Small Minnesota town may remove mayor 3 months into his term after controversy, legal troubles surface
KERKHOVEN, Minn. — City Council members in Kerkhoven will decide Monday whether to accept the resignation of controversial Mayor James Rothers only three months into his two-year term.
If they do, which is expected, they will also decide whether to appoint a successor or hold a special election to replace him in the town of about 750 people about 100 miles west of Minneapolis.
City Council member Scott Lamecker said the meeting will be the first step in an effort to move on from months of controversy with the mayor that has left many unanswered questions in the community surrounding a 54-foot-tall tower he built next to his home and a bankruptcy case where he's accused of hiding assets and fraud.
Rothers, 51, submitted his resignation at the end of the last City Council meeting. Only one week earlier he had told the Kerkhoven Banner newspaper that he was planning to leave Kerkhoven after City Council members rejected his request to rezone the commercial property that he has remodeled and made his home.
The property alongside U.S. Highway 12 on the city's west end has been the focus of months of controversy between Rothers and the city. Rothers took the city to federal court over the concrete tower he built on the site. He charged that the city acted unfairly in not providing a permit he had sought to expand it to its current height.
Rothers declared victory when the court approved a settlement that requires the city to pay him $25,000 and provide a permit. But the mayor's critics point out that the settlement requires Rothers to submit designs from an engineer to the city before a permit is granted or a payment made, and that has not happened.
"We have been waiting for him. I know he is not going to do it,'' said Brian Thompson, the city's former mayor.
Thompson, after serving 10 years as mayor, was unseated in an election that featured four candidates for the mayor's post. Rothers purchased full-page ads for several weeks in the Banner in the mayoral campaign, spending far more than the $200-a-month elected position would ever provide.
Thompson is worried that Rothers will eventually leave the city with the bill to remove the tower, a point he raised with the mayor at the last council meeting.
Rothers declined to comment for this story, stating that he would be able to address the issues in two weeks.
He has said that the city essentially "evicted'' him by refusing to rezone the property that he made his home and shares with his girlfriend, Stephanie Voxland. The property is across the street from the home of his former wife.
Thompson said he believes the real reason Rothers is resigning as mayor and possibly leaving town is the civil litigation taking place in federal court. It involves Rothers and Voxland. Rothers, who operates a construction company and builds grain bins, filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy protection last year.
Trustees handling the case for the court have filed civil litigation charging Rothers and Voxland with fraud.
The court documents allege that Rothers has placed assets in fake companies and created an offshore corporation on the island of Nevis in the Caribbean. The documents also list numerous pickup trucks, snowmobiles and over $1 million in gold Rothers allegedly purchased through a company he controls. The court has placed a lien on the metal.
The civil litigation also alleges that Rothers created various ABC Bin Companies, some under the purported ownership of his employees, to move assets.
The civil litigation also includes allegations that Rothers purchased items and then cancelled the checks he had issued for them. A 2014 case in Kandiyohi County is listed among them. RSR of Blomkest took Rothers to court in 2014 and won a judgment after he wrote a check for $75,000 to the company for a crane, but allegedly cancelled the check after receiving it.
Council member Lamecker said the council is aware of the mayor's legal issues. Lamecker's son is married to Rothers' daughter, but Lamecker said he cannot see the council and former mayor working together after all that has happened.
"On Monday, we'll start moving forward,'' said Lamecker.
He said the council wants to focus on issues ranging from a need for more housing to the launch of its newly formed economic development agency. "That's our agenda. What can we do to make Kerkhoven better than it is,'' he said.