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Questions over Jetvig land donation arise at LP-A

Whoever said 'don't look a gift horse in the mouth' was not at the Lake Park-Audubon School Board meeting Monday.

Several prominent 'no' voters in the audience lambasted superintendent Dale Hogie over a clause in which Loren Jettvig would get paid for his gift of 53 acres, if the school district builds a new school there, but for some reason isn't still using the land in 20 years.

Jettvig, a Lake Park farmer and developer, has agreed to give the LP-A district land for a new grade 7-12 school.

If the clause was ever exercised, Hogie explained, "essentially, we'd be paying for the land that he gave to the district, because it was not being used for the purpose or intent he gave it for."

Jim Lund of Cormorant, one of the "Cormorant Four" who have opposed building bond referendums for the LP-A district, told Hogie at the meeting that "we've talked to two attorneys -- they say committing future boards to a 20-year commitment is terrible public policy. They say it violates state law, and you shouldn't do it until vetted by your attorney."

Lund added that one of the attorneys said he was "astonished" that the board would consider agreeing to such a clause.

George Kohn of Audubon also criticized Hogie and the board:

"Why was this information not available prior to this? We had people without all the facts voting absentee. Why wasn't this addressed? A lot of people thought it was important."

"This is very irresponsible and dangerous for the future of this district," another man said.

But when the dust settled, it turned out not to be such a big deal after all.

The board tabled the matter and Hogie checked the next day with the district's law firm in Fergus Falls, and with legal counsel with the Minnesota Association of School Boards. Both said what Jettvig was seeking was a standard protective clause that did not, as far as they could tell, violate state law and wouldn't hurt the district.

Lund wouldn't tell Hogie who the attorneys were that he had contacted or which statutes the clause supposedly violates.

The clause in question is in Jettvig's letter of commitment to give the land to the school district, provided a school is built there.

It states that if a school is built and closes for any reason within 20 years, Jettvig will be paid for the land when the building is sold.

If the property is used for school purposes for more than 20 years, this "right of reverter" does not apply and Jettvig receives no payment.

Hogie was frustrated about the aggressive manner in which the issue was raised at the meeting, and about the lack of cooperation from Lund.

"We've postponed this and we'll wait, but it would be a lot easier if they would identify the statutes so we could take a look."

The most definitive way to find out if the clause violates state law would be an attorney general's opinion, but that can take up to a month, Hogie said.

According to the district's legal counsel, a clause that violates state law is not an insurmountable problem anyway, Hogie said.

"If you enter into an agreement and find out later it's against state statute, you just have to remove that clause," he said.

The board will now have to hold a special meeting to approve Jettvig's letter of commitment.

Editor's note: Profiles of the seven candidates seeking three open positions on the LP-A School Board will run in the next issue of the Becker County Record.