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Johnson surprised by vote

By Staff | Aug 10, 2009

It was nearly 5 p.m. Tuesday and a day’s work behind the wheel of a semi was coming to an end.

Craig Johnson was filling out log sheets, after just returning from hauling grain. Soon, any concerns or problems for the day would be left behind.

Johnson was unaware county commissioners had voted to follow state law allowing roadside memorials for a maximum of six months. After that, they are automatically removed.

“I feel like I’ve been blindsided and railroaded. If they were going to discuss this, I should have been contacted,” he says.

Johnson may have reason to feel surprised and caught off guard by the board’s action.

Two weeks ago after talking with a couple commissioners, he was under the impression his son Josh Johnson’s memorial, along a county highway, could remain intact. A committee also would be formed to establish rules for new memorials.

Johnson understood the full board would make a final decision, but he was confident existing memorials would be “grandfathered in.”

“I feel like I’m watching that cartoon where someone’s hands and feet are tied and laying on the tracks and the train is coming,” he says.

Johnson has no intentions of removing his son’s makeshift shrine and plans to wait and see what county officials will do next.

It’s not clear who is in charge of enforcing the state and Minnesota Department of Transportation rules.

At least that’s the opinion of Commissioner Tom Loveall.

He says the board never decided who would contact Johnson.

“That’s a good question. If the board votes to have the county sheriff, engineer or attorney do it, I’ll argue and vote against it,” Loveall says. “I just think there’s a human side to this.”

If officials remove the memorial, Johnson says under state law the county is obligated to store the items and he has up to six months to claim them.

“They’re going to have to deal with other large memorials in the county. They are opening up a can of worms and I don’t think they want to do that,” says Johnson.