Oak Grove council down to three names for representatives on watershed board

Through a process that began nearly three months ago, the Oak Grove City Council has wanted to name three people for roles on the Upper Rum River Watershed Management Board and has interviewed just three people despite once having a list of seven applicants.

The city can have two voting delegates at any of the watershed board meetings, which through the past year have been held once every other month at the Sandhill Center in Bethel. Representatives of Oak Grove, Bethel, East Bethel, Ham Lake, St. Francis and Nowthen gather to discuss and vote on issues related to local water sources. Topics from a January meeting included wetland hydrology, groundwater conservation and a plan to ask the cities’ public works departments to minimize their use of road salt.

The board has its next meeting scheduled March 5.

The three board applicants to answer questions from the Oak Grove council in the past month include the city’s current delegates, Ed Faherty and John Wangensteen, along with one challenger in Councilmember Dan Denno. After Faherty and Denno spoke of their interests and backgrounds Jan. 28, Wangensteen had the council podium to himself Feb. 11.

He said he is a civil engineer who has taken a wetland delineation course through the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. In regards to his active service on the board, “I felt this would be a good chance to contribute,” he said.

At one time, Oak Grove staff also had letters of interest from applicants Stuart Bernard, Bernadette Lex, Brad Schroeder and Corey VanDenburgh.

City officials said Feb. 11 that Lex had withdrawn from consideration, and Denno said he had learned second-hand through Lex that Schroeder was removing his name. City staff received no contact from the other two applicants.

With Councilmember Scott Lawrence absent last week, Mayor Mark Korin and the other council members looked at three names for the watershed board, and they had a choice because only two people can be named official members with one alternate.

Staff asked if an option should be left open for interviews at the next council meeting, but the council leaned toward those who have already shown to speak. “They (our other applicants) may have very good reasons for not showing up, but those that show up are the ones who make decisions,” said Councilmember Sean Sullivan.

He joined Councilmember Mike Wylie in supporting a motion to keep Faherty and Wangensteen as Oak Grove’s delegates on the watershed board, while naming Denno as an alternate. The motion was opposed by Korin and Denno and defeated on a split vote.

Sullivan asked City Attorney Bob Vose if it would have been proper for Denno, as an applicant, to remove himself from the vote.

According to Vose, it would have been where compensation is involved. A city’s delegate can receive $60 for attendance at one of the bimonthly meetings.

But Denno said if he is named as a delegate or filling in as an alternate, he would also be there as a council liaison and turn down any payment beyond the salary he receives as a councilmember, which is close to $435 per month for dual work on the council and the Economic Development Authority.

“To me, that does make a difference whether he votes on it or not,” Wylie said.

Council will revisit the issue when Lawrence rejoins his four colleagues.