Residents of the embattled Crookston Township will get the chance to vote on one of its more contentious issues next month after a group of them presented a petition to the board at its monthly meeting Tuesday evening. The petition forces a special meeting on how the township will do road maintenance in the future.
"We collected 74 township resident signatures and only needed 43," said Dean Adams, one of the petition drive organizers. "The petition stipulates that we will be given the opportunity to vote on selling the grader and tractor and contracting with a third party for road maintenance."
Adams had researched the matter and presented his findings to residents and the board in the spring, which he said showed the township's road expenses to be significantly out of line compared to others. He also noted that residents had questioned the viability of the township owning its own grader and mower back in 2003 and 2004, but nothing has been done about it.
As a township employee, Jerry Reitmeier has run the equipment for more than 20 years, turning in time sheets on the hours he put in. Some residents had noticed that the hours seemed high for the amount of work done and miles put on the grader, which prompted Adams' investigation. Because Reitmeier's wife, Susan, is the board chair, issues such as conflict of interest and improprieties on the board's part came up, which board members have denied and no legal action has been taken on.
Upon receiving the petition, Susan Reitmeier asserted that an attorney for the Minnesota Association of Townships had informed her that the township board is the road authority for Crookston Township, which she repeated several times throughout the meeting.
"We knew this was coming, so we consulted with the MAT attorney," she said.
"Are you telling us that even though we have this petition for a special meeting and election, that the board can disregard all this and do what they want anyway?" Ruth Wilder questioned.
Reitmeier stopped short of affirming this and admitted that the board doesn't fully understand the concept of what the attorney advised. While MAT provides general legal advice to member townships, it is not legally binding and the attorneys do not represent individual townships, she added.
While the township itself does not currently have an attorney, the group of residents that brought forth the petition has retained Dan Rust to help get answers they say they've been kept in the dark on. Rust attended Tuesday's meeting, chiming in when his legal expertise was needed. He explained that upon receiving the petition, the board must now set a date for the special meeting, in a timely matter, and publish it for 10 days.
Residents in attendance and board members agreed on setting the special meeting for Nov. 13 at 6 p.m., prior to the regular board meeting at 7 p.m.
Page 2 of 2 - Bids
Although Adams has documentation comparing Crookston Township's road maintenance costs to other townships, no formal bids regarding the sale of equipment and costs of contracting the services to a third party have been received.
"I want to know how much this is going to cost me to contract it all out and sell the grader and mower, compared to what I'm paying now," said resident Craig Larson.
Reitmeier stressed that road maintenance doesn't strictly involve cost, but also the quality of work.
"Just get the bids, it won't hurt anything," said Sheryl Adams. "If you don't like the work one does, get another grader. You won't know until you try."
Supervisor Jerry DeBoer agreed.
"If we get the bids, we have something to go on," he said. "We'll have them in time for the next meeting."
Residents agreed to call for bids immediately.
"If you get rid of that grader, you get rid of the biggest headache this township has ever had," resident Dan Bratvold asserted.