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Small N.D. town in turmoil

BISMARCK (AP) -- Bad blood among feuding residents is commonplace in the tiny south-central North Dakota town of Zeeland. Even the mayor has a restraining order against him for allegedly harassing his neighbor over her barking dog.

Residents seem to be ceaselessly involved in rifts in the McIntosh County town of about 140 people south of Bismarck, the county's top prosecutor says.

"Zeeland has always been in turmoil," said Terry Elhard, the McIntosh County state's attorney. "People there just don't get along.

Walter Klein, a school janitor and part-time worker at The Last Resort Bar, said Zeeland is probably the only small town in North Dakota where people don't wave at each other from their vehicles.

"We don't wave anymore," he said.

Mayor Bob Schumacher pleaded not guilty last month to a disorderly conduct charge accusing him of threatening a woman about her yapping pooch.

"He went on the lady's property and started in on her," Elhard said. "He was allegedly using some foul language and was verbally abusive toward her."

Neither Schumacher nor his attorney, Donavin Grenz of Linton, returned calls for comment.

The charge is a Class B misdemeanor, with a maximum penalty of 30 days in jail and a $1,000 fine. A pretrial conference is slated for July 27.

Mary Jones' affidavit says Schumacher not only complained about her dog but also scolded her for being unemployed and overweight. The affidavit is full of expletives allegedly used by Schumacher.

In court papers, Jones said Schumacher piles snow away from his side of the street to hers. She also alleges that the mayor's brother's dog runs loose and urinates on her plants.

Her dog is quiet most of the time -- except when the dog sees the mayor, Jones said.

"The dog only barks when he walks by," according to her affidavit.

Elhard said he has plenty else to deal with besides a spat between neighbors over a barking dog. But he said the incident was serious enough to file charges.

"It always seems to be something in Zeeland," said Tony Bender, publisher of weekly newspapers in nearby Ashley and Wishek. "It's like the Hatfields and McCoys."

Bender said his newspapers have not lacked for news from the farming community. He said the community has been split over everything from a teacher's firing to "general dissatisfaction" of the city and its leaders.

Elhard said Schumacher, who has been mayor for more than a year, is not the first high-profile resident to be charged with a crime in town. He said a former mayor was arrested for drunken driving and a school board member was charged a few years ago with assault in an attack on a school bus driver.

The small town largely consists of descendants of German immigrants, Elhard said.

"This used to be a tight-knit Roman Catholic community years ago," he said. "I really don't know what happened."

Klein, 67, said he's lived in the town his entire life.

"It hasn't always been like this," he said.

Klein said animosity in town began years ago because of a power struggle within the town's volunteer fire department.

"There were some cliques and some people left and some others came in," he said.

"I've stayed neutral in town," he said. "I can still go into every business in town and talk to people. Not everybody can do that."

One of the few times the town has come together in recent years was when area National Guard soldiers were sent off to war, Bender said.

"This is the same community that gathered up support for the soldiers," he said.

"There are good, hardworking folks in Zeeland and there have been opportunities over the years for everybody to get along," Bender said. "But it seems like when somebody is holding out the olive branch, somebody is spitting back."