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Dent center packed for board meeting

With nearly 100 people packed into the Senior Citizen Center March 9, Edna Township conducted the biggest public meeting in Dent since they shut down the elementary school last year.

A botched road job, on West Little McDonald Drive, has stirred discontent among neighbors; produced a pile of legal and engineering bills; and sparked a string of issues that are uncommon in a typically harmonious rural Minnesota setting.

--One town board member, Keith Brokke, resigned barely a month before annual elections-after serving 12 years on the board.

--Nine-year board member Don Honer decided not to seek re-election.

--A $17,000 claim in damages was filed by a disgruntled property owner for the unauthorized removal of trees.

--A shadow is cast over the only incumbent board member, Louie Sazama, because his brother and nephew were paid nearly $34,000 for a project initially estimated at $20,000 to $25,000.

--Further clouding the issue is the fact that the Sazamas were awarded the job under apparently inadequate township oversight and controls.

--Proper permits were not obtained from either the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency or the Otter Tail County Land and Resource office.

--The roadwork exceeded the township right-of-way corridor, and encroached on private property.

--Erosion and stormwater controls didn't meet environmental standards, so the project was shut down and corrective action had to be completed before snowfall.

Originally, it was a half-mile improvement project, intended to ease snow plowing and removal.

Within only a few months, the cost has doubled to $50,000-and could climb to more than $90,000 before 2010 is over.

In order to restore the site to minimal standards for an unpaved road, it will cost another $33,000, according to surveyor Dave Heyer, who testified at the Edna annual meeting March 9.

Township attorney Chris Svingen resolved some of the legal issues with the Otter Tail County attorney's office. As Svingen explained it, the town board admitted to the violations. In exchange, the judge agreed to dismiss the matter with no legal finding of guilt-as long as the road was brought to a sufficient level of standards.

The townsip's insurance carrier will cover most of the legal and claim settlement costs-but not necessarily the added expense of the road work.

Attorney Svingen will negotiate with the property owners along the road who are claiming financial damages-which will be covered by insurance.

Township residents raised numerous questions at the annual meeting, particularly about the road work agreement. By state law, the township is only required to obtain less-formal, written quotes for work under $50,000. If over $50,000, townships must follow strict sealed-bid procedure-including advertising the project and full board review and approval.

To keep things under control at the packed Dent Senior Citizen Center, a calm-headed Edna-Dent area native, Don Garber, was elected as moderator for the evening. Setting the ground rules, Garber asked that everybody "act like gentlemen and ladies...which I know that we all are."

"Personal attacks are not in the best interest of the township. We can question the actions taken by people, but no attack them," said Garber. "Townships are the purest form of democracy in the nation-maybe the world...So we must take our responsibility seriously."

Quoting the age-old advice of his grandfather, Garber asked the audience to "engage your brain before opening your mouth."

The plea was honored. The discussion was civil and polite all night.

At annual meetings, motions can be made from the floor, by any voting member of the township. Proposed were several measures that would tighten up the township's process in awarding contracts and approving expenditures.

Among them was an initiative proposed by Dawn Edvall, that the board seek two written quotes for any project or service expected to cost more than $5,000.

Another motion, that any bills submitted to the town board be submitted five days prior to the monthly meeting. This is intended to formalize billing, giving board members more opportunity to review expenses, rather than receiving and acting on bills the night of the meeting.

Despite the friction between many township residents and outgoing board members, the meeting concluded with a "Minnesota Nice" gesture that is typical at the grassroots government level. Outgoing board members Don Honer and Keith Brokke were commended for their years of service to Edna Township-with a vigorous round of applause.