Canton residents Robert and Christina Schmidt approached the Canton City Council on Wednesday night, January 12, about owning chickens within city limits. Robert Schmidt explained he and his wife have 10 chickens at their Canton residence that they consider to be pets. “We hold them everyday, we play with them. They are part of our family,” he said.
Schmidt explained he and his wife moved to Canton knowing city ordinances did not allow “farm animals” in town. He, however, does not consider his chickens to be farm animals. He stressed that he only wants to work with the city to come to a compromise and is not looking for a fight. “My goal is to work with the city to create a workable ordinance,” he added. “I obviously want to be a good neighbor. I’m here to figure out, ‘What can we do?’”
Currently, the Schmidts have 10 chickens in a coop on their property. Robert explained they are not selling eggs or raising chicks. “We are not even eating the animals,” he added. “They are pets.”
In preparation for the meeting, City Clerk Brock Bergey contacted other small cities that have already adopted ordinances that allow keeping chickens within city limits.
Common stipulations within those ordinances include limiting the number of chickens, requiring certain types of coops and enclosures, banning roosters, requiring permit fees for the flock and requiring neighboring residents to consent to the permit application.
Councilman Carl Ernst, noted that after reading the research provided by Bergey, that he noticed a trend for small cities to be approving chicken permits within their residential areas. “I also noticed most every town has put a cap on of five or six birds. And no roosters,” he said. “Personally, I don’t see anything wrong with someone having six chickens, as long as things are kept up well and neighbors don’t have problem with them.”
Schmidt said he hoped Canton would allow 10 to 12 chickens as each chicken tends to lay one egg a day and that makes a dozen eggs each day.
He also noted he would be happy to see a morality clause in an ordinance, making sure the city chickens were treated well.
Councilman Josh Nordsving said he also liked the idea of having an adjacent neighbor consent form and reiterated the city would need a permit for the flock in the same manner the city licenses cats and dogs.
The council came to a consensus to create an ordinance that would allow chickens to be kept within city limits. Giving the city attorney direction on preparing a draft of the new ordinance, the council said it would like to see a cap of six chickens per flock, a neighbor consent form, a permit fee and certain enclosure guidelines.
City Attorney Greg Shieber, who was present at the meeting, said he would have a draft of the ordinance to present at the February meeting.
Former clerk enters plea agreement
In a statement issued by the City of Canton, it was noted that former city clerk Lolly Melander pled guilty to one count of theft by swindle in Fillmore County District Court during a plea agreement hearing on January 3.
According to the criminal complaint, Melander wrongfully, unlawfully and feloniously swindled the city of Canton of funds in excess of $35,000 between February 1, 2011, and March 1, 2019.
The theft by swindle charge was one of 26 felony charges filed against Melander following an investigation prompted by a routine financial audit. Based on findings from the Office of the Minnesota State Auditor, Melander was accused of misappropriating funds totaling $134,639 between 2011 and 2019.
She resigned as clerk/treasurer on March 11, 2019, after more than 15 years on the job.
Under terms of the settlement negotiated by Fillmore County Attorney Brett Corson, representing the State of Minnesota, Melander will serve 120 days in jail, with work release privileges.
Restitution to the city of Canton is in the amount of $93,916, with credit for the $24,000 Melander previously reimbursed to the city.
If she satisfies the restitution requirement within 10 years and complies with all probationary terms, Melander will be eligible for a stay of adjudication.
Corson had presented details of the settlement to the Canton City Council during its December 8, 2021, meeting, in closed session.
“We support the settlement,” stated Canton Mayor Nick Prestby. “Our focus has been on the restitution aspect and getting back as much money as possible for our taxpaying residents.”
Since Melander’s resignation, the city has implemented safeguards to prevent future financial wrongdoing. A deputy clerk has been added to the administrative staff for additional oversight and a new accounting, billing and payroll system has been installed.
“We’re confident we have the staff and resources in place to restore integrity to city hall,” added Prestby. “It’s time for Canton to move on.”
Melander is scheduled to be sentenced on March 7.
Schieber, while in attendance at the January 12 meeting, told the council it could also can pursue a case against Melander in civil court.
“You, as a city, would have to carry the case forward,” he said. This would entail hiring financial experts to build the case and it is purely speculative as to whether the result would benefit the city in any other way.
Bergey noted the city has not incurred any legal fees for the prosecution of Melander to this point, as it was a state criminal case.
The council members seemed to agree that pursuing a civil case was not in Canton’s best interest. Prestby once again voiced his desire to move forward and focus on making Canton a great place to live and work.
Public sale of former school
The Canton City Council continues to be concerned regarding the condition of the former Canton school building. Now that the property has been subject to a tax forfeiture, it will be offered for sale during a public auction in March.
Prestby noted he has discussed the matter with several local and state officials, hoping the city can place certain stipulations on the sale regarding city expectations of safety improvements and proper cleanup.
Bergey noted he has fielded several phone calls from individuals interested in purchasing the property and he has worked to make sure they know what they would be buying, sending information and photos of the current conditions of the building.
He also said he has conveyed a desire to putting stipulations on the sale. “There are no assurances that those have to be followed, but at least we are on record for having tried,” Bergey said.
“It is nothing but a detriment,” stated Councilman Randy Gossman about the property. “It is unsafe.”
Bergey suggested putting together a document stating the building’s condition and the concerns associated with it. The council’s fear is that someone will purchase the property for $1 thinking it’s a good deal and be overwhelmed with the costs associated with cleaning it up.
“We don’t want it to end up in dead hands again,” said Ernst. “The whole problem with it is the unknown costs (for cleanup and restoration).”
No action was taken, but the council members agreed to discuss the matter again in February.
Food trailer in commercial district
True Smoke BBQ Pub & Grill, the restaurant now located in the former Canton Pub, has been parking its food trailer behind the building, next to the alley. Used to cook the restaurant’s barbecue offerings, the city council allowed owner Brenda Janvrin to park the trailer there for 60 days while she renovated the restaurant kitchen with the necessary equipment needed to replace the food trailer.
The matter came up for review at Wednesday’s meeting as that time frame had elapsed.
Janvrin told the council she has not yet been able to install the needed equipment due to the costs associated with doing so. She asked for additional time, citing that her restaurant needs to be able to offer barbecue and people drive from hours away to eat at True Smoke.
“I don’t think it’s a problem,” said Gossman. “It’s not an eyesore.”
The only concern voiced was the location of the trailer could impede snow removal for the city crew. Staff noted it had not created any problems up to this point.
“We are just glad to have a restaurant in town,” said Council Member Cindy Shanks.
The council approved a 90-day extension for the food trailer.
Reports and other business
Prestby reported on some of the city’s accomplishments of 2021, including installing new bookkeeping and billing software and creating a deputy clerk position to insure financial checks and balances for the city. “I actually could go on and on about the list of things we did and updated this past year,” he said. His future goals for the city and the council include working on branding and marketing of the city and working on economic development. “We want to make Canton a destination, and a great place to live and work,” he said. “I feel we have and will continue to have a better community with all the people who volunteer with events and making Canton a better place.”
The council approved a purchase of a backhoe from Joe Welch Equipment for $89,500 with a trade in of $17,500 for the city’s current backhoe.
Mason Henry was appointed to the Canton Fire Department.
Gambling permits were approved for the Canton Fire Department and for the Canton American Legion.