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Fed up, 4 local townships part ways with Minnesota group

The affected townships in Norman County, which sits about 50 miles north of Fargo, are now collecting quotes on getting insurance elsewhere for things like workers compensation and liability.

Ada Event Center.jpg
The Ada Area Events Center in Ada, Minnesota, where the Norman County Association of Townships board meets.
Photo via city of Ada
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HALSTAD, Minn. — Four townships in Norman County are no longer members of the Minnesota Association of Townships.

Did the townships pull out of the association on their own, or did the association expel them?

The answer, it seems, is a bit of both.

Representatives from the townships of Halstad, Mary, Spring Creek and Waukon — four of the five townships that make up the Norman County Association of Townships — recently told the Minnesota Association of Townships they were leaving the state association because they felt they weren't getting the assistance they needed from the state association.

That move was on the heels of an action the Norman County Association of Townships (NCAT) took in September, when NCAT officials spelled out their dissatisfaction with the Minnesota Association of Townships (MAT) as part of a resolution critical of the state association.

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In October, Jeff Krueger, executive director of the Minnesota Association of Counties, sent NCAT officials a letter stating that MAT would pursue the removal of the NCAT townships from MAT membership unless NCAT officials did two things: rescind their resolution and make "appropriate apologies" for what MAT said were inaccurate statements made as part of the resolution.

The NCAT board never took the steps demanded by MAT. Instead, representatives of the townships that make up NCAT told MAT their respective townships were dropping their membership in MAT.

Meanwhile, MAT took steps to officially remove the NCAT townships from membership in MAT, and that process has apparently now been completed.

Flom Township, a member of NCAT briefly included in the MAT expulsion, has since patched things up with MAT and is again a member of the state association.

One upshot of the other four NCAT townships no longer being members of MAT is that they may no longer purchase insurance through the Minnesota Association of Townships Insurance Trust, a joint-powers entity that was set up for the purpose of providing Minnesota townships with a self-insurance pool.

The affected townships in Norman County, which sits about 50 miles north of Fargo, are now collecting quotes on getting insurance elsewhere for things like workers compensation and liability, according to Bob Pickle, secretary/treasurer for NCAT and the Halstad Township clerk.

Pickle said MAT provides townships with a number of things, including a voice at the Minnesota Legislature, affordable insurance, and education for township officials on how to perform their duties.

"Those are all valuable things," said Pickle, who added that friction between NCAT and MAT began several years ago, when as a new officer with the NCAT board he went to MAT for help dealing with paperwork requested by NCAT's bank in connection with the changes in NCAT personnel.

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Pickle said the help MAT offered was ultimately inadequate when it came to NCAT navigating that situation. He said a number of other issues arose as well, culminating in the NCAT board passing the resolution in September calling for changes at MAT.

A Minneapolis legal firm hired by MAT sent NCAT officials a letter in September stating that while NCAT and its individual officers had the right to express themselves regarding their views about MAT and its personnel, "they are not entitled to make and circulate false and defamatory statements that harm the organization and impugn its personnel — and the material accompanying the resolution does that in many inappropriate and unwarranted ways."

The letter also addressed a number of allegations raised in the NCAT resolution and its attendant claims, concluding with a demand that NCAT officials "cease and desist from further defamatory statements."

The law firm letter specifically addressed criticism raised by Pickle that MAT was not responsive to NCAT's request for guidance on various matters, particularly when it came to questions about "county units" like NCAT.

"The limited nature of the information that could be provided was communicated in the first conversation and the county unit was directed to find its own attorney for legal opinions and services," the law firm letter stated.

Krueger, executive director of the state association, declined to speak at length with The Forum about the situation with NCAT, but he disputed Pickle's characterization of how MAT responded to NCAT's requests for help, saying that MAT responded in a professional manner to NCAT's questions, but NCAT just wasn't happy with the answers it received.

For example, Krueger said, MAT's in-house attorneys do not provide legal services for townships. He added that if a township is going to take action on something they need to secure their own legal advice.

MAT's in-house counsel "are not there to be their law firm," Krueger said, adding that he would have more to say regarding the situation with MAT and NCAT in an upcoming edition of the state association's magazine.

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In addition to Pickle, three other township officials associated with NCAT were willing to talk about the disagreement with MAT, including Aaron Werpy, an NCAT director and chairman of the Spring Creek Township board; Wayne Lee, chairman of the Mary Township board, and Randal Gorder, NCAT director and Waukon Township clerk/treasurer.

Werpy, Lee and Gorder said their understanding of how the break with MAT unfolded was in line with Pickle's, and they said it's their hope the townships and MAT can put the matter behind them and move on.

Lee said once it was clear the townships were leaving the association his thought was: "'You (MAT) go on your way, we're going to do what we're going to do and go on our way and find our insurance elsewhere,' which was the biggest advantage with being a member of the Minnesota state association."

Werpy echoed Lee, saying he feels the two sides should "Just go our own ways."

I'm a reporter and a photographer and sometimes I create videos to go with my stories.

I graduated from Minnesota State University Moorhead and in my time with The Forum I have covered a number of beats, from cops and courts to business and education.

I've also written about UFOs, ghosts, dinosaur bones and the planet Pluto.

You may reach me by phone at 701-241-5555, or by email at dolson@forumcomm.com
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