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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 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, 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. 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. 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-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 (WSM) 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 WSM 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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