Hillman Township electors at their annual meeting Tuesday passed a resolution that would end a long fight over maintaining a gravel township road to the Crisman family farm outside Mora, Minn.
The resolution, passed by a vote of 27-10, directed the township board to drop its appeal of a court decision ordering it to fully maintain Hornet Street, the road leading to the 120-acre Crisman farm.
It also directed the board to accept the Crismans' gift of a school bus turnaround, built at their own expense, and to resume regular maintenance of the road, including snowplowing.
But an end to the dispute looks unlikely, as the chairman of the township board blasted the resolution as illegal and nonbinding, saying the Crismans packed the meeting with supporters and turned it into a "kangaroo court."
"That is an illegal resolution that was voted on as a nonbinding resolution and doesn't mean anything," said board Chairman Ryan Martens. "The board is not accepting it.
"This resolution means nothing," he said. "It is absolute garbage."
Martens said the resolution was sprung on the meeting without proper notice. It should have been advertised ahead of time in the local newspaper, he said, as provided for by law. Meanwhile, he added, Renee and Andy Crisman packed the meeting by sending out fliers only to people they knew would support them.
Martens said township voters cannot legally dismiss a lawsuit or accept such a gift. Only the township board has that authority, he said. The Crismans and their attorney, Sarah Jewell, did not respond to requests for comment.
The bitter dispute started in 2017, after the Crismans moved to the area from a Twin Cities suburb. Their property at the end of Hornet Street had long been unoccupied, and the township had been maintaining only the first quarter-mile of the half-mile road.
When they went to the township and asked that the road be plowed and maintained all the way to their land, township voters turned them down. But a township board member suggested they repair the road with their own money and come back for another vote, according to court documents.
The Crismans spent more than $20,000 to fix the road and build a turnaround so the school bus could pick up their three daughters, all under age 10. But after a dispute arose with a neighbor whose land is crossed by the road, the Crismans sued the township to force it to maintain Hornet Street all the way to the end.
They lost the case but sought a new ruling based on a legal issue that hadn't been fully resolved. Meanwhile, the township board declared that Hornet Street no longer legally existed, since it hadn't been maintained by the township in more than 40 years.
In a surprising decision, Kanabec District Judge Stoney Hiljus reversed himself and ruled in favor of the Crismans in November. The township then appealed to the Minnesota Court of Appeals.
The township sought to find a resolution to the dispute. Last summer, it extended a township road connecting to another part of the Crisman property and offered to pay the family up to $15,000 to build a driveway connecting to that road. They refused the offer.
"The electors voted," Martens said. "But it is no more than a suggestion to the board. We can't follow the suggestion of illegal proceedings.
"It's going to be interesting. There's going to be a lot of unhappy people, thinking this is going to end," he said. "We're the ones still following the laws after they've done everything against the law."