HELGA TOWNSHIP - With a Hubbard County sheriff's deputy present, the Helga Town Board Tuesday evening released a four-page statement regarding ongoing litigation.
The township has obtained a temporary restraining order prohibiting resident Doug Crosby and Reierson Construction of Bemidji from excavating or hauling rock from Crosby's land.
Crosby says he is trying to clear the rock from his fields to prepare them for grazing; the township says it is enforcing its ordinance requiring a permit for the "excavation of mineral materials, top soil or gravel" being removed from the site.
"The Town Board limited the ordinance to only require a permit if the materials will be hauled off of the properly as such hauling activity can negatively impact neighboring owners, public roads and public safety," the statement reads.
The statement was read at the beginning of the meeting, at which time Mike Smith, chairman, told the audience that no comment or discussion would be taken regarding the matter.
More than 50 people were present inside the chambers for the two-hour meeting. Another dozen or so tried to observe from the hallway.
Sen. Rod Skoe, DFL-Clearbrook, was among those present. He told the Pioneer that he received a couple of calls from township residents on the issue and had earlier toured Crosby's land.
"It really looks to me like a local land use issue and they're sorting it out," Skoe said as he left the meeting. "I just hope the process works well."
Skoe said he did find it "disconcerting" that the topic was not open for public comment, but added that he supports township land use planning.
"I think it's good for townships to have planning and zoning because somebody can always come in with a plan we don't like," he said, adding that townships should be allowed to maintain their rural identities.
The town board, according to the statement, pursued legal action against Crosby after he and Reierson Construction violated a cease-and-desist order issued on June 26.
"The Town Board considered the matter at its meeting and directed the Town Attorney to initiate an enforcement action for hauling without a permit," the statement reads. The restraining order was issued earlier this month.
The town board's statement also addressed a related dispute with Crosby regarding data requests.
Crosby first made a request on March 27 asking for documents covering a 10-year period, according to the town board's statement.
"The Town Attorney responded by letter dated April 6, 2012 indicating even though the Data Practices Act and the Freedom of Information Act did not apply to the Town, it was willing to undertake the requested search of the documents and to make requested copies once Mr. Crosby deposited the estimated actual costs the Town would incur to undertake the work," the statement reads. "Because Mr. Crosby never provided the necessary deposit to cover the Town's costs, the Town did not attempt to search for or copy the 10 years' worth of documents."
The statement does not explain why the township attorney believes the township is exempt from the Data Practices Act and Freedom of Information Act.
A request then followed on June 28 from an attorney requesting access to all of the township's files, according to the statement. The township attorney responded by email.
"The Town Attorney pointed out the Data Practices Act did not apply, but that the Town would be happy to make arrangements to allow for a review of the records," the statement reads.
The township and Crosby agreed to have the town clerk available 6:30-9 p.m. June 17 at the town hall to allow Crosby and two others to review public records. This was not to be a public meeting.
"The day before the scheduled appointment, the Town started receiving information that individuals were encouraging the public to attend a meeting the same night as the inspection to discuss removing rocks and dirt from a farmer's field," the statement reads.
Then, that morning, June 17, a letter to the editor was published in the Pioneer encouraging township residents to attend a public hearing that night at the town hall.
The Pioneer issued a correction the next day clarifying that the newspaper had erroneously publicized the wrong date of the meeting; the public meeting date was supposed to be June 24.
"Because of the attempts to convert the appointment to inspect records into a public meeting to discuss the enforcement action in violation of the parameters established for the inspection, the Town canceled the appointment," the statement reads. "The Town Attorney emailed Mr. Crosby a letter the same day informing him of the cancellation and indicating that since the Town's efforts to informally provide him access to the records were not successful that he would need to use the discovery process as part of the current litigation to identify and obtain the documents he desires access to."
The final page of the document addressed two men who have been arguing against the enforcement of the ordinance: Dirk Fisher and Silas Hooker, former town chairman.
Fisher, according to the statement, has two potential violations concerning a permit for the operation of a triplex he built in 2004. The statement alleges that Fisher was supposed to combine two parcels to total 13.3 acres but only has 12.5 acres. Also, the statement alleges that he never created a driveway for the primary access for the triplex.
Regarding Hooker, the town board, according to the statement, has turned over information to the Hubbard County Attorney's Office for investigation into "certain past practices of Mr. Hooker" when he was on the town board.
"The information turned over relates to claims for payment from the Town that were unsigned and lacking sufficient detail to determine whether the amounts requested for payment for legitimate claims against the Town to be paid," the statement reads. "There are also questions related to conflict of interest associated with work Mr. Hooker did for the Town as a contractor. We have initiated a process to turn over all of the records associated with these issues to the State Auditor's Office and potentially the Minnesota Internal Revenue Service."
Hooker, during the meeting, told the town board that the allegations previously were investigated by the Hubbard County Sheriff's Office.
"There was nothing there," he said.