FOLEY ― Benton County filed a lawsuit against Auditor-Treasurer Nadean Inman in May after a Sherburne County Sheriff investigation revealed she may not have lived in the county for about a year and a half, a violation of Minnesota law. Cell phone records and other evidence suggest Inman may have resided outside Benton County from October 2018 until April 2020.
Inman filed a counterclaim against the county last month, denying allegations that she lived outside the county during her term and alleging the county lawsuit was retaliatory in nature and tied into a history of the county's alleged "interference with [her] statutory duties" as Auditor-Treasurer.
Benton County has denied the allegations in Inman's counterclaim, saying Inman "has asserted the counterclaims for improper purposes, in part to deflect attention away from her failure to maintain residency in Benton County during the course of her tenure as the elected Benton County Auditor-Treasurer, and in part to gain publicity as to those counterclaims when in fact they have no basis in law or fact."
Three other candidates for Auditor-Treasurer are challenging Inman in the August primary election.
Benton County Administrator Monty Headley said the deposition for the case is expected to happen in September and court proceedings may resume in March. The process is expected to cost the county an estimated $35,000 to $65,000.
Inman denies allegations against her
In her countersuit, Inman alleged Benton County and Headley engaged in civil conspiracy with "deliberate, malicious, and/or reckless disregard" to her rights and engaged in defamation as they "made false statements to constituents, employees and other individuals in the public regarding [Inman's] character."
Inman denies the county's claims that she is not a resident of Benton County and failed to continuously maintain residency in the county during the entire term of her office.
Inman said she owned property in Sherburne County but sold the Becker house where she allegedly stayed with her husband in May 2020. In the complaint, Inman said she "is unable to admit or deny" that she is listed as an owner and taxpayer of the Becker property "without a specific timeframe." She also said she "is unable to admit or deny" she listed the Becker address for many official purposes, including her Affidavit of Candidacy filed in 2018, her personnel documents with Benton County and her vehicle registration "without a specific timeframe."
In the complaint, Inman said she previously rented a room in a house in Sauk Rapids from a former county employee who worked in her office beginning in October 2018. Inman said she paid the homeowner $100 per month in rent and did not pay utilities. Inman said she is "without the sufficient knowledge or information to form a belief regarding the truth" of information gathered in a Sherburne County investigation that indicated Inman kept minimal possessions and items of comfort at the Sauk Rapids house, "rarely slept at the house and did not engage in typical activities an individual pursues in their home like cooking, laundry, spending time with family and entertaining guests."
Inman said she is "without sufficient knowledge or information to form a belief regarding the truth of" allegations that she declined to participate in the Sherburne County Sheriff investigation. Inman also said she is "without sufficient knowledge or information to form a belief regarding the truth of" allegations that her cell phone activity at the Sauk Rapids house was "minimal to nonexistent" and that most of her cell phone activity occurred near Becker and her place of employment, according to the Sheriff investigation.
Inman denied allegations that the Sauk Rapids house was not her permanent address and denied allegations that she did not spend a majority of her time there. Inman also denied the allegation that she was using the Sauk Rapids house owned by her coworker to maintain her employment with Benton County and to claim residency in the county.
Inman also denied allegations that immediately after learning about the Sheriff investigation she asked her landlord to write a letter indicating she could no longer reside in the Sauk Rapids house because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
Inman said she began renting an apartment in Sauk Rapids in January 2021 and denied allegations that she uses the apartment to maintain her residency in Benton County. Inman also denied allegations that she refused to speak with multiple Benton County commissioners since 2018 about her true and permanent residency.
Inman alleges civil conspiracy and defamation from Benton County officials
Inman brought numerous counterclaims against Benton County in response to the county's lawsuit, including accusations of interference with a public official's statutory duties, retaliation or violation of the whistleblower act, civil conspiracy and defamation.
In her counterclaims Inman said the county opposed returning the accounts payable position to the Auditor-Treasurer's statutory duties in 2018, which "unnecessarily and negligently placed her in a position to be subject to penalty for not fulfilling her work responsibilities." Inman said she was also blamed for a delay in Truth in Taxation notices when the County Administrator Headley allegedly denied her request to discuss abatement of tax penalties in light of the pandemic in 2020.
Inman said she made several requests to Headley to access the county's full financial system in order to execute her statutory duties and said to date she "still has not been given access to the county's full financial system."
Inman also alleges Headley "intentionally excluded" her on any correspondence regarding redistricting in 2022 and said he "stopped responding" to communications regarding a county-wide credit card policy which "placed her in a position subject to legal and professional harm." She said the county was aware of the Headley's interference with her duties "and has done nothing to prevent such interference."
In the complaint Inman said "upon information and belief, [Benton County]'s underlying lawsuit is in retaliation to [Inman's] request to correct the deficiencies within the duties of her elected position that had occurred in the past and currently continues."
As a result of this interference Inman said she "has suffered and continues to suffer immediate and irreparable injury, loss, harm or damages and will continue to suffer said injury, loss, harm or damage, unless and until [Benton County] and/or its employees, including the County Administrator, are restrained from its present conduct."
Inman said the county's actions, and the actions of the county administrator, "constitute conspiracy in violation of the law" and said they acted "with deliberate, malicious, and/or reckless disregard of the rights of [Inman] … and deliberately proceeded to act in conscious, intentional disregard, or indifference for the high probability of injury to the rights of [Inman]."
Inman said the county has made false statements about her character to constituents, employees and other individuals in the public with the intention to harm her, "lower her reputation in the community and impact her ability to seek re-election." She said statements were made "with actual malice in efforts to force [Inman] to resign from her position and/or prevent her from seeking re-election."
Inman requested to dismiss the county's complaint with prejudice, seeks a change in venue, requested to temporarily and permanently restrain the county and/or its employees "from any further activities in violation of statutory and/or common law obligations and duties" of hers, requested an award of damages in excess of $50,000, requested an award of her costs, disbursements and attorney fees incurred and requested any other relief deemed just and equitable under the circumstances.
Benton County denies residency lawsuit is "retaliation," says defamation allegations are "sham"
Benton County Administrator Monty Headley said it was repeated inquiries from constituents about Inman's residency and information from the Sherburne County investigation in July 2021 that prompted the board to pursue litigation against Inman.
"There's no retaliation whatsoever here," Headley said. "It's a board responding to constituent inquiries, and doing I think what they felt was the right thing to do and that is, again, get to the bottom of it. Get the facts out."
In a reply to Inman's counterclaim, Benton County said Inman "has asserted the counterclaims for improper purposes, in part to deflect attention away from her failure to maintain residency in Benton County during the course of her tenure … and in part to gain publicity as to those counterclaims when in fact they have no basis in law or fact."
The county said Inman "fails to recite all facts pertinent to the case; pleads facts irrelevant to the actual issues sought to be litigated" and "not only leaves a misimpression as to the true nature of the facts and proceedings, but appears calculated to do so."
Benton County denied that the board of commissioners or anyone under the board's control interfered with the core functions of the Auditor-Treasurer position and denied all allegations that Inman does not have access to county financial records, "and affirmatively state that she has full unrestrained access to all reports and information necessary to the performance of the core functions of a county auditor-treasurer."
Headley said the county has offered to show Inman how to use a module in their financial system built specifically for receipting revenue but, "she has declined to meet with us and do a demonstration," which Headley described as perplexing.
Benton County said the allegation that the accounts payable position had in 2018 been moved from the Auditor-Treasurers office to the financial department in county administration is not the case, "but that the accounts payable information has been manually compiled and entered into the integrated financial system of the county by a worker in the Department of Administration for more than 15 years," as a way to better serve the public, use taxpayer funds "but also specifically made it more easy and efficient for the Auditor-Treasurer to perform the core functions of that position."
The county said Inman's allegations about the county credit card payments and redistricting "are simply wrong, provably wrong by reference to written records, besides being irrelevant to any issues raised by the complaint of the counterclaims."
The county said a "vast majority" of the members on the Benton County Board of Commissioners are not the same people who were on the board in 2018 and said Inman "wants people to believe that the current Board's fulfillment of its duties and responsibilities to ensure elected officials abide by the requirement that they reside in the county they have vowed to serve is somehow connected with actions from four years prior in the so-called retaliation/whistleblower claim asserted."
Benton County denied all allegations of defamation saying Inman's statements are "a sham and false," and said any statements the county made regarding Inman and her residency "were made in the course and scope of their duties as County Commissioners, in good faith, under proper occasion and for proper purposes," according to the complaint.
The county said Inman "has failed to state a claim upon which relief can be granted," and some of Inman's counterclaims may be untimely or may not be asserted by way of a statute of limitations.
The next hearing for the case is scheduled for Aug. 29.
Becca Most is a cities reporter with the St. Cloud Times. Reach her at 320-241-8213 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at @becca_most.
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This article originally appeared on St. Cloud Times: Benton County Auditor-Treasurer denies allegations, files counterclaim