Carlton County Commissioner Caught Using Township Dump Truck for Personal Use
By Marvin PIRILA
After filing an Incident Report (ICR #14004707) with Carlton County, Twin Lake residents have patiently waited to see what would become of the investigation into the unauthorized, personal use of a dump truck by then county commissioner Robert Olean.
In order to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest, Carlton County sent it to Aitkin County, which assigned it to investigator Steve Cook.
Robert Olean, Carlton County Commissioner, answering questions by Mr. Cook on December 17, 2014, said that, “…in the process of purchasing it [red dump truck] the board stated they had no place to keep it. Mr. Cook inquired further, “So they don’t have a township place ta keep the equipment or nothin’?” Olean answered, “No. The township owns no buildings.”
Mr. Olean’s answers included, “…I made a verbal agreement with the township that if I had some small yard chores ta do with it that I could use it. They said absolutely, not a problem as long as it, expenses are not incurred by the township. No expenses. So, I have hauled probably three loads of pine needles with it two miles down the road I’ve got 40 acres with my brother on the south side of Morehead Road ‘n” I got a spot down there where I can haul pine needles ‘n dump it. But when I’m doing that I take the Twin Lakes Township stickers off the doors and I have got a chunk of property in Pine County and it’s called Homestead Acres. ‘N I have placarding for that because I had a dump truck and trailer and dozer that I used down there ‘n I had to have the placarding for the vehicle then. So when I use that I just took the other stickers off, put those placarding on so that I wasn’t doing, hauling those needles out of my yard with the township stickers on the door…”
When asked about authorization to use the truck, Olean stated, “ …the agreement I had made with, at that time Clayton Beck is…the form or uh, chair of the board at the time, he and, and the board members at that time said absolutely.” Mr. Cook questioned further, “…do they like keep minutes on this stuff or?” Mr. Olean answered, “…that was a personal talk…not at a meeting.” “He [Clayton Beck’ checked with the other members he yeah that’s, it’s not an issue you’re goin’ down the road two miles ‘n come back.”
Mr. Olean said he was the Road Foreman for the Twin Lakes Township and defined it as a “Supervisor is like a county commissioner.”
In his questioning of Diana Felde-Finke (current chair), Mr. Cook asked “…can that [dump truck] be used for personal use too?” “No,” she responded. “…So nobody ever has come ta, ta ask your permission or anybody else that you know of ta use it,” Cook continued. “No.” She added, “With township insurance liability etceteras [sic] no way.” To further clarify the matter, Cook inquired, “But the township has never given anybody permission that you know of to use the truck.” Again, her answer was “no.”
Diana Kay Felde-Finke said, “We do use storage space at the Carlton County Transportation Building.” “That’s where we keep our generator and ya know that is typically where any of our other township stuff is…and I believe the dump truck also.”
Investigator Cook interviewed Clayton Beck for his version of events.
Mr .Cook asked, “…Does uh, the township they don’t have a place for it [dump truck] or what?” Mr. Beck responded, “No we don’t ha, we don’t uh, have a place.”
Continuing, Cook inquired, “…[is the dump truck authorized] for his own personal use [Olean]” “Uh, anybody in the township can use it” Beck answered, “…As long as they got a, as far as I know as long as they got a valid license to drive a truck any…”
“Does anybody else use it do ya know or?” Cook asked. “Uh, I think some people have used it to, to haul brush…Uh, I wouldn’t say for certain but I, I think they’ve used it, some people have used it ta…” Beck offered.
[Cook] “So it’s okay for Bob ta or it was or when you were on the board?” [Beck] “Yeah.” [Cook] “Well how ‘bout like just ta pick up their own leaves or something [use truck for own use]?” [Beck] “I would think so.” “…If I remember right I think they said it, it was a township and any could use it is what I…” [Cook] “So like if I lived in that township and I needed to haul a bunch a leaves from my yard I could a used it?” [Beck] “I, I would think so. I think it would come under your insurance.” [Cook] “So the insurance company that the township insurance company wouldn’t uh, wouldn’t be responsible for…” [Beck] “Right… “ [There is no evidence that any other person used the dump truck for personal use; in fact, this appears to be secret agreement (outside of official meeting minutes) that no other person was aware of. There is no iota of evidence that anyone could use the dump truck as suggested by Mr. Beck.]
[Cook] “Has Bob used it for his own personal use?” [Beck] “Oh yeah. He’s picked up pine needles.” [Cook] “…N that was okay?” [Beck] “Yep.”
In its only other interview, Investigator Cook, spoke to the complainant Alvin N. King.
Asked to describe the truck, Mr. King responded, “It’s a 1995 GMC dump truck. The plate number is 930263. The vin number on that truck is 1G D as in Dog G 6H1J6SJ516794. And it has a tax exempt State of Minnesota license plate. …Only to be used for official government business under Minnesota Statute 168.012. And we seen him using that…”
“…He [Olean] used it for three years several times on each of those three years.” “…[Olean] covers up the Twin Lakes township signs on the doors by putting his own magnetic signs [Homestead Acres] over the top. To cover the name of Twin Lake Township.” [The law appears to declare it a regular misdemeanor for covering the door displays]
“…it’s insured by the Minnesota Association of Townships Agency, 805 Central Avenue East, St. Michael Minnesota, P.O. Box 415. I called them and asked them if it was legal under their insurance policy for a government employee use utilizing that truck that they’re insuring for their own personal private use and she said absolutely not. The insurance would be null and void. He would be operating the vehicle uninsured technically violating the law.”
Investigator Cook states in his supplemental report, “On December 24, 2014 I spoke with Eric Headke, Minnesota Association of Insurance, which is that Twin Lakes Township has their truck insured through. Eric stated they carry the insurance on the vehicle, not who drives the vehicle; therefore it is insured no matter who or what they are doing.”
Mr. King said he also saw a black trailer behind the dump truck with Robert Olean’s tractor on it.
Mr. Olean admitted to using the truck to put scaffolding in it, scoop dirt into, and load pine needles in it to haul to his land two miles away. He said it was three loads.
A cursory look at the applicable law shows that the township must maintain its door displays all of the time and must not be covered.
168.012 VEHICLES EXEMPT FROM TAX OR LICENSE FEES.
Subdivision 1.Vehicles exempt from tax, fees, or plate display.
(a) The following vehicles are exempt from the provisions of this chapter requiring payment of tax and registration fees, except as provided in subdivision 1c:
(1) vehicles owned and used solely in the transaction of official business by the federal government, the state, or any political subdivision [townships]; [Personal use would not qualify]
(j) All other motor vehicles must be registered and display tax-exempt number plates, furnished by the registrar at cost, except as provided in subdivision 1c. All vehicles required to display tax-exempt number plates must have the name of the state department or political subdivision, nonpublic high school operating a driver education program, licensed commercial driving school, or other qualifying organization or entity, plainly displayed on both sides of the vehicle. This identification must be in a color giving contrast with that of the part of the vehicle on which it is placed and must endure throughout the term of the registration. The identification must not be on a removable plate or placard and must be kept clean and visible at all times; except that a removable plate or placard may be utilized on vehicles leased or loaned to a political subdivision or to a nonpublic high school driver education program. [Underlining added for emphasis of pertinent language]
The violation of tax exempt vehicles is subject to misdemeanor charges as explained by Minnesota Statute below.
168.36 UNLAWFUL USE OF UNREGISTERED VEHICLE CERTIFICATE, PLATES.
Subdivision 1.Misdemeanor; use of vehicle or certificate.
Any person who shall use or cause any motor vehicle to be used or operated in violation of the provisions of this chapter or while a certificate of registration of a motor vehicle issued to the person is suspended or revoked, or who shall knowingly deliver a motor vehicle to another to be used or operated in violation of this chapter, or who shall violate any of the provisions thereof, shall be guilty of a misdemeanor.
Subd. 2.Misdemeanor; use of plates or certificate.
Any person who shall loan or use any number plate or registration certificate upon or in connection with any motor vehicle except the one for which the same was duly issued, or upon any such motor vehicle after such certificate or plates, or the right to use the same, have expired, or any person who shall retain in possession or shall fail to surrender, as herein provided, any such number plate or registration certificate shall be guilty of a misdemeanor. Any person who manufactures, buys, sells, uses or displays motor vehicle license number plates, motor vehicle registration certificates, or tax receipts issued by this state or any other state, territory or district in the United States, without proper authority from such state, territory or district of the United States, shall be guilty of a misdemeanor.
In summary, the ex-chair said the practice of using the tax exempt dump truck for personal use is permissible by all township residents with the appropriate license. In contrast, the current chair says that no one can use township (tax exempt) equipment for personal use. Robert Olean, as the current road foreman for the township claims he had approval, yet the current chair claims no knowledge of his personal use.
One should note that all decisions of the board must be made pursuant to a vote of members at a town board meeting. A verbal agreement between a road foreman (Mr. Olean) and board member (Clayton Beck) lacks legitimacy and both of them knew it.
The tax exempt plates were used in violation of state statutes when used for personal use and when personal displays were used to cover those of the township. Such an action, seemingly prohibited by any measure, would have to have been discussed in an official meeting, and approved by the board. There are no minutes on record, nor is there any indication that there was any conversation by the board regarding the subject. There is also no record or even a verbal offering that anyone else knew of such a policy.
If there had been an accident of some kind, particularly with injuries, the improper use of a tax-exempt vehicle for personal use could have had serious consequences for township residents. The status of the three individuals: county commissioner/road foreman for township, ex-board chair, and current chair leaves little room for an argument against knowledge of the rule/law. Whatever the case, taxpayers shouldered the cost for the personal use (wear and tear) of equipment bought solely for township use. Actions such as this have proven to create distrust between government officials at all levels and taxpayers
The Twin Lakes Township board met on Tuesday, May 6, 2015, to address the issue. A resolution clarifying the use policy was approved. Where the state statute exists to clarify the matter, a resolution, while reinforcing the policy is helpful, does not excuse the action which clearly seems to be chargeable by misdemeanor.