- Associated Press - Sunday, March 6, 2016

IMLAY, S.D. (AP) - A resident of a township in western South Dakota is challenging the family occupying all township offices in court.

The Rapid City Journal (https://bit.ly/1TWNsWj) reports the four members of the Whitcher family are elected and appointed to all township offices when residents gather for their annual meeting year after year. There were only two other resident voters in the township at last count, including Doug Albertson.

Albertson, manager of the Conata Ranch, complained when the Whitchers charged him $1,500 for replacing two cattle guards on a township road through one of his pastures. He and his lawyer have asked a judge to nullify the $1,500 invoice and the Whitchers’ threat to remove the cattle guards.

The newspaper says the Whitchers declined to be interviewed. Two of them testified Wednesday in a bench trial, denying doing anything improper or illegal.

Albertson manages a herd of 850 bison and needed to upgrade cattle guards, which resemble a gate laid flat and embedded in a roadway over a shallow trench. The metal bars are spaced far enough apart that bison or cattle hooves would fall into gaps.

The Whitchers agreed to replace the guards, but the terms of the agreement later came under dispute.

Albertson said he understood Conata Ranch would buy and donate the guards to the township and would help install them. He said he didn’t expect a charge for the township’s equipment or labor because the township replaced other guards and didn’t charge for work.

The Whitchers said they understood Conata Ranch would buy and donate the guards and allow one of the family members to oversee installation, but also that the township would charge for work since board members considered it a specialty job because of the bison. There was no discussion about any potential charge.

Conata Ranch was later sent a bill. Albertson sent the Whitchers a letter asking for a special township meeting to discuss the invoice. They gave him the special meeting in November 2014, adopting a motion to remove the guards if Conata Ranch didn’t pay within 30 days.

Within a month, Albertson and his boss filed a circuit court appeal of the board’s motion.

The trial ended with a judge giving both sides’ attorneys three weeks to make final arguments in writing.

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Information from: Rapid City Journal, https://www.rapidcityjournal.com

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