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Group says city can't legally sell Mississippi National

A group of Red Wing residents who want Mississippi National Golf Links to remain publicly owned believe they've discovered a legal barrier that could prevent the city from selling the course.

In discussing ways to trim Red Wing's budget, City Council has proposed selling Mississippi National to its lessee and operator, Wendell Pittinger. The two sides have been engaging in negotiations.

However, some residents, such as local attorney and golfer Gary Fridell, are not thrilled with that idea.

"It's a public facility. It doesn't belong to Pittinger. It doesn't belong to the council..." Fridell said. "It belongs to the citizens of Red Wing."

Fridell questions not only the wisdom behind selling the course but also its legality. In the 1970s, the state gave Red Wing the land on which Mississippi National was built. Fridell argues the 1976 law that conveyed that land to Red Wing also restricts the city from selling the property to a private party.

City administration is not convinced that's the case.

"Our attorneys aren't of the same opinion," City Council Administrator Kay Kuhlmann said.

Kuhlmann said she empathizes with Fridell and others who don't want to see the golf course sold.

"From a citizen's perspective, I appreciate that they don't like it," she said of the proposed sale. "I don't like it."

But given the city's budget scenario, Kuhlmann said, city officials have little choice but to find ways to trim expenses and owning a golf course is not an "essential service."

She said there is a considerable annual expense to owning the course -- according to a city memorandum Red Wing spent $162,579 on maintenance and equipment for Mississippi National in 2010.

Fridell and a group of concerned residents have told the city council they understand the city is in a financial bind. But they believe Mississippi National could be run in such a way that it wouldn't need taxpayer support.

Council is scheduled to review the potential sale during its meeting Monday at 7 p.m.

For more coverage on this issue see Wednesday's edition of the R-E.