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It's township day across Minnesota

BEMIDJI – It’s a thankless job not many are interested in.

“The last time around, I didn’t even file and I got elected,” said Dennis Zeto.

Zeto, 10-year chairman of the Eckles Township Board of Supervisors, is one of more than 9,000 township officers in the state, according to the Minnesota Association of Townships.

Tonight, those officers will lead meetings in town halls throughout Minnesota as the state observes Township Day, held annually on the second Tuesday of March. Each township will hold its annual meeting, set the levy and budget for next year, and, in many cases, conduct elections.

“I do think township government is important,” said Tim Mountain, a Northern Township supervisor who rejoined the board in January after taking a few years off. “So much of what we do relates to everyone’s every-day life – roads, bridges, snow removal – just all those kinds of things that make the community function.”

More than 920,000 Minnesotans reside within one of the state’s 1,784 townships, according to the Minnesota Association of Townships.

Generally, though, township officers said they don’t often hear from their residents unless there is a local issue at hand.

“When we don’t have anybody showing up, that means we don’t really have a lot of problems,” said Ron Kinn, chairman of the Turtle River town board.

Don Clay, the new chairman of the Helga Township board in Hubbard County, knows something about that.

He presided over a special meeting before a capacity crowd last week at the town hall as supervisors voted against a conditional use permit that would have allowed a Christian organization to operate a nine-person chemical-dependency treatment center in a township home. Restore House – unrelated to the Northwoods Habitat for Humanity Restore – still plans to operate a six-person treatment facility at the home; a permit is not required at that occupancy.

“It seems like the only time anyone shows up is when it’s something that really is going to affect them,” he said.

Clay, like all of his fellow Helga Township officers, is new to township government. Following a combination of resignations and defeats in the November elections, the entire township leadership changed.

“It’s all brand new,” Clay said. “It was a complete sweep. Nobody’s left.”

The former Helga Township board was entangled in a lawsuit with a township resident over land use and also asked a county attorney to consider charges against a former board chairman; the attorney declined to pursue such charges.

“It’s wild,” Clay said. “We jumped into the frying pan, fire, whatever you want to call it.”

Clay, a lifelong township resident and the fourth generation of his family to live on the farm, said the board has been working with past supervisors to learn the processes. The board’s clerk and treasurer also undergo training through the Association of Townships.

“There hasn’t been anything that’s been really bad, but it has been an adventure every day,” Clay said of his two months in office, adding that he knew the issues facing the township when he paid his filing fee. “I didn’t know I could have this much fun for $2.”