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Continued: East Bethel mayor's residency questioned at critical time for the city

  • Article by: SHANNON PRATHER , Star Tribune
  • Last update: December 28, 2013 - 10:25 PM

On Jan. 10, city leaders will meet with Met Council staffers to discuss potential revisions to the project agreement in hopes of getting some financial relief.

A string of ill fortune

During an interview Friday, the two-term mayor, whose salary is $525 a month, said a series of health problems snowballed, resulting in foreclosure on his home.

Lawrence and his wife, ­Sharon, have lived in East Bethel for more than two decades. They own and operate a machine shop that now is based in Isanti. When Sharon Lawrence suffered a seizure in 2011 and a brain tumor was diagnosed, the business suffered. Doctors successfully removed the benign tumor, but in June 2012, she fell and broke her shoulder.

The couple fell behind in paying the mortgage on their 2,200-square-foot home on Sims Road NE. They tried to negotiate with the bank, but the home fell into foreclosure.

Their troubles were compounded when Richard Lawrence underwent heart valve replacement surgery in September.

After losing their home, Lawrence said, they looked to rent in East Bethel, but couldn’t find any affordable options — only single-family homes renting for $2,000 a month.

So they decided to make Norquist Campground on Coon Lake their official permanent residence. Lawrence said they’ve found winter accommodations in Isanti but declined to elaborate. Meanwhile, the mayor receives mail at a post office box that serves East Bethel.

Norquist Campground owner Joyce Nelson confirmed that the Lawrences have an RV parked there. In the winter, water is shut off and campground roads are not plowed, she said. She’s the only one who lives there year-round.

Lawrence said he and his wife are not sure they’ll buy another home.

“I am 60 years old. My wife is 67 years old. Do I want a 30-year mortgage? Not really,” he said. “This gives us an opportunity to do more relaxing. I hope to get some fishing in on Coon Lake this year.”

Decision in council’s hands

DeRoche said he knows the mayor has had health and financial struggles but argues that he should have disclosed his move.

He and Council Member Tom Ronning said they don’t believe a seasonal campground is a credible residence.

“I don’t think he’s intended deception. I think there is some confusion about what the rules or law says,” Ronning said. “I like Richard. I was looking for a way to help him out. I couldn’t come up with anything.”

Council Members Heidi Moegerle and Ron Koller supported the mayor’s position at the Dec. 18 meeting.

“To find that the mayor no longer is a resident is erasing the voices of the voters. We need to meet a very high standard of proof to do that,” Moegerle said.

“How does Richard’s situation contrast with [that of] a snowbird going down to Florida for the winter?” she said. “He’s not going to be as long gone as a snowbird. He will be in East Bethel on a daily basis.”

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