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Commentary: Councilman Gardner explains his decisions and values

There's a saying: some days you're the windshield, some days you're the bug.

Since my defeat Tuesday, I have visited with Tim Johnson and congratulated him on his victory. I accept the results and wish him well. He has been a gentleman throughout.

A few comments tending toward the personal are in order. First, my family and I have been through a considerable ordeal in this past year. When a police sergeant reports that they are investigating potential threats upon your person because of your stand on a controversial issue, that's disquieting.

Second, it has been said that I did not listen to my constituents, and that I did not return e-mails or phone calls. That is patently false. Anyone who wished to have a respectful conversation or dialogue received a reply. Those who were rude and uncivil did not. If you did not receive a response from me, well... that's why.

Many believed that since I did not agree with them, that was akin to a failure to listen. That begs a question: What were Westwinds opponents asking me to represent for them?

In summary, a landowner had a legal right to develop their property, meeting all the objective criteria required by the city. According to our legal counsel, opponents did not make a factual case regarding an alleged negative impact on property values that would stand up in court. The Planning Commission, and the council, did not have a legal leg to stand on, and the legal and financial exposure to the city was enormous.

As outlined in the Tribune's editorial endorsing me, had we denied the applicant, we faced court action that could have cost the city millions in damages plus legal fees, which could have placed Willmar under a permanent court injunction, where a court would have final say over workforce housing in Willmar. According to counsel, we would likely have been found in violation of the Minnesota Human Rights Act, the federal Fair Housing Act, and the applicant's constitutional right to due process (thanks to the walkout by council opponents). I was unwilling to expose the city to that risk.

Controversially, I also saw this issue through the tenets of my faith. Unlike some, I could not oppose this project because of who might potentially be my neighbor. Absent legal reasons to deny a project or permit, my faith commands me to support the need for our citizens to have access to clean, safe, affordable housing.

Sadly, my public proclamation of my faith has been especially criticized. To those that say my faith should have no place in public policy, a simple question: Does that mean that public officials who oppose, say, abortion, as a matter of faith are to put their faith aside in the matter? No reasonable person would agree with that yet, this is precisely the argument some believed should have prevailed upon me.

I believe God is neither Republican nor Democrat, and those passages where the Bible speaks about justice and kindness and our duty to be salt and light to those who are hungry, thirsty, sick, or in prison, are passages that speak to the sanctity of life. A consistent life ethic demands that all his people, no matter who we see them as, be cared for and served by those of us who profess him as Lord.

I am grateful to have been selected to serve these past four years. It's not easy to be a public official, and it's not easy to be a Christian, either. In combining both life aspects, I gladly choose to stand for my faith and my Savior. If this election result is a consequence of that, then I welcome the privilege and honor of standing up for his sake. I do not feel sorry for myself, and instead welcome this next chapter in my life.

I have enjoyed serving on the council. I will miss it.

Certainly there will be other opportunities for me to serve. For now, I will take time to examine where I have behaved in a manner inconsistent with my Christian walk and my recovery.

I apologize for having reacted emotionally and inappropriately at times during this debate, and to those I offended, I ask your forgiveness.

Kelly and I look forward to continuing to serve all of the people who call our city home.

Steve Gardner is a Willmar City Council member in Ward 2. He was defeated Tuesday for re-election.