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County attorney has yet to respond

July 20, 2019

 

Waiting. Waiting. And, still waiting.

 

A month ago, county authorities asked the Faribault County Attorney's Office for information about an employee mentioned in the assault investigation of a Blue Earth Area football player.

 

Chief Deputy Scott Adams says County Attorney Kathryn Karjala-Curtis has yet to turned over any transcripts.

 

“It may be a good idea for you to call her,” says Adams, when contacted by Tripleanews.com for an update.

 

On July 12, Tripleanews.com e-mailed Karjala-Curtis regrading the status of Adams' request to have an official record. And, she has not responded.

 

Sheriff Mike Gormley says he's been told that assistant County Attorney LaMar Piper has been out of the country and that may be the reason for the delay.

 

Piper handled the prosecution against four teens charged in the October 2017 beating of a football teammate during a house party in Winnebago.

 

The victim's father says his son admitted in a written statement that he and a defendant charged in the assault went to the employee's home to get alcohol.

 

The employee also is named in a court document filed in district court for a restitution hearing held for one of the co-defendants.

 

According court papers filed by Piper, the person was working in the Sheriff's Department in November 2017 when the teens were arrested and charged.

 

The mother of a defendant texted her husband, says court document, that the employee warned a co-defendant's mother that the cops were going to get a warrant for his cell phone.

 

A letter from the teen's attorney to Piper dated June 22, 2018, says the boy and his parents went away for the weekend on Nov. 17, 2017. During that trip, he reportedly lost his cell phone.

 

Adams says if an investigation is conducted it will be to determine if the employee's behavior was unlawful or violated any personnel policies.

 

Wrongdoing has not been tolerated since Gormley was elected in 2006.

 

At least three employees have been fired following investigations into alleged misconduct by outside agencies.

 

Commissioners have vacancy to fill

July 15, 2019

 

Just weeks after appointing someone to fill a position at the courthouse, Faribault County commissioners will soon be dealing with another vacancy.

 

Dawn Fellows tells Tripleanews.com she is leaving her position as Central Services director in August.

 

Although she was not specific, Fellows has accepted a position with the State of Minnesota.

 

My last day at the courthouse will be Aug. 16,” she says. “I began my employment with the county on May 31, 2013.”

 

The search for a replacement has already started with ads being placed in local print publications, the county's website as well as the Association of Minnesota Counties.

 

According to the ad, the position is non-union with a full-time work week of 37.5 hours and a starting hourly wage range of $30.34 to $38.33 based on qualifications.

 

Applications may be obtained by contacting the Central Services Office at 415 N. Main State in the courthouse; downloading one from the website, www.co.faribault.mn.us; or calling (507) 526-6225. The deadline to submit an application is 4 p.m. on July 24.

 

Earlier this month, commissioners picked Darren Esser to take over the county's auditor/treasurer/coordinator duties when John Thompson retires July 31.

 

Esser has worked more than eight years with the county, hired as an accountant in January 2011 before being promoted to chief deputy auditor/accountant.

 

Marijuana wax value more than $15K

July 11, 2019

 

Several law enforcement squad cars surrounded an upstairs apartment located on Main Street in Winnebago Wednesday night.

 

Police Chief Eric Olson says officers and the K9 unit along with sheriff's deputies executed a narcotics search warrant around 7 p.m.

 

“The Winnebago Police Department seized 221.5 grams of marijuana wax with an estimated street value of $15,726,” says Olson. “Also seized were firearms, a small amount of cash and numerous drug paraphernalia items.”

 

Three sheriff squad cars were parked on Main Street, while two police squad cars were located in the alley as officers combed the residence.

 

Authorities arrested 18-year-old Jeffrey Gunzenhauser of Winnebago; Damian Chapa, 19, Winnebago; Alex Mendenhall, 20, Fairmont; and Paige Thompson, 19, Glenville.

 

According to the Faribault County Jail roster, all four were booked on a fifth-degree controlled substance charge.

 

Court papers filed in district court show that Gunzenhauser, Chapa and Thompson each face felony counts of fifth-degree sale of marijuana and fifth-degree possession of a controlled substance.

 

Mendenhall has been charged with a felony charge of fifth-degree possession of a controlled substance.

 

All four defendants have a court appearance scheduled Friday, July 12, for a bail hearing.

 

New administrator: Just call me Jake

July 11, 2019

 

Winnebago's new city administrator sat patiently as the City Council conducted its meeting Tuesday night.

 

After nearly an hour, the next item on the agenda was to hire Jacob Skluzacek and approve a contract he negotiated with City Attorney David Frundt.

 

Before reading some details of the agreement, Deputy City Clerk Jessi Sturtz jokingly admitted she was not going to try and pronounce his last name.

 

“Don't worry about it, just call me Jake,” Skluzacek told Sturtz.

 

Following the meeting, Skluzacek was busy introducing himself to council members, shaking hands and answering questions.

 

I'm looking for a house and getting ready to move,” he says. “I'm excited to get started and I'm going to work really hard.”

 

Skluzacek is a Lonsdale native and graduated from Winona State University in May 2019 with a bachelor of science degree in public administration and a bachelor of arts degree in political science.

 

Skluzacek began his duties immediately the next day and will earn an annual salary of $52,000 while being on a six-month probationary period.

 

Other terms of the contract include:

  • earning up to 200 hours of vacation and 960 hours of sick leave;

  • health insurance;

  • the city matching contributions made to the PERA retirement fund;

  • reimbursement for mileage expenses;

  • and the city providing a cell phone.

 

For the record, the phonetic pronunciation of Skluzacek --- Sklooze-ah-check.

 

Former ZBM exployee wins, trial set

July 8, 2019

 

A former employee of Zierke Built Manufacturing (ZBM), Inc., has won the first round in his civil lawsuit against the Fairmont-based company.

 

Now, Leroy John Larson is hoping to cash in even more if a jury rules in his favor.

 

Last year, Larson sued ZBM in Faribault County District Court for wages and sales commissions earned in 2017 the company has not paid him.

 

Judge Troy Timmerman in a partial summary judgment says company officials must pay Larson commissions totaling $20,428 and $4,240 in penalties.

 

“The issue of whether Larson has additional wages and commissions that remain earned and unpaid shall be determined at trial,” says Timmerman.

 

Larson's suit says that ZBM officials owe him $40,976 in sales commissions and he wants the company to pay attorney and witness fees and any expenses if he wins his case.

 

A one-day jury trial scheduled for July 17 in Blue Earth and includes a witness list of eight will be decided by six jurors.

 

Among the witnesses expected to testify include ZBM founder and president Greg Zierke; Kyle Zierke, ZBM vice-president; and Lisa Bromeland, former ZBM office manager.

 

Court documents say the Zierkes have voluntarily dismissed any counterclaims filed against Larson.

 

According to court papers, Larson began working as a sales representative with the company in 2008 and was earning an annual salary of $73,500 plus commissions when he resigned in February 2018.

 

Sheriff dealing with jail staff issues

July 4, 2019

 

Martin County Sheriff's Department has had to deal with some adversity among its jail staff the past few months.

 

Despite spending some time recently in the Faribault County Jail, Sheriff Jeff Markquart says Beau Karge is still employed as a jailer.

 

According to court documents, Blue Earth police officer Tharen Haugh stopped Karge at 540 4th St. in Frost around 9:32 a.m. on June 24.

 

Court papers say that Karge, 40, of Frost was arrested and then transported to the county jail.

 

Karge was issued a citation and has been charged with domestic abuse --- violate order for protection. He has a pre-trial hearing scheduled for July 8.

 

At his initial court appearance, Karge was released without bond and the following conditions:

  • ordered not to use alcohol or controlled substances except prescribed medications;

  • may be subject to random drug testing;

  • must attend future court hearings;

  • and remain in contact with his attorney.

 

On another matter, Markquart says that Martin County commissioners accepted the resignation of jail administrator Mark Geerdes effective April 2.

 

Markquart would not say if Geerdes' resignation was the result of an investigation into a complaint or violation of personnel policies.

 

BEA board says "no" to Winnebago

July 1, 2019

 

At a special meeting Tuesday night, Blue Earth Area School Board denied a request from the city of Winnebago.

 

City officials were asking if members of Winnebago Area School Project (WASP) could begin painting this summer in the former school building's gymnasium.

 

Interim Superintendent Jerry Jensen says district officials want to be good neighbors and help out, but under a purchase agreement the city assumes ownership on Nov. 1.

 

“I wasn't too happy when I read in the paper a quote saying they were frustrated, 'we can't get in there, we can't do anything,'”says Jensen. “Wait a minute, both parties signed that agreement. Why would you feel frustrated you can't get in there to start working?”

 

Scott Robertson, a board member of WASP, says he had no idea the request to make renovations at the former Winnebago School was on the board's agenda.

 

“It was a surprise to me. I didn't know anything about the meeting and don't know if anyone from our group or the city was invited. I think someone would have gone,” Robertson says.

 

Board members cite two issues for not letting WASP into the school before ownership changes hands.

 

Jensen says taking on additional liability would be a concern even though Mayor Jeremiah Schutt says the city is looking into obtaining insurance.

 

“I just know that we own the facility and any major catastrophe could happen. I would be surprised we are not somehow dragged into the liability end of that,” he says.

 

Jensen says Southern Plains Education Cooperative (SPEC) is holding summer school classes through the end of summer and the principal does not want anyone else in the building.

 

SPEC has given district officials a letter indicating they want to continue leasing the facility through the end of October.

 

“Technically they have possession and full use of the building up to the point,” Jensen says. “They don't want anything to do with any liability when they have their kids in the building. I think we are obligated to honor that.”

 

Board member Kyle Zierke agrees with Jensen, saying that if he were selling a house he would not let the buyer remodel the basement while still living there because of liability issues.

 

“To me it is a hard no. I know exactly what is going to happen,” says Zierke. “It's going to be the gym, then it's going to be, since we're in here can we do the hallway, can we rip out the lights. It's going to be question after question.”

 

Robertson says he understands why SPEC would not want anyone in the building when students are attending classes, but if the facility is empty there shouldn't be a problem.

 

“We just want to get in there as soon as we can. We have a lot of work to do and we need to get started. The sooner the better,” he says.

 

Discussion shifted to use of the school's gym by the girls gymnastics program this coming school year.

 

Board member Sara Hauskins says it was disheartening to read that the gymnastics team using the gym was an issue because she thought the district had a “gentlemen's agreement” to do so.

 

“I see it is always going to be a dangling carrot and it's best to move on,” Hauskins says.

 

Robertson says use of the gym was not included in the purchase agreement, but WASP was willing to work with district officials if it was needed for the upcoming gymnastics season.

 

Jensen says WASP also may have plans for using the gym and thinks the gymnastics program should be in Blue earth.

 

“It might be best if we relocate here and come up with our own long-term solution” he says.

 

Winnebago could fill vacancy soon

June 27, 2019

 

After meeting in closed-session for more than 30 minutes, Winnebago City Council may be a step closer to hiring a new city administrator.

 

City Attorney David Frundt was given the go-ahead to negotiate a contract with Jacob Skluzacek of Lonsdale, the lone finalist interviewed during a special meeting held Monday night.

 

Skluzacek withstood grilling by council members, followed by their discussion on whether to restructure current city staff to save more than $30,000 a year.

 

For 25 minutes, Skluzacek answered 10 questions covering areas such as management style, employee expectations, a capital improvement plan, handling difficult people and long-range planning.

 

“I think teamwork and working together is the best way to do something,” says Skluzacek. “I try not to hover over anyone and let them do their jobs. I don't want to start telling people how to do things.”

 

The May 2019 graduate of Winona State University, with a bachelor of science degree in public administration, took a driving tour of the city before meeting with the council.

 

“It reminds me of home,” he says. “I grew up in a small community, southern Minnesota is where I want to stay.”

 

In his “first 30 days” on the job, Skluzacek stresses his primary focus will be developing a plan to achieve three main goals identified by the council.

 

“I'll need a lot of information from you, nobody knows the community better,” he says. “I'd get to know the council and community members better … then I'd go head-strong on the three main issues.”

 

Overall, council members were quite impressed with Skluzacek and his answers.

 

“I liked that he focused on teamwork, he just didn't use it as a buzz word,” says Councilman Calvin Howard. “I really like he's from a small town, it's helpful to keep things in perspective.”

 

Council member Jean Anderson says Skluzacek is, “A very enthusiastic young man who brings a lot of good ideas to the table. He stresses communication and good working relationships with everyone.”

 

Councilman Rick Johnson likes that Skluzacek is approachable and easy to talk to.

 

“He is very upfront and honest. And, he doesn't play with words, ” adds Johnson.

 

Skluzacek's response that working on a budget is the least appealing part of being a city administrator caught the attention of Mayor Jeremiah Schutt.

 

“It struck me wrong and sent a red flag up. It's a huge part of the job,” Schutt says.

 

Council members eased Schutt's concern, saying most city administrators would say that developing a budget isn't something they like doing.

 

Johnson presented a recommendation offered by a five-member committee that interviewed city administrator candidates.

 

Under the option, current City Hall staff would be restructured to include a clerk/treasurer, part-time administrative assistant and two part-time office assistants.

 

“One of the reasons for doing this is money. It's all about money,” says Johnson.

 

Currently, the annual wages for the three office staff totals around $145,000. The restructuring plan would save the city an estimated $35,000 annually.

 

Anderson says she wants to hire an administrator so the city has a “perceived leader,” someone who community members can go to with their concerns.

 

Howard says the debate over hiring an administrator is often more emotional than logical.

 

“Losing an administrator and hiring a city clerk I feel would be a downgrade,” he says.

 

Schutt and Anderson also wondered the quality of help the city would get from part-time workers.

 

If a contract agreement is reached with Skluzacek, the council could hold a special meeting or wait until their July 9 meeting to approve it.

County authorities seek information

June 20, 2019

 

A Faribault County Sheriff Department official was surprised to hear an employee's name was mentioned during the investigation of an assault involving a Blue Earth Area football player.

 

Dale Hurley, the father of the victim, says his son admitted in a written statement to prosecutors that he and a defendant charged in the beating went to the employee's home to get alcohol for a party held in October 2017 at a Winnebago residence.

 

When contacted about Hurley's claim, Chief Deputy Scott Adams told Tripleanews.com on May 31, “I had not heard that. I will talk to the county attorney's office.”

 

Adams didn't waste any time contacting County Attorney Kathryn Karjala-Curtis in hopes of getting some answers.

 

“She is digging through the transcripts to get me the information,” Adams says. “We will wait and look at it before deciding if an investigation is needed.”

 

“We're not going to tolerate any behavior that's unlawful or violates personnel policies,” he adds.

 

The employee also is mentioned in a court document filed in district court prior to a hearing held for one of the four defendants.

 

According to court papers filed by assistant County Attorney LaMar Piper, the person was working in the Sheriff's Department in November 2017 when the teens were arrested and charged in the assault.

 

A court document says a defendant's mother sent a text message to her husband that the employee warned another mother of a teen involved in the assault that the cops were going to get a warrant for his phone.

 

In a letter dated June 22, 2018, from the teen's attorney to Piper, the boy and his parents went away for the weekend on Nov. 17, 2017, and he reportedly lost his phone during the trip.

 

Lawmaker to seek $2M for repairs

June 18, 2019

 

Next legislative session, a state lawmaker will seek funding for $1.5 million in repairs the Winnebago School building needs so it can be used as a multi-purpose facility.

 

District 23A Rep. Bob Gunther (R-Fairmont) attended a City Council work session held Monday to discuss use of the school after Southern Plains Education Cooperative relocates to Fairmont.

 

“There's a possibility of getting some money,” says Gunther. “I have in mind $2 million.”

 

A group called Winnebago Area School Project (WASP) has developed a five-page plan to convert the school into a day care center, recreational facility, vocational training center, community event center and a school for grades pre-K through 12th.

 

Renee Doyle, a member of WASP and headmaster at Genesis Classical Academy, says papers have been filed with the Secretary of State Office to obtain non-profit 501(c)3 status.

 

“It's rolling along, there are a lot of ideas and concepts,” says Doyle. “We've got a new name and a logo is being designed. The branding is in process.”

 

WASP has opened a checking account, she says, and deposited a $20,000 check they recently received from Bevcomm.

 

Once the city assumes ownership of the school and allowed to move in, the facility will become known as the Center for Educational Development of Winnebago.

 

At their June 11 meeting, Dana Hlebichuk, an architect with Widseth, Smith and Nolting (WSN) of Rochester, gave council members highlights of a pre-design study that cost the city $35,000.

 

“This gives you a very clear road map on how to preserve this facility moving forward using limited funds,” he says. “The structural system is all there, it is not failing. The use of this building is at least another 50 years, if it is taken care of.”

 

The study identified 11 items that needed to be addressed to preserve the building without any major construction.

 

Work requiring immediate attention include tuck pointing; foundation repair; waterproofing; roof replacement in the gymnasium and locker room; installing energy efficient windows and lighting,

 

Hlebichuk says major upgrading of the mechanical system to bring it up to code would cost at least $2 million.

 

Southern Plains is scheduled to move out of the building by Nov. 1, but that could be extended up to 240 days if renovation work at their Fairmont site in not completed.

 

Blue Earth Area School District officials have inquired whether the district can use the gymnasium for girls gymnastics this fall, which was not part of the purchase agreement.

 

Doyle balked at the idea because it would interfere with fund-raising events and private receptions that could held in the gym.

 

Bob Weerts, who came up with the idea of turning the school into a multi-use facility, says BEA officials weren't friendly during talks to buy the school. Now, he says WASP and the City Council are in the driver's seat.

 

“I'm not trying to play hard ball with the school district, but they keep throwing us curve balls,” Weerts says.

 

Council members and WASP agreed to have Deputy City Clerk Jessi Sturtz and Annie Leibel of CEDA contact BEA Superintendent Mandy Lloyd and Southern Plains to discuss when the city may enter the building to make improvements and any other issues.

 

Two interviewed for Bago vacancy

June 13, 2019

 

Winnebago City Council got a brief update on the search for a new city administrator at their meeting Tuesday night.

 

City Council member Rick Johnson says a five-member committee interviewed two finalists last Friday.

 

There's no big update yet,” says Johnson. “But, it's not at a standstill.”

 

Besides Johnson, other members of the search team include council member Jean Anderson; Jessi Sturtz, deputy city clerk; and residents Bob Grant and Amy Fenger.

 

Although the names of finalists can be made public under the state Data Practices Law, Johnson and Anderson were reluctant to do so.

 

Following the resignation of Chris Ziegler last February, city officials sought help from Wendell Sande of South Central Service Cooperative to find a replacement.

 

Sande says the city received a total of six applications for the position and hope to have someone hired by the first part of July.

 

At the request of Tripleanews.com, Sande identified the finalists as Brad Potter of Mankato and Jacob Skluzacek of Lonsdale.

 

Resumes provided by Sande show a clear contrast in the candidates experience in working with governmental entities.

 

Potter is the owner of CommunityFix, a company that works with local governments, citizens and non-profits to solve pertinent local issues.

 

He describes himself as a results-oriented individual, “offering 20 years experience in public administration, city planning, community and economic development, and financial management.”

 

Skluzacek graduated from Winona State University on May 10, 2019, with a bachelor of science degree in public administration and bachelor of arts in political science.

 

While attending college, Skluzacek was a city administration intern in Winona from January 2019 to May 2019.

 

Skluzacek writes in his resume that he's a motivated college graduate seeking a career in public works and administration.

 

Interested in learning how to better serve the citizens of Minnesota, while at the same time gaining the skills and experience which are necessary in this profession,” says Skluzacek.

 

For now, administrative duties are being handled by Sturtz, part-time assistant Deputy Clerk Judy Staloch and Police Chief Eric Olson, with Sturtz being in charge of the office at City Hall.

 

Last teen sentenced in assault case

June 11, 2019

 

Shortly after the teen who allegedly assaulted his son was sentenced, Dale Hurley walked out of the Martin County Courthouse to retrieve some court papers.

 

Upon re-entering the courthouse, 19-year-old Wyatt Eugene Tungland held the door open as Hurley came in from the drizzling rain.

 

Tungland is the last of four defendants to be sentenced in the beating of a former Blue Earth Area football teammate during a house party held October 2017 in Winnebago.

 

It's been insane. They were all weak sentences and today's was the worst,” says Hurley. “He broke the law after the assault and got hardly anything.”

 

Last April, Tungland pleaded guilty to a felony charge third-degree assault under an Alford plea That means he maintains his innocence but admits there may be sufficient evidence that could likely convince a jury to find him guilty.

 

According to Tungland's case file, he was placed on five years supervised probation and given a stay of imposition, which would reduce the felony to a misdemeanor if he successful completes conditions of his probation.

 

LaMar Piper, assistant Faribault County Attorney, and defense attorney Chris Ritts told Judge Michael Trushenski they were in agreement with a pre-sentence investigation report completed by probation officials.

 

But, Piper did ask Trushenski to consider imposing a $1,000 fine and having Tungland spend 25 days in jail.

 

Piper says three co-defendants in the case took responsibility for their actions and cooperated with authorities during the investigation.

 

He has done the opposite. Mr. Tungland has had a number of involvements with the law after the assault,” says Piper. “He has not fully admitted his involvement. I don't see anything that he acknowledged or learned anything from what has happened.”

 

Trushenski told Tungland the court is concerned that he violated release conditions by getting into trouble while his case was pending.

 

I'm ordering that Mr. Tungland serve two additional weekends in jail,” says Trushenski. “I would hope he would reflect on what happened in this matter.

 

Tungland has already spent nine days in the county jail and was ordered to report the weekends of June 21 and 28. Trushenski also issued a fine totaling $1,085 and gave him two years to pay it.

 

Other conditions of Tungland's sentence include:

  • no use of alcohol or controlled substance;

  • no contact with the victim;

  • may not possess firearms, ammunition or explosives;

  • may not vote until discharged from probation;

  • submit to random drug testing;

  • tell probation officer within 72 hours of having contact with law enforcement, being charged with a new crime or change in address, employment or phone number;

  • no threatening, harassing or assaultive behavior;

  • 40 hours of sentence to serve;

  • and, obtain permission from probation officer to leave the state.

 

Woman faces perjury, hearing set

June 10, 2019

 

An attorney for a woman accused of lying during a hearing for a teen charged in the assault of a former Blue Earth Area football player is now requesting a contested omnibus hearing.

 

An omnibus hearing scheduled March 4 was canceled and now Gary Gittus has asked court officials to set aside one hour for a hearing on July 10 in Faribault County District Court.

 

The defendant reserves the right to call any person in the police report and also (Wyatt) Tungland,” says Gittus.

 

Court documents show that a witness list of more than 10 includes:

  • Blue Earth police officer Tharen Haugh;

  • Winnebago police officers Emily Bonin and Jacob Pettit;

  • Winnebago Police Chief Eric Olson;

  • and Tungland's co-defendants Blake Barnett and Dalton Nagel.

 

In court papers filed Feb. 15 in district court, Gittus sought to have the case against 36-year-old Allison Ann Mastin of Blue Earth dismissed.

 

No probable cause exists to believe that the defendant willfully perjured herself under oath and aided the offender and obstructed the investigation,” Gittus contends.

 

Mastin and her daughter ---- who once dated Wyatt Eugene Tungland ---- testified during a hearing last July that he could not have been involved in the assault.

 

Under oath, both said that Tungland was at their house when the assault occurred in the early morning hours of Oct. 19, 2017, during a teammate's house party in Winnebago.

 

Mastin says her daughter and Tungland fell asleep while watching a movie and that he woke up around 3:30 a.m. and left.

 

According to court papers, Tungland's attorney did not tell Mastin about his client's statement to police admitting to being at the party.

 

Court documents say that Tungland reportedly did not say anything about being at Mastin's house any time that night.

 

Mastin is facing felony counts of perjury and aiding an offender by obstructing an investigation, which carry maximum penalties of five years in prison and a $10,000 fine, and 30 months in prison and a $5,000 fine, respectively.

 

Teen sentenced in juvenile court

June 7, 2019

 

The third of four teens charged in the assault of a Blue Earth Area football teammate has been sentenced.

 

However, no details are available because the hearing held in Blue Earth County juvenile court was closed to the public.

 

Dale Hurley, father of the victim, says the Faribault County Attorney's Office has informed him that assistant Chief Judge Gregory Anderson rejected a recommendation by probation officials and found Caden Ochsendorf to be guilty and delinquent.

 

Citing the state's Data Practices Law and a juvenile records law, Faribault County Attorney Kathryn Karjala-Curtis and assistant County Attorney LaMar Piper did not provide any details of the sentence.

 

Hurley says in a text message from Piper, the prosecutor says, “He now is guilty of felony assault. AS ARE ALL OTHERS. The record remains until he hits 25 yrs of age. It will decay or be unavailable after that but I think it is always “there.”

 

Ochsendorf was charged with third-degree assault and aiding and abetting third-degree assault in the beating of a teammate at house party in the early morning hours of Oct. 19, 2017, in Winnebago.

 

When authorities charged Ochsendorf he was 15 years old at the time and they mistakenly released his name to the public.

 

In another case, 19-year-old Wyatt Eugene Tungland is scheduled to be sentenced Tuesday in Martin County District Court.

 

Last April, Tungland pleaded guilty to third-degree assault under an Alford plea, while charges of aiding and abetting third-degree assault and furnishing alcohol to persons under the age of 21 were dismissed.

 

Under the plea, Tungland maintains he is innocent but admits there may be sufficient evidence with which the prosecution could likely convince a jury to find him guilty.

 

Resignation letter not public data

May 29, 2019

 

One of the first orders of business facing Blue Earth Area School District's newly-hired superintendent may be a resignation letter.

 

At the request of Tripleanews.com, attorneys for the School District have released the heavily redacted letter.

 

Interim Superintendent Dr. Jerry Jensen sought legal advice to determine what information could be made public.

 

Citing the state's Data Practices Act, the district's attorneys say most of the letter's contents are considered private personnel data.

 

Only the first and last paragraphs as well as the teacher's signature and titles were not blacked out.

 

With this letter, I hereby submit my resignation from the Blue Earth Area School District, effective June 7, 2019,” the teacher wrote. “At your convenience, I will be glad to discuss my resignation and the reassignment of my work to others.”

 

Tripleanews.com has learned the letter was critical of School District administration, however, the teacher who wished to remain anonymous would not confirm nor deny the alleged accusation.

 

I have never enjoyed being the center of attention and would prefer to leave my position peacefully in order to obtain another elsewhere,” the teacher says in an e-mail.

 

The teacher adds, “I would prefer not to be the source that turns into the latest news.”

 

Judge issues order for restitution

May 23, 2019

 

A judge is limiting the amount of restitution that will be paid to the parents whose son was beaten by four Blue Earth Area football teammates in October 2017.

 

According to court papers filed in Faribault County District Court, Dale and Tonya Hurley are seeking more than $12,500 in monetary damages.

 

But, Judge Michael Trushenski says the Hurleys will not be compensated for moving expenses to Nebraska totaling nearly $7,400.

 

“The court is not allowing some of the losses, it's only those for loss wages and travel to and from court hearings,” says LaMar Piper, assistant Faribault County Attorney.

 

On May 17, a restitution hearing was held for 19-year-old Dalton Lee Nagel of Blue Earth.

 

Nagel, who is on probation for pleading guilty to aiding and abetting third-degree assault and fifth-degree criminal sexual misconduct, has been ordered to pay $2,000 within 30 days following the hearing.

 

Dale Hurley says his family was forced to leave Blue Earth because they were being intimidated.

 

“We had to move so it was safe for our son and he could get an education,” he says. “The only thing they (school officials) provided was schooling in another district. Why should he have to go somewhere to go to school, they should be the ones. My son did nothing wrong.”

 

Court documents show as many as 14 people were subpoenaed for the hearing, however, none on the potential witness list testified.

 

Among those who were served papers included:

  • Blue Earth Area interim Superintendent Jerry Jensen;

  • former superintendent Evan Gough;

  • former high school principal Richard Schneider;

  • head football coach Randy Kuechenmeister;

  • activities director Rob Norman;

  • Winnebago police officer Jacob Pettit;

  • UHD human resource manager Shanna Gudahl;

  • and, John and Elizabeth Schavey.

 

According to court papers, school district officials at one point sought legal advice from the Twin Cities law firm of Knutson, Flynn & Deans regarding the subpoenas.

 

In one instance, attorneys for the law firm contend that Piper violated the Minnesota Rules of Professional Conduct by contacting Jensen and Kuechenmeister without their permission.

 

Piper says it's probable that restitution hearings will be held for three other teens who also pleaded guilty to various assault charges.

 

W'bago used for expansion efforts?

May 17, 2019

 

It's not clear what role Winnebago, if any, may be playing in a Fairmont company's plans for future expansion.

 

Last December, Brad Wolf informed fellow Economic Development Authority board members that Zierke Built Manufacturing (ZBM), Inc., was bringing some of its operations back to Winnebago because they had run out of room.

 

Wolf said that Zierke Built was planning to use a building it owns on Sixth Avenue Southeast to employ an unspecified number of welders.

 

ZBM owner and president Greg Zierke was tight-lipped when Tripleanews.com asked him to provide an update.

 

“It's low key, that's all I am going to tell you,” says Zierke. “I'm not going to tell you anything.”

 

Recently, the company purchased newsprint ads that say, “Zierke Built Manufacturing, Inc., is expanding operations in the Fairmont and Winnebago areas.” and, “We're looking for welders!”

 

In August 2017, ZBM closed its doors in Winnebago because a shortage of workers and limited space were hindering the company's growth.

 

In addition, the company had exhausted 12 years of tax breaks provided under the state's JOBZ program.

 

Fairmont Development Authority director Linsey Preuss worked with company officials to get a 10-year tax abatement for 100 percent of the property taxes on their buildings, with the amount not to exceed $231,000 over the 10 years.

 

The company brought 40 existing jobs to Fairmont and has added 20 since, well ahead of a requirement to hire 30 employees over three years.

 

Now, Preuss has convinced city officials to apply for a $300,000 loan from the Minnesota Investment Fund (MIF) for new expansion.

 

When asked, Preuss wouldn't say if ZBM's return to Winnebago has anything to do with the MIF application because the company is reportedly at full capacity and might not have the space to expand at its Fairmont site.

 

“I do not understand the question,” she says. “The city of Fairmont is helping them expand in Fairmont.”

 

If a MIF loan is approved, ZBM would purchase a laser cutter and a brake press and also must create 20 new full-time jobs at a wage of $16 per hour.

 

BEA teen arrested for making threats

May 3, 2019

 

A Blue Earth Area High School student was arrested after allegedly making “threats of violence” late Wednesday afternoon.

 

We received an anonymous e-mail from a concerned citizen who notified the school district about the threats,” says Scott Adams, Faribault County chief deputy. “He was making threats of bringing weapons to school.”

 

Parents of students were made aware of the incident through an e-mail that was sent out on Thursday by district officials.

 

Administrators and law enforcement acted on the report swiftly. There is no current threat to the safety of our students,” wrote interim Superintendent Dr. Jerry Jensen.

 

Adams says five deputies and a Blue Earth police officer conducted interviews and worked on the case from the time school was dismissed for the day until 11 p.m.

 

There were no kids present when we arrived at the schools,” says Adams. “He was arrested at his home and no weapons were seized.”

 

Authorities say the teen male has been charged with making terroristic threats.

 

He made a court appearance in juvenile court on Thursday and was released to the custody of his parents.

 

EDA has more than $300k for loans

May 2, 2019

 

It's not exactly burning holes in their pockets, but Winnebago Economic Development Authority (EDA) board members have more than $300,000 they want to use.

 

Why are we sitting on all this money? People don't know it's available,” says Deputy City Clerk Jessi Sturtz.

 

Before the start of Wednesday's EDA board meeting, Sturtz and Annie Leibel of CEDA requested that the development group's fund balance be added to the agenda as a discussion item.

 

The EDA recently received an infusion of nearly $140,000 from the Minnesota Initiative Fund, bringing the total amount of money available for helping businesses to $329,006.

 

Board members agreed that efforts should be made to let people know there may be financial assistance to help start or expand a business.

 

Sturtz suggested that information could be posted on social media and the city's website to advertise the EDA has low-interest funding.

 

A couple who are starting a business recently came into City Hall, says Sturtz, and they had no clue the EDA has money for loans.

 

We have a protocol for people to apply,” says board member Doug Hill. “I don't think we need to stray out from it.”

 

In addition to providing Faribault County economic development services, Leibel works one day a week for Winnebago.

 

Leibel regularly meets with local business owners and has distributed a survey to each of them.

 

She also has started drafting a community survey and is working with the County Board on demolition of Super Valu building.

 

In promoting services offered by the EDA, Sturtz and Leibel are putting the finishing touches on an ad to run in a local newspaper.

 

I could also easily come up with a brochure,” Leibel told board members.

 

The EDA not only makes loans to retail businesses but also commercial enterprises. More information can be obtained by calling City Hall at (507) 893-3217.

 

BEA seeking applications for board

May 1, 2019

 

Blue Earth Area School District is looking for someone to serve on the School Board and it may be for only a few months.

 

My recommendation is we advertise for applicants and see who is interested,” says Dr. Jerry Jensen, interim superintendent. “I think it would be beneficial to give anyone out there a chance.”

 

District officials scheduled a special meeting on Monday after receiving an e-mail from board member Jeremy Coxworth on April 22 indicating he was submitting his resignation effective immediately.

 

Board members accepted Coxworth's resignation and many expressed their appreciation for his service and dedication.

 

At least one person may be stepping up to fill the vacancy and he was in attendance at the meeting.

 

Jeff Eckles, one of seven candidates who ran for four seats during the 2018 November general election, says he's interested in serving on the board.

 

Eckles sat and listened as Jensen explained to board members the process involved in finding a replacement.

 

By law, we must appoint someone,” Jensen says. “After a person is appointed there's a 30-day waiting period, giving the community the right to petition the appointment.”

 

Board members decided to begin advertising for the position immediately on the district's website, social media page and in the local media.

 

We need to let as many people as possible know that the seat is open to apply,” says board member Frankie Bly.

 

Jensen says the person who is appointed would serve until November, then the district would hold an election to select someone to serve the final year of a four-year term.

 

The pay for serving on the board is $50 for every regular and special meeting attended up to half a day and $150 for full-day meetings.

 

Anyone interested in applying for the position should submit a letter of interest to the superintendent's office by the May 10th deadline or call the district's central office at (507) 526-3188 with any questions.

 

BE police keeping an eye on person

April 26, 2019

 

A social media post regarding a “suspicious person” at a Blue Earth business recently has caught the attention of the police department.

 

On Tuesday, local authorities used their website to reassure residents they are aware of the situation and will be monitoring the man's behaviors.

 

At this point he hasn't done anything illegal that has been reported to us,” says Police Chief Tom Fletcher. “We know who he is and are familiar with him.”

 

The only description provided by authorities was that the man is white and from Bricelyn.

 

Fletcher says the man has also been seen in Wells and Elmore and some businesses have banned him from their establishments.

 

It's due to odd behavior, such as talking to himself, going through cigarette cans and staring at people,” he says. “It's making customers uncomfortable.”

 

The person has so far been overdressed for the weather, says Fletcher, and has been riding an older style 10-speed type bicycle.

 

Anyone encountering someone who makes them feel unsafe should contact police at (507) 526-5959 or Faribault County Sheriff dispatcher at (507) 526-5148.

 

Coxworth resigns from BEA board

April 24, 2019

 

A Blue Earth Area School Board member who has been critical of district administrators in the past has decided to step down.

 

Jeremy Coxworth, who was elected to a four-year term in November 2016, submitted his resignation effective immediately in an e-mail to board members at 8:08 a.m. Monday.

 

With my expanding business, I don't have the time to be fully committed to my position on the School Board,” says Coxworth, owner and operator of Coxworth Water Conditioning in Blue Earth.

 

Coxworth called an internal review of the district's handling of disciplinary action against four football players charged with assault, “deceptive and sickening.”

 

He also charged that someone in the district guided and told an official at Soldo Consulting of Woodbury what to investigate.

 

Interim superintendent Dr. Jerry Jensen says Coxworth resigning more than 90 days prior to this year's November election means the board will have to pick a replacement.

 

The board must have a special election to fill the vacancy in November,” says Jensen. “That means the appointed individual will serve about five months or so, until the election in November determines the replacement.”

 

The person elected will serve the remainder of the term, which will be through the end of

2020.

 

Jensen says board members can decide how to fill the vacancy, but he is recommending they seek applications and then make a selection.

 

Board members are expected to meet to accept the resignation and determine the process to be used for the appointment. No date has been scheduled for the special meeting.

 

Victim's father gets OK to comment

April 20, 2019

 

It's been 18 months since a Blue Earth Area football player was beaten at a house party held by a teammate in Winnebago.

 

Four teens were ultimately charged in the assault that occurred in the early morning hours of Oct. 19, 2017, and left a sophomore lineman unconscious.

 

The victim's father, Dale Hurley, drove some 370 miles from his home in Nebraska to attend a plea hearing held Wednesday in Fairmont for the last of four defendants to settle their case.

 

“It's been a long ordeal for our family and it has truly upended our lives,” says Hurley. “Our faith, friends and support programs have gotten us through this.”

 

In order to make any statements to the media, Hurley needed to get the OK from Judge Michael Trushenski because a “gag order” he imposed last month has not been lifted.

 

Although the final defendant pleaded guilty to third-degree assault, Hurley says he was disappointed because it was an Alford plea --- which means he still maintains his innocence.

 

“What a coward. He can't admit he did it and was wrong,” he says. “At least the other three defendants had enough guts and courage to admit they were wrong.”

 

Hurley says he doesn't know how someone can say they're innocent after giving a 10-page statement to police that they were present when the assault occurred.

 

During a contested omnibus hearing, two witnesses for the defendant testified he was at his ex-girlfriend mother's house during the time period of the assault.

 

One of them ended up being charged with perjury and aiding an offender by obstructing an investigation.

 

The Hurleys also filed a civil lawsuit last November seeking more than $12,500 in damages associated with lost wages, moving expenses and closing costs on purchasing a house.

 

Hurley says he expects to increase the amount for financial compensation but hasn't yet determined by how much.

 

Any restitution that is awarded will be divided by defendants who are held responsible.

 

Hurley has at least one more trip back to Minnesota and it will be for a sentencing hearing scheduled June 11 for the last defendant.

 

“Coming back, it's been a constant reminder of what happened,” he says. “But, it's been getting better since we moved away.”

 

Because one of the defendants charged in the assault was 15 years old at the time of the incident, his case was heard in juvenile court and any details of the outcome are not made public.

 

The other three of the defendants settled their case without having a jury trial and that saved the county a lot of money.

 

“All of them got a plea deal. I think they got off pretty easy,” says Hurley.

 

Important plea detail not mentioned

April19, 2019

 

A Faribault County prosecutor left out an important detail when he said a Frost teen pleaded guilty to an assault charge.

 

On Wednesday, assistant County Attorney LaMar Piper told Tripleanews.com that 19-year-old Wyatt Eugene Tungland pleaded guilty to a felony charge of third-degree assault.

 

What Piper forgot to mention was that Tungland made an Alford plea during his hearing held before Judge Michael Trushenski in Martin County District Court.

 

When Tungland's mother became aware of Piper's error, she first contacted Tripleanews.com and then their attorney Chris Ritts.

 

In an e-mail to Tripleanews.com, Ritts did confirm that Tungland had entered an Alford plea.

 

Under the plea, Tungland maintains he is innocent but admits there may be sufficient evidence with which the prosecution could likely convince a judge or jury to find him guilty.

 

Charges of aiding and abetting third-degree assault and furnishing alcohol to persons under the age of 21 were dismissed.

 

A four-day jury scheduled April 23-26 in Faribault County District Court in Blue Earth has been canceled.

 

Tungland is the last for four teens who were charged in the assault of former Blue Earth Area (BEA) football teammate to settle his case. The other three defendants also pleaded guilty to various charges after reaching plea deals with prosecutors.

 

The assault occurred in the early morning hours of Oct. 19, 2017, during a house party at the home of a BEA football player in Winnebago.

 

A pre-sentence investigation has been ordered prior to Tungland's sentencing that is scheduled to be held on June 11.

 

Tungland pleads guilty to 1 charge

April 18, 2019

 

There will be no trial for a Frost teen charged in the assault of a former Blue Earth Area (BEA) football teammate in October 2017.

 

Wyatt Eugene Tungland, 19, pleaded guilty to a felony charge of third-degree assault on Wednesday in Martin County District Court in Fairmont.

 

Charges of aiding and abetting third-degree assault and furnishing alcohol to persons under the age of 21 were dismissed.

 

A four-day jury was scheduled to be held April 23-26 in Faribault County District Court in Blue Earth.

 

“For the record, the trial for next week is stricken off the court calendar,” says Judge Michael Trushenski.

 

The hearing Wednesday was scheduled to begin at 11:30 a.m. but Trushenski granted defense attorney Chris Ritts' request to start a half hour earlier.

 

Because of the earlier start time, the lone media representative at the hearing arrived at the posted court calendar time and did not hear any of the proceedings.

 

Following the hearing, Trushenski said he did not address the issue of a “gag order” he imposed last month on all parties involved in the case.

 

The “gag order” was issued at the request of the Faribault County Attorney's Office, who accused Ritts of making disparaging comments about assistant County Attorney LaMar Piper in a Tripleanews.com story on Feb. 28.

 

At the request of Tripleanews.com the judge said Piper and Ritts could make a comment if both parties agreed to do so.

 

When Piper asked Ritts if he would be willing to speak to the press he said no and then uttered an expletive at the reporter.

 

Piper and the assault victim's father Dale Hurley met for more than 20 minutes in the Law Library room, while Ritts, Tungland and his mother were meeting nearby in the Jury room.

 

Tungland is the last for four teens who were charged in the assault to settle his case.

 

The other three defendants also pleaded guilty to various charges after reaching plea deals with prosecutors.

 

The assault occurred in the early morning hours of Oct. 19, 2017, during a house party at the home of a BEA football player in Winnebago.

 

A pre-sentence investigation has been ordered prior to Tungland's sentencing that is scheduled to be held on June 11.

 

Council updated on school project

April 17, 2019

 

A committee seeking to turn the Winnebago school into a multi-purpose facility, once Southern Plains Education Cooperative relocates to Fairmont, will need help paying the initial operating costs.

 

The City of Winnebago will need to sustain the cost of the building for one year,” says Renee Doyle. “I think it would be around $100,000.”

 

Doyle, a member of the Winnebago Area School Project, gave an update during the City Council meeting held earlier this month.

 

The group has developed a five-page plan, she says, and is in the process of incorporating into a 501(c)3 non-profit organization.

 

Doyle says the school would house a day care center, recreational facility, vocational training center and a school for grades pre-K through 12th.

 

I am offering a disclosure and am not advocating on behalf of Genesis,” says Doyle, headmaster of the non-denominational Christian school located at Heartland Senior Living.

 

Genesis has the ability to move in there quickly and start paying rent right away,” she adds.

 

The city would get reimbursed once the group secures funding through obtaining grants and fund-raising efforts. So far, the project has received a $20,000 grant from Bevcomm.

 

Doyle laid out a timeline that has the four entities gaining access to the building in June to develop cost estimates and plans.

 

In July, the group wants to hire a project administrator and is hoping to occupy the building by Nov.1

 

All entities would be functional within the building by Dec. 1,” says Doyle. “Each of the entities would need to give you a plan right away, by May 1.”

 

Council member Jean Anderson says once the project is completed it will bring new jobs to the city.

 

We have the right people in place,” she says.”We have to figure out how can we make this happen. The sky is the limit.”

 

Doyle says the facility would be governed by a founding board consisting of a council member, two community members and a representative from each of the four entities using the building.

 

The community is thirsty for something like this. The dreams and possibilities are there,” she says. We will just take one step at a time.”

 

Students lobby to keep teacher's job

April 15, 2019

 

Blue Earth Area School Board balked at interim Superintendent Jerry Jensen's recommendation to cut more than $507,000 from next year's budget.

 

Instead, board members approved trimming $425,364 which saved an elementary teaching position and a half-time, full-time equivalent position in the high school Social Studies Department.

 

The budget cuts are needed because the district currently has a deficit of $801,000 and that is expected to reach $1.2 million in the 2019-20 school year.

 

Because a large crowd was expected at Monday night's meeting, it was held in the elementary school multi-purpose gymnasium.

 

Five people spoke out against the proposed cuts during the public input portion of the meeting.

 

High school senior Tate Thielfoldt presented each board member with copies of a petition signed by 221 students asking that Social Studies teacher Paul Nienaber not be on the chopping block.

 

Thielfoldt read a prepared statement praising Nienaber for his work in the classroom, community and as a coach in football and baseball.

 

He is an outstanding teacher who is both hard working and caring,” Thielfoldt says. “The emphasis placed on respecting others in Mr. Nienaber's classroom makes his classroom an inviting environment for the student to study history.”

 

Thielfoldt says students understand and realize that board members have tough decisions to make, however, Nienaber shouldn't lose his job.

 

It is the opinion of our senior class and along with other countless members of the student body that Paul Nienaber should be noticed as an excellent teacher who deserves to keep his position in school,” says Thielfoldt.

 

Brent Legred told board members a good educational system is the result of its teachers, not brick and mortar. In addition to being a good teacher, he says Nienaber is a high quality coach who is part of the local Fellowship of Young Christian Athletes organization.

 

We don't want to let him slip away. He has a rare gift to be truly able to connect with kids in a passion to help make sure they succeed,” says Legred. Mr. Nienaber will be one of teachers when your kids will be asked 10 or 20 years down the road who was the major positive contributor in their life --- he is one of the names they will bring up.”

 

Legred says the letter written by the students should not be taken lightly and the 221 signatures they gathered in one day is outstanding.

 

Board member Frankie Bly, who is a former teacher, says teachers are not the only ones who play an important role in educating students and the board should not cut Nienaber's position.

 

After comments that were said tonight, the individual has an affect on kids,” says Bly. “Coaches have a unique opportunity to have a positive affect that classroom teachers don't.”

 

Among the cuts that totaled $507,847 were four teaching positions, however, this includes two teachers who have retired and two who have requested a leave.

 

Other reductions include: teachers on call; a bus route; Minnesota Comprehensive Assessment proctors; tech coaches; 2.4 paraprofessionals; and one technology integration position from .6 full-time equivalency to .4.

 

Despite making the cuts, board members will have to deal with a budget shortfall of nearly $600,000. They are considering asking the public to vote on an operating excess levy referendum.

 

Storm leaves many without power

 

April 13, 2019

 

Faribault County authorities were busy this week trying to access the damage caused by a winter storm.

 

As a result, members of the Sheriff's Department found that many residents were left without electricity.

 

Chief Deputy Scott Adams says four deputies went out Thursday morning to survey the county to determine the extent of the power outage.

 

“It's the worst I've ever seen,” he says. “We counted over 100 power poles that were down.”

 

During the storm, wind gusts reportedly reached up to 60 mph and many power lines coated with ice were snapped.

 

Authorities report that Bricelyn and Kiester were the hardest hit areas in the county.

 

According to BENCO officials, some 5,500 homes and businesses were without power Thursday morning. By Friday afternoon, that number had been reduced to around 1,000.

 

BENCO estimates more than 200 broken power poles, miles of downed power lines and 18 substations not operating at capacity.

 

Meeting closed to discuss grievances

April 13, 2019

 

Winnebago City Council went into closed-session to discuss a supervisory and administrative staff issue at their April 9 meeting.

 

After nearly an hour behind closed doors, City Attorney David Frundt says council members took no action.

 

There are a couple of city employees who have requested to have the council review their personnel files pursuant to the city personnel policy in the form of a grievance,” says Frundt. “Because this is personnel file information, it is private information.”

 

The closed-session discussion appears to be related to a letter sent to the Personnel Committee that sparked a verbal spat between council members Rick Johnson and Paul Eisenmenger at a March work session.

 

Eisenmenger called the letter,”surprising and weird” and wanted to know the contents of the letter.

 

But, Johnson said the matter was similar to an attorney/client privilege relationship and nothing could be said at that time.

 

Tripleanews.com has learned the “employee grievances” may be related to some city workers possibly not following the chain of command process outlined in the personnel policy.

 

At his final council meeting, former City Administrator Chris Ziegler had some advice for council members if they hire a new administrator.

 

If you go down the path of an administrator, I would say the most important thing is to follow the chain of command,” Ziegler says. “Make sure that everyone on the council reinforces the personnel policy and chain of command.”

 

Former councilman Scott Robertson has told Tripleanews.com that in the past there have been times when an employee who had a concern or problem would go directly to the mayor or a council member instead of Ziegler.

 

They would basically cut him out of the process and they were micro-managing,”says Robertson. “It's like you're getting back-doored.”

 

Frundt says under the state Data Practices Act, if the council takes any action on the grievances that information cannot be made public.

 

Olson remaining as Bago police chief

April 6, 2019

 

Winnebago City Council may have had its hands full in filling vacancies. 

 

Tripleanews.com has learned that Police Chief Eric Olson was one of four finalists for the chief post of the Morris Police Department.

 

Olson and three other candidates were interviewed in early March, however, he did not get the job.

 

The Morris City Council selected someone at their March 12 meeting who had been serving as interim chief since late January.

 

Olson has been police chief in Winnebago for nearly five years and is currently sharing some of the administrative duties until a city administrator is hired.

 

The council has yet to begin the process to replace Chris Ziegler, who resigned effective Feb. 22.

 

During their March meeting, council members decided to seek the help of South Central Service Cooperative in the search for a new administrator.

 

Deficit to top $1M, BEA looks at cuts

April 6, 2019

 

After voting to hire and pay a superintendent more than $130,000 a year, the Blue Earth Area (BEA) School Board began to discuss budget cuts for next year.

 

BEA administrators say the reductions are needed because the district currently has a deficit of $801,000 and that could reach $1.2 million in the 2019-20 school year.

 

Interim superintendent Jerry Jensen told board members during a special meeting held April 1 that next year's deficit, “Is a little bit down from what we initially thought.”

 

Jensen presented a list of potential cuts totaling $343,069 that included a first grade teacher, Title 1 teacher and high school physical education instructor.

 

Other staff members on the chopping block were a 2.4 paraprofessionals; a tech integration position and coaches; MCA proctors; and teachers on call. In addition, a bus route would be eliminated.

 

Cuts labeled as “secondary consideration” were one teacher for each grades 3, 5, and 6 and one section for each grade level 8 through 11. The savings would amount to $259,177.

 

Nothing is etched in stone, but probably these things should happen,” says Jensen. “What you do this spring isn't going to get you out of the woods. You have to look at long term solutions that make educational sense.”

 

District officials are hoping for a 2 percent increase in state funding this legislative session that could lower the deficit by nearly $200,000.

 

Taxpayers in the school district could be asked to vote on an operating referendum to generate more revenue.

 

If voters approved a referendum of $500 per pupil unit that add $526,000 to the district's coffers; $700 per pupil unit, $750,402; and $900 per pupil unit, $964,804. The property tax increase on a home valued at $150,000 would be $137, $217 and $297, respectively.

 

Board member Frankie Bly says past boards have not sought an operating referendum because it was hard to justify when having $3.2 million in reserves.

 

We don't have an operating excess levy, other school districts do,” says Bly. “And, we pride ourselves on that. We knew there was going to be a time for an excess levy, maybe it's now.”

 

Although an exact dollar figure was not given, school officials estimate the district has two months of operating expenses or about $2.5 million in reserves.

 

Some other possible cuts identified are a second grade teacher for $47,483; social worker, $67,893; one principal, $80,000; school resource officer to half time, $38,000; one clerical position, $39,000; and school bus, $80,000.

 

With the reduction of class sections, says Jensen, that could lead to an increase in disciplinary issues.

 

As a result, Jensen doesn't think what he calls “support services” such as a social worker, principal or resource officer should be eliminated or reduced because of school safety.

 

Board member Jeremy Coxworth suggests making cuts --- like a principal -- that will not have a negative impact on a student's education.

 

The teacher is the asset of our staff,” says Coxworth. “Whenever they talk making cuts, it's teachers. I think we could look elsewhere.”

 

Board members are expected to take another look at the budget reductions during their next meeting on April 8.

 

We don't like these choices, it does affect staff and kids,” says Jensen.

 

Attorney seeks lesser assault charge

April 3, 2019

 

An attorney for a teen facing two felony counts of assault in the beating of a Blue Earth Area football teammate wants the charges reduced.

 

In a letter to Judge Michael Trushenski dated March 28, Minneapolis attorney Chris Ritts says he will ask the court for what he calls “a durational departure on a straight plea,” for 19-year-old Wyatt Eugene Tungland.

 

Ritts says he wants a gross misdemeanor assault sentence for his client and made the request during a pre-trial hearing held March 29.

 

A motion hearing has been scheduled for April 17, however, it's not clear if it is to address Ritts' request. The hearing is being held a week before the start of Tungland's four-day trial set for April 23-26.

 

Tungland has pleaded not guilty to third-degree assault, aiding and abetting third-degree assault and furnishing alcohol to persons under the age of 21.

 

In the letter, Ritts says the assault that occurred on Oct. 19, 2017, during a house party in Winnebago did not cause substantial bodily injury.

 

“Wyatt played a minor role in the crime compared with other defendants, he lacked substantial capacity,” he says. “Grounds exist that tend to excuse and/or mitigate his culpability, although not amounting to a complete defense and finally that he is particularly amenable to probation.”

 

Ritts says the victim's alleged concussion diagnosed Nov. 6, 2017, was the result of over a dozen football games and practices in which he took multiple hits to his head. He says one of the hits on Oct. 28 was so severe that it cracked his helmet.

 

According to Ritts, medical reports also will show that the victim was suffering from mononucleosis during this time.

 

“Dr. Steven Noran, M.D., a board certified neurologist, will testify that based on the victim's mono and subsequent athletic activities, no competent doctor could diagnose to a degree of medical certainty that he suffered a concussion on or about Oct. 19,” Ritts says.

 

Ritts contends that the evidence is incomplete and uncertain that his client committed the assault and that Tungland has an alibi as to where he was when the beating occurred.

 

“The victim never identified Wyatt in his statement as one of the people who hit him,” says Ritts. “We have a text from the victim stating that he knows Wyatt did not hurt him and is his friend.”

 

Ritts says his client, three other co-defendants in the case and the victim were consuming alcohol at the party and perceptions are unclear.

 

The judge is being asked to consider that Tungland suffers from ADHD and concussion syndrome that affects his cognitive ability to remember, focus and understand.

 

Ritts says his client is currently taking medication to address his medical issues, has completed counseling and chemical dependency classes.

 

In addition, Ritts says Tungland recently became a father, has child care duties for his son as well as finishing his GED and working to support his family.

 

Contract more than $130,000 a year

April 2, 2019

 

The new superintendent for Blue Earth Area School District will be earning more than $130,000 a year.

 

It took less than a minute for School Board members to unanimously approve a three-year contract for Mandy (Lloyd) Fletcher during a special meeting held Monday night.

 

Before taking a vote, interim superintendent Jerry Jensen told the board that the contract was, “pretty much boilerplate language.”

 

Under the agreement, Fletcher will be paid an annual salary of $133,000 for the 2019-20 school year; $134,995 for 2020-21; and $137,020 for 2021-22.

 

The contract was negotiated between the board chairperson Susan Benz and Ed Waltman of South Central Service Cooperative.

 

Fletcher will receive health and life insurance and the district will match up to $3,000 in an annuity plan. She also will be paid 20 working days of vacation annually.

 

According to the four-page contract, which begins July 1, 2019, and ends June 30, 2022, terms may be modified but they cannot be reduced.

 

Fletcher was among a list of four finalists recommended by South Central Service Cooperative.

 

Board members narrowed the field to two and interviewed Fletcher on March 20 and David Pace, superintendent at Greenway Public Schools in Coleraine, on March 21.

 

Fletcher is a 1999 graduate of Blue Earth Area and has been the superintendent/principal at Granada-Huntley-East Chain since 2017.

 

Investigation cost more than $18,000

March 29, 2019

 

Blue Earth has finally received a bill for an investigation that cost more than $18,000 and the results will never be made public.

 

At their meeting on April 1, City Administrator Tim Ibisch says the City Council will be reviewing an invoice submitted by Everett & VanderWiel on March 22.

 

City officials hired the Twin Cities area law firm to look into a complaint filed against former police officer Chad Bonin last November.

 

Attorney Pamela L. VanderWiel spent 87 hours on the investigation for a cost of $17,420 and billed the city another $708 for lodging, mileage and transcription fees.

 

Although the 42-page report details findings regarding alleged misconduct, the results will remain confidential because of a separation agreement reached between the city and Bonin.

 

Under the agreement, Bonin was paid accrued benefits in sick leave, vacation and compensation time that totaled $10,753.

 

City Attorney David Frundt says council members had the opportunity to take further action after reviewing the investigation report.

 

Frundt says the council could have held a Laudermill hearing, but decided not to do so.

 

“Mr. Bonin would have had the right to respond to the allegations and investigation report and to set out his side of the story to the council,” he says. “The city could then determine if any discipline was appropriate and to take action for that discipline, including termination at that time.”

 

Judge issues "gag order" in case

March 20, 2019

 

A judge has issued a “gag order” in the case of a Frost teen charged in the assault of a former Blue Earth Area football teammate.

 

Faribault County prosecutors made the request during a court hearing held March 1 in Blue Earth before Martin County Judge Michael Trushenski.

 

According to court papers, Wyatt Eugene Tungland's attorney Chris Ritts is accused of making disparaging comments in a news story in Tripleanews.com about the prosecutors, specifically assistant County Attorney LaMar Piper.

 

Trushenski has instructed all parties and attorneys in the case and law enforcement officials not to discuss any aspect of the case with the press.

 

All employees in the County Attorney's Office and staff working for Ritts also are included under the order.

 

“The order applies to the defendant, defendant's immediate family, the victim's immediate family and the Winnebago Police Department,” says Trushenski.

 

The press may still have access to any hearings or files involving the case. However, persons associated with the case must have permission from the court to make any public comment.

 

Tungland has pleaded innocent to third-degree assault, aiding and abetting third-degree assault and furnishing alcohol to persons under the age of 21. His trial is scheduled April 23-26 in Faribault County District Court.

 

Trial to remain in Faribault County

March 19, 2019

 

The trial for a Frost teen charged in the beating of a former Blue Earth Area football teammate will not be moved nor delayed.

 

In a March 18 ruling, Martin County District Court Judge Michael Trushenski says 19-year-old Wyatt Eugene Tungland's trial will be held as planned --- April 23-26 in Faribault County District Court.

 

Tungland has pleaded innocent to third-degree assault, aiding and abetting third-degree assault and furnishing alcohol to persons under the age of 21.

 

Defense attorney Chris Ritts argued during a hearing held March 1 that his client could not get a fair trial due to pretrial publicity and because he is an African-American living in a predominantly white county.

 

Ritts suggested Hennepin, Ramsey, Carver or Aitkin counties as possible locations for the four-day jury trial.

 

But, Trushenski says extensive media coverage of the case does not present a reasonable likelihood that Tungland would not get a fair trial.

 

“It appears to the court that those stories are fact-based and not inflammatory or opinionated/biased against the defendant,” he says. “Additionally, many of those stories are six months to a year old.”

 

The judge says potential jurors exposed to print and television news reports is insufficient to show prejudice.

 

“Rather, the test is whether a prospective juror can set aside an impression or opinion and render an impartial verdict,” Trushenski says.

 

On the issue of race, the judge says none of the news stories presented by Ritts mention race, “The defense attorney is the only person who has made an issue of the defendant's race.”

 

While the court is aware the population of Faribault County is predominantly white, says the judge, the defense provided no information about the county's demographic makeup.

 

Trushenski dismissed Ritts' contention that “conversation strings” on social media would impact the trial, saying they appear to essentially be from the same individuals.

 

In trying to get the trial delayed, Ritts says a witness charged with perjury was a “calculated move” by the Faribault County Attorney's Office to deprive his client the right to a fair trial.

 

Last July, a mother and daughter testified during an omnibus hearing that Tungland could not have been involved in the assault because he was at their house during the time of the incident.

 

Ritts says because the witness is facing felony counts of perjury and aiding an offender by obstructing an investigation, her attorney has told him she will plead the fifth under the Fifth Amendment to protect herself from self-incrimination.

 

“The defendant has not shown that the Faribault County Attorney's Office interfered with the witness's decision to testify or her decision to plead the fifth,” Trushenski says. “The state (county attorney's office) has the right to file charges against individuals who they believe committed a crime.”

 

BEA grad among final 2 for position

March 14, 2019

 

 

And now, there are two finalists.

 

Mandy (Lloyd) Fletcher, a 1999 Blue Earth Area graduate, and David Pace survived first round interviews to fill the Blue Earth Area School District superintendent position.

 

Fletcher and Pace were selected from a field of four following interviews conducted by the School Board and a community committee on Wednesday night.

 

Interim superintendent Dr. Jerry Jensen says each candidate fielded questions from a community committee for one hour and then met with the board for an hour.

 

“The community committee shared their comment and summary sheets with the board,” says Jensen. “After review of those documents, the board engaged in a rating system that used desired superintendent attributes the board approved on Monday.”

 

Fletcher has been the superintendent/principal at Granada-Huntley-East Chain since 2017.

 

Pace has been a superintendent in multiple districts since 2001 and is currently superintendent at Greenway Public Schools District in Coleraine.

 

Jensen says the final round of interviews will be held Wednesday, March 20 for Fletcher and Thursday, March 21 for Pace.

 

The schedule on each day includes the candidates meeting with the interim superintendent and touring the district, meeting with the administrative team and attending a community gathering scheduled from 4 p.m. to 5 p.m. in the Performing Arts Center at the high school.

 

Following dinner with the School Board, the candidates will be interviewed for one hour.

 

Following Pace's interview the board will meet in special session and is expected to make their final selection.

 

Jensen was hired after Evan Gough resigned to take a superintendent job for the Goodhue School District in January.

 

He began his duties on Jan. 1 under an interim contract that paid him $80,880 based on 112 work days and is scheduled to end June 30.

 

Council decides to hire administrator

March 14, 2019

 

Winnebago City Council will seek the help of South Central Service Cooperative in their search for a new city administrator.

 

During a work session prior to Tuesday's council meeting, discussion at times turned testy between council members Rick Johnson and Paul Eisenmenger.

 

At the center of their disagreement was a letter to the Personnel Committee that Eisenmenger called,”surprising and weird.”

 

Eisenmenger says he has talked with former City Administrator Chris Ziegler two times since he resigned and contents of the letter was never mentioned.

 

I want to know. You may think I do, but I don't,” Eisenmenger told Johnson, “ It looks very suspicious and strange.”

 

Johnson says because the matter is similar to an attorney/client privilege relationship nothing can be said at this time.

 

When it gets time to go to the council, it will,” says Johnson. “There is a chain of command and a process.”

 

Johnson raised his voice, at one point, and Eisenmenger responded, “ You don't have to yell at me.”

 

After the meeting, Johnson was vague when asked to comment on the letter.

 

There's a complaint and it's being addressed. I've turned it over to the city attorney,” he says.

 

Johnson was the lone dissenting vote against hiring a city administrator, saying it is something he has thought about during the past three administrators.

 

He says the city's population has decreased and wonders if taxpayers can afford to continue paying for the position. When Ziegler left he was earning more than $65,000.

 

We have department heads, the council and office staff. If everyone works in a cohesive manner, as a team, it will work,” he says. “Everything is in place. I think it can work and we can save a chunk of money.

 

Councilman Calvin Howard says not having a city administrator would mean that council members might have to get involved in the day-to-day operations.

 

I don't think it's a good time to be cutting down on office help,” he says. “Things seem to be going in the right direction.”

 

Mayor Jeremiah Schutt says a city administrator is needed because, “There's very positive energy going on right now in the city.”

 

Schutt says council member Jean Anderson, who did not attend the meeting, also supports maintaining the position..

 

City leaders cite a $3 million, 16,000-square-foot expansion project at Heartland Senior Living; a nearly $9 million street and infrastructure project in the northwest part of town; and a group's plan to turn the Winnebago school into a vocational training center as reasons for having an administrator.

 

You'll save money not having an administrator, but the ball is going to be dropped somewhere,” says Howard.

 

Eisenmenger says there has to be someone in charge to deal with any concerns and questions that staff or the public may have.

 

While he supports hiring an administrator, that may not be enough to satisfy Eisenmenger.

 

What happened to drive out someone who has lived in the community for several years? Eisenmenger asks. “What happened?”

 

Until someone is hired, Deputy City Clerk Jessi Sturtz, City Clerk Judy Staloch and Police Chief Eric Olson will handle administrative duties.

 

The council also voted to give them each a $3 an hour pay raise and increase Staloch's hours to full-time status.

 

BEA grad among finalist for position

March 12, 2019

 

A former Blue Earth Area graduate is in the running to be the district's next superintendent.

 

At the recommendation of Harold Remme of the South Central Service Cooperative, the School Board approved a list of four finalists on Monday night.

 

The candidates are:

 

  • Mandy (Lloyd) Fletcher, a 1999 graduate of Blue Earth Area. She has been the superintendent/principal at Granada-Huntley-East Chain since 2017;

  • Dale Hogie, superintendent at Lake Park-Audubon School District in Lake Park since 2003;

  • Barry Schmidt, superintendent at West Central Area School District since 2017;

  • and, David Pace, superintendent at Greenway Public Schools District in Coleraine, since 2001 in multiple districts.

 

Remme says among the 17 applicants for the position, two were women and nine had some experience as a superintendent.

 

Twelve of the candidates had some educational experience in Minnesota; two in North Dakota; one in South Dakota; one in Wisconsin; and one in Brazil.

 

The finalists are scheduled to be interviewed on Wednesday by the School Board and a community committee.

 

Board members will narrow the field down to two at the end of the first round of interviews. The two will then be interviewed by the board, one candidate on March 20 and one on March 21.

 

The board is expected to decide which candidate to hire at a special meeting scheduled March 21.

 

Fire sends 4 juveniles to hospital

March 9, 2019

 

An early morning Friday fire has left a Kiester family homeless and sent four juveniles to a hospital.

 

“The house was completely destroyed,” says Faribault County Chief Deputy Scott Adams. “When EMS arrived there were flames and smoke.”

 

Parents of the youths, says Adams, were at work at the time of the fire.

 

Sheriff's deputies responded to a report of the fire at 3:31 a.m. at 201 N. Third Street.

 

The juvenile were in the residence and were able to exit the house safely, according to authorities. They were transported to the Albert Lea hospital for observation.

 

Adams says cause of the fire has been determined to be electrical issues.

 

Several pets were found dead inside the house after the fire was extinguished,according to authorities.

 

Assisting at the scene were the Kiester Fire Department, Walters Fire Department, Kiester Ambulance service and Wells Police Department.

 

The American Red Cross has been contacted to assist the family with temporary housing.

 

B.E. administrator finalist for job

March 6, 2019

 

Blue Earth officials may have to start looking for a new city administrator next month.

 

Tripleanews.com was informed by Tim Ibisch on Wednesday afternoon that he is one of five finalists vying for the New Ulm city manager's post.

 

Ibisch has been serving as city administrator since October 2014.

 

The other candidates include:

  • current acting City Manager Christopher Dalton;

  • Sam Hansen, city manager of St. James;

  • Erin Reinders, assistant city manager of Unalaska, Alaska;

  • and, Dan Wietecha, township superintendent for Bath Charter Township, Michigan.

 

According to a news report, there were 30 applicants for the position that was posted in early January.

 

The list was narrowed down to 12 to present to the council members and they whittled it to five.

 

The candidates will be interviewed by the full Council on April 1 and 2, which will include interviews with department heads, a meet-and-greet, a tour of the city and council members discussing the finalists.

 

Meeting for school draws big crowd

March 2, 2019

 

Some 100 people attended a community “brain-storming session” sponsored by Southern Minnesota Initiative Fund (SMIF) held Feb. 23 at the Winnebago school building.

 

Seen an important first step to seek financial support and the involvement of area communities, entrepreneur Bob Weerts flew in from Arizona to discuss his idea of turning the school into a vocational training center.

 

The meeting from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. involved group discussions and tours to gather suggestions on how the facility should be used once Southern Plains Education Cooperative (SPEC) relocates to Fairmont.

 

Former council member Scott Robertson is a member of the committee pushing to ensure the school doesn't sit empty.

 

Robertson says those in attendance identified three main elements that will be part of the group's action plan moving forward.

 

“By a landslide, Genesis Academy using the building was the big elephant in the room,” he says. “Providing training for vocational skills and a daycare are also a big part of the plan.”

 

Council members Jean Anderson and Paul Eisenmenger and former City Administrator Chris Ziegler were among those at the meeting. However, Mayor Jeremiah Schutt was not there.

 

Schutt in the past has said he supports the committee's efforts, but wants more information so local taxpayers aren't held funding a failing project.

 

Other elected officials in attendance included District 23A Rep. Bob Gunther (R-Fairmont); Blue Earth City Council member John Huisman; Faribault County District 3 commissioner Bill Groskreutz. District 4 commissioner Tom Loveall, who represents Winnebago, did not attend.

 

Recently, the Blue Earth Area School District and Winnebago City Council approved a purchase agreement for the city to pay $2 and take possession of the facility on Nov. 1. That date can be extended up to 240 days if SPEC's new facility is not ready for them to move in.

 

Robertson says the committee is seeking a $20,000 grant from SMIF and developing a plan is the first step in a long process that could take several months.

 

“We don't want this to be a burden to the taxpayer,” he says. “We want to make sure of that. We have to keep the ball rolling and they (SMIF) are helping us with a strategic plan.”

 

The committee may have to wait until next year if they want to try and get any state funding.

 

Gunther says at this time that he and District 23 state Sen. Julie Rosen (R-Vernon Center) have not introduced a bill in the Legislature.

 

“The big hurry will be when the building is empty, until then we'll do nothing,” says Gunther. “They need to have a reliable source of students and know what they are going to charge them. Who's going to train them? They'll need a business plan first.”

 

The 13th term representative says there is currently a mood in Greater Minnesota for “vocational training” as a way of keeping students from leaving small rural communities once they graduate.

 

“This is one way that a young man or woman can get a two-year degree to get a vocation that pays well,” he says.

 

Motion filed to delay Tungland trial

February 28, 2019

 

A attorney for a teen charged in the assault of a former Blue Earth Area football player is now asking that his client's trial be delayed.

 

On Friday, Chris Ritts of Minneapolis will present arguments before Judge Michael Trushenski on why he thinks 19-year-old Wyatt Eugene Tungland's trial should not be held in Faribault or Martin County.

 

Tungland's four-day jury trial is scheduled April 23-26 in Blue Earth, but Ritts says he has filed a motion for continuance.

 

Ritts says he needs more time to prepare because a witness at Tungland's contested omnibus hearing held last July was recently charged with perjury.

 

“In my 30 years of being a lawyer, I've not seen this done at this stage. It's usually done after the trial when one has testified,” he says. “This rotten prosecutor has done this to take out my star witness, not that he genuinely believes she committed perjury.”

 

“I believe it was done intentionally, so I could not use her as a witness. I've been told her attorney has advised his client to plead the fifth, meaning she cannot testify,” he adds.

 

Allison Ann Mastin is facing felony counts of perjury and aiding an offender by obstructing an investigation.

 

Mastin and her daughter under oath testified that Tungland could not have been involved in the assault because he was at their house during the time of the incident in the early morning hours of Oct. 19, 2017.

 

Tungland has pleaded not guilty to third-degree assault, aiding and abetting third-degree assault and furnishing alcohol to persons under the age of 21.

 

Three other teen boys were charged in the assault that took place during a party held at another teammate's home in Winnebago. Their cases have been settled after reaching plea agreements.

 

Administrator tells why he resigned?

February 24, 2019

 

Winnebago's departing city administrator may have given a hint as to one reason why he's leaving.

 

At a special City Council meeting Tuesday night, Chris Ziegler had some pointed advice after nearly 40 minutes of discussion on whether to hire a replacement.

 

“If you go down the path of an administrator, I would say the most important thing is to follow the chain of command,” says Ziegler. “Make sure that everyone on the council reinforces the personnel policy and chain of command.”

 

Council members approved Ziegler's resignation during a Feb. 12 meeting and his last day on the job was Feb. 22.

 

Former councilman Scott Robertson says in the past there have been times when an employee who had a concern or problem would go directly to the mayor or a council member instead of Ziegler.

 

“They would basically cut him out of the process and they were micro-managing,”says Robertson. “It's like you're getting back-doored. That's why we are where we are right now --- without an administrator.”

 

Council members debated whether to eliminate the city administrator's position or whether those duties could be handled in-house.

 

Councilman Paul Eisenmenger expressed his concern that the city has had a high turnover of administrators in the 13 years he has lived here.

 

“We've gone through four and we can't keep doing this,” he says. “As soon as we take a step forward, we take two steps back. We drive them out.”

 

Eisenmenger says the administrator's position can be overwhelming because of the wide range of duties and knowledge that is required.

 

“It's not fair to condemn him (Chris) for some things he doesn't know,” says Eisenmenger. “I don't think we are going to find someone to meet everyone's expectations.”

 

Although councilman Rick Johnson was not in attendance, Mayor Jeremiah Schutt says he had a phone conversation with him to get his thoughts.

 

“He wants to explore options and would like to gather more information,” says Schutt. “What is going to make more sense to Winnebago and the taxpayers?”

 

Schutt favors maintaining a city administrator because he believes the position is necessary to help Winnebago grow and move forward.

Where are we today and where will we be in the future,?” says Schutt. “What are wants, needs and realistic goals?”

 

Council member Jean Anderson cites the nearly $9 million northwest infrastructure project and the city taking over ownership of the school building as a reason for hiring an administrator.

 

“We need someone positive,” she says. “At the end of the day we need to have a figure head, a leader the community can report to.”

 

Councilman Calvin Howard thinks the city should conduct a search for an administrator because someone needs to be in charge of the day-to-day operations.

 

“Who would be boss, doing the hiring and firing,?” asks Howard. “We have to make it lucrative enough so we aren't just a resume builder.”

 

Robertson told council members called not hiring an administrator would be “a huge mistake and crazy.”

 

He says currently there is no one on city staff who are qualified to prepare an annual budget or write grants to fund various projects.

 

“You don't want to eliminate a position to save money,” says Robertson. “We lost a real leader at a real important time for this city. We don't have a point person now and it bothers me.”

 

For now, Deputy City Clerk Jessi Sturtz, part-time assistant Deputy Clerk Judy Staloch and Police Chief Eric Olson will handle administrative duties, with Sturtz being in charge of the office at City Hall.

 

Schutt says that he and Anderson met with the three to discuss what should be done in the interim.

 

“We're all going to have to buck up too and help,” he says. “They aren't going to be able to handle all the duties.”

 

Council members approved full-time employment status for Staloch and must still decide how much additional pay she, Sturtz and Olson will earn.

 

If the council decides to hire an administrator, they can expect it will be a lengthy process.

 

“It could take two to three months,” says Ziegler. “We want to give a good window for applications. I'd say three weeks.”

 

 

Teen on probation for assault in jail

February 23, 2019

 

A Blue Earth teen sentenced in the assault of a former Blue Earth Area football teammate is back in jail.

 

According to the Faribault County Jail roster, 19-year-old Dalton Lee Nagel was taken into custody and booked at 2:31 a.m. Saturday.

 

Nagel is facing a pending charge of violating probation conditions that were placed on him when he was sentenced last summer.

 

Among the conditions, Judge Michael Trushenski ordered Nagel not to use alcohol or mood-altering drugs not prescribed by a physician. Tripleanews.com has not been able to confirm if that is why Nagel was arrested.

 

A second restitution hearing for Nagel scheduled on Friday was canceled. It was been set for April 5 in Martin County District Court.

 

Parents of the victim are seeking more than $12,500 damages, according to court documents.

 

LaMar Piper, assistant Faribault County Attorney, says the amount of compensation will be divided among those held responsible.

 

So far, three teens who were charged in the October 2017 assault have had their case settled.

 

Wyatt Eugene Tungland, 19, of Frost has requested a four-day jury trial which will be held April 23-26 in Blue Earth.

 

He has pleaded not guilty to third-degree assault, aiding and abetting third-degree assault and furnishing alcohol to persons under the age of 21.

 

Tungland's attorney, Chris Ritts of Minneapolis, has filed court papers seeking to have the trial moved to another county.

 

A court date has been set for March 1 in Faribault County District Court before Trushenski to hear Ritts' motion for a change of venue.

 

For some,hemp could be cash crop

February 18, 2019

 

A Winnebago farmer has joined a list of those hoping that an unconventional crop will turn out to be a money-maker.

 

Scott Robertson recently received his license from the Minnesota Department of Agriculture to grow industrial hemp.

 

“It was a long process,” says Robertson.”I was fingerprinted and they did an extensive criminal background check. It cost me several hundred dollars.”

 

Robertson, who farms some 1,500 acres of corn and soybeans with his son, says he plans to use six acres to grow hemp.

 

“I can grow corn and soybeans,” he says. “But, this is going to be something new and a learning experience.”

 

When Congress passed the 2018 Farm Bill last December it removed hemp from the federal controlled substances list.
 

And now, farmers and producers across the state are expressing interest in the crop they see as profitable at a time of low prices for traditional crops like corn and soybeans.

 

“There are a number of people I know who are going to try and grow hemp,” says Robertson. “This has the potential to be something big.”

 

Under the new farm bill, states are allowed to set up a plan to regulate hemp in order to ensure that any crop grown does not exceed federal standards for tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, the psychoactive component found in marijuana.
 

While hemp has many uses, from textiles to construction materials and food to medicine, Robertson is interested in extracting the CBD oil, or cannabidoil, a non-intoxicating part of the plant which is being touted as having many health benefits.
 

Robertson is taking the first step to grow seedlings by seeking a conditional-use-permit from the city's Planning and Zoning Committee. A meeting has been scheduled for March 5 to consider his request.


“I'll need to have permission to put up that type of structure in a residential area,” he says. “I'm told I will need to have 1,200 plants per acre, that's a lot.”


 

Were details prematurely released?

February 18, 2019

 

Oops! Don't print that?

 

Either Blue Earth officials provided information to one newsprint outlet and not another or a local newspaper has jumped the gun.

 

According to an article in this week's publication, police officer Chad Bonin was terminated effective Feb. 13 and details of monetary compensation to be paid by the city was also reported.

 

On Friday, City Administrator Tim Ibisch gave Tripleanews.com a different version.

 

Ibisch says that a separation agreement of employment OK'd by the council still needs to be approved by Bonin and his attorney.

 

“Once it is finalized, those details can be made public,” says Ibisch.“I will forward you a copy of the agreement once it is fully authorized.'

 

The city administrator says Bonin accepting the separation agreement would mean that investigation findings of a complaint filed against him last November would remain confidential.

 

However, if Bonin was indeed fired, under state law information found in a 42-page investigation report can be made public.

 

Last December, the City Council hired the Twin Cities area law firm of Everett & VanderWiel to look into alleged misconduct by Bonin.


Under the contract, two attorneys from the law firm were paid $200 an hour in addition to any legal assistant and paralegal services each at a rate of $100 an hour.


The city also paid for mileage, travel, expert fees, courier fees and out-of-pocket expenses.


Bonin has been with the police department since March 12, 2012, and was currently earning an annual salary of $60,765,


This isn't the first time Bonin has faced a complaint involving alleged misconduct allegations.


In 2014, he was accused of four counts of police officer misconduct, however, an investigation substantiated just two of the charges. As a result, he served three days of suspension without pay.

 

Case against B.E. officer nears end

February 15, 2019

 

The fate of a Blue Earth police officer on paid administrative leave since Dec.6 may soon be known.

 

After weather canceled two hearings between the City Council, officer Chad Bonin and his labor union attorney, a meeting between the parties was held on Wednesday.

 

“The City Council met to discuss a separation agreement,” says City Administrator Tim Ibisch. “Once it is finalized, those details can be made public.”

 

An investigation into alleged misconduct by Bonin was recently completed by the Twin Cities area law firm of Everett & VanderWiel.


A 42-page report details findings regarding a complaint that was filed against Bonin last November.
 

If the separation agreement is approved by officer Bonin and his legal counsel, then the details of our investigation would remain confidential,” says Ibisch.

 

So far, the city has not seen a bill for the cost of the investigation.
 

Under the contract, two attorneys from the law firm were paid $200 an hour in addition to any legal assistant and paralegal services each at a rate of $100 an hour.
 

The city also paid for mileage, travel, expert fees, courier fees and out-of-pocket expenses.

 

Bonin has been with the police department since March 12, 2012, and is currently earning an annual salary of $60,765,
 

This isn't the first time Bonin has faced a complaint involving alleged misconduct allegations.

 

In 2014, he was accused of four counts of police officer misconduct, however, an investigation substantiated just two of the charges. As a result, he served three days of suspension without pay.

 

In one violation, the veteran officer violated police department policy while he was off-duty and rode in a car where alcohol was being consumed.


The other violation involved Bonin failing to report an accident involving his squad car in a timely manner.

 

The accident reportedly involved his parked vehicle being hit by a car driven by an acquaintance of his and was not reported for two days.

 

Ziegler resigns as city administrator

February 12, 2019

 

Winnebago City Council members will have to start looking for a new city administrator.

 

On Monday, Chris Ziegler submitted his two-week notice.

 

By Tuesday night council members were voting to approve his letter of resignation, although Ziegler did not attend the meeting.

 

“My last day is Feb. 22,” says Ziegler. “I'm making a career change.”

 

Ziegler has an extensive history of public service with the city, working six years as city administrator, two years as administrative assistant and four years on the City Council.

 

“I have worked with many amazing people,” he says. “And, have been part of some tremendous accomplishments.”

 

Council member Jean Anderson says it is extremely important that Ziegler help provide a smooth transition and the current status of projects.

 

On Anderson's recommendation, Deputy City Clerk Jessi Sturtz and part-time assistant Deputy Clerk Judy Staloch will handle Ziegler duties until a replacement is hired.

 

The council approved full-time employment status for Staloch and must still decide how much additional pay she and Sturtz will earn.

 

On the advice of City Attorney David Frundt, the council set a special meeting at 7 p.m.on Feb. 19 to discuss how to fill the vacancy.

 

Ziegler's departure for another job may not come as a complete surprise.

 

Last October, he was one of six finalists vying for a newly created county administrator position in Mower County. He was among a list of candidates from North Carolina, Ohio, Virginia, New Ulm and Warroad.

 

The last known reported salary for Ziegler is for 2016 when it was increased to $62,046 after receiving a favorable job performance review. He has received increases of 3 percent for 2017 and 2018, respectively.

 

Council reviews investigation report

February 1, 2019

 

An investigation into alleged misconduct by a Blue Earth police officer has been completed.

 

City Council members held a special meeting Monday afternoon in closed-session to discuss the lengthy and detailed report.

 

And, when the meeting was re-opened to the public they took no action.

 

“The council reviewed the report for approximately one hour,” says City Administrator Tim Ibisch. “It is 42 pages long and will remain sealed until the process is complete.”

 

Last month, the Twin Cities area law firm of Everett & VanderWiel was hired to investigate a complaint filed against officer Chad Bonin last November.

 

Council members placed Bonin on paid administrative leave on Dec. 6 after meeting behind closed doors to discuss the matter.

 

The investigation report is expected to be an agenda item at the next council meeting to be held on Feb. 4.

 

If the council decides not to any disciplinary action, then none of the report's findings will be made public.

 

Bonin has been with the police department since March 12, 2012, and is currently earning an annual salary of $60,765,

 

This isn't the first time Bonin has faced a complaint involving alleged misconduct allegations.

 

In 2014, he was accused of four counts of police officer misconduct, however, an investigation substantiated just two of the charges. As a result, he served three days of suspension without pay.

 

In one violation, the veteran officer violated police department policy while he was off-duty and rode in a car where alcohol was being consumed.

 

The other violation involved Bonin failing to report an accident involving his squad car in a timely manner.

 

The accident reportedly involved his parked vehicle being hit by a car driven by an acquaintance of his and was not reported for two days.

 

Attorney seeks to have trial moved

January 23, 2019

 

A defense attorney for a teen charged in the assault of a former Blue Earth Area football teammate wants to have his trial moved to another county.

 

Chris Ritts of Minneapolis says he filed a motion on Wednesday seeking a change of venue for 19-year-old Wyatt Eugene Tungland of Frost.

 

He is not going to get a fair and impartial trial,” says Ritts. “The prosecutor (LaMar Piper) has distorted the facts in the case.”

 

A four-day jury trial has been scheduled for April 23, 24, 25 and 26 in Faribault County District Court in Blue Earth.

 

Tungland has pleaded not guilty to third-degree assault, aiding and abetting third-degree assault and furnishing alcohol to persons under the age of 21.

 

Ritts says Piper has displayed “prosecutorial misconduct” by his unprofessional conduct and behavior.

 

Media news stories and comments on social media, says Ritts, played a factor in deciding to seek a new location for the trial.

 

Tungland and three other teen boys were charged in November 2017 in the beating of a football teammate that left him unconscious.

 

Three of the cases were settled with plea agreements, says Ritts, because Piper bullied the defendants by threatening them with scare tactics.

 

Ritts says the prosecutor shouldn't have been surprised with a woman's testimony that Tungland couldn't have been involved in the assault.

 

“I made the prosecutor aware of the alibi,” he says. “He never got off his tail and did anything. He didn't investigate it.”

 

Allison Ann Mastin faces two felony counts for her statements made under oath during a contested omnibus hearing for Tungland in July. She testified that he and her daughter were at her house during the time the assault occurred.

 

A court date has been set for March 1 in Faribault County District Court before Judge Michael Trushenski to hear Ritts' motion to move the trial.

 

Perjury charge filed in assault case

January 23, 2019

 

A woman has been charged for allegedly lying during a hearing held for one of the teens charged in the assault of a former Blue Earth Area High School football teammate.

 

Allison Ann Mastin, 36, of Blue Earth is facing felony counts of perjury and aiding an offender by obstructing an investigation.

 

During a contested omnibus hearing in July, Mastin and her daughter took the stand and testified that Wyatt Eugene Tungland, 19, of Frost could not have been involved in the assault.

 

Faribault County prosecutor LaMar Piper says several months of investigation was needed before deciding whether to charge Mastin.

 

After listening to her testimony and reading her interview in October 2018 with Officer Emily Bonin, we're satisfied that she tried to mislead the officers in the case and the court,” Piper says.

 

Under oath, Mastin and her daughter --- who once dated Tungland --- said that he was at their house during the time of the assault the early morning hours of Oct. 19, 2017.

 

Mastin says her daughter and Tungland fell asleep while watching a movie and that he woke up around 3:30 a.m. and left.

 

According to the new charges, Tungland's defense attorney did not tell Mastin about his client's statement to police admitting to being at the party.

 

Court documents say that Tungland reportedly did not say anything about being at Mastin's house at any time that night.

 

Tungland and three other teen boys were charged in the beating of a teammate unconscious during the house party in Winnebago.

 

A four-day trial has been scheduled for Tungland from April 23-26 in Faribault County District Court.

 

He has pleaded not guilty to third-degree assault, aiding and abetting third-degree assault and furnishing alcohol to persons under the age of 21.

 

 

Report about assault seems to differ

January 21, 2019

 

Information given to Blue Earth Area School District officials regarding the assault of a former football player seems to contradict that given to Winnebago police.

 

Dale Hurley says when his wife found out during their son's visit to a doctor on Nov. 6 that he been allegedly assaulted by four teammates, she immediately went and told an assistant coach.

 

“She told them everything that happened,” says Hurley. “She gave the coach all of their names.”

 

On Nov. 9 School District resource officer DJ Bullerman contacted Winnebago police about a possible assault that occurred during a house party at the home of a football player in Winnebago.

 

“We were told a few names that may have been involved,” says Police Chief Eric Olson. “Some of them were mentioned and others we found out. We had to put the case together.”

 

Hurley says the day after his wife reported the assault to school officials, he received two text messages from the owner of the house where the assault took place.

 

The texts read, “John just called Mr. Norman and there is no proof anyone (sic) of it … so we will see.

 

“Can you call me.”

 

It's unclear if authorities have questioned School District administrators about the assault.

 

In a hearing held last July for one of the defendants charged in the case, Winnebago police officer Jacob Petitt testified that the superintendent, activities director and high school principal might be interviewed.

 

“I don't have any comment on that,” says assistant Faribault County Attorney LaMar Piper.

 

District guided investigator in probe

January 17, 2019

 

A Blue Earth Area School Board member who claims district officials had input into an investigation may have been right after all.

 

“The School District did provide a partial list of issues that were being raised by others related to the matter,” says former Superintendent Evan Gough.

 

Board member Jeremy Coxworth has said in the past that an investigator was given “bullet points” to follow to determine whether the district responded properly after learning on Nov. 6 that a football player was assaulted by four teammates.

 

Although district officials received guidance from legal counsel and the Minnesota State High School League, they had some concerns.

 

In an e-mail to Tripelanews.com, Gough provides the following questions that school officials wanted Soldo Consulting, P.C., to address:

 

  • Did the school handle the initial report appropriately? Some have questioned whether this was a mandated reporting situation.

  • Did the school “sweep this under the rug?”

  • Was the school really able to open a second investigation?

  • Did the investigation rely on hearsay?

  • Why did the school allow the boys to play in a football game on November 10, 2017?

  • Was the punishment handled properly?

  • School districts work under the preponderance of evidence whereas the court system must prove beyond a reasonable doubt. Did the district follow appropriately?

 

In her findings, Michelle Soldo concludes the district conducted timely and thorough preliminary and expanded investigations for more than a month.

 

In a letter to the board, Soldo wrote, “Speculation, conjecture and uninformed allegations that district actions were not prompt and appropriate are refuted by the record."

 

Stolen ATM had thousands of dollars

January 12, 2019

 

An ATM stolen from a Blue Earth bank more than four months ago contained several thousands of dollars.

 

That's according to Police Chief Tom Fletcher.

 

“The machine has yet to be recovered,” he says. “There was $8,340 inside of it.”

 

Authorities continue to investigate the theft that occurred at First Bank during the early morning hours of Friday, Sept. 7.

 

The police chief at this time there are no new developments in the case.

 

According to police reports, a man entered the ATM lobby around 4:12 a.m. and began using a pry bar and sledge hammer to try and remove it.

 

When he was unable to free the machine, authorities say, he left the lobby and backed a pickup onto the sidewalk.

 

The man then reportedly went back into the lobby with a logging/tow chain and put it around the ATM and the drove the pickup forward and dislodged it.

 

A new ATM has been installed in the same lobby and Fletcher says he was not asked for any advice as to where it should be located.

 

“I know the new ATM has more security features and is reinforced,” he says.

 

In addition, there is a security camera in the lobby and another one outside on the building.

 

Police believe the suspect who stole the ATM may have had some help because he had a radio with him to communicate with a lookout or lookouts.

 

He is described as having an athletic build and was wearing a long, light colored shirt or a dark hooded sweatshirt, with dark pants, a hat and a facemask.

 

The truck in the theft reportedly was stolen from Hawkins Chevrolet in Fairmont and later recovered by the Faribault County Sheriff's Office at 400th Avenue and County Road 4, about six miles west of Frost.

 

Anyone with possible information regarding the theft is asked to call the Blue Earth Police Department at (507) 526-5959.

 

City, BEA still working on agreement

January 9, 2019

 

A committee wanting to purchase the Winnebago school is finding out that finalizing an agreement is a slow process.

 

“Half the speed of snow,” that's how former City Council member Scott Robertson describes the progress so far.

 

Robertson is a member of a committee spearheading an effort to transform the school into a vocational training center and day care facility once Southern Plains Education Cooperative re-locates to Fairmont.

 

“We'd hope to have an agreement by now so we could just work on getting funding,” Robertson says.

 

At their meeting Tuesday night, council members met in closed-session with City Attorney David Frundt to discuss details of a draft purchase agreement being worked out with Blue Earth Area (BEA) School District officials.

 

One of the sticking points to an agreement may be what property stays with the building once the city assumes ownership.

 

Robertson says he has yet to see a list of items, if any, school district officials want to remove from the building.

 

Tripleanews.com has learned district officials may have taken equipment out of the kitchen area.

 

“Some of the items were bought and are owned by a private party, not the school,” says Robertson. “If they have taken it out that's not going to be good. They'll have problems.”

 

Superintendent Evan Gough did not respond to a request for comment before leaving this month for his new position in Goodhue.

 

District officials must also decide whether they will agree to pay for the cost of cleaning up mold located on the ceiling in the boys locker room that was being used as an office by custodial staff.

 

Robertson says some members of the school committee will be meeting with representatives of the Southern Minnesota Initiative Fund this week to talk about possible funding options.

 

EDA to sell land to regain loan funds

January 7, 2019

 

More than two years after hiring a North Dakota law firm, Winnebago now owns land in that state.

 

“It is in our possession,” says City Administrator Chris Ziegler. “We need to decide how we want to liquidate it.”

 

Ziegler's comments came during a recent meeting of the city's Economic Development Authority (EDA) board.

 

In November 2016, the City Council approved paying Olson & Burns, P.C., of Minot a retainer fee of $4,000 to foreclose on 75 acres used to secure a $60,000 EDA loan to open Fredonia & Luella's Seafood Restaurant.

 

EDA board members are now looking to sell the property in Rolette County, located along the Canadian order.

 

After some discussion, the board decided to first ask nearby landowners if they are interested in buying the property. If there are no takers, a real estate specialist could be hired or an auction may be held.

 

“Forty percent of it is pasture land and there is a creek running through it,” Ziegler says.


The property has been appraised and has an estimated market value of $62,000. Balance of the Fredonia loan is $57, 279 and the last payment was made in July 2016.

 

On another matter, board members were updated on Zierke Built Manufacturing (ZBM), Inc., plans to hire up to 20 welders for its building site on Sixth Avenue Southeast.

 

Zierke Built ---- a custom fabricator of fuel tanks for clients worldwide --- re-located to Fairmont in 2017 after purchasing the former US Foods building and spending at least $500,000 to renovate the facility.

 

In addition to receiving state funding, ZBM received a 10-year tax abatement for 100 percent of the property taxes. The company will pay its taxes and the city will reimburse its share; not to exceed $231,000.

 

Some 35 to 40 jobs left Winnebago and company officials said at the time the move to Fairmont could mean up to 70 jobs for the city.

 

During the 12-plus years operating in Winnebago, ZBM obtained and paid off two EDA loans.

 

It's unclear whether Zierke officials will again turn to the EDA for funding and if board members will be open to the idea.

 

“I would say it depends,” says Ziegler. “They haven't approached us about any funding, so that would be speculative.”

 

Law firm investigating complaint

January 3, 2019

 

A Twin Cities area law firm is investigating a complaint filed against a Blue Earth police officer last November.

 

City Administrator Tim Ibisch says Everett & VanderWiel ---- with offices in Rosemount and Buffalo --- was hired early last month.

 

“The city attorney has advised me that the specifics of the complaint should not be released until the completion of the investigation,” says Ibisch.

 

In a three-page letter to City Attorney, Pam VanderWiel outlined the “scope of work” that she and William Everett will provide.

 

It is important to understand that we are not able to guarantee the city any particular result or outcome,” says VanderWiel. “It may be that the truth as to what happened cannot be determined to any degree of forensic certainty.”

 

Under the contract, the two attorneys will be paid $200 an hour in addition to any legal assistant and paralegal services each at a rate of $100 an hour.

 

In addition, the city will pay for mileage, travel, expert fees, courier fees and out-of-pocket expenses.

 

Officer Chad Bonin was placed on paid administrative leave on Dec. 6 after the City Council met in closed-session to discuss the matter.

 

VanderWiel says no opinion will be offered if results of the investigation warrant disciplinary action.

 

“We are undertaking only to use our knowledge, skills and best efforts to conduct an appropriately detailed investigation and report on its outcome,” she says.

 

Bonin has been with the police department since March 12, 2012, and is currently earning an annual salary of $60,765,

 

This isn't the first time Bonin has faced a complaint involving alleged misconduct allegations.

 

Bonin in 2014 was accused of four counts of police officer misconduct, however, an investigation substantiated just two of the charges. As a result, he served three days of suspension without pay.

 

In one violation, the veteran officer violated police department policy while he was off-duty and rode in a car where alcohol was being consumed.

 

The other violation involved Bonin failing to report an accident involving his squad car in a timely manner.

 

The accident reportedly involved his parked vehicle being hit by a car driven by an acquaintance of his and was not reported for two days.

 

SWAT team called in, man arrested

January 2, 2019

 

A 33-year-old man was arrested after six law enforcement agencies surrounded a house located on First Avenue Southeast in Winnebago on Sunday night.

 

“A perimeter was set up outside the residence and a search warrant was applied for and obtained,” says Winnebago Police Chief Eric Olson. “Because of the suspect's prior history, the South-Central Task Force SWAT team was called in to assist in executing a search warrant at the residence.”

 

Around 6 p.m. local police attempted to stop an off-road motorcycle traveling at high speeds with no headlights at the intersection of Third Street Southeast and First Avenue Southeast.

 

Olson says Chase Sheppard James of Winnebago fled and was eventually spotted in a backyard of a residence in the 300 block of Cleveland Avenue East.

 

Authorities say James then fled on foot to a residence located on the 300 block of First Avenue Southeast.

 

James was taken into custody and booked into the Faribault County Jail at 11:32 p.m.

 

He has been charged with fleeing a peace officer, which is a felony; a misdemeanor charge of driving after revocation of a license; and a petty misdemeanor charge of failure to obey a stop sign.

 

During a hearing held Monday in Faribault County District Court, bail or bond with no conditions was set at $75,000 or $50,000 with conditions.

 

James was ordered not to use alcohol or drugs; be subjected to random drug testing; and remain in contact with his attorney. He is scheduled to make his initial court appearance on Jan. 14.

 

Also assisting Winnebago police were the Faribault County Sheriff's Office; Blue Earth Police Department; Fairmont Police Department K-9 Unit; and the Minnesota State Patrol.

 

Heartland Senior makes changes

December 29, 2018

 

Despite any rumors you may have heard, managerial changes at Heartland Senior Living in Winnebago aren't the result of anyone being fired.

 

Heartland Senior board member Bill Erickson says Patrick Rafferty of Heartland Rural Services has been reassigned.

 

“He has had a change in responsibilities and will no longer be their on-site person,” says Erickson. “We don't expect this should have an impact on either daily operations or the on-going building projects.”

 

Heartland Rural Services is a Wayzata, Minnesota-based management consulting firm specializing in the senior care industry.

 

Tripleanews.com has learned that John Dettloff and Kyle Nordine --- who have been part of Heartland Rural Services since the beginning of the project --- are the new consulting team.

 

Former Parker Oaks administrator Chris Knoll has been hired to do consulting work for Heartland Rural Services.

 

Erickson says a new medical director was hired some time ago at Parker Oaks because Dr. Aaron Johnson wanted to re-allocate some of his time.

 

Also, the director of nursing was replaced at Parkview Care Center in Wells several months ago.

 

Heartland Senior Living --- a local non-profit organization ---purchased Parker Oaks, Truman Senior Living and Parkview after receiving a $15 million USDA direct loan that was guaranteed by Profinium, Inc., of Truman.

 

Erickson says managers at the three sites remain the same, Kacey Kasel at Parker Oaks and Truman Manor; Murray Finger, Parkview; and Heather Peterson-Kuehl at Truman Senior Living.

 

Currently, construction of a $3 million, 16,000-square foot addition at Parker Oaks has been under way for several weeks.

 

Heartland Senior also plans to build a $3 million facility in Wells and spend $1 million for remodeling in Truman.

 

In Bago, shovel up or pay the price

December 22, 2018

 

Some people may have been surprised when they got a letter in the mail from City Hall recently.

 

Winnebago officials are trying to make sure there's no slipping or siding when residents are walking.

 

A large number of homeowners were reminded that when it snows, you must shovel the sidewalk in front of your house.

 

We sent out about 100 letters intended as a first warning,” says City Administrator Chris Ziegler. “It is treated as a public nuisance.”

 

The city has also posted a “winter reminders” notice on its social media website that provides a link to winter rules, snow emergency procedures and snow plowing policy.

 

Although a specific number of inches isn't stated, under an ordinance sidewalks must be shoveled 24 hours after it snows or an ice-fall.

 

Ziegler says an employee of the public works department is in charge of inspecting the sidewalks.

 

Those who violate the ordinance will be charged $100 an hour if city crews have to clean your sidewalk.

 

Persons having any questions may contact City Hall at (507) 893-3217.

 

Trial set for teen charged in assault

December 19, 2018

 

A trial has been set for a Frost teen charged in the assault of a former Blue Earth Area football teammate during a house party.

 

Faribault District Court records show that a four-day jury trial will be held April 23, 24, 25 and 26.

 

“Some of the hearings have been held in Martin County, but the trial will be held in Faribault County, like the evidentiary hearing that was held in Blue Earth,” says LaMar Piper, assistant county attorney.

 

Wyatt Eugene Tungland, 19, of Frost has pleaded not guilty to third-degree assault, aiding and abetting third-degree assault and furnishing alcohol to persons under the age of 21.

 

Last September, Martin County District Judge Michael Trushenski dismissed a charge of aiding and abetting fifth-degree criminal sexual conduct.

 

Tungland and three other teens were charged in the assault that occurred on Oct. 19, 2017, in Winnebago.

 

Next month, Tungland is scheduled to have a plea hearing on Jan. 8 for two alcohol-related cases.

 

On Nov. 7, 2017, he was cited for underage drinking and driving, liquor consumption by a person under age 21 and liquor possession by a person under age 21.

 

Also, on Dec. 12, 2017, Tungland was charged with drinking and driving under age 21, possession of alcohol under age 21 and a driver allowing an open bottle.

 

BEA interim leader to earn $80,880

December 17, 2018

 

Blue Earth Area School District's interim superintendent the next six months is a familiar name who has put his retirement plans on hold, again.

 

On Sunday night, Jerry Jensen and his wife were driving from Blue Earth back to their home in Lake City.

 

“My wife is pretty happy to get me out of the house. I try to micro-manage her housekeeping skills and that's not a good idea,” he jokes.

 

Harold Remme with the South Central Service Cooperative of North Mankato has been assisting the BEA School Board in finding someone to replace Evan Gough, who recently resigned to take a superintendent position in Goodhue in January.

 

Jensen was retired for nearly two years before he was hired as a part-time superintendent at United South Central, a stint that last seven years.

 

After that, he took his skills to the LeSueur-Henderson School District for six months.

 

For now, Jensen will put his retirement plans of doing more ice fishing and spending their winters in the South on hold.

 

“I really wasn't looking for a job when Harold (Remme) called me,” he says. “But, I thought if I can help the district until they find a permanent replacement, why not?”

 

“When you have been in education your whole life, I do miss the kids. Every place I have been has been a good experience. I expect it will be the same at Blue Earth Area,” he adds.

 

Jensen --- who has 32 years experience as a superintendent, six years as a secondary principal and six years as a math teacher ---- sees his new role as being a bridge between the outgoing superintendent and the new person who is eventually hired.

 

Asked if the turmoil the district has dealt with the past year was a factor when deciding whether to apply for the job, Jensen thinks it's time to move forward.

 

“I'm of the feeling that stuff is behind us,” he says. “We have to focus on what we are doing today in preparing students and their education.”

 

Jensen is scheduled to work four days a week and will be paid a daily rate of $625, which will total $80,880 for a contract based on 112 workdays. That compares to the $97,380 Gough would have earned.

 

City updated on school's condition

December 16, 2018

 

Before the city of Winnebago assumes ownership of a school building, Blue Earth Area (BEA) School District will have to do some cleaning.

 

Particularly, the mold located in the boys locker room that is being used as an office by custodial staff.

 

Dana Hlebichuk of Widseth/Smith/Nolting (WSN) in Rochester says mold on the ceiling is the first thing he noticed.

 

Hlebichuk says he brought the problem to the attention of Al Gieser, maintenance supervisor for the district.

 

“I said, you got to move this guy out. You shouldn't have anybody working in that room,” says Hlebichuk. “You got to get them out of there.”

 

City Attorney David Frundt has been working on a purchase agreement with the district's attorney to buy the facility for $2 once Southern Plains Education Cooperative (SPEC) re-locates to Fairmont next school year.

 

While a draft version of an agreement stipulates the school is being sold in “as is” condition, Frundt says the district may have to clean up the mold.

 

“They probably have some obligation to do something about it,” he says.

 

Winnebago officials several weeks ago hired WSN for less than $2,500 to inspect the facility and put together a report.

 

And for the most part, council members liked what they heard at their last meeting on Dec. 11.

 

“The building is in satisfactory condition,” Hlebichuk says. “You could get another 50 years easily if it is just maintained a little.”

 

Hlebichuk says the structural systems of the high school building constructed in 1919 and an addition in 1953 are sound and good.

 

“I've seen much worse buildings,” he says. “This is in great shape compared to some I've seen.”

 

Hlebichuk suggests some uses for the school could be an assisted-living living center, day care, police center or to provide EMS training.

 

Winnebago leaders have said they plan to use the facility to offer vocational training, child care and possibly host community events.

 

Council members asked Hlebichk to put together cost estimates for repairs that are needed which include tuck pointing, electrical, air ventilation and mechanical system, windows and roofing.

 

When BEA officials closed the elementary school in 2016 they cited deferred maintenance costs totaling $5 million to $8 million as a reason.

 

At that time, Southern Plains Education Cooperative (SPEC) was looking for a building to house its students and moved from Fairmont after signing a lease agreement with BEA School District.

 

SPEC has purchased the Lincoln School building in Fairmont and renovations are expected to cost at least $10 million.

 

At the Dec. 10 School Board meeting, SPEC director Sarah Mittelstadt told the board that construction work at the new site won't be done by the start of next school year.

 

We're in the bidding process now,” she says. “It is quite an extensive list. This snow has made them a little nervous.”

 

Mittelstadt says bids for the project will be opened on Dec. 18 and some could be approved at that time. She says that SPEC is hoping to take possession of the building on Oct. 7.

 

City Administrator Chris Ziegler says a big change made in the purchase agreement has been the closing date of June 30.

 

“We are now shooting for November 1 with the option to extend up to 240 days,” he says. “We have no intentions of pushing anyone out.”

 

The council has agreed that the closing date, if necessary, can be extended up to 240 days beyond Nov. 1.

 

Complaints put officers on paid leave

December 8, 2018

 

Two local police departments are each short one police officer pending the outcome of investigations.

 

Blue Earth City Administrator Tim Ibisch says Chad Bonin was placed on paid administrative leave on Thursday as a result of a complaint filed against him last month.

 

The City Council at their Monday night meeting voted to place Bonin on leave after discussing the matter in closed-session.

 

Ibisch says at this time he is unable to release any details about the complaint.

 

“The city is hiring a private firm to review the complainant information,” he says. “Once they are under contract that information can be made public.”

 

Bonin has been with the department since March 12, 2012, and is earning an annual salary of $60, 765.

 

Fairmont Police Chief Mike Hunter says officer Craig Fowler has been on paid leave since the last week of October.

 

Hunter says an outside agency is investigating an off-duty incident involving Fowler and he hopes it will be completed sometime next week.

 

“I will review the investigation report and present the results to the Civil Service Commission, who will approve or reject any discipline recommendation,” he says.

 

Fowler was sentenced for misdemeanor domestic assault in October 2017 and given certain conditions to follow, which includes not having any same or similar assault charges while on probation.

 

The 13-year veteran officer was placed on unpaid leave after being charged with child endangerment/bodily injury stemming from a May 13, 2018, incident in Iowa.

 

Fowler was put on paid leave after a judge dismissed the probation violation allegation last October in Martin County Court.

 

Zierke may bring workers to Bago

December 6, 2018

 

A company that left Winnebago last year may be bringing some workers back to the city.

 

Brad Wolf, a member of the city's Economic Development Authority board, says he recently spoke with Greg Zierke, owner of Zierke Built Manufacturing (ZBM), Inc.

 

He has no more room in Fairmont,” says Wolf. “He's hoping to get some welders back in Winnebago.”

 

Wolf told EDA board members at their Wednesday meeting that Zierke may not sell a vacant company building located on Sixth Avenue Southeast.

 

He says Zierke did not say exactly how many welders would actually be employed in Winnebago.

 

ZBM officials cited inadequate space and difficulty in hiring skilled welders as reason for re-locating.

 

When the company left Winnebago, it employed 40 people and operated two buildings covering about 70,000 square feet.

 

In other business, the EDA may be looking to hire Community and Economic Development Associates (CEDA) to work on business projects.

 

We definitely need help,” says board member Jean Anderson. “It's something we should look into.”

 

According to its website, CEDA was founded in 1986 and is based in Chatfield. It serves communities in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Iowa.

 

Faribault County and the city of Blue Earth each pay CEDA at least $50,000 a year to provide economic development services.

 

Mary Kennedy of CEDA told board members she will now be working four days for Blue Earth and that Annie Leibel has been added to their office at the Ag Center to work four days for the county.

 

Mayor Jeremiah Schutt says he's interested in meeting with CEDA officials to see what the agency can offer the city.

 

“You'd get the whole CEDA team, with over 100 years of experience,” says Kennedy. “Anything that an economic development coordinator would do, we could do.”

 

EDA board members asked Kennedy if she could have CEDA officials attend their next meeting scheduled for Jan. 2.

 

Gas leak reported at Heartland

December 4, 2018

 

Winnebago police, fire department and ambulance responded to a gas leak at Heartland Senior Living located in the northwest part of town Tuesday.

 

Police Chief Eric Olson says around 2:30 p.m. a construction crew working at the assisted-living facility reported they had struck a gas line.

 

Olson says the leak was contained around 4 p.m. and that CenterPoint Energy representatives and firefighters remained on the scene.

 

“Genesis (Academy) and Heartland Senior Living facility were evacuated,” says Olson. “Heartland residents were taken to the Winnebago Municipal Center.”

 

Patrick Rafferty, who oversees operations at Heartland, says the facility currently has 18 residents.

 

“The main thing is that proper procedures were taken and everyone is safe,” says Rafferty. “We will be looking to review the process, but from what I have heard it went well.”

 

Attempts to contact someone from Genesis Classical Academy for comment were unsuccessful. Currently, there are 70 students enrolled in grades pre-K through 7th.

 

Work on a $3 million, 16,000 square-foot addition at the former Parker Oaks nursing home began more than two weeks ago.

 

There will be12 assisted-living units on one level and located on the west side of the current facility.

 

The new addition also will provide offices for administration and staff as well as space for the community to hold events.

 

Agreement for school sent to BEA

December 2, 2018

 

A purchase agreement for the Winnebago school building has been sent the Blue Earth Area (BEA) School Board for review.

 

City Council members this week got a glance at the several-page document prepared by City Attorney David Frundt.

 

Under the draft agreement, the City of Winnebago would take over ownership of the building at the end of next June.

 

That coincides with the end of the Southern Plains Education Cooperative lease,” says City Administrator Chris Ziegler. “The district would maintain the building, insurance and all those things until the lease runs out.”

 

Mayor Jeremiah Schutt supports the idea of using the school as a vocational training center, however, he needs more information before the council approves the agreement at their December meeting.

 

I still want to see some hard proof of what's it cost to insure, what's it cost for utilities,” says Schutt. “This isn't going to come free. I want some hard actual facts.”

 

Ziegler says figures obtained from BEA officials put operating expenses at about $150,000 a year, but he expects it to be less than that.

 

The city has hired a Rochester firm to evaluate the school's condition and preliminary findings have been positive.

 

The summary was it is in good shape and needs minor maintenance,” says Ziegler. “The report should be completed by the council meeting in December. It will be public at that point.”

 

BEA officials have said the building has deteriorated in the past several years and have estimated it would cost between $5 million and $8 million to fix.

 

Councilman Scott Robertson says the school is, “Way too good of shape to be destroyed.”

 

Schutt says he wants a good solid plan so the building isn't a burden on taxpayers to keep it going.

 

I don't want to be Mr. Negative, but we have budget meetings coming up and this is going to have to be included. This isn't a free building,” he says. “We have to have our ducks in a row, who is going to be in charge and take this on and do something with it.”

 

At the last School Board meeting, board member Jeremy Coxworth wanted to know if the agreement will address what he called “the elephant in the room.”
 

Are we going to put a restriction if they want to put Genesis Academy in that building?” Coxworth asked.

 

Ziegler says the agreement at this time makes no mention of a non-compete clause.

 

I don't understand why either of the parties would want one,” he says.

 

Ziegler says the city would lease the school's gymnasium for girls gymnastics through the 2020 season and would negotiate its future use.

 

Also, city officials are open to allowing Southern Plains Education Cooperative to lease the building if needed for the 2019-2020 school year.

 

Former employee sues Zierke Built

December 1, 2018

 

A former employee of Zierke Built Manufacturing, Inc. has waited long enough and wants to get paid.

 

Leroy John Larson has filed a civil lawsuit seeking wages and sales commissions earned in 2017.

 

Although the company moved its operations from Winnebago to Fairmont last year, a judge has determined the case should be heard in Faribault County.

 

According to court documents, Larson began working as a sales representative with Zierke Built in May 2008.

 

Larson, who was earning an annual salary of $73,500 plus commissions, submitted his resignation last February.

 

Court papers say that Larson last year made a verbal demand that he be paid some wages and commissions earned in 2017.

 

Kyle Zierke, the company's vice president, reportedly told Larson last January that he was working on finalizing calculations for the commissions.

 

Larson was never paid and in April submitted a written demand for all back wages and commissions.

 

In his suit, Larson is seeking judgment for an amount in excess of $50,000, attorney fees, expenses and “any other and future relief the court deems equitable and appropriate.”

 

The next hearing in the case is a scheduling conference that will be conducted by telephone on Dec. 4.

Board member: He, public misled

November 24, 2018

 

A member of the Blue Earth Area School Board gave the out-going superintendent and board chairman a piece of his mind at their last board meeting.

 

Jeremy Coxworth says an investigation on how district officials handled disciplinary action against four football players charged with assault isn't what he voted for.

 

What the public perceives happened is that we hired Soldo to come in and run a full investigation to determine there was no wrongdoing on the school's part,” says Coxworth. “At some point in time it went to an internal review, which is not an investigation.”

 

Last February, board members hired Soldo Consulting of Woodbury to determine whether the process used by the district in its investigation was proper.

 

Coxworth contends someone in the district contacted Michelle Soldo and told her what to investigate.

 

There is so much deception going on here and it is really getting sickening,” he says. “I have parents and people in the community calling me all the time and saying that this is B.S. I'm sick of these phone calls, this crap has to stop.”

 

At one point during the public comment portion, a mother of a teen charged in the incident spoke out.

 

Naomi Ochsendorf says she wants to know what criteria is used when making decisions regarding discipline. She says she has contacted the activities director, but he has not responded.

 

Ochsendorf says it appears district officials were pressured by news reports, social media and outcry in the community when they suspended the four teens for 10 days and did not allow them to participate in extracurricular activities.

 

What was or was not used a year ago and what has changed to make that response drastically different a month ago?” she says. “Was there a mistake made? Say it, I'd like to hear that.”

 

Last month, Blue Earth police arrested two teen males from Winnebago ---- 16 and 17 years old --- after allegedly assaulting a 16-year-old male teen at the Blue Ridge Apartments.

 

Ochsendorf says district officials should stop hiding behind school politics and data privacy laws and be more open with the public.

 

Coxworth agrees, saying, “Sooner or later it is going to come out what happened.”

 

Homeowners to pay cost of project

November 18, 2018

 

For the first time, how much the street and infrastructure project in the northwest part of Winnebago will cost homeowners was made public.

 

And, it does mean everyone in the city will pay a share.

 

City Engineer Travis Winter says preliminary estimates show that property owners within the project area will be assessed nearly $700 annually for 20 years, while other homeowners will pay about $300 a year.

 

Residents will have a chance to give their input on the estimates during an open house set for 5 p.m. on Nov. 27 at the Municipal Center. A special council meeting will follow at 7 p.m. and a bid could be awarded.

 

City Administrator Chris Ziegler says at this time water and sewer rates will not have to be increased to help pay for the reconstruction project.

 

With the state funding and grants the city has received, says Winter, the project is still a good one and should be done.

 

Last month, the council received four bids for the project and they were quite a “sticker shock.”

 

Three of them came in at $10 million or more and the lowest one at $8.9 million was nearly $1 million more than the engineer's estimate.

 

Council members agree that improvements to the streets and addressing flooding in the area should have been dealt with years ago.

 

If we wait any longer, another 20 years, it's just going to cost more,” says council member Jean Anderson.

 

Winter agrees with Anderson, saying, “Not doing anything also has a cost.”

 

After the October council meeting, city officials had 91 days to decide whether to accept the low bid or to restart the bidding process.

 

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© 2015 Antonio Acosta