SUBSCRIBE NOW Just 99¢ for your first month

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

Grand Forks petitioners take fight over Fufeng signatures to court

An appeal from one of the leaders of the petition group has landed in Grand Forks District Court, sketching out an administrative appeal of the city’s decision.

Grand Forks City Hall
Grand Forks City Hall
We are part of The Trust Project.

GRAND FORKS — The debate over a new Grand Forks corn mill, to be constructed by Fufeng Group, is now headed to court.

For weeks, Grand Forks heard about a petition drive that — with enough signatures — might force a vote on the future of the proposed corn-milling plant on the city’s northern border. But the city rejected the petition in early April, citing a range of legal and technical issues.

Now, multiple filings from the petition group have landed in Grand Forks District Court, per documents filed on Friday, sketching out both an administrative appeal and a separate request for a court order to reverse the city’s decision.

Documents show the proceedings are brought by Ben Grzadzielewski, one of the leaders of the petition, and “People for the Vote” LLC. According to court documents, they’re represented by Grand Forks attorney David C. Thompson and a pair of Minneapolis-based attorneys.

The case requesting a court order names the city of Grand Forks and City Auditor Maureen Storstad, and the appeal targets one of her official decisions.

ADVERTISEMENT

In early April, Storstad made the final determination that the petition — which had nearly 5,000 valid signatures — was invalid. She cited technical issues raised by the city attorney, such as language in the petition packet they said weren’t properly precise about the issues up for a vote. Importantly, the city also noted that the issue the petitioners were trying to refer to a referendum is an “administrative matter” that can’t be sent to the ballot.

RELATED: Grand Forks City Hall official rejects petition calling for vote on proposed corn-milling factory

“Petitioners seek to exercise a fundamental right held sacred in this state: the right of the people to vote on the government actions that significantly impact their lives,” a memo seeking the court order states. “The city auditor for the city of Grand Forks impermissibly robbed the petitioners of this critical right by unlawfully rejecting their referendum petition.”

Thompson referred the Herald to Minneapolis attorneys with the law firm Eckland and Blando.

“While the court filings speak for themselves, we believe that the City Auditor, following the advice of the City Attorney, misstated and misapplied the law in an improper effort to kill the valid petition,” attorney Mark Blando wrote in an email. “In the past, the City has allowed votes on selling park land, where to place a pool, and other seemingly mundane topics. … We are confident that the courts will rule in our clients’ favor and that the people of Grand Forks will get the chance to express their will.”

Grand Forks City Attorney Dan Gausted referred the Herald to Bismarck-based attorney Scott Porsborg, who declined to comment.

Related Topics: FUFENG
Sam Easter is a Michigan-based freelance reporter who has been a regular contributor to the Herald since 2019. He covers a variety of topics, including government and politics.

In 2015, he joined the Herald’s staff as City Hall reporter, covering North Dakota politics at all levels and conducting Herald investigations through early 2018, when he returned to Michigan and began his freelancing career.

Easter can be reached at samkweaster@gmail.com or via Twitter via @samkweaster.
What to read next
Candidates were surveyed by email, and responded earlier this month with their answers. Today, the Herald is reviewing how each candidate feels about Fufeng Group.
The event will be held from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesday, in the SMHS parking lot.
The scope of the project would entail a five-story building housing UND's Athletic Department along with 99 residential units and underground parking.
On April 29 during the 2022 Mountain Plains Adult Education annual conference in Tempe, Arizona, Bridget Hanlan was announced as the organization’s recipient of its Award of Merit, according to a news release.