Orono woman makes waves in dock dispute

It’ll be a real feather in the cap for justice in America when a lawyer for the city of Orono hauls a 74-year old woman into court to face charges of violating a law over a dock she rents on her Lake Minnetonka property.

The Star Tribune says Nancy Edwards lives off Social Security and a reverse mortgage but the law is the law in Orono and she faces up to 90 days in jail and a $1,000 fine for renting her dock and a room in her home.

“Over the course of my career, I’ve seen how when cities get into disputes with elderly or vulnerable residents, it doesn’t always go well simply because they can’t marshal the resources,” said lawyer Erick Kaardal, who’s representing her at no charge.

It’s a bad look for Orono, and also the unnamed person at a local marina to whom Edwards apparently casually mentioned she’s renting out her dock. That person blew the whistle on the miscreant.

Edwards’ case highlights a reality of municipal law. It is black and white with no room for common sense depending on circumstance. Civil order would collapse otherwise.

“To blanket apply this to everyone in a way that you can’t even have one boat on your dock if it’s not yours just isn’t right,” Edwards tells the Strib.

She worries about what will happen if she loses the rental income and has to sell her 160-year-old cottage.

“My end goal is to go on living my life the way I have been,” Edwards said. “If I have to leave over this, it’ll kill me.”

“Next year it could be two boats,” one commenter notes, coming down hard on the side of a city that sees the big picture and the chaos that threatens to wash up onshore. “Where does it end?”

Edwards also responded in the comments section:

This is the only time I’ll respond. I’ve had 45 Christmases here. My father hand crafted every inch of the interior. Orono disallows anyone from docking here unless the homeowner has title to the boat, a very arduous process of selling it, then paying hundreds in sales taxes to buy it back. My own kids couldn’t dock at my empty dock because I don’t hold the title.

People who’ve posted that I could “just sell it” have no grasp of what it means to be in the cottage my family’s owned for 65 years. As to “following the rules”, they are arbitrary. I have no parties. I serve no alcohol. My neighbors have never complained. It’s just one boat on one dock.

I made the mistake of dropping into a nearby marina to ask what they charge for a slip; it’s twice what I have. They asked me my address, and I foolishly gave it to them. The city’s notice of a complaint followed soon after. This marina is monopolizing the lake, so reporting me was nothing but a flea on an elephant. Mean-spirited, they just sought to pick one off. I think that they just have picked the wrong flea.

Orono is literally the only city on this lake with this ordinance. At the very least, they should provide a waiver for the elderly or the poor, and who only rent a single dock space. I must just be the only person to challenge this. in an email to the city council, I said that I’d go public with what they’re doing. And now I have regardless of people finding out how little I live on. This is embarrassing for me, but one thing I could never tolerate is injustice.

The city intends to bring her before a judge on Thursday.

  • jon

    “Next year it could be two boats, Where does it end?”

    At the end of the dock.

    The fact that this has to be explained shows a significant lack of understanding for how a dock works.

    • >>At the end of the dock.<>Orono is literally the only city on this lake with this ordinance.<<

      This bit is interesting as well.

    • Laurie K.

      I thought maybe the commenter referenced by Bob was being sarcastic – but nope, read the comment myself. They are completely serious.

  • Jim in RF

    Sort of a city-wide HOA. I know there’s a lot of tension over docks and dock size out there. Some already are sort of mini-marinas.

    • And yet, Orono is the only city on the lake with that ordinance.

    • BJ

      State law restricts length and other parts of the size. Which will naturally restrict the number of ‘slips’ one could put on a ‘average’ sized lot.

      • Jim in RF

        If this is true, this is the most disregarded law in MN. I thought that you need a DNR permit, but everyone gets a permit.

        • BJ

          >regarding, disregarded law

          I doubt it. My family was given a warning about 20-25 years ago about the length. It’s pretty big. 100 feet from shoreline if I recall. We got nicked because of a low water year and had extended it to get deep enough to have the boats on the lifts.

          We knew about the law, not sure how, but everyone that I’ve talked to on the lake about docks has know about it as well.

  • Laurie K.

    Two words: “Prosecutorial discretion”. I believe the firm of Tallen & Baertschi is contracted to prosecute “crimes” in Orono. I think that firm needs to take a hard look at this and decide if this is a case that warrants criminal charges and the embarrassment they are putting Ms. Edwards through.

    • chlost

      Well, if they pursue it and the law is upheld, they know that this law can continue to be enforced. If the law is determined to be overreaching or arbitrary, then they can tell the city that they have to change it. City attorneys, who answer to the city council that hires them, sometimes must look to the courts to assist them in their job. Testing a questionable law may be a part of that. It’s just too bad that this woman is the test case, and that the city council can’t see the bad precedent being set here.

      • Laurie K.

        I disagree with your assessment. Just because a charge is upheld does not mean that it necessarily should be pursued. In this case, there are a lot of facts that should have been considered before criminally charging Ms. Edwards, including the fact that she began her rental relationship prior to the enactment of the city ordinance. Prosecutorial discretion is exactly what it sounds like – the discretion, by the person with prosecutorial power, to decline to charge a crime based on the individualized assessment of the facts of each case. In other words, not just charging a case out because it is “winnable”.

        • JamieHX

          A private firm does their prosecuting?!?!? No opportunities for conflicts of interest there! (sarcasm)

          • RBHolb

            That’s SOP in a lot of suburbs and smaller cities.

          • JamieHX

            Wow. That’s disturbing… privatizing the prosecution of crimes.

          • JamieHX

            “Prosecutorial discretion” in this case could mean “How much more money can we make if we are not lenient?”

          • BJ

            Usually, with very small towns, they are paid a yearly fee and make nothing extra for prosecutions.

          • Laurie K.

            True, however, the private firms use their prosecution numbers from the prior year to negotiate a higher salary for their next contract.

          • JamieHX

            That’s the kind of thing I wondered about.

          • RBHolb

            It’s much, much cheaper than keeping a city attorney on staff full-time when there may not be that much for her to do.

            It’s my understanding that there is a ceiling on what these attorneys will be paid, and they are aware of that..

      • No, Tallen is quoted as saying “It may be that she is dependent on this income, but you don’t get to use your property in a way that is illegal,”.

        Basically he wants to try the case, and believes she should be punished.

  • Brian Simon

    Sounds like if I rent a lake property in Orono, I can’t dock a boat there? That seems odd. If I’m a homeowner, can my friends come by & tie up while visiting? Can I borrow a friend’s boat or rent a boat and keep it at home? It seems ridiculous.

    Having said that, when it comes to retirement, aren’t we each supposed to be resposible for planning for ourselves? I’d like to retire on a lake too, but there’s no guarantee I’ll have the means to do so. Whether or not that property has been in the family a long time is irrelevant.

    • The law was passed after she moved to the cottage many years ago.

  • Let’s call a spade a spade. This is bull****, period. Orono has a reputation already for overreach, they need to let it go. The whistleblower needs my steel toed workboot up his a$$.