New members, Maus and Kladivo, seated on Greenwood Town Board

WEDNESDAY, AUGUST 10, 2016 — Three members of the beleaguered Greenwood Town Board of Supervisors met on Wednesday evening for the board’s regular scheduled meeting. The meeting was moved from the regular time until Wednesday because the Minnesota primary election was being conducted on Tuesday at the Greenwood Town Hall. Board Chairman Dr. John Bassing called the meeting to order and the board quickly completed its regular opening activities of reviewing the township’s financials, paying the bills and approving the minutes of its previous meetings.

The board of supervisors is facing insurance problems, ongoing lawsuits and two of its members submitted resignations following its regular July 12 meeting. In June Greenwood Town Board Chairman Rick Worringer announced that he was resigning his position as chairman. In July he also resigned as a supervisor on the board, immediately following the board’s contentious July 12 regular meeting.

Worringer provided the following reasons for his resignation as a supervisor in a letter he wrote tothe board: “It became clear to me during the Township Board of Supervisors meeting last night that I can no longer be a part of a Governing body that intimidates and harasses employees, and allows citizens to do the same. I cannot abide the conduct of certain individuals that use their power to facilitate mean spirited personal attacks, even after being called into question by a knowledgeable expert.”

John Milbridge also resigned from the Greenwood Township Board of Supervisors following the July meeting. It is presumed that his resignation was prompted by personal health issues.

Chairman Bassing explained that there was a process, governed by state law, which needed to be followed in filling the vacant positions on the board. There are two options Bassing explained. The first is to appoint a committee, comprised of members of current board of supervisors and the town clerk, to make an appointment for the position. The town board then needs to give its approval by majority vote. Another option, according to Bassing, is to petition for a special election should the board fail to make an appointment. Selecting an appointee to fill a vacancy on township boards is the one time where the township clerk has a vote.

Clearly Chairman Bassing and Vice-chairman DeLuca had discussed their preferred appointments before this meeting as each was immediately ready with nominations. Vice-chairman Carmen DeLuca moved to appoint Jeff Maus to the first vacancy (Worringer’s seat). Bassing immediately provided support for the motion, which passed with Bassing and DeLuca voting in support and Supervisor Gene Baland voting against the motion. Baland provided his rationale for voting against Maus, “He has a current law suit against the township,” Baland said. Bassing suggested that Maus having a law suit against the township didn’t bother him, and acknowledged that he too had a pending lawsuit against Greenwood, for an open meeting violation. Maus objected to the statement that he was litigating against the township. “The State of Minnesota has a law suit against Greenwood, I don’t,” Maus said. Clerk Sue Drobac then administered the oath of office to Maus and he was seated as a supervisor on the town board. Maus has previously run for a seat on the Board of Supervisors in 2014 and 2015 but did not garner enough votes to win either election.

Supervisor Baland moved to appoint Don Doroff to the seat left vacant by Milbridge. Doroff had the second highest vote in this past March election, and has served the township on the board of supervisors before, Baland said. The motion died without a second, or further discussion.

Ed Borchard, a township citizen who also serves as training and safety director of the fire department asked the board if it had considered returning to a three person board. The township is turning planning and zoning over to the county, Borchard said, and this will significantly reduce the business which the board administers. “Was there any discussion on this idea?” Borchard asked the board. “Yes, we had discussions about it,” Supervisor Deluca said, without providing any further details. Supervisor DeLuca also said, “there is a whole legal process,” but he did not elaborate any further on what that process might entail.

“So there is not an appointment committee?” township resident and Fire Chief Dave Fazio asked. “The board is the appointment committee — this is it,” Chairman Bassing said, gesturing towards the board table at the front of the room. Bassing then moved to appoint Randy Kladivo to the board. Deluca provided support for the motion. The motion passed with Bassing and DeLuca voting in favor and Supervisor Baland voting against the motion. Kladivo, who has not been seen at a township meeting in years, came forward and took the oath of office, as administered by Clerk Drobac and took his seat at the board table. Kladivo most recently served the township as a supervisor appointed in August, 2011, however when he ran for the seat in 2012, he only received 48 votes, not enough to win election and Don Doroff was elected to the board of supervisors with 128 votes.

By law, both men were only appointed until the township conducts its annual election in March 2017.

Insurance woes

The board of supervisors turned its attention to its next problem, one that will not easily be remedied. Minnesota Association of Townships Insurance and Bond Trust (MATIT) Attorney Eric Hedtke wrote the board to inform it that MATIT was expelling Greenwood from the comprehensive liability insurance coverage which it provides for the township. The vote, by the MATIT Board of Trustees, to expel the township was unanimous and will become effective October 3. The MATIT decision is not surprising since Hedtke traveled to Greenwood in July to inform the township that the association was very concerned and considering this move to protect itself from the townships’ increased risk due to its considerable legal wrangling.

The decision to expel the township from its comprehensive liability coverage does not include the worker’s compensation insurance or public officials’ bond insurance. Township employees will remain protected by workers compensation and the officials of the township will still be covered by bond insurance. MATIT has provided Greenwood with an option to retain its comprehensive liability insurance coverage, however. The township has until August 22 to pass a resolution to accept an endorsement which will exclude coverage for claims by current and former town officials and employees, open meeting violation claims and other areas relating to the town’s infighting, according to the letter MATIT attorney Hedtke wrote.

Chairman Bassing opened the township’s insurance problems to discussion between the audience and the board of supervisors. Fire Chief Dave Fazio asked the town board if firefighters would still be covered by liability insurance. Bassing replied with assurances that the errors and omissions insurance would remain in place. Bev Peterson asked about the opportunity the town board has to avoid expulsion and questioned the board on what it was doing in pursuing that option. “We are looking into our options,” Bassing reported. There will be a special meeting on Thursday, August 18 to discuss the options, Bassing said. Jet Galonski asked the board if it could avoid having the insurance cancelled if the ongoing litigation and cases against the township were resolved.

“How did we get to this point?” Bassing rhetorically stated, and then said that the township had experienced claims over $248,000 over the past 10 or 12 years. Bassing said that the claims came from losses relating to the fire department boats and township computers as well as $100,000 from planning and zoning issues. Bassing prevaricated when he suggested that the township’s insurance problems stemmed from planning and zoning issues and failed to mention that the township still has open claims which have already cost MATIT $130,000, to date. Open Claims! Assuredly MATIT has greater concerns over the open claims than it does on the $100,000 which has already been paid on closed planning and zoning claims. Greenwood is on a clear path to turn planning and zoning over to St. Louis County and the risk for future planning and zoning litigation is rapidly disappearing.

The MATIT loss report, which was provided to the township, shows that John and Joann Bassing’s claim has already cost $35,000, Jan Makowski’s two claims have already achieved costs of $50,000 and Jeff Maus’ claim has cost $45,000, to date. Supervisor Maus was being somewhat disingenuous when he claimed, “The State of Minnesota has a lawsuit against Greenwood, I don’t.” MATIT’s loss report clearly attributes this case to, “Jeff Maus.”

Chairman Bassing said that while this was the first time the Minnesota Association of Townships (MAT) has expelled a township from its insurance program there is precedence with the League of Minnesota Cities. Back in 2009, the League dropped the city of Greenfield, Minn. from its insurance program citing very similar circumstances as those MATIT cited as its reasons for expelling Greenwood. According to Bassing, the City of Greenfield had to obtain its insurance from a private source, however, “After a two year period, they got it all back (from the League of Minnesota Cities). I’m hoping the MATIT will do the same for us.” Bassing did not offer any ideas on what the costs might be for Greenwood to obtain its insurance on the open market.

In a move that clarified some of the reasons MATIT was dropping the township’s comprehensive liability insurance, Supervisor Baland read an email response he received from MAT and MATIT attorney Hedtke: “I appreciate your belief that MAT could help the situation in Greenwood. You’re correct that the leaders of both MAT and MATIT are aware of the situation in Greenwood. And share some of your frustrations. However, given the contentious history of the township and that in the middle of the July 12 meeting my advice was offered and ignored by the Greenwood Board, MATIT does not share your optimism that attendance at a meeting would be of any help to Greenwood at this time,” Hedtke wrote. Baland explained that he called and emailed Hedtke attempting to get him to travel to this meeting to help Greenwood work through its problems.

New Public Comments policies

Supervisors Bassing and DeLuca visited with township attorney Michael Couri following the township’s attempt to conduct a special meeting on July 19. “We had quite a long conversation,” Bassing said, reporting that the attorney strongly recommended that the board remove the new Concerned Citizens comment section from the monthly agenda. The attorney also recommended that the town board stop permitting public comments on motions before the board and restrict public comments to its proper place on the agenda, immediately following the housekeeping tasks of approving meeting minutes, reviewing financial statements, and paying the township’s bills. MAT attorney Hedtke also called out the town board for its policy of allowing comments throughout meetings when he visited the board in July.

Two motions were made and passed unanimously restricting public input. Bassing made, and DeLuca supported, a motion to eliminate comments during discussion of motions. Following the adoption of this motion, Bassing also made another motion to eliminate the Concerned Citizens section from the agenda. Supervisor Kladivo supported this motion, which was also quickly adopted.

“I just want to make sure everyone can speak,” Supervisor Maus said. Barb Lofquist suggested that the township adapt its web site to allow a place for public comments there. Marilyn Mueller said that people can contact any board member with their concerns. “It doesn’t need to be a big to-do,” Mueller said

The public continued to interject comments throughout the rest of the meeting and the board never objected, although the comments were considerably limited, unlike how it has been in previous meetings.

Greenwood Community Recreation Board pavilion report

Dean Panian, who has been instrumental in directing the new pavilion project appeared before the town board to provide details on the project progress and ask for the board’s consideration on several finishing touches. Panian said that the landscaping was complete, and thanked the town board for its contribution of $7,000. Although there was an unexpected cost over-run, the recreation board will pay for the overage, he said. The installation of horseshoe pits is still forthcoming Panian advised.

Future projects the recreation board would like to complete include planting flowers adjacent to the stone Greenwood Township sign, to make it more visible. Another project would be to install playground equipment near the pavilion site. Panian said that he checked with Jeff Peterson, an attorney and Greenwood resident, and he learned that liability should not be a big issue, although formal clarification with the township’s insurance company would be warranted.

The recreation board is planning a free Grand Opening event at the pavilion on September 10, according to Panian. “There will be free chili, sloppy joes and pulled pork,” he said and he asked the town board to approve the recreation board serving free beer and wine on the property.

The town board and Panian also discussed signage. The water at the pavilion is non-potable and plans include clearly marking this fact so the public knows that the water, from this source, should not be used for consumption. Ron Cimperman, a Virginia, Minn. cabinet maker, has offered to build a bulletin board sign where notices of upcoming events can be placed. “He does outstanding work, and has offered his talents, free, to the township,” Panian reported. Considerable discussion was conducted to determine the best place to put the sign so there would not be any snowplowing issues.

Responding to the recreation board’s requests, the town board gave its approval to:

• Allow the recreation board to serve beer and wine at its September 10 Grand Opening

• Install the bulletin board community notices sign, 20 feet back from the parking lot adjacent to the sidewalk

• Pour a 16 foot by six foot slab, five inches deep with rebar, for the picnic tables at the tennis courts

• Authorized the township clerk to take reservations for use of the pavilion and collect a fully refundable $100 cleaning deposit on all reservations

• Voted to permit all area residents to enjoy the use of the pavilion

• Approved allowing the recreation board to pursue placing a planter and flowers at the Welcome to Greenwood sign on Highway 77.

In other action, the Greenwood Township Board of Supervisors unanimously:

• Approved the minutes of the June 24 special meeting, the July 12 regular meeting and the July 19 special meeting. The July 19 meeting was called to order by Chairman Bassing to discuss a claim Julia Maki has made against the township and to discuss the vacancy on the board of supervisors due to Rick Worringer’s resignation, however, the meeting was immediately adjourned because a quorum of the board was not achieved.

• Approved the July receipts totaling $37,470.34; approved paying $1,338 in wages for election judges for the Minnesota primary election; and paid $18,760.84 in claims for payment presented to the township in July.

• Approved the payment of the $7,000 for the pavilion area landscaping costs with the funds coming from the Building Improvement Fund

• Authorized the expenditure of $4,986 to place new rain gutters and down spouts on the west side of the storage building

• Formed a new town board–fire department committee and appointed Supervisors Kladivo and DeLuca to serve on it. The fire department will appoint three members to the committee and the meetings will follow the open meeting law

• Set the rate of pay for the new fire department administration assistant

• Approved seeking quotes to improve and update town hall lighting

• Approved advertising the importance of having lake-side fire numbers at each property in the township

• Listened to a recommendation from Supervisor Maus to place a sign at the pavilion noting that township policy does not permit alcohol on its property, except by special authorization

• Learned that St. Louis County Planning Commission scheduled a zoning map review,to be held on August 11, in preparation for taking over planning and zoning from the township

• Learned about plans to update the township 911 numbering system

• Reviewed the fire department paid on call reporting deadlines required to keep the township in compliance with federal and state quarterly filings

• Discussed changing firefighters’ pensions to a Public Employees Retirement Association account. It is expected that this move could save considerable administration fees.