Council denies Hagen’s D.C. trip

Published 10:27 am Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Austin City Council Member Dave Hagen discusses the benefits of attending a National League of Cities conference in Washington D.C. during a special session Monday.  Trey Mewes/

Austin City Council Member Dave Hagen discusses the benefits of attending a National League of Cities conference in Washington D.C. during a special session Monday. Trey Mewes/

The Austin City Council let a motion to fund Council Member David Hagen’s trip to a National League of Councils conference in Washington, D.C., next month die before a vote during a special session Monday.

Hagen, a first-time council member, was appointed to the NLC’s 2015 Energy, Environment and Natural Resources Policy and Advisory Committee last month. The committee would have mandated a March 7-11 conference trip to Washington, D.C., which would have cost the city about $2,500 according to Hagen’s estimates, though he told the council he would likely decrease the cost by several hundred dollars.

Hagen told council members he could have attended the conference to learn more about how federal immigration policies, diversity issues, and a roundup of federal programs municipal governments can take advantage of could be beneficial for Austin.

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Yet he was visibly upset when no one would second Council Member Janet Anderson’s motion to fund his trip.

“You guys disappoint me, thanks,” he told the council before leaving.

At issue

Hagen looked into the NLC, the federal equivalent of the state lobbying group League of Minnesota Cities, after former Council Member Roger Boughton emailed him information in December. He applied and was appointed to the NLC in January, the same month he began his tenure on the council, with the understanding he could teleconference on many of the committee’s meetings but had to attend the D.C. meeting.

The committee develops the NLC’s federal policy positions on environmental and energy issues, including air quality, waste management, water quality, energy policy and more. Hagen has participated in environmental causes for more than 40 years.

“It’s an honor,” Hagen said in January. “I’ve always been an advocate of the outdoors.”

Yet council members decided last week during a work session they needed more information before they could fund Hagen’s trip.

“I’m frustrated with the fact that Roger sent this to you and not to anyone else,” Council Member Judy Enright said. “I feel you should have checked it out before you applied for this with [Administrator] Craig [Clark] or with [Mayor] Tom [Stiehm] or anyone else.”

Council Member Michael Jordal also spoke out against the trip.

“We’re already members of the [League of Minnesota Cities] and the [Coalition for Greater Minnesota],” he said. “If he wants to explore those avenues and get involved with those organizations I’d be fine with it.”

Mayor Tom Stiehm and City Administrator Craig Clark spoke with Rochester Mayor Ardell Brede last week to learn more about the NLC. Stiehm told the council Brede highly recommended the NLC as a good organization for cities to become involved with and said 26 Minnesota cities, including Albert Lea, were already members.

Though Stiehm supported funding Hagen’s trip, he knew beforehand the issue wouldn’t pass after speaking with several council members. Stiehm said the vote was likely symbolic as city officials hear Local Government Aid could be cut next year and more cost-cutting measures may be needed. Funding a $2,500 trip to D.C. may have distorted the message that city officials are trying to be mindful of people’s taxes.

“Like a lot of things, it’s just symbolism,” he said.

Hagen said Tuesday morning he would still serve on the NLC committee if possible. He had originally planned to pay for the D.C. trip himself if the council denied his request but has decided not to go.

“I’m not trying to create dissension, I’m just trying to create a better Austin,” he said.

Hagen also said he was a little upset Monday when he chastised the council and said he probably shouldn’t have told the council he was disappointed in them.

Council members were concerned the city would have to pay $1,800 in annual dues, but Hagen said the city wouldn’t have to pay that fee to attend the D.C. conference.