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Candidate, commissioner clash during heated comment period

Commissioner Bill Brekken asked Chairman Doug Houge to address Troy Scheffler ahead of his comments. Scheffler, whose most frequent target as of late is the Crow Wing County Sheriff’s Office, filed last month to challenge four-term Commissioner Rosemary Franzen to represent District 4.

Commissioner Bill Brekken and County Board candidate Troy Scheffler
Crow Wing County Commissioner Bill Brekken, left, and County Board candidate Troy Scheffler speak during the Tuesday, June 14, 2022, board meeting.
Chelsey Perkins / Brainerd Dispatch photo illustration
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BRAINERD — While a frequent critic and now-commissioner candidate spoke during the open forum portion of the Tuesday, June 14, meeting, the Crow Wing County Board took the unusual step of calling a recess.

The move came after Commissioner Bill Brekken asked Chairman Doug Houge to address Troy Scheffler ahead of his comments. Scheffler, whose most frequent target as of late is the Crow Wing County Sheriff’s Office, filed last month to challenge four-term Commissioner Rosemary Franzen to represent District 4. He’s appeared regularly during board meetings since 2020, including multiple times in various costumes, to lodge complaints about county government.

“Mr. Scheffler, you’ve addressed this board in costume, we have listened to your verbal rants and we have also — I’ve also read your emails,” Brekken said. “You’ve … name-called, you’ve made accusations, you’ve been demeaning and dehumanizing, and mean. So the expectations now and for the future when you address the County Board or you address anybody that works for or associated with Crow Wing County, I would ask that you do that respectfully.”

Scheffler said he would respond to Brekken and it wouldn’t count against the three minutes allotted to those who speak during open forum, to which Houge responded Scheffler didn’t get to make that call.

“If you can’t stand name-calling, I think you’re in the wrong job, so it’s probably good that you are resigning,” Scheffler said to Brekken, who last month announced he would not seek a second term. “So on that note, can I start now? … Well, this meeting’s definitely taken a turn. We’ve got the tattletales to the misrepresenters … ”

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“I’d like to request a recess,” Brekken interrupted.

Houge called a recess and said the board would reconvene in five minutes.

“Just like that,” Scheffler said.

During the recess, Houge left the room and Brekken walked over to Sheriff’s Capt. Adam Kronstedt, who sat in the gallery, and crouched to speak to him. Scheffler stood and waited for the meeting to resume along with about 20 others in attendance — some of whom also addressed the board on topics including Dominion voting machines, roundabouts, open meeting law and overflowing ditches.

When the meeting resumed, Scheffler asserted his three minutes started over and said he would talk to the county attorney about it later.

“Hopefully Bill got his words in with the sheriff’s department to make sure they have your back,” Scheffler said. “Obviously, I’m astronomically pissed, so I’m just going to read this.”

Scheffler then launched into a written statement in which he criticized the board for its news conference a week earlier, during which commissioners called for legislators to return to the Capitol to complete work on multiple bills left on the table. He proceeded to attack Franzen’s and Commissioner Paul Koering’s social media presence and actions on Facebook, questioned why people view the two as conservatives and said the commissioners ignored alleged sexual harassment in the sheriff’s office.

As Scheffler continued, Houge cut him off.

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“Three minutes are up,” the chairman said.

“Two and a half minutes are up,” Scheffler replied as Houge banged the gavel.

“You’re up,” Houge said. “Please have a seat.”

There is no requirement for the County Board to allow an open forum of general public comments, but commissioners have historically begun regular meetings providing that opportunity to those in attendance. When the county closed its buildings to the public during the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic, the board accepted written comments and later allowed people to speak via video conferencing technology. Typically, commissioners do not interact with those offering their views, nor do they take action on whichever issue might be addressed.

Taking the county to court

Scheffler has a history of speaking in opposition to Crow Wing County government, along with bringing it to court. In October 2020, Scheffler made his first board appearance in costume, dressed as a clown while threatening to sue the county for alleged violations of his data privacy by Sheriff Scott Goddard and other law enforcement officials.

More Crow Wing County coverage

Scheffler moved ahead with the suit in federal court, and in 2021, Crow Wing County agreed to a settlement over Scheffler’s claims of the sheriff’s office repeatedly running his protected driver’s license data without a permissible purpose. The case was dismissed in April 2021 following a letter to the federal judge from Scheffler’s attorney acknowledging the settlement agreement, details of which are not included in the court record.

At the time of Scheffler’s satirical statement while donning a curly rainbow wig, a giant bow tie and clown shoes, he was in the midst of pursuing a case in conciliation court against the county. The complaint sought repayment of a $19.60 late penalty on Scheffler’s property taxes, plus the $75 filing fee to bring the matter to court.

“Land services was closed due to Covid-19 hysteria. Therefore, I was unable to go into the building to pay with cash,” Scheffler’s complaint stated. “All other options required me to pay service fees which were unfair and unreasonable. I paid the entire year immediately upon opening of the building. I was assessed a late penalty of $19.60 and was ultimately extorted that money through the negligence of the defendant.”

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After the complaint was dismissed first by the conciliation court and then again by the district court, Scheffler appealed to the Minnesota Court of Appeals. In a June 6 nonprecedential opinion, the appeals court also rejected Scheffler’s complaint, affirming the lower court ruling and stating Scheffler failed to exhaust the other remedy available to him — to seek an abatement of the fee from the County Board.

Scheffler, who represented himself in the matter, argued an abatement request wasn’t required before bringing the issue to court and said the request would have been futile in any case.

“The county’s argument to the district court, which it made both in the alternative and after Scheffler filed his claim in the conciliation and district courts, does not show that the county board would have denied Scheffler’s abatement application,” the appeals court stated.

County Administrator Tim Houle said Tuesday he knew of no other resident who paid their taxes late for the same reason, nor was he aware of anyone requesting accommodations to pay in person by cash.

Residents could pay their taxes online, by mail or in person using a drop box outside the land services building during the two-month closure to the public in the spring of 2020. The County Board also agreed in April 2020 to provide a process allowing taxpayers to apply for a penalty and interest waiver on first-half property tax payments because of pandemic-related disruptions.

“There are rules. And then there are disagreements about rules,” Houle said. “This is exactly how you work out a disagreement about the rules. Everybody gets their opportunity to have their day in court.”

In emails Wednesday, Scheffler said he intends to petition for review or petition the district court based on new evidence. He said the appeals court ignored state statute and glossed over the county’s own admission it would not have granted an abatement.

“The county has ‘settled’ and abated taxes in the thousands of dollars per account in their own published reports. Somehow the county attorney (based upon the County's wishes) fought me over $18 and wasted thousands doing it. They are vindictive and arrogant,” Scheffler wrote.

CHELSEY PERKINS, community editor, may be reached at 218-855-5874 or chelsey.perkins@brainerddispatch.com . Follow on Twitter at twitter.com/DispatchChelsey .

Related Topics: CROW WING COUNTYCROW WING COUNTY BOARDGOVERNMENT AND POLITICSELECTION 2022
Chelsey Perkins is the community editor of the Brainerd Dispatch. A lakes area native, Perkins joined the Dispatch staff in 2014. She is the Crow Wing County government beat reporter and the producer and primary host of the "Brainerd Dispatch Minute" podcast.
Reach her at chelsey.perkins@brainerddispatch.com or at 218-855-5874 and find @DispatchChelsey on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
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