With another court order, Coleman District conflict may be resolved

A conflict over management of sewer lines in the unincorporated Coleman District may have finally been put to rest, after a second lawsuit brought by resident Dennis Jones was settled Wednesday.

The court has ordered Coleman District Sanitary Sewer Board Trustee Larry Pingel to provide records of the district to Jones, who is now also a board trustee.

Jones and Shanon Ely brought a first suit against the Coleman District Sanitary Sewer Board July 16, 2016, in an open records request. The second suit was filed by Jones in March 2017 against sewer board trustees Joseph Echelberger and Larry Pingel.

Jones and Ely became sewer board trustees, replacing Echelberger and filling a vacant seat, at a meeting June 9, 2017.

The court order filed Wednesday by District Court Judge Thomas Bice requires Pingel to furnish the following records of Coleman Sanitary District:

1. Minutes and meeting notes;

2. Checkbooks, checks, bank statements, account agreements and correspondence;

3. Sanitary sewer maps, “as-builts” and designs;

4. All agreements between Coleman Sanitary District and third parties;

5. Bills and invoices;

6. Correspondence;

7. Legal files and records;

8. All records from 2011 to present;

9. Historical records.

The court also ordered attorney fees to be paid by the individuals.

Attorneys Ernie Kersten and Eric Eide were initially involved, Kersten representing Jones and Eide representing Pingel and Eichelberger. Eide withdrew from the case on Monday. Pingel represented himself in court on Wednesday.

Kersten and Eide also represented the parties in the earlier suit. Court costs for that case were paid from the district’s funds.

Pingel may be subject to contempt of court if the records are not turned over by Sept. 27, the order states.

The rest of requests in the lawsuit have already been addressed, according to the order — some of them in the other lawsuit.

Jones had demanded Pingel and Echelberger perform numerous duties, including to conduct an election for the vacant seat, submit a budget for the year to the Webster County Auditor and send an invoice to the landfill for its unpaid use of the sewer system from about July 2014 to early 2016.

The conflict over the sewers has been ongoing since at least 2013 when residents complained of a bad odor in the neighborhood after pumping of liquid waste from the nearby landfill increased. Since that time the landfill has ceased using Coleman lines.

Some residents, including Jones, complained the board at that time did not listen to people. Board trustees initially thought they were elected for life, but after hearing from the Iowa Attorney General’s office were required to hold an election in February 2015.

Pingel, Echelberger and Melissa Evans became the new trustees. Evans left the board in August 2015, claiming the other two would not communicate with her, but no replacement for her was either appointed or elected until that 2017 meeting.

In the other lawsuit, Jones and Ely had filed an open records request July 16, 2016 to see public records of the board — including meeting minutes, financial records, and proof of insurance and bonding.

After those two said there was no response, attorney Ernie Kersten filed suit on their behalf in October. The documents in question were released in January, and the lawsuit resolved in March. The trustees were represented by attorney Eric Eide, whose fees were paid by the district, not by the individual trustees.

In Jones’ suit which was resolved Wednesday, the court ordered attorney fees to be paid by the individuals.

Kersten and Eide were initially involved, but Eide withdrew from the case on Monday. Pingel represented himself in court on Wednesday.

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