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Citizen lawsuit aims to stop development efforts

By Staff | Jan 3, 2020

Two Rugby residents have filed suit against Rugby Mayor Susan Steinke, two other city officials and Pierce County landowners over concerns relating to development adjacent to their property in Rugby’s Chalmers Addition.

Craig and Jennifer Zachmeier filed a complaint and requested a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction in Northeast Judicial District Court.

The suit names as defendants the City of Rugby, Rugby City Attorney William Hartl, Rugby Park Board President Roger Sitter, the Rugby Planning and Zoning Commission, Brad Wangler and landowners Gary and Helen Laughridge as defendents, along with local nonprofit Rugby First.

The temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction seek to halt any development in an area near the Chalmers Addition which, according to the request, “would impact the access road and access easement known as ‘9th Street SE,’ ” according to the documents dated Dec. 11.

The area, numbered outlots 546 through 550, was platted Nov. 21. The suit alleges “the Defendants violated the Plaintiffs’ due process rights with the failure to have public hearings, and public meetings, and the failure to follow statutory requirements.”

“The opposition is also based upon the negative impact and potential injury related to flooding of the Chalmers Addition and/or the flooding of the City of Rugby, without a proper watershed hydraulic report and study,” the suit adds.

The suit describes how, after Rugby First was formed, the Zachmeiers “requested from the City of Rugby to be notified for any/all meeting agendas and meetings for both the City of Rugby and the City of Rugby Planning and Zoning Commission meetings that may be related to the Gary and Helen Laughridge property and Rugby First.”

The suit alleges the plaintiffs attended a planning and zoning meeting to voice opposition to platting the property. The plat request was tabled.

The suit alleges Gary Laughridge next requested an “emergency planning and zoning meeting” on Oct. 23, where Laughridge requested an amended plat titled “Laughridge Second Addition.” The suit says the size of the land in the plat request increased from 15 to 23 acres.

Although the suit does not name Rugby attorney Galen Mack as a defendant, the suit states, “On October 23, 2019, Attorney Galen Mack stated that he is the attorney for Rugby First and told Councilman Bruce Rheault that he had to vote to approve the Laughridge Second Addition because there was no legal standard to deny approval.”

The planning and zoning commission voted to deny the plat request at the meeting.

Another attempt to bring the matter before the planning and zoning commission in mid-November failed when the commission meeting was canceled.

The suit states on Nov. 21, the plaintiffs “sent a written letter with concerns of the development attempts without proper notice, education, information, feasibility study and information about diffused surface water runoff Plaintiffs’ letter requested proper meeting notice and requested a contingency plan if the plat was going to be approved including at least an engineering report regarding diffused surface water runoff, estimates for infrastructure, requesting a straight access road for safety and open public meetings and hearing prior to final approval.”

“On November 21, 2019, Gary Laughridge recorded outlot plats,” the suit continues.

The suit states Steinke had asked Pierce County Recorder Lori Miron “if outlot plats needed to go before planning and zoning.”

The plats “were signed on November 21, 2019, and the plats were notarized by Roger Sitter,” according to the suit. “An access easement was notarized by Susan Steinke, and there was no Rugby Park Board meeting that authorized Roger Sitter to grant the access easement that was recorded November 21, 2019. Roger Sitter is an employee of Susan Steinke.”

The Zachmeiers request in the suit “that the court declare that the defendants have violated the constitutional due process rights of the plaintiffs regarding lack of proper notice, and being inequitably denied the right to attend open public meetings and make public statements regarding the actions of the defendents.”

The suit further alleges the Zachmeiers “suffered personal injury” per the North Dakota Century Code’s inclusion of “injury to a person’s individual rights” in definitions of the term.

The suit charges the City of Rugby “and its appropriate representatives have violated their duties pursuant to City of Rugby Home Rule Charter City of Rugby ordinances and City of Rugby Comprehensive Planning and Land Use by having an illegally seated planning and zoning commission.”

The suit says Steinke “violated her public official duties and acted outside of the scope of her employment in her actions relating to the Laughridge Second Addition to the City of Rugby, Pierce County, the access easement and the outlots and her actions were in bad faith, and were in collusion with others and were official oppression by denying plaintiffs the exercise of personal rights and the taking of real property.”

The suit outlines some of the duties and abilities of the City Attorney and says that Hartl “would not meet with the plaintiffs to discuss the recording of the access easement, the outlots and the warranty deed that involved the Laughridge property, and Rugby First and Brad Wangler and Gary Laughridge. The City of Rugby has not charged any penalty and has not brought an injunction or other proceedings to stop these illegal transfers that were not properly brought before the planning and zoning commission. Rather, the public officials have acted with oppression and collusion.”

The suit further states Sitter “violated his public duties and acted outside of the scope of his employment in his actions relating to the Laughridge Second Addition to the City of Rugby, Pierce county, the Access Easement (and the outlots) and his actions were in bad faith, and were in collusion with others and were official oppression by denying plaintiffs the exercise of personal rights and taking of real property.”

The suit seeks a declaration from the court “that City of Rugby Mayor Susan Steinke, City of Rugby Attorney William Hartl, City of Rugby Park Board President Roger Sitter, shall all be personally liable due to the official oppression, fraud and collusion that were shown by these officials and by colluding with Rugby First, Brad Wangler and Gary Laughridge.”

The motions for a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction, filed the day before the Rugby Park Board met on Dec. 12, are under review by Minot District Court Judge Richard Hagar, according to the Pierce County Clerk of Court’s office. Judges in North Dakota’s Northeast District, which covers Rugby, have recused themselves from the case.

Steinke, Sitter and Craig Zachmeier all declined requests by the Tribune for comments on the suit. The Tribune was unable to reach Hartl and the other parties named in the suit for comments.

– Tribune Staff Report

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