MARBLE, MINN. – All Mike Allen wants out of life, he says, is to be left alone to enjoy a beer on his front porch.
But some say that’s exactly the problem in Marble, where a recent Facebook post has reignited a long-standing feud between Allen and officials in this Iron Range city of 680 residents about 190 miles north of the Twin Cities.
Allen and the local government have been fighting for more than 20 years about the upkeep of his house and yard. He’s been cited repeatedly for violations of the city’s blight ordinance: unlicensed cars on his property, garbage not promptly disposed of, grass that’s too tall, a porch addition that wasn’t properly permitted.
But time and again, the Navy veteran, now 69, has fired back, managing to get some of the tickets dropped and court cases dismissed.
City officials who have tangled with Allen are frustrated that they haven’t been able to get through to him.
“He thinks he’s above the law,” said David Lotti, Marble’s mayor from 2002 to 2014. Rather than fighting the city’s citations, Lotti said, “it would be much easier if he expended the energy cleaning up.”
Allen’s tenacity in defending himself has even exhausted the patience of local judges — who have dismissed his cases, Lotti said, “because they don’t want to monkey with it.”
In the latest clash, Allen filed suit last month in Itasca County Court against a longtime city official, accusing her of defaming him in a Facebook post.
Tracey Schwartz, who lives across from Allen on Ethel Street, posted on Facebook in May, complaining about the condition of Allen’s yard.
“I love how our neighbor sits on his filthy deck in his filthy yard that is a complete eye sore ... drinking his beer as he watches the rest of us clean our yards,” Schwartz posted, according to court documents.
“Thanks for bring [sic] down the value of our property buddy appreciate that you [expletive]!” Schwartz also called Allen “a [expletive] slob,” according to court documents.
Allen, who is demanding an apology, said he’s not sure why the city is so determined to monitor his yard work.
“I’m about as quiet as it gets,” said the bearded, ponytailed grandfather of nine. “I just want to finish my days quietly.”
Schwartz, who was both city clerk and a City Council member until resigning this spring, did not respond to repeated requests for comment. The post about Allen has been deleted from her Facebook account.
Proud of his yard
Allen grew up in Maryland and moved to Marble in 1970 after he got out of the Navy. His mother came from the nearby hamlet of Wawina, and Allen was attracted by the region’s hunting, fishing and woodlands.
He started a logging business that employed 10 people. But everything changed when he was crushed by a falling tree in 1979. He had to give up logging, and his marriage failed soon after.
Allen began bouncing from job to job, delivering newspapers, doing woodworking and working in health care. He said he hasn’t had a steady job in seven years. Along the way, he bought his house on the edge of Marble for $15,000.
It’s a large property — three lots with woods out back. Allen is proud of the landscaping, which his five children helped plant. He points out the apple trees, plum tree, grapevines and blueberry bushes.
“Any kid that wants to come and pick some blueberries is welcome,” he said. The lawn is “a good lawn,” he added. “When it rains you can almost see [the grass] come up.”
That lawn has been an issue. City records show that Allen has been cited many times for failing to keep it mowed. Allen, who said he is 70 percent disabled, relies on his son to handle the mowing.
“I’m not lazy,” he said. “I’m just old.”
Allen’s property bears out at least some of the city’s complaints, especially the seven cars and trucks parked neatly in the yard. But they’re not junkers, Allen pointed out; his son works on them, and they all run. They’re just not licensed. Several are valuable, he said, especially the two 1980s-vintage Toyota Land Cruisers that could be worth as much as $10,000 apiece.
The house is trim and in good repair, covered in gray vinyl siding, and the lawn is mowed. Allen knows that some of his neighbors don’t like the giant, plastic-covered geodesic dome in his side yard that contains an aboveground swimming pool for his grandchildren. But he said it’s legal and he’s never been ticketed for it.
Some like Mike
Lotti, the former mayor, doesn’t mince words in his criticism of Allen.
“He has been a blight on this community since he moved in,” Lotti said. “Whatever angle he can play, he’ll play. I’ve been away from it for four years, and it’s been a great four years.”
The city’s current administration seems more willing to work with Allen.
“I don’t have a problem with him,” said Margaret Kavanagh, a City Council member who lives next door to him. “He goes his way and I go mine. But the city has ordinances.”
Mayor Daidre Breen has spoken with Allen about his yard several times, but said, “I like Mike. I don’t have a problem with Mike at all.
“It’s a small-town city,” she said. “That’s just the way things are sometimes.”
Allen, who lives on $569 a month in Social Security, said he has no choice but to fight his blight tickets. Even a $20 or $30 fine is a lot of money to him.
“It’s just plain old not fair, that’s all,” he said. “I don’t even want to sit on my front porch anymore.”