Tribal chairman asks Yellow Medicine County for clarity following prickly confrontation with weed inspector


— The chairman of the

Upper Sioux Community

is asking the

Yellow Medicine County

Board of Commissioners for clarification of the role of a weed inspector acting under the auspices of the county after an incident that led to criminal charges.

The District Court dismissed a Yellow Medicine County charge of criminal damage to property against a weed inspector on Dec. 15.

Tribal Chairman Kevin Jensvold told the County Board of Commissioners on Jan. 3 that he considers the weed inspector's actions that led to the charges to be an ethical violation of his role. He asked the Board of Commissioners for clarity on that role and the county's involvement.

The commissioners and County Attorney Mark Gruenes told the tribal chairman that they believe Wesley Erickson, a Minnesota Falls Township supervisor, was acting on his own behalf and not with the county's authority when he sprayed weeds in July on the tribal-owned property.

The county attorney told the commissioners that state statute makes Erickson a weed inspector by virtue of being a township official. Erickson is not paid or hired by the county to be its weed inspector.

"It frustrates me that he can go out and represent himself as a weed inspector for the county," said Commissioner Ron Antony.

He said the county could face serious liability issues if weed inspectors acting under the authority of the county cause harm.

The commissioners and tribal chairman said they would like to see regular meetings between the County Board and tribal board to keep communication open and maintain what both described as a good relationship.

Emphasizing that he saw the incident as an isolated situation, Chairman Jensvold said at the conclusion of the discussions that he felt that regular contact and meetings between the two governments were really important.

According to the court record, two employees of the Upper Sioux Community found Erickson driving a small vehicle and spraying 2,4-D on Canada thistles on the tribal-owned property on July 18.

The supervisor of the Upper Sioux employees then contacted Upper Sioux Community Police Chief Dan DeSmet. He interviewed Erickson at the site and filed a report that led to a charge against Erickson by the Yellow Medicine County Attorney's Office.

The tribal chairman said that shortly after the incident, the Upper Sioux Community received a letter dated July 19 from Jolene Johnson, the county's planning, zoning and agricultural inspector, stating the community "had to take care of its weed problem."

Gruenes said the incident represented "a really challenging situation" for his office.

He determined a trespassing charge against the inspector would not be appropriate. You get one bite at the apple under Minnesota law. You have to tell someone to leave first before a trespass occurs, he explained.

In its order on Dec. 15, the District Court dismissed the criminal damage to property charge stating that no damage had occurred.

"Defendant testified that he used 2,4-D because he knew it would only kill the Canadian thistle and not other vegetation, and he did not have any intention of killing other vegetation" other than the noxious weeds, stated the court.

Gruenes said he believes the inspector "muddied this situation" by putting on his weed inspector hat when he was confronted on the property. The attorney said he believes Erickson was acting on his own behalf, spraying land adjacent to land he was renting.

Erickson did not inform the county's agriculture inspector that he had been confronted on the tribal-owned land when he reported the weed problem, according to Gruenes.

As a result, he put the county ag inspector "in a position to look foolish by sending that letter out which is really frustrating. ... It makes the county look foolish and pulled the county into his nonsense," said the attorney.

Jensvold provided the commissioners with the police report of the incident and offered to provide the audio recording of the interview by the police chief. The property is tribal-owned but not part of the tribal trust lands, and pays property taxes to the county and township, according to the chairman.

Commissioner Antony said they believe inspectors have the responsibility to report nuisance weeds to the county's ag inspector, but do not have the authority to spray the weeds without first contacting the property owners.

In the court case, Erickson maintained that the Upper Sioux Community had not been responsive to his prior complaints.

The tribal chairman told the commissioners that the tribal government would have approved the spraying of the nuisance weeds and reimbursed the county were it notified.

The commissioners said they value the relationship between the two governments and the assistance the Upper Sioux Community has provided to the county as well as civic organizations. The tribal chairman said the community is committed to supporting and promoting southwest Minnesota and all of its neighbors.

County Commissioner Greg Renneke, who represents the area where the incident occurred, said he would contact Erickson and make known the county's concerns about the incident.