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Businesses respond to city's annexation

A court case could be looming for the city of Dickinson after an attorney representing businesses and landowners recently annexed into city limits identified areas where the city allegedly did not adhere to the law.

The city has stood its ground saying it followed all applicable procedures.

Both parties filed documents this week outlining their arguments and Sandra Kuntz, a Dickinson-based attorney representing the plaintiffs, filed a demand for a change in judge.

After the City Commission approved annexing about 325 acres north of town in October, more than a dozen businesses and landowners retained legal counsel to try and put a temporary stop to the process while as to have the courts determine if the procedure adhered to the law.

A civil complaint and motion for temporary injunction filed Jan. 5 alleges the city annexed in a "hasty manner" and "violated North Dakota's annexation laws in more than several respects," with the main violations relating to due process and jurisdiction, according to the motion for injunction.

City Attorney Matt Kolling filed a response Jan. 14 stating the plaintiffs' request for injunctive relief is without merit and asked the court to deny the entire motion.

Sandra Kuntz, attorney representing the businesses and landowners, filed a response Tuesday stating the city acted outside its authority and violated statutory requirements, including alleged failure to provide statutory notice to landowners, placement of annexation conditions on platting and zoning and alleged failure "to include the timely and mandatory participation" of the state.

Kuntz says state law requires a final resolution of the annexation area be recorded at the Stark County Courthouse, done Jan. 12, but was allegedly done inaccurately.

"The city, in its haste, has rushed forward with recent recording of a 'final' resolution and annexation map recorded at the Stark County Recorder's Office ... ," according to Kuntz's reply filed Jan. 25. "However, the 'final' resolution and 'final' map recorded do not describe the same property to be annexed, the resolution was not published or mailed according to statute and was not properly noticed to all parties."

The final resolution recorded at the courthouse differs than the original, Kuntz said, adding if changes are made from the originally passed resolution, the process needs to be repeated.

"We'll be responding to that in our court filing and I'll have to leave my comment to that," Kolling said.

When the resolution was passed in September, law requires it to be published in the newspaper and Kuntz says it was not done.

"That's something we'll be filing about in court and I can't comment on it other than that," Kolling said.

The case was initially assigned to Judge H. Patrick Weir, and Kuntz declined comment as to why she filed for a change in judge.

Kolling's reply on behalf of the city asks that the "complaint be dismissed in its entirety" and that the demand for injunctive relief "be denied in its entirety."

The city also asks "that the court determine the plaintiff's complaint is frivolous and not supported by an adequate basis in law or fact ... that the court award Dickinson its reasonable attorneys' fees incurred in defending against the complaint."

Kolling said he has no estimate as to what the city's legal fees are thus far.

"We need to hold the people who we elect to govern accountable for their actions to preserve integrity in the process afforded by the Constitution," Kuntz said in an e-mail. "Our community needs development that is well ordered. The taxpayers and citizens expect and deserve no less. The law demands it.

"However, well ordered development and growth cannot happen without integrity in the process and respect for and fair dealing with the people impacted. Failure to do so will result in a significant price for all of us to pay to fix the problems created. These problems will be repeated in the future if not stopped now."