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Protesters, supporters face off over Crosby mayor

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Crosby, Minn., citizens, who want Mayor Jim Hunter to resign, lined up Monday night, April 24, 2017, near the Crosby City Hall. Steve Kohls / Forum News Service2 / 3
Supporters of Crosby, Minn., mayor Jim Hunter displayed their signs Monday night, April 24, 2017, outside Crosby City Hall. Steve Kohls / Forum News Service3 / 3

CROSBY, Minn. — A city hall lawn transformed Monday, April 24 into a bitter display for just how the town's residents feel about its mayor — who's looking at felony charges.

Protesters calling for embattled Crosby Mayor Jim Hunter to resign were separated by police barricades from those demonstrating in support of him. About 25-30 were in favor of Hunter, 10 against. Although there were some outbursts, the two sides mostly just stared at each other and talked amongst themselves. Two Crosby police officers stood in front of the doors to make sure things didn't get out of hand. The overcast sky threatened rain, but the drops didn't fall until both sides had gone inside.

Hunter, 68, was arrested last month. Along with other alleged crimes, Hunter is accused in the criminal complaint of swindling his lover's husband out of $90,000 through the sale of his business.

The city of Crosby has about 2,400 residents. Its city hall is also its police department and clerk's office.

Hunter faces five charges: felony second degree assault with a dangerous weapon, felony theft by swindle, felony receiving stolen property, felony lawful gambling fraud, and gross misdemeanor engaging in the business of a vehicle financing company without a license.

A planned city council work session was canceled due to the demonstrations. However, pro- and anti-Hunter demonstrators packed the regular city council meeting, which went on as scheduled.

Council member Paul Heglund, who has repeatedly called for Hunter to resign, confronted him again during the meeting. He wondered aloud if Hunter would have so many followers if Hunter had assaulted one of them, or his family.

"If you assaulted one of them, I wonder if they'd still be sticking by you," he said.

Hunter said he wouldn't be distracted by "court issues."

"We're not going to waste this meeting debating about court issues back and forth," Hunter said. "This meeting is for the city of Crosby, and it's not to satisfy your personal vendetta."

"I understand that," Heglund retorted. "But you're putting the city through all this B.S. just because you're the mayor. And look at the town in an uproar."

Then the meeting started to get out of control as pro-Hunter attendees began talking back to Heglund. Hunter swiftly reined them in, threatening to have them removed by the Crosby police if they continued.

Ed Shaw, who serves as Hunter's criminal defense attorney, addressed the meeting to say Hunter's fate would be decided by a jury, "not by the public, and not by protests."

"That's how the system works, and Mr. Hunter is relying on the system, as well he should," Shaw said.

The meeting's official public comment period was dominated by the mayoral scandal.

Roger Bentley, of the pro-Hunter faction, said the town finally had a decent mayor with him. Bentley had some tough words for Hunter's detractors.

"We have people in this town that seem to have the education of a 2-year-old, because they're acting like 2-year-olds," he said.

He also chided the council for "picking on" Hunter.

Bentley's comments garnered a retort from Heglund.

"I've got something to say to you," Heglund said, his voice raised.

But Hunter cut Heglund off.

"No," he told Heglund. "This is public comment."

Jim Hiller, another pro-Hunter demonstrator, compared Hunter's plight with that of President Donald Trump.

"It's almost like a turmoil taking over this country," he said. "Trump's going through the same thing. The liberals are fighting him. It used to be that whoever lost, got behind the president."

Hiller pointed out Hunter won the election legally, and he said that while he didn't want to denigrate the Crosby Police Department, its Lt. Kevin Randolph "seems to have it in for Mr. Hunter."

Not every voice during the public comment period was there to sing Hunter's praises. One man, before telling Hunter to his face to resign, said Hunter's acceptance of donations following his arrest was unethical.

"Why did you accept donations and money when you weren't supposed to?" he asked Hunter.

Hunter responded by saying the money he accepted was intended for his legal defense.

Hunter defeated incumbent mayor Joanna Lattery in the 2016 election, 390 votes to 338.

His next court date is scheduled for May 30.

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