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BLOOMINGTON — A candidate bumped from the ballot for Dry Grove Township road commissioner has filed for judicial review of the decision by the township's electoral board that he claims was biased against him.

Paul Sonetz is asking that he be allowed to challenge incumbent Road Commissioner Chris Hauptman.

A three-member municipal officers electoral board voted 2-1 on Jan. 3 in favor of Hauptman's challenge to Sonetz based on the incumbent's contention that Sonetz does not reside in the township. Voting against Sonetz were Township Supervisor James Phillips and trustee Terry Woith; Township Clerk Greg Kallevig supported Sonetz.

In his petition seeking a review in court, Sonetz argues that the electoral board's finding related to his residency "is clearly erroneous." Sonetz also claims that Phillips was improperly seated on the electoral board because of an alleged conflict of interest. 

A case management conference is scheduled for Jan. 26 with Judge Rebecca Foley to outline a schedule for the case. The petition is expected to be on an expedited schedule because the printing deadline for ballots for the April 4 election is Feb. 3.

On the issue of residency, the board found that Sonetz's departure from the Hardesty Run home he shared with his wife, Laura Sonetz, 15 months ago makes him ineligible to serve as road commissioner. Hauptman claimed at the Jan. 3 hearing  that Sonetz spends most of his time at a residence in Hudson.

The board also heard testimony about an order of protection against Sonetz filed by his wife as part of their pending divorce.

Sonetz contends the address in the township remains his legal address and he intends to obtain possession of the home after the divorce is concluded. 

Commenting on the legal standards for residency, Sonetz's lawyer Jacob DiCiaula said Friday "it's not about where you lay your head" but involves other criteria such as the address on a person's voter registration.   

Sonetz denied that his move to Hudson was in response to the order of protection, which allows him limited access to the property where he and his wife also operate a business.

Phillips' service on the board should have been barred, Sonetz said in the petition, because the township official helped gather signatures on Hauptman's petitions for re-election.

"There is an obvious appearance of bias, and that should have been clear to Phillips in deciding not to recuse himself in this matter," said the petition.

The electoral board also denied Sonetz's claim that it was inappropriate for Brian Hug to act as the electoral board's attorney because he also represents the township and the road commissioner. Hug and Phillips declined to comment Friday on the pending petition.

Hauptman's term has been marked with controversy.

Last year, he was ordered by McLean County Highway Department Superintendent Jerry Stokes to replace two culverts that landowner Tyler Ernst argued were improperly removed. The culverts that served as entrances to Ernst's farmland were replaced but Hauptman submitted a bill to the landowner for $5,055 for installation of a culvert in 2014 and the removal and replacement of the culverts in 2016. Ernst said he does not plan to pay the bill.

Russ Middleton, a landowner who has questioned the quality of Hauptman's work, complained in July that the road boss created a hazardous, deep ravine along what was a drainage ditch in front of his home. Middleton said Friday that the ditch contains standing water and was never seeded.

Dry Grove Township is west of the Twin Cities and between Bloomington and Danvers.

Follow Edith Brady-Lunny on Twitter: @pg_blunny

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