southeast Technical.
The intimate setting created a unique platform for the public to interact with city officials — past and present — but the bulk of the 90-minute session dealt with familiar material.
Members of the Save MNGL group steered the discussion toward the potential golf course sale right away, but it was newcomers to the controversy who added an intriguing perspective. Former city council members Carol Duff and Paul Reding were critical of the process.
Duff, who served until Jan. 1 and did not run for election, is a strong proponent for more transparent government. She pushed for more public dialogue often and was galled to hear that the council met in closed session about the golf course Monday night for nearly 90 minutes.
"I don't believe you could spend 90 minutes in a closed meeting while following the letter of the law," said Duff, who also said she was under-informed by city staff members when the council began discussing the potential sale in 2010.
"I feel the public doesn't get the information the council gets unless someone really probes."
Egan, who was elected in a special election in February after John Howe, who was elected to the state Senate, resigned, disagreed afterward, saying staff members "pulled the council back" whenever the closed-session discussion strayed.
Reding, who served on the city council in the 1990s, says the council's position on the golf course is "very reactionary." City officials say the golf course costs the city up to $200,000 a year. Reding wondered whether other options to increase revenue or reduce expenditures have been explored, particularly in light of the city's unusually large fund balance, or what some call a "rainy day fund."
Duff says the fund balance is at 84 percent, whereas the League of Minnesota Cities recommends 30 percent to 50 percent.
"Have we done a thorough and comprehensive review of the budget?" Reding said. "I don't think we have. At least not where everyone can see. … (The city has) to be more open and forthright."
Critics of the potential sale maintain the city has been operating behind a veil of secrecy with regard to the sale. Gary Fridell of Save MNGL said Thursday it took city staff members nearly six months to honor his freedom of information request for the appraisal, which was heavily redacted when it was released.
"I might not be able to move the dial on these issues, but you can bet I'm going to raise them," said Egan, who is a non-voting member of the city council but on the golf course committee.
At least half the community forum was spent on golf course issues, but other ideas and concerns were raised by the mostly elderly crowd. People asked Egan about his views on domestic partnerships, storage of nuclear waste and the potential silica sand mine just outside of the city, among other things.
Egan, who took office about six weeks ago, said he was thankful for the participation and that the message was clear.
"Broader than just the golf course, when we are making decisions, we need to do a better job of communicating intent and communicating kind of where the vision is early in the process so if there are issues or creative solutions, they can be vetted out," Egan said.
Egan's next public forum is scheduled for 7 p.m. May 24 at the Colvill Family Center.