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No charges in Lake Eunice Township Board investigation

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After an investigation into allegations against members of the Lake Eunice Township Board, it was determined that -- while they may have broken some laws -- it was not done intentionally and no criminal charges should be filed.

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The Becker County Sheriff's Department investigated and the Clay County Attorney's Office made the decision not to press charges. Becker County referred the matter to Clay County for routine conflict of interest reasons.

Lloyd Kohler, an elderly Lake Eunice Town Board member, was accused of performing work for the township, billing the township, and then being paid for the work, in violation of state law that says "a supervisor or town board must not be a party to, or be directly or indirectly interested in, a contract made or payment voted by the town board."

He plowed roads and did other work for the township.

"After reviewing all information provided, it would appear that Mr. Kohler had no intention of breaking the law and instead believed he was assisting the township by his efforts," Clay County Attorney Brian Melton wrote in a memo to Becker County investigator John Seiling. "It was further evident that Mr. Kohler was performing said duties after the township board voted to have him perform those duties," Melton wrote.

The town board later became aware through training that state law prohibited board members doing work for the township and "they ceased such activities," he added.

"Therefore I do not think it is in the interests of justice to bring criminal charges against Mr. Kohler or the other town board members who ratified the contract. Although it would appear the township had been operating this way for many years and it had become a common practice, the practice has since ceased."

There was no intent to violate the law on anyone's part, Melton said.

The township also erred in the way it handled absentee ballots. By state law, the ballots must be requested in writing and mailed out following state guidelines.

"It appears the practice of individuals calling the township clerk, Ms. Crystal Myers, by phone to request an absentee ballot has been allowed to occur," Melton wrote.

Myers in at least one case asked Kohler to hand deliver two absentee ballots requested by phone. He did so, but the ballots were never returned for voting purposes.

"It would appear that Ms. Myers was mistaken in how to receive requests for absentee ballots, how to mail ballots out, and how to receive them back in a stamped, self-addressed envelope," Melton wrote.

"However, I do not find that Ms. Myers had any criminal intent (and) there is no evidence that Mr. Kohler delivered ballots with criminal intent to violate the voting statute. Therefore I would decline to prosecute any allegation of voter irregularities involving absentee ballots involving Ms. Myers or Mr. Kohler."

The man who brought the complaints against the township, former Lake Eunice Town Board member Mike Reep, also said the town hall was not open for absentee voting from 10 a.m. to noon the Saturday prior to the township election in March as required by state statute.

Myers told an investigator that people generally just picked up an absentee ballot at her house if they need one.

Melton recommended election training, but said there was no proof Myers violated the law, and if she did it was not done with criminal intent. He declined to prosecute.

"Finally, Mr. Reep raises a questionable violation that Ms. Myers was allegedly discouraging absentee voting by telling voters that their vote would not matter," Melton wrote.

"I do not find anything that would substantiate such a complaint ... Mr. Reep attached a couple of emails where people, who appear to be township residents, are discussing whether they should vote and how many votes it would take to put members back on the township board," Melton wrote.

"There are no people who came forward with allegations they were told not to vote or that they could not vote by absentee ballot by Ms. Myers. There is no evidence that Ms. Myers was discouraging voters to not send in an absentee ballot and I find that Mr. Reep's conjecture and speculation are unfounded," he added.

"Based on my review of the police report and other documentation as well as a careful review of the applicable law, I would decline to move forward towards prosecution on any of the documented matters at this time," he wrote.

In an interview, Reep said he does not agree with the decision not to prosecute.

He said he does not want to see anyone go to jail, but would like Kohler removed from the board.

Reep, former owner of Pit 611, served on the township board for 12 years. He said lost this spring by two votes to Jerry Johnson, who mounted a write-in campaign.

But he said it was not sour grapes that led him to the authorities to ask for an investigation.

"People think I just want to get back on the board -- but I don't care if I get back on the board," he said.

Reep's critics, including Kohler, also point out that he sat on the board for the past 12 years and knew what was going on with the township: He and other board members signed off on contracts and expense requests.

"He was on the board, he OK'd everything I done," Kohler said. "It was an awful close race, but he didn't call for no recount -- that's his bad luck."

"Did I make mistakes on the board? Absolutely," Reep said. "I know the timeline really looks bad."

He said it took him a half-dozen years to get comfortable with the workings of the board and the next half-dozen years he was too busy with work and township business to pursue an investigation.

"If I had been re-elected, I was going to turn it over to the state for an audit," he said. "I just said, 'this is not right.'"

Reep said he tried to convince Kohler to resign at a recent board meeting, but others in the audience "shouted me down," he said. "I wasn't even able to talk about (the township expense) numbers."

Kohler, who has served on the Lake Eunice Town Board for about 30 years, said he is grateful for all the support he has been getting from township residents.

"I appreciate all the things they've been saying and doing for me," he said. Kohler said he cooperated fully with both the sheriff's department and the county auditor's office to try to straighten out the problems at the township.

He has about a year left in his term and says he does not plan to step down early.

"Everything was going good until he (Reep) got off the board," Kohler said. "I think he's just as much at fault as everybody else -- he was on the town board at the time."

Reep doesn't understand why many in the township appear to be siding with Kohler.

"You're breaking the law, and I'm the (bad guy) for bringing it up," he said. "It's justice skewed -- it makes no sense."

He said he does not intend to drop the matter and will take the case to the Minnesota Attorney General's Office or perhaps file a civil lawsuit to force Kohler's removal from the board.

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