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Howard Town Board seeks legal opinion on potential conflict of interest

By LeAnn R. Ralph

TOWN OF HOWARD  —  The Howard Town Board has agreed to seek a legal opinion on potential conflicts of interest between the two town board supervisors and the proposed 1,300-acre Albertville Valley Sand Mine.

The Howard Town Board approved a motion to seek a legal opinion at the April 14 meeting.

The potential conflicts of interest involve Dennis Dvoracek, re-elected to the town board in the April 7 election, and Todd Wanish, elected to his first term on the town board April 7.

Dvoracek will be included in the legal opinion because at one time, he owned a company that had included Red Flint Group as a client.

Dvoracek said he no longer owns the company and that Red Flint is no longer a client of his.

Red Flint Group is a company associated with the Albertville Valley Sand Mine, although it is not entirely clear what role the company will play in developing the sand mine, loading facility and processing plant.

Paul Van Eijl, land acquisitions manager for Northern Sands, has been working on leasing land for the sand mine.

Town board members say Van Eijl told them he sold his interest in the sand mine to Red Flint Group, but Van Eijl’s name has reportedly been listed as the applicant with Chippewa County for the reclamation permit.

Howard Town Board members have gone on record in the past saying that they expected Red Flint Group to be the applicant for the Albertville Valley Sand Mine.

The proposed Albertville Valley Sand Mine would be located along the western edge of the Town of Howard, a few miles southeast of Colfax.

E-mail

In addition to a potential for Dvoracek to have a conflict of interest, town board members are wondering if Wanish will have a conflict of interest when voting on issues related to the Albertville Valley Sand Mine.

Tom Zwiefelhofer, whose last meeting was April 14 because he lost the April 7 election for Supervisor 1 to Wanish, reported that he had received a forwarded e-mail from Lee Jensen pertaining to the proposed sand mine.

Jensen is one of the landowners in the Town of Howard who has signed a lease for the Albertville Valley Sand Mine.

The e-mail had been sent out to multiple people, and their e-mail addresses were included on the e-mail message.

One of the e-mail addresses belonged to Heather Wanish, Todd Wanish’s wife, Zwiefelhofer said.

Since Heather Wanish received the e-mail, she apparently has some kind of interest in the sand mine, he said.

The e-mail address in question involved Feather Communications.

Heather Rothbauer-Wanish is the owner and operator of Feather Communications.

Zwiefelhofer said he was proposing to send the information to the Town of Howard’s attorney, Paul Kent, to find out if there is a conflict of interest.

“We don’t dare not find out as a town if it is a conflict of interest,” Dvoracek said.

“If we don’t pursue this, we will get sued again,” Zwiefelhofer said.

Dvoracek noted that when the issue of the Albertville Valley Sand Mine and Red Flint Group’s involvement with it first came up, he had asked the Town of Howard’s attorney if there was a conflict of interest.

Vernon Schindler, chair of the Town of Howard, said the reason that Wanish’s wife was included in the e-mail is because her parents had signed a lease with the sand mine.

Conflict

A conflict of interest arises when an elected official votes in favor of an issue that would result in a financial gain for the elected official.

In this case, if Wanish voted in favor of the Albertville Valley Sand Mine on an issue that came before the Howard Town Board, and if his mother-in-law and father-in-law have signed a lease with the sand mine, would that be a conflict of interest?  Would Wanish feel that he should vote in favor of something that would benefit his wife’s parents financially?

Would it be a conflict of interest if the possibility exists that Wanish and his wife might one day be the beneficiary’s of an inheritance from his mother-in-law and father-in-law and that the inheritance was larger because Wanish had voted in favor of the sand mine?

Would it be valid for Wanish to always vote against the sand mine to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest? What if voting against the sand mine was not in the best interests of the residents of the Town of Howard?

If technically there is no conflict of interest, what about the perception of a conflict of interest?

Similarly, if Dvoracek voted in favor of an issue pertaining to the sand mine in which Red Flint Group is involved, but Red Flint Group is no longer a client of Dvoracek’s and has not been a client for a year or more, is that a conflict of interest?

After a motion had been made by Dvoracek and seconded by Zwiefelhofer to send the information about the e-mail to Heather Wanish to the Town of Howard’s attorney for an opinion about a conflict of interest for Todd Wanish, an amendment was offered to include Dvoracek.

Schindler and Zwiefelhofer voted “yes” on the amendment, and Dvoracek voted “no.”

The motion to seek a legal opinion on potential conflicts of interest for Wanish and Dvoracek was approved by all three town board members.