BEEKEEPER STINGS BACK
By ANDREW MCGINN
It’s unknown when the Greene County Farmers’ Market might open for the season, but one of its most dedicated vendors isn’t counting the days, either.
“Even if they did open up, I wouldn’t have anything to sell,” explained Cail Calder, the Scranton-based beekeeper whose Bee Mindful honey is a fixture at the market. “They stole an entire season from me.”
“They,” according to a lawsuit filed by Calder April 13 in district court, are the city of Scranton, Scranton Mayor Cole Gustoff and Region 12 Council of Governments, which has been contracted by Scranton to perform code enforcement.
Calder made good on a threat to file suit after the city of Scranton reportedly ignored his attorney’s written request in March for compensation in the amount of $200,000 — the amount of property the city seized and destroyed in a quest to abate what it considered a nuisance on Calder’s business property, located at 701 Stanton St.
Much of the property, the suit alleges, was used in connection with Bee Mindful’s business operation, such as honey supers and saleable honey products.
The suit also seems to refute a comment made to The Jefferson Herald by Gustoff that Calder ignored a series of letters from Region 12 to abate the nuisance property himself or else request a hearing with the city.
“He missed the hearing because he didn’t care,” Gustoff told the Herald in early January.
Calder’s attorney, Will Reasoner, obtained documents from the city of Scranton through an open records request.
Included is a sticky note from City Hall dated Dec. 16 that states, “Cail Calder wants to speak @ next council meeting on 1-14-20.”
The Scranton city council meets once a month.
But by Jan. 14, it was too late — hundreds of boxes used to collect honey were in the landfill.
The suit alleges that the city, Gustoff and Region 12 waited until Calder was out of state for the holidays “before unlawfully entering his property and destroying Calder’s business” in violation of both the Fifth and 14th amendments of the Constitution.
The Fifth Amendment addresses the taking of private property without just compensation, while the 14th pertains to an individual’s right to due process.
“An answer to the petition will be filed soon denying Mr. Calder’s claims,” Jonathan Law, attorney for the city of Scranton, said late Tuesday in an email.
Law said that an outside attorney has been hired by the Iowa Communities Assurance Pool (ICAP), which provides insurance to public entities in Iowa, to represent the city and mayor.
“I have no comment beyond that,” he said.
Calder’s attorney had sought $200,000 in compensation from the city of Scranton by March 31 before filing suit for damages.
“We did not hear anything substantive,” said Reasoner, of Dickinson Law in Des Moines. “We even gave them additional time to respond, and they did not.”
Reasoner said that, under normal circumstances, they could expect a trial to commence within a year and a half, but noted that “everything’s up in the air court-wise because of COVID-19.”
Ironically, the suit was filed the same day, April 13, that Region 12 issued yet another notice to Calder to abate a nuisance on his business property, a former Allis-Chalmers dealership located behind the library.
The new “nuisance” to abate by June 1 includes “junk wood pallets.”
The city, Calder noted, took all of his old pallets. The pallets referred to in this latest notice are allowing new honey supers to air out as he rebuilds lost boxes.
“I’d say they really want me gone,” said Calder, a fourth-generation Greene Countian. “They picked the wrong guy to think I’m just going to leave town.”
He said he wants to know what makes his pallets “junk,” while pallets stacked up at nearby Scranton Manufacturing and B&D Manufacturing are OK.
“What’s the point of having commercial property if I can’t put my commercial goods outside the building?” Calder asked. “Whether they like it or not, I’m sitting on commercial property.”
Calder also has several three-wheeled vehicles the city wants gone, but as he pointed out, an abandoned Winnebago just across the street from Bee Mindful has been there his entire time in Scranton. And just down the street is a literal junkyard.
“It borders on harassment,” he said.
Typically this time of year, Calder said he would be taking his good hives and splitting them. But, he said, the city of Scranton destroyed his nuc (nucleus) boxes for raising queen bees and starting new hives, along with other equipment.
The unprocessed honey taken by the city — 1,900 pounds of it — would have gotten Calder through to June or July, he said. Instead, with honey down to what he called “little dribs and drabs,” he’s having to let wholesalers go.
A 1982 graduate of Jefferson Community High School, Calder has been managing bees and selling honey as far back as high school, when he and friend Pat Zmolek went into business together as Sweet Sting.
As pollinators, managed honey bees add at least $15 billion in value annually to American agriculture, according to the USDA.
Calder — who told the Herald, “The smaller the town, the tougher the politics,” in a Page 1 profile last June on his business and the plight of honey bees — can’t help but question if he’s purposefully being targeted.
He said he’s had numerous people ask, “Do you think it’s political?”
“I’m the local radical liberal in town,” he said.
“After you hear that enough times,” he added, “you start wondering.”