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The city of Watson is alleging the hoop structures seen above violate city ordinance. Tribune file photo

Town's disputes headed to the courtroom

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News Willmar, 56201
West Central Tribune
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Willmar Minnesota 2208 Trott Ave. SW / P.O. Box 839 56201

WATSON -- A much-publicized legal skirmish between the small town of Watson and a resident over his in-town vegetable growing operation may only be the start of disputes on their way to a courtroom from the community of little more than 200 people.

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Aziz Ansari, who is accused by the city of violating city zoning ordinances, filed his own lawsuit in November against the city of Watson for discrimination. It also lists some current and former City Council members as defendants.

And, City Clerk Loisjean Fossen said she has met with a private attorney and intends to file her own lawsuit against Ansari and four others for an alleged incident on Oct. 26.

The legal dispute between Watson and Ansari began in August 2008 over Ansari's use of raised, hoop beds to raise tomatoes and other vegetables on his residential property. The case is moving forward and scheduled for hearings next month in district court.

The city charges that his plastic-covered hoop beds are structures and violate city building ordinances. Ansari counters that they do not violate city ordinances.

He has maintained that the city has targeted him for enforcement action while ignoring more egregious and long-standing ordinance violations elsewhere in the community.

That allegation is now important to a discrimination lawsuit he filed. He charges that the city, some of its elected officials and private citizens discriminated against him based on his ethnicity and religious faith. Ansari is a U.S. citizen who grew up in Pakistan and in the Muslim faith.

Ansari alleges that he has been harassed with statements such as: "Where do these people come from?'' and that he's been the victim of hate crimes, including having had his windows smashed.

His lawsuit includes allegations that the city has violated the state's Open Meeting Law and altered its minutes of meetings involving the city's dispute with him.

Attorney John Mack of New London is representing Ansari. The city has turned the lawsuit over to its legal counsel through the League of Minnesota Cities to prepare a response, according to city officials.

As it does so, City Clerk Fossen said she intends to file a lawsuit against Ansari and four others for allegedly terrorizing her. Fossen alleges that Ansari and the others confronted her and barred her from leaving the city offices during an incident Oct. 26.

Ansari said they came to request copies of minutes from meetings involving the city's action against him and that the clerk said she could not provide them at the time. He claims the clerk locked herself in a room where they could not speak to her and they left.

Fossen reported the incident to the Chippewa County Sheriff's Department. The department interviewed Ansari and the others, but does not plan to file charges over the matter, according to Fossen.

She said the incident has left her feeling terrorized, and that she now takes precautions ranging from locking her doors to having her husband accompany her to City Hall.

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Tom Cherveny
Tom Cherveny is a regional and outdoor reporter with the West Central Tribune in Willmar, MN.
(320) 214-4335
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