A group of employees of the McLeod family pleaded with county commissioners last week to save their jobs.
The county has been involved in a 10-year legal battle with the McLeods over what it claims is a non-conforming business use of the McLeods’ land on Clark Road.
“If you keep going, you’ll be shutting them down and putting people on unemployment,” said Rob Snyder, McLeod employee. “I’d be one of them.”
Seven other employees and family members expressed similar sentiments, saying that the county was trying to put them out of business and out of work. Some employees held up photos of their wives and kids while speaking in an effort to end the county’s lawsuit against the McLeods, who have been running a construction/excavation business on Clark Road since the 1960s.
The property is zoned open-use estates, or OUE. Under county law, businesses are prohibited on OUE-zoned property.
But the McLeod family business has operated on a five-acre parcel of land at 7733 Clark Road since the 1960s. The zoning code wasn’t put into effect until 1975. The family business was “grandfathered” in and was allowed to continue despite being on OUE land.
The McLeods then bought an adjoining five acres of land in 1984 that’s now referred to as their “back parcel” and began operating their business on that piece of property, as well.
James McLeod, who was operating McLeod Land and Equipment in 1998, claimed that the back parcel was grandfathered in as well. The county disputed that, and in 2001, a civil-court judge ruled that the back parcel was not grandfathered in, so businesses could not operate on it.
Despite that decision, the county and neighbors in the East Lake community, which borders the back parcel, claimed that the back parcel was still being used for business, with loud machinery running in the early morning.
In 2008, Charles McLeod, James McLeod’s estranged brother, took over the business and stopped operations on the back parcel to comply with zoning.
Neighbors across the street from the front parcel said Charles McLeod began piling up yard waste, up to 20 feet high, on the front parcel.
The county deemed that the yard-waste business was a new use of the land and was prohibited.
Casey Colburn, Charles McLeod’s attorney, said although his client officially incorporated his yard-waste business, East 72 Landscaping, in 2008, the McLeod family had long been collecting yard waste on the property, therefore it is a grandfathered use.
David Pearce, the county attorney handling the case, said he has testimony from Heron Lake residents and an affidavit from James McLeod that the yard-waste business began within the past two years. Pearce plans to file his argument with the court May 10.
The fact that the county is using James McLeod’s testimony in its case against Charles McLeod upsets Colburn.
“I’m disturbed the county is weighing into a family dispute to achieve a win,” he said. “But that’s how they’re playing it.”
Colburn said his client still hopes to come to an agreement with the county that will end the lawsuit, but he said the county has refused to meet.
After the McLeod employees’ display at the April 27 County Commission meeting, County Commissioner Jon Thaxton asked Charles McLeod to meet one-on-one. That meeting will take place May 10.
Thaxton took the brunt of the criticism from the McLeod workers. They carried a 4-foot poster board that displayed a quote from Thaxton: “There is nothing the County Commission has to do with this … it’s strictly code enforcement.”
They then questioned e-mails in which Thaxton replied to McLeod opponents inquiring about the status of the case.
Thaxton told them he was “working behind the scenes” on it.
Colburn and Charles McLeod interpreted that to mean Thaxton was going outside his authority to target the business.
Thaxton said he meant he was working on the case outside of commission meetings.
If the meeting between Charles McLeod and Thaxton does not lead to a settlement, then a judge will most likely render a decision on the case this summer.
Until then, McLeod’s employees hope things will turn out in their favor.
“I just don’t understand why the commission is trying to put my boss out of business,” said 67-year-old Richard Ramsey. “At my age, it would be impossible to find another job in this economy.”
Contact Robin Roy at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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