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Citizens and city talk Red Wing golf course

Most of those who spoke during a public meeting on the proposed sale of Mississippi National Golf Links shared the same goal - to keep the property a public golf course.

The differences came in discussing who should own it.

Community members and leaders packed City Hall Tuesday night to share their thoughts on that and other aspects of the proposed sale.

City officials reiterated their rationale for considering the sale of 363 of the course's 417 acres -- mainly budget constraints -- and assured citizens sale would include conditions requiring the property to remain a golf course.

"There are numerous conditions on any sale (of Mississippi National) that protect the citizens' interest in retaining a public golf course," said Marshall Hallock, city finance director. "The irony here is that we both want that."

But Jay Lindgren, an attorney working with the group Save MNGL, raised a number of concerns, including potential legal restrictions on a private sale, the true amount of savings the city would realize from the sale, the proposed sale process and the appraisal amount and methods.

He asked the council to weigh the savings against the risks and objections.

"You make a very small dent in your budget and lose public ownership of this incredible green space," Lindgren said of the potential sale.

Hallock said city officials are trying to trim the budget in ways that have a minimal impact on citizens, but also have already cut in nearly every arena, from public works to law enforcement.

"I'd like to hear the argument for why we should continue to subsidize a golf course with taxpayer money while at the same time we're laying off police officers," Hallock said.

But some who spoke Tuesday said Mississippi National is an investment, and they emphasized area residents' role in the course.

"Don't sell what the citizens have paid for with time and money," Gary Fridell said. "All the citizens of Red Wing own ... this course."

Planning commission: we need more information

The Advisory Planning Commission was met with the narrower question Tuesday night of whether the sale of Mississippi National would comply with the city's Comprehensive Plan.

After discussion and testimony from the public, commissioners voted 6-1 on a motion stating the proposed sale is not in compliance with the plan. Scot Johnson cast the lone dissenting vote.

They said they did not have enough information at this point to say the sale would definitely fit the plan, but requested the issue come before the commission with more information in the future.

"I agree on the surface that the proposed sale is in compliance (with the plan)," Commissioner Heidi Jones said, but added that she had concerns about the process - approving a proposed sale before details and terms are solidified.

"It's a little bit of the cart before the horse," she said.

The commission's vote is only advisory, and the City Council will discuss it at Monday's council meeting. The council also will go into a closed session Monday to discuss negotiation strategies for the sale, followed by a public discussion of the process moving forward.

At issue...

The appraisal of Mississippi National Golf Links has been a contested issue during the discussion of a potential sale of the course.

A heavily redacted version of the appraisal was released earlier this month, drawing criticism on the amount of information blacked out.

The council voted at its April 11 meeting to make the appraisal amount public. However, the second released version still had some redactions, which city officials said were allowed because the sections contained private business information.

But now Red Wing resident and attorney Kent Laugen is questioning that rationale. Laugen has sent a request to the Information Policy Analysis Division -- a state entity that can provide an advisory opinion on data practices issues -- asking for a review of the city's justification of keeping that information redacted in the second version of the appraisal.

Save MNGL members also have said the appraisal, which was completed last fall and placed the city's interest value at just more than $1.2 million, came at a time when property values are at all-time lows.

"This sale is taking place at the absolute worst time," attorney Jay Lindgren, working with Save MNGL, said at a public meeting Tuesday.

Finance Director Marshall Hallock acknowledged that the appraised value was low but added that part of the reason for that is the numerous restrictions the city has put on the land's use.

Lindgren challenged the city to complete more appraisals, noting that the state completed three appraisals before it sold the land for the course to Red Wing.

"If you're going to proceed (with the sale), take the time to do multiple appraisals," he told the council Tuesday.

Danielle Killey

Danielle Killey covers local government for the South Washington County Bulletin. She has worked as a reporter for other Forum Communications newspapers since 2011. She graduated from the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities with a journalism degree.

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