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Council wants more information on mayor's sand group involvement

More than 50 people packed the council chambers at Red Wing City Hall during a meeting Monday. Many were there for the discussion about Mayor Dennis Egan's role leading the Minnesota Industrial Sand Council.

The Red Wing City Council will have an independent investigator gather more facts surrounding Mayor Dennis Egan's involvement with the Minnesota Industrial Sand Council.

City Council members voted Monday to initiate the investigation, to be done by someone outside the city organization. The issue was put before the City Council because of concerns about a conflict of interest raised by members and the community, Council President Lisa Bayley said.

The council also decided to ask the state attorney general for input on pieces of the situation, such as a recall petition. Red Wing resident Dale Hanson is working on a recall campaign, and said Monday he will continue to do so until the mayor resigns or the issue is resolved.

Egan maintained there is no conflict of interest in holding both positions. He said there are no frac sand mining issues before the council now and if one came up he would sit out the discussion and any related actions, such as a veto.

He did so later in Monday's meeting when the council approved a resolution supporting a statewide study of sand mining, including its health effects.

"I take my responsibility as mayor very seriously," Egan said, adding he is honored to serve in the position. "Like most elected officials throughout Minnesota, I have a job that supports my family."

Egan said when he ran for re-election in November his profession was clear.

City attorney Jay Squires said right now there is no legal conflict of interest. Council members generally agreed, but some said perceived conflict is key.

"What I see is the public confidence has been so severely shaken," Bayley said, adding "I just don't see how these two positions are compatible."

"My main concern is one of perceived corruption," said Hay Creek resident Amy Nelson, a member of Save the Bluffs.

The sand council has been clear it is not interested in mining the bluffs along the Mississippi River, Egan said. The group is made up of businesses concerned with silica sand mining and similar issues at the state level.

"For me to pick and choose my livelihood and a client of mine versus the mayor, in my eyes ... I don't think that's a reasonable request," Egan said.

Council members said while there likely is not a legal conflict of interest right now, there are other concerns.

"I do not believe this has come down to a legal conflict, but I believe it has come down to an ethical conflict," Council member Mike Schultz said.

"We have a significant perception of conflict of interest, whether or not it indeed meets the legal definitions," Council member Peggy Rehder said.

Council member Ralph Rauterkus said he reads the issue more literally.

"Having these different levels of conflict of interest just doesn't play in my mind," he said.

The discussion Monday night generally was civil, though one man was escorted out by police after yelling that Egan was corrupt. More than 50 people packed the council chambers, most for this issue. While many wanted Egan to resign, a handful applauded in support of the mayor's statement that he should not have to choose between the client and his Red Wing position.

The City Council soon will finalize questions to be answered during the investigation, including more details of Egan's contract with the sand group and the timeline of his discussions and work with the organization.

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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