EDA shuffle may shake up municipal campus vote

Rather than abstain, architect Finnemann resigns from board


Officer Nancy Carlson of the Forest Lake Police Department leads a tour through the police station Tuesday afternoon. As part of the ongoing municipal campus talk, the city held tours of several buildings to showcase facility shortcomings. Here, Carlson points out tight quarters in the department’s equipment bay. (Photo by Clint Riese)

Clint Riese
News Editor

Monday’s City Council meeting featured many highly debated subjects, but perhaps the most contentious of all came last.

Three nights before the next key moment for a $23.5 million municipal campus proposal, the council dealt with a shake-up of the Economic Development Authority – the group that, along with the council, will ultimately determine the mega-project’s fate in the coming weeks. The discussion on Monday put Mayor Chris Johnson on the defensive as a council member accused him of bending the rules.

The situation stems from Thursday, Nov. 15, when Mark Finnemann submitted to Johnson his resignation from the EDA. Finnemann, who just joined the board earlier this year, was one of the architects who prepared for the city a facilities needs study that included the development concept for the proposed municipal campus at Northland Mall. He previously committed to abstaining from any votes relating to the project.

“Any perception of a conflict of interest regarding any public procedures or projects should be alleviated with this move,” he stated in his resignation e-mail.

Special Meeting
The City Council and EDA will hold a special joint meeting at 7 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 29, regarding the proposed municipal campus project. Click here to watch the city’s video on facility needs. 

On Monday, Mayor Johnson said state statute requires such boards to have either three, five or seven members. In order to get back to seven, after the council unanimously accepted Finnemann’s resignation, Johnson motioned to appoint Ray Daninger, the former Forest Lake mayor who founded the EDA while in office.

Council members Mike Freer and Jackie McNamara were quick to speak up. McNamara, an EDA member herself, questioned Daninger’s potential on the board. Freer did not speak against Daninger, but lambasted Johnson’s decision to nominate Daninger without taking applications for the specific opening.

Johnson noted that he was familiar with several qualified applicants from when Finnemann and Blake Roberts were appointed when the EDA expanded from five to seven members this January.

But Freer pressed on, asking the mayor if Daninger had applied at that point.

“He did not,” Johnson said.

Fire Inspector Bruce Wightman demonstrates the crowded quarters at the fire station on Fourth Street SW during a tour of city facilities Tuesday afternoon. (Photo by Clint Riese)

“Enough said,” Freer responded. “…Mr. Mayor, I think this is a thinly veiled way to ensure your 4-3 vote for your building project at Northland Mall, and I don’t think you actually would’ve appointed someone immediately, without taking applications, if it wasn’t for that coming up on Thursday. It’s another vote. Frankly, I’m not surprised, but I’m disappointed.”

Council members Jim Dufour and Susan Young joined Mayor Johnson in approving Daninger’s appointment, effective immediately.