Monday night’s announcement regarding the appointment of four citizens to two different city commissions at the April 1 Oakdale City Council meeting caused one councilman to question the choice of one of the appointees.
Councilman Farrell Jackson announced reservation with the committee selection of Mike Eggener to the Oakdale Parks and Recreation Commission, citing a possible conflict of interest if Eggener serves.
Eggener, a retired Oakdale police sergeant, now works as a business representative for the Operating Engineers Local 3, the same union that represents the city’s public works employees.
Jackson said he thought some of the potential decisions Eggener would have to make as a commissioner would have an effect on workers he represented since public works employees did park maintenance.
City Attorney Tom Hallinan said he did not know if a conflict existed and asked for time to research the matter.
Eggener, who has spoken at prior council meetings not only as a business representative for public works related issues, but also as a city resident on police and city administrative concerns, approached the podium to address the dais.
Eggener said that he was asked about any conflict concern by Councilman Tom Dunlop and Mayor Pat Paul, who conducted the preliminary interviews.
“It’s my understanding that the commission is only advisory and doesn’t make decisions,” said Eggener. “That’s your job as the council.”
Eggener added that after serving the city for over 20 years he felt it was a privilege to give back to the city and the commission that covered the “jewel of the city.”
“I would look at the entire city when making any recommendation,” said Eggener who then added his appointment came nowhere near the conflict of interest created when the police chief, former city manager, city attorney, and HR director formed their own consulting business.
Jackson said he commended Eggener and was not questioning his motives to serve on the commission.
“It’s better to do this up front,” said Jackson. “It’s better to get legal scrutiny.”
The council agreed to allow Eggener to serve on the commission, pending a legal opinion.
Jackson and Eggener have had their disagreements in the past dating to when Jackson was mayor and Eggener still served the city as a police sergeant.
In May 2007, then-Mayor Jackson complained that Eggener took 43 minutes to respond to a low priority service call where Jackson wanted officers to remove a man who was heckling at a promotional event. When Eggener arrived at the scene, he talked to the man who was upsetting the crowd and the man left.
Then Police Chief Marty West had Eggener apologize to Jackson for the delay and eventually issued Eggener a 4-day suspension for not responding immediately. Eggener sued the city and later prevailed, having the suspension overturned and a back pay settlement.
On another occasion in 2010, Jackson as mayor requested West to have officers respond to an out-of-city incident involving a relative. After the incident, a radio tape of West’s call was released resulting in West conducting a $5,000 investigation into the incident of who released the tape to the media.
Jackson and West were criticized at subsequent council meetings by some police officers, including Eggener, and their supporters, who alleged West was giving Jackson special treatment.
After the April 1 council meeting Jackson was emphatic that his concern had nothing to do with spitefulness.
“All commission members in the past were held to the same standards,” said Jackson, who again commended Eggener for wanting to serve the city. “He represents employees of Parks and Rec and in the future some of his decisions will affect finances of park workers.”
Jackson also pointed out that Eggener lives within close proximity to a city park that is anticipated to have numerous agenda items and Eggener would have to abstain from those discussions.
“I was lost for words,” said Eggener after the meeting about Jackson’s concern. “Mr. Dunlop was very upfront about it (during the interview) and explained the situation. I served for over 20 years and wanted to give back.”
Eggener also said he hoped Jackson’s actions had nothing to do with the past between them.
Mayor Pat Paul wasn’t as believing, feeling that there “absolutely” were some issues from the past resurfacing during the commission appointment discussion.
Under the Political Reform Act of 1974, public officials are disqualified from participating in government decisions in which they have a financial interest. Such potential or occasional conflicts do not, however, require resignation from a position. It is sufficient that the person holding the position abstains from discussing or voting on matters relating to the controversy from which the conflict arises.