Sean Sullivan, an Oak Grove City Councilmember who has worked for other area cities in economic development, has been asked by two different councils this spring whether his work in that field could conflict with his duty to vote on such matters as an elected official.
Ramsey City Council members asked about Sullivan’s service on the Oak Grove Council last month when they considered him for a role as Ramsey’s economic development manager. Out of 14 applicants, he was ultimately offered that job in late April and was scheduled to start May 29, but Sullivan withdrew his name from the process May 7.
He worked for Ramsey from 2000 to 2010 as an economic development coordinator, where he performed much of the same work but he would have taken on more with the new title of manager.
When Sullivan left his past employment with Ramsey, he began work for the city of Isanti where he remains as economic development director.
In Oak Grove, where the elected council serves concurrently as an Economic Development Authority board, Mayor Mark Korin shared with Sullivan at a meeting May 13 that other residents have told the mayor they are concerned over Sullivan’s dual roles in their city and Isanti.
Korin and the other elected colleagues told Sullivan that when it comes to voting on matters of strengthening the city’s tax base, they expect he will be concerned with only Oak Grove.
Sullivan, a past Planning Commission member, placed second among five candidates in a race for two council seats last November. He is scheduled to serve on the council through 2016.
“I’d like to think that I thought through these things (working in Isanti) prior to running for office, which I did,” Sullivan told the council May 13. “I don’t think there’s any issue here and until the city attorney (Bob Vose) tells me so, I’m done with this.”
Sullivan told the Union after the meeting that he asked private legal counsel for an opinion of his case before filing for office. Neither that counsel nor Vose said there would be an immediate conflict, Sullivan said.
He told Korin that he did not feel it was appropriate to raise more concerns at the council meeting.
“I have concerns because residents are coming to me,” Korin said. “We work very, very hard, Sean, to bring everything out in the open.”
According to Korin, he could not see being in Sullivan’s position. “You can’t be employed (in) a full-time city government job as an economic development authority (or director), and then have some responsibility on an EDA and as a city council member, making decisions for land use, zoning and variances,” Korin said.
“To me, there’s a conflict, pure and simple.”
Councilmember Dan Denno said it was worthy for Korin to raise the issue at their meeting. “This is the time and place, Sean,” Denno said. “This is a public city council meeting. (The mayor) has had concerns from citizens voiced to him. He has to bring it up in public, otherwise, he’s not doing his duty.”
Denno said the council has not had a problem with Sullivan’s service so far, but rather it is merely concerned with potential issues. “Your livelihood depends on your job,” Denno said. “If we had a company that was looking at Oak Grove and Isanti and your livelihood depended on getting that company to Isanti, how do we know there’s not a potential conflict of interest between what you know here and what you know there?
“That’s where the issue (would come), not something that you’re doing now.”
Sullivan researched all issues before joining the council and he said he is a dedicated member, he said. “Before I ran for office in Oak Grove, I checked these things out,” Sullivan said.