October 15, 2021
Winnebago residents will have to dig a lot deeper into their pocketbooks next year.
It's because their monthly utility bill will be going up.
City Council members at their Tuesday meeting voted unanimously to raise water and sewer rates.
Some water users could pay as much as $50 more each month, according to city officials.
“There's going to be a lot of upset people and sticker shock,” says Councilman Calvin Howard.
Current base rates of $23.05 for water and $14.76 for sewer will be increasing to $32.50 and $45, respectively. The price per 1,000 gallons of water will be $5 and $10.58 for sewer.
That means a household using 4,000 gallons a month will pay $52.50 for water and $87.32 for sewer, while 3,000 gallons would be $47.50 for water and $76.74 for sewer.
New rate hikes recommended by the city's Utility Committee were based on a number of factors, which included the impact of Corn Plus ethanol plant closing and higher debt service payments.
“Both the water and sewer enterprise funds have been running in the red for sometime and cannot continue to pay for infrastructure, employment and debt service at current rates,” says City Administrator Jake Skluzacek. “These funds are meant to be self-sustaining, so the city does not have to levy for these services.”
Although council members expressed displeasure over asking residents to pay more, they agreed they had no choice.
“It's a harsh reality,” says Councilman Tim Hynes.
Councilman Paul Eisenmenger says the council relied on a formula from the Minnesota Rural Water Association to calculate the new rates.
“We've been giving away water for years, with our tier system,”he says, adding that large families will benefit under the new structure.
Two other recommendations by the Utility Committee offered lower base rates but the prices per thousand gallons of water and sewer were higher.
Skluzacek says they looked at what other towns are charging but, “it is not quite apples to apples” when comparing.
“Different populations, needs and infrastructure cannot be easily compared,” he says. “It doesn't make sense when we are looking at Winnebago's responsibilities relating to managing our existing infrastructure and debt.”
The rate hikes will show up on the February 2022 bill, however, residents are scheduled to pay more for garbage and recycling beginning in December.
Chris Cyphers, owner of B & B Sanitation and Recycling, and the city recently agreed to a new contract with an option for a two-year extension.
Under the agreement, garbage and recycling will cost $29.30, a monthly increase of $13.18.
“We have a three-year contract at that price,” says Cyphers. “After that, I don't know what is going to happen.”
The new rates of $24 for garbage and $5.30 for recycling is due to the purchase of roller carts.
Cyphers says he hopes there are no shipping delays so the carts can be delivered to residents sometime in November.
Carts for garbage will have a 64-gallon capacity with a gray lid, while recycling will be a 96-gallon container with a yellow lid.
“The containers can be filled clear to the top as long as the lid can be closed shut,” he says.
Extra 32-gallon garbage bags with a maximum weight of 30 pounds can be placed outside the carts, but they must have tags that may be purchased at City Hall, Casey's General Store, Roerig Hardware and Marketplace Foods.
October 11, 2021
A Walters man charged in connection with a series of mail theft incidences in Faribault County has been arrested in Freeborn County.
Anthony Jerome Woodraska, 32, was recently released from Faribault County Jail after being taken into custody last August for allegedly helping to steal more than $1,500 from the Kiester Liquor Store.
“I can confirm that M. Woodraska was charged with identity theft and that the victims in that matter exceed 60,” says Faribault County Attorney Cameron Davis. “Three other charges against Mr. Woodraska remain under review in our office.”
Faribault County authorities conducted an investigation of the mail thefts and discovered that Woodraska was involved.
“The investigation is closed and there are no other suspects,” says Chief Deputy Scott Adams. “It will be up to the courts, if we go get him.”
Woodraska was arrested last Thursday in Albert Lea when police tried to apprehend him on a warrant issued by Faribault County.
When police determined Woodraska was at a residence, he reportedly barricaded himself inside the house and refused requests to surrender.
While negotiating with Woodraska, Lakeview Elementary School received a call of a bomb in the building. Staff and students immediately evacuated as police investigated.
Authorities were able to convince him to come out of the house and he reportedly admitted to a detective that he called in the bomb threat in hopes of diverting officers to given him a chance to evade officers.
Woodraska was charged one felony count of communicating to another that an explosive device is present tied to the threat. He faces a maximum penalty of three years in prison and a $3,000 fine.
In addition to the felony identity theft charge in Faribault County, Woodraska could face federal charges for mail theft which carry a maximum sentence of five years in prison and fines of up to $250,000.
October 6, 2021
Fairmont police are seeking the public's help in solving an arson that occurred at Veterans' Park nearly three weeks ago.
Police Chief Mike Hunter says the Minnesota Chapter of the International Association of Arson Investigators (MNIAAI) is offering a reward of up to $5,000 for information leading to the arrest and conviction of those responsible.
Hunter says the fire in the bathroom building was discovered around 7:20 a.m. on Sept. 20.
“One of our officers was attempting to locate a person with warrants who had just left a residence in the area,” says Hunter. “The bathrooms were secured by city employees and an investigator with the State Fire Marshal's Office came down that day to review the scene.”
Authorities may not release photos of the building interior, says Hunter, because they are considered part of an open investigation.
City employees are trying to determine a damage estimate of the bathrooms, located at 403 East Second Street.
Hunter says anyone with information may call the Minnesota Arson Hot line at 1 (800) 723-2020 and all callers can remain anonymous.
Tips may also be submitted online at the Fairmont Police Department's website under the “contact us” tab or at the MNIAAI webpage at www.mniaai.org.
Anyone with questions may contact the police department by calling (507) 238-4481.
October 3, 2021
Social unrest seen in large metropolitan cities is making its way to small-town America.
It was a small clash that wasn't on the gridiron during Maple River's homecoming football game on Friday night.
Laura Marie Nusser was holding a Black Lives Matter sign in the bleachers when a man, who reportedly was wearing a Make America Great Again (MAGA) cap, ripped it out of her hands and tossed it to the ground.
“I decided to put my sign out because my kids were told 'blacks get to the back today' at homecoming. They happen to be half black and half white,” Nusser says in a social media video.
Nusser has two sons who are members of the Eagles varsity football team.
In the 18-minute video, Nusser is not allowed to return to where she had been sitting as officers question those in the stands to try and determine what happened.
At one point, Nusser is allowed to go back to where she was sitting with an officer and that's when she points out the person who grabbed her sign.
Nusser says the man, identified as Kip Herrmann, should be arrested for assault because he pushed her and for destruction of property.
An officer tells Nusser they are investigating the incident and says she must leave the grounds. Meanwhile, Herrmann is allowed to stay and continue watching the game.
Herrmann and Nusser did not respond to a request for comment, however, Police Chief Benjamin Honsey does confirm the incident is under investigation.
Honsey says authorities also are looking into an alleged assault that occurred at the homecoming dance Saturday night, but that it is not related to what happened at the game.
According to a press release, Honsey says that Nusser was advised to leave due to her offensive language and escorted by police at the request of Maple River School District administration.
Anyone at the game who witnessed or videotaped the incident is being encouraged to contact police at (507) 524-3091.
Nusser has garnered some supporters and a protest has been planned for Monday, Oct. 4, at 7 a.m. in front of the high school located at 101 Sixth Avenue Northeast.
September 22, 2021
Blue Earth Area (BEA) School Board members were victims of “fake news” started on social media last Wednesday.
“I did hear some rumblings about a post or two that was out there. My guess is that someone had misinformation and took to social media to express their frustrations,” says Superintendent Mandy Fletcher.
According to the writer of the post, some BEA football players and their parents wanted to honor military personnel during the homecoming game against LeSueur-Henderson at Wilson Field on Friday night.
Organizers of the ceremony reportedly had contacted area veteran groups to participate in the program.
But according to the posting, board members were not supportive of the idea at this time.
“There has never been anything on the School Board agenda to discuss such items,” says Fletcher.
There were nearly 60 people comments on the post, with most being critical of the board. Some people had questions and wanted more information, however, after several hours the post was deleted.
The district every year hosts the Veteran's Day program, according to Fletcher, in appreciation for those who have served or currently in the military.
“I hope that shows our communities the gratitude and support to our veterans,” she adds.
September 20, 2021
The owner of an event center in Winnebago owes the state nearly $11,000 for disobeying a pandemic order.
In papers filed Aug. 25 in Faribault County District Court, the Attorney General's Office says the legal fees to prosecute its civil suit against Garth Carlson totaled $10,890.
“The defendant openly and brazenly threatened to violate an emergency executive order designed to stem the spread of a deadly virus,” says the Attorney General's Office.
A motion hearing seeking the legal costs is scheduled Sept. 22 before Judge Troy Timmerman.
Carlson's bill actually could have been much more than it is, according to supporting documents.
A survey of private practicing consumer attorneys conducted in 2017-18, says the state, shows their requested legal rate of $133 per hour is a fraction of the median rate of $350.
Also not included were charges for management-level attorneys, other assistant Attorneys General, investigators and a law clerk.
State prosecutors filed a lawsuit to block the Carlson Event Center from hosting a New Year's Eve party in 2020. At the time, Gov. Tim Walz's executive order did not allow most gatherings because of the coronavirus pandemic.
“When the state sued to intervene, the defendant engaged in costly, dilatory litigation that served no purpose but to inflate costs,” court papers say.
Carlson is also being sued by a Mankato law firm that alleges he owes $4,876 plus an $80 filing fee.
A conciliation hearing, also to be heard by Timmerman, will be held today via Zoom.
September 9, 2021
An 18-year-old female has been taken into custody for allegedly starting a fire in a building located on First Street Southeast near the old Winnebago school.
According to a Winnebago police press release, Winnebago and Blue Earth fire departments responded to a call of a fire around 4:21 a.m. Thursday approximately 100 yards east of the Municipal Center Building.
When fire crews arrived on the scene, they discovered a two-stall garage engulfed in flames. The building, owned by Mayor Scott Robertson, was totally destroyed.
“Since I live in town and nearby, I was there in minutes,” says Faribault County Chief Deputy Scott Adams. “Originally, it was thought that City Hall may be on fire.”
Adams says he, Sheriff Mike Gormley, deputy Mark Purvis, Police Chief Eric Olson and officer Jacob Pettit were able to view local surveillance video.
“It took us about 10 minutes to identify the suspect,” says Adams. “We went to her rural Blue Earth residence, brought her in to interview and then arrested her.”
The suspect, Connie Bergeron of Blue Earth, was arrested around 9:42 a.m., according to the press release. She is currently being held in the Faribault County Jail and is awaiting arraignment for a felony-level negligent fire charge.
Adams says Blue Earth firefighters used their aerial truck to ensure that embers from the blaze were not a threat to the school building.
Firefighters remained on the scene until nearly 6 a.m. and no injuries were reported.
The State Fire Marshal's Office is also assisting with the on-going investigation.
September 9, 2021
For the past 10 years the Winnebago Firemen Relief Association would receive a check from CenterPoint Energy and cash it.
Then about two weeks ago, Fire Chief Jesse Haugh got a phone call from City Administrator Jake Skluzacek.
“I was a little shell shock,” says Haugh. “I thought we were doing great getting outside money and funding.”
Turns out the $140,000 the Fire Department had received was franchise fees that should have been paid to the city.
The error was discovered when an official from CenterPoint contacted City Hall to see whether the annual payment could be made by direct deposit instead of a check.
Haugh explained to the City Council at their meeting Wednesday night that the money has been used to purchase much needed equipment.
“Not one dollar has gone into our retirement fund,” he says. “Things we are buying, it is nothing extravagant.”
Haugh rattled off a list of items purchased that included a $40,000 air compressor, $32,000 to buy Jaws of Life equipment, $5,000 for pagers and $5,000 for fire hose nozzles.
The fire department paid the bank $30, says Haugh, to document how the checks were deposited and the money has been spent.
Mayor Scott Robertson says he's convinced nothing underhanded occurred and Council member Jean Anderson calls what happened “a non-event.”
Council members agreed that some of the funds probably would have been used to help supplement the Fire Department's budget anyway.
Although the money will not have to be paid back to the city, losing the funds will have a negative impact.
“Without that much money coming in each year, we're trouble,” says Haugh, adding the department is planning to buy trucks in the next five years.
August 31, 2021
Faribault County authorities have wrapped up investigation of a shooting in which a juvenile suffered a gunshot wound.
“The gun owner was not home at the time, but the gun was properly stored,” says Chief Deputy Scott Adams. “Not one was criminally charged. It was purely accidental. ”
On June 16 around 11 p.m., authorities received a call of a gun being fired at residence located at 45167 70th St. in Emerald Township.
The homeowners 16-year-old son was struck in the leg by one bullet and two other juvenile males, ages 16 and 17 also from Blue Earth, were present at the time.
Initially, a press release posted on the Sheriff's Office website listed the incident as “negligent discharge of a firearm.”
Adams says the gun was kept in a secured spot in the parents bedroom and it was not loaded.
“They heard what was a possible issue outside,” he says. “The boys loaded the gun. When they went to put it away the gun accidentally discharged.”
Blue Earth Ambulance crew members transported the injured juvenile to United Hospital for treatment before he was airlifted to the Mayo Clinic facility in Mankato.
Also assisting county authorities at the scene were crew members from the Frost Ambulance Department.
August 25, 2021
While an event center owner waits to get a bill from the Attorney General's Office for violating a pandemic order, he owes a Mankato law firm nearly $5,000.
According to court papers filed in Faribault County District Court, Garth Carlson is being sued by Blethen, Gage and Krause for $4,876 plus an $80 filing fee.
Carlson, owner of Carlson Event Center located in the former school building, reportedly made one payment to the firm in October 2018 and nothing since.
“Numerous attempts have been made to contact him until January 2021 when it became delinquent,” court papers say.
A conciliation hearing via Zoom has been scheduled Sept. 21 before Judge Troy Timmerman.
Earlier this month, Timmerman granted a default judgment to the state because it has not received any responses from Carlson or representatives of the center since April.
No representatives of the center appeared at hearings in June or at the latest one held Aug. 4.
Carlson also has failed to provide the state documents related to his claim that the New Year's Eve party was a religious event exempt from the pandemic shutdown.
The Attorney General's Office filed a civil lawsuit to block the event center from hosting a New Year's Eve event in 2020. At the time, a governor's executive order prohibited most gathering because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Timmerman issued a temporary restraining order and the event was not held. Later the judge would issue an injunction ordering the event center not to violate a pandemic order limiting event sizes.
The state has yet to submit to the court legal and investigation costs associated with prosecuting the case. A motion hearing has been set for Sept. 22.
August 22, 2021
Despite a surge in COVID-19 cases related to the Delta variant nationwide, Faribault County's two school districts will be starting the year without any mandates.
From the beginning of July, there have been 53 new cases reported to put the total at 1,596 since the start of the pandemic.
Mandy Fletcher, superintendent at Blue Earth Area (BEA), and United South Central (USC) Superintendent Keith Fleming say that wearing masks will not be required for anyone but are recommended and optional.
Education Minnesota, the union for more than 70,000 educators in the state, says it should be up to local school officials on whether teachers must be vaccinated.
Fletcher says when vaccines first became available the district made sure that 100 percent of the district's staff were given the opportunity to get one.
“We left it up to them to decide if they wanted it or not,” she says. “We did not make staff inform us if they received a vaccine, so I do not know at this time how many of our staff are fully vaccinated.”
Currently, BEA School District employs 200 with 40 percent of those being teachers.
Fleming says teachers are not required to get vaccinated and district officials have not discussed the matter with their union leaders.
The district employs 65 certified staff members and 85 who are non-certified, says Fleming, and they do not have to say if they've gotten a vaccine shot.
“I would estimate about 80 percent of both groups are vaccinated or have natural immunity,” he says.
Although masks do not have to be worn inside school buildings, under federal regulation they are required on school buses.
Infectious disease experts have found the Delta variant easily spreads among unvaccinated people and believe it is 50 percent more contagious than the original strain of COVID-19.
Because there is no vaccine for children under the age of 12, avoiding high-risk situations, social distancing and wearing a mask are considered their best protection.
August 16, 2021
A lawsuit filed against the city of Delavan and some City Council members by the former owner of Johnny M's Tavern may be blocking use the building.
Tripleanews.com has learned there is interest to re-open the bar under a new name and ownership.
“I cannot comment on anything due to the pending litigation and attorney client privilege/confidentiality,” says City Attorney David Frundt.
The council voted last March to terminate John Martin's lease to operate his bar in the building owned by the city.
Council members also approved a motion to revoke Martin's liquor license if he did not pay his monthly fee.
In his suit against Mayor Kevin Walker and councilors Christopher Kruse and Daniel C. Haugh, Martin disputes the amount of monthly rent he has been paying the city and whether he has violated any law or ordinance.
Martin says the city alleges inaccurate and unproven allegations of violations, some dating as far back as 2015, as reasons for terminating the lease. Frundt would not say what some of the violations were.
The current five-year lease between the city and Martin ends on Dec. 31, 2022, unless it is terminated for cause and a 60-day notice is given.
During their Aug. 9 meeting, the council and Frundt went into closed-session to discuss Martin's lawsuit.
When the meeting was re-opened to the public, a letter from Walker, who was not in attendance, was read to announce his resignation effective Sept. 1.
Attempts to contact Walker to comment on why he is resigning were unsuccessful.
Frundt says Haugh, who is the vice-mayor, will run and conduct meetings until someone is put in office after Sept. 1.
“An election will be held for the mayor position at the next general election for the city. That should be next year,” says Frundt. “It is possible for the city to hold a special election before that. But, no decisions have been made yet on how to proceed, as the resignation is not yet effective.”
According to court documents, the city has filed its own suit against Martin in an attempt to have him evicted. A hearing scheduled for Aug. 6 was canceled and has been rescheduled for Oct. 12.
August 1, 2021
It turns out a bike not properly illuminated wasn't the only reason a Winnebago police officer wanted to speak with its rider.
According to the initial police department press release, officer Jacob Pettit saw a male riding a bicycle without a headlight or reflectors around 11:11 p.m. the evening of July 1 on Third Street Southwest.
Pettit reportedly turned his vehicle around to talk with the man, but he noticed the officer and began to pedal faster.
A complaint filed in Faribault County District Court says local authorities have been investigating recent incidents of spray paint vandalism.
“He did not have lights on his bike and seemed suspicious,” says Police Chief Eric Olson. “No, we don't believe he was (involved in the vandalism).”
Michael Pepin, 30, of Fairmont, according to court documents, fled because he thought Pettit was going to beat him up.
City crews have removed spray paint from dugouts at the ball field behind the school, a sidewalk and some stop signs, according to Olson.
Pepin has been arraigned on a misdemeanor charge of fleeing a peace officer and faces a maximum penalty of 90 days on jail and a $1,000 fine.
Pettit activated his squad car's emergency lights and siren as he followed Pepin, who reportedly rode down alleys, several streets and yards.
At one point the pursuit went between two house on First Avenue Southwest before Pepin was apprehended with the assistance of two other men.
July 18, 2021
Faribault County Jail's work release program is helping an inmate who has served more than 20 years in prison transition back into public life.
Chief Deputy Scott Adams says Ryan Robert Owen, 46, will be at the facility until next February and has found a job in the county.
“He does drive himself to work and, like all our inmates on release, he is strictly monitored,” says Adams. “We have the choice to not accept or allow anyone work release.”
Owen was placed on work release status in May and transferred to the county jail after serving 23 years for the October 1998 murder of a Winnebago woman.
Adams says the jobs program was canceled locally last year because of the COVID pandemic and resumed in mid-May.
He says that Owen and other inmates in the program are housed together in one pod away from the others in jail.
Jail administrator Todd Hanevik says Department of Correction inmates on work release are on satellite monitoring and have to pay to participate in the program.
“All inmates start out paying 50 percent of their wages,” he says. “They are allowed a 12-hour workday, six days a week but are not allowed to work holidays.”
Owen was sentenced to a 23-year sentence in the Stillwater prison and was currently at a facility in Red Wing, a 45-bed adult minimum security unit where prisoners learn a trade to transition back into the community.
His official release date is scheduled on Feb. 21, 2022, and has a supervised release date of Oct. 19, 2033.
July 14, 2021
A Frost man who drove without a license and was allegedly drunk was arrested after visiting a friend in the Faribault County Jail.
And, county authorities weren't involved in taking 52-year-old Edwin John Haler into custody Monday night in the parking lot. It was a Blue Earth police officer.
“Dispatch notified the Blue Earth Police Department of the issue because both deputies were on calls out of the Blue Earth area,” says Chief Deputy Scott Adams.
Haler was charged Wednesday in Faribault County District Court with gross misdemeanor counts of second-degree DWI and driving after license cancellation.
He also faces misdemeanor charges of operating a motor vehicle without an ignition interlock and a non-alcohol/controlled substance violation.
According to a court complaint, Haler was visiting a friend when someone who knew his license was revoked called Blue Earth police.
The police officer reportedly waited until Haler left and got behind the wheel before he initiated a traffic stop while he was still in the parking lot.
When speaking with Haler about not having a license, says the complaint, the officer noticed the smell of alcohol and that Haler's eyes were bloodshot an his speech slightly slurred.
Haler reportedly admitted drinking beer and whiskey before driving to the jail. A preliminary breathalyzer showed he had a alcohol level of 0.08.
Official tests later at the jail indicated a concentration level of 0.06, but Haler agreed with the officer he was likely over the legal limit of 0.08 when he drove to the jail.
Haler has prior DWI convictions in 2016 and 2018 and cannot get his license back unless he installs an alcohol-monitoring device in his vehicle.
During a court hearing Wednesday, cash bail was set at $750 with conditions; or a bond at $7,500 with conditions; or a $12,000 bond without conditions.
His next court appearance is an omnibus hearing scheduled for Aug. 16.
July 12, 2021
An unlicensed Winnebago pastor has been charged with inappropriately touching a member of his church in Fairmont.
Miguel Vazquez Alduzin, 48, has been charged with fourth-degree criminal sexual conduct, which is a felony and carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and a $20,000 fine.
He also faces a fifth-degree criminal sexual conduct, a gross misdemeanor with a maximum penalty of one year in jail and a $3,000 fine.
A woman contacted a police officer on June 7 to report that Vazquez Alduzin molested her last January, says a court complaint.
When asked why she waited so long to report the incident, the woman said it was partially because she wanted to be healed.
She says that Vazquez also puts people in fear that they will be sent back to Mexico or arrested.
The woman says she has known Vazquez Alduzin for three years and has been discussing some health issues with him.
According to the complaint, the victim told the officer she put her faith in Vazquez --- although he does not have a license --- because she has witnessed him perform miracles.
After attending a church service in January, the woman asked Vazquez if he would pray for a cyst on her left breast to heal.
Vazquez allegedly took the woman into a nursery room where her grandson was and told him to leave.
“When people fast, God does big things for them,” he told the woman.
Vazquez reportedly told the woman he fasted and God made his penis larger and fasting also benefited his wife's anatomy.
While praying, Vazquez Alduzin allegedly felt the woman's breast under her clothing. Court documents say she left the room and told his wife what had happened, but was assured she would be healed.
Vazquez told the woman she would not be healed, says the complaint, if she told anyone what happened, including her husband.
The victim also alleges Vazquez put his hands down her pants during a visit in Winnebago, however, no charges have been filed for that incident.
Former members of the church were interviewed and some said Vazquez asked why he couldn't touch members when a doctor can with their patients. One former church member also accused him of inappropriately touching her chest.
Vazquez is scheduled to have a bail hearing Tuesday in Martin County District Court before Judge Michael Trushenski.
July 6, 2021
A Winnebago bar owner has been convicted of violating a city ordinance that regulates liquor sales.
Faribault County Judge Troy Timmerman found David Marvin Schuster, 58, owner of Schooter's Bar guilty of the petty misdemeanor charge following a bench trial last Friday.
Schuster was initially charged with misdemeanor violating an emergency powers order when an officer saw him and three friends inside the bar the evening of Sunday, March 22, 2020. Gov. Tim Walz had earlier issued an order closing bars due to the COVID pandemic.
The court complaint was later amended to add a new charge of hours and days of sale. The Faribault County Attorney's Office dismissed the “executive order” charge last week but chose to have Schuster tried for violating the city's liquor sales ordinance.
Timmerman ruled because Schuster did not have a city license for Sunday liquor sales, he was not allowed to have anyone in his bar on that Sunday.
Schuster says he plans to contact his attorney to file an appeal of Timmerman's decision.
“I have every right to be open, I believe, because I also have a food license,” says Schuster. “I can serve food if I chose to, as long as I don't sell liquor or display it for sale. I have every right in the world to use the building for more than one thing.”
According to the initial court complaint, the doors to the bar were locked and the officer spotted the men through a window.
Schuster said in documents filed by his attorney that the bar was closed to the public as ordered and that he was hosting a private card game.
According to the case file records, Schuster was sentenced to pay a fine and court fees totaling $110.
July 6, 2021
Some residents may have seen or awaken by a Winnebago police car pursuing someone in the southwest part of town late Thursday night.
The squad's emergency lights and siren were activated as it followed the suspect who rode down alleys, several streets and yards.
At one point the pursuit went between two houses on First Avenue Southwest before the suspect was apprehended ---- a male riding a bicycle.
According to a press release issued by the police department, around 11:11 p.m. officer Jacob Pettit saw a male riding a bicycle on Third Street Southwest without reflectors or a headlight.
“Officer Pettit turned his vehicle around to speak with the man, however, he noticed the officer and began to pedal faster,” says the press release.
The suspect has been identified as 30-year-old Michael Pepin of Fairmont, who was taken into custody with the assistance of two other men.
Pepin reportedly was stopped on the 200 block of First Avenue Southwest and arrested by Pettit.
After further investigation, says the press release, Pepin was given a citation for misdemeanor fleeing a peace officer and was released.
Pepin could face a maximum penalty of 90 days in jail and a $1,000 fine. His next court appearance is scheduled by July 27.
July 5, 2021
A Winnebago bar owner facing charges stemming from the COVID pandemic has won Round 1 in the courtroom.
A jury trial was scheduled to start July 1 for David Schuster, owner of Schooter's Bar.
But according to court documents, a misdemeanor charge of disobeying an “executive order” was dismissed on June 29.
Another charge of violating a city ordinance regulating the hours and days an on-sale establishment may sell liquor is still pending.
“The new county attorney wanted both charges dropped, but Police Chief (Eric) Olson said 'no',” says Schuster. “Instead of a jury trial, Judge (Troy) Timmerman was going to hold a court trial and make a decision.”
Olson says he wasn't totally against dropping the charges and met with the county attorney to discuss the options.
“A continuance for dismissal was offered to Schuster, which he turned down,” says Olson. “The county attorney then went forward with the ordinance violations after it was agreed upon and dismissed the executive order violation.”
Timmerman put the matter on hold during a hearing last Wednesday in Faribault County District Court.
Schuster says he told the judge his food license allows gatherings in his bar on Sundays as long as no alcohol is sold or displayed for sale.
“The judge says he wanted to do more research before issuing a decision,” he says. “If he rules against me, I'm going to appeal it.”
Under the hours and days of sale section dealing with liquor licenses, a bar may not sell liquor after 1 a.m. on Sundays on a licensed premise.
Also, only the licensee or any employee may remain on the premises more than 30 minutes after the time when a sale can legally occur.
Being convicted of violating the hours and days of sale is considered a petty misdemeanor and would result in a fine of $110.
In March 2020, Schuster was accused of having his bar open and serving customers on Sunday, March 22, after Gov. Tim Walz ordered bars to close due to the coronavirus outbreak.
Schuster denied any wrongdoing, saying he was not serving any drinks to three friends who were in the bar at the time. He says the doors to the bar were locked and it was not open for business to the general public.
County Attorney Kathryn Karjala was prosecuting the case, but submitted her resignation last April. Cameron Davis was hired to replace her and sworn into office on June 25.
June 30, 2021
A Wells official says a string of recent vandalism in his city isn't uncommon and often occurs elsewhere in other cities.
“It's an ongoing issue and it does get frustrating sometimes, repeatedly replacing water fountains and stolen items,” says City Administrator CJ Holl.
In a posting on the city's website, officials report a sink was torn off the wall of the restroom at Half Moon Park. And, water fountains have been destroyed numerous times.
While no damage estimates have been determined or are considered to be costly, Holl says they are aggravating to deal with.
Vandals have also reportedly tipped over and stolen items from the golf course, including tee markers, flags, new sand trap signage and rakes.
City officials say recent parties at shelters have left a mess of garbage and in one incident, cake was smeared allover walls.
Holl says installing security cameras throughout the city would be impractical, however, there are some at the compost site and golf course clubhouse area.
“We want to make people aware and report things,” says Holl. “Like if they see a water fountain being carried down the 9th fairway. Yes, that happened!”
Anyone with information on the vandalism is asked to contact the police department by calling (507) 553-5824.
June 21, 2021
An agency that licenses and sets standards for Minnesota peace officers may soon determine the validity of a complaint filed against two Winnebago police officers.
Tripleanews.com has learned the Complaint Investigation Committee (CIC) of the Peace Officer Standards and Training board held a hearing early last month in St. Paul.
A complaint filed last summer with the POST Board alleges Winnebago Police Chief Eric Olson and officer Jacob Pettit used “excessive force” following a traffic stop in May 2020.
Last July, two videos were submitted to the POST agency showing Olson, Pettit and three Faribault County deputies attempting to arrest a motorist for suspected driver's license cancellation.
At the request of the POST Board, the Scott County Sheriff's Department investigated the complaint and the findings were turned over to the CIC for review.
The complainant says they were interviewed for nearly one hour by more than a dozen CIC members and an attorney from the Attorney General's Office.
The hearing reportedly was conducted only for Pettit, who appeared with legal representation.
The allegation of “excessive force,” says the complainant, has been upgraded to “deadly force.”
The CIC is expected to decide next month whether the complaint is substantiated or unsubstantiated. The committee could also ask for additional information or investigation before issuing a decision.
If the POST Board takes disciplinary action, full results of the investigation can be made public.
A spokesperson with the board says final discipline action occurs when a Stipulation and Consent Order is approved or when an administrative law judge issues an order in a contested hearing.
June 18, 2021
An shooting incident at a rural residence involving three juveniles has Faribault County authorities looking for answers.
“No alcohol was involved and we're still waiting to verify the proper owner of the gun. That's why it's still under investigation,” says Chief Deputy Scott Adams.
A press release posted on the Sheriff's Office website is listed as “negligent discharge of a firearm.”
On June 16 around 11 p.m. authorities responded to a discharge of a firearm at 45167 70th St. in Emerald Township.
A 16-year-old juvenile male of Blue Earth was reportedly struck by one bullet in the leg, according to the news release.
Authorities say two other juvenile males, ages 16 and 17 and from Blue Earth, were present at the time.
The injured juvenile was transported from the scene by Blue Earth Ambulance to United Hospital District. He was later airlifted to the Mayor Clinic facility in Mankato.
Assisting county authorities were the Frost and Blue Earth ambulance crews.
June 8, 2021
Not even an alert household pet could scare off a thief early Saturday morning in Blue Earth.
During the “Juba Jabber” program Tuesday morning on KBEW, Tom Juba told show host Ron Revere that his daughter and son-in-law's dog began “barking like crazy” around 3:00 a.m.
“He went out to see why. There was a guy parked in the driveway and he was underneath their Prius,” says Juba. “My son-in-law reported his license plate number to police.”
Although he was able to frighten away the man, Juba says the thief was able to steal the vehicle's catalytic converter.
There's been an increase in the scrap value of converters, which has resulted in a spike of thefts locally and across the country.
Blue Earth police are continuing their investigation and it's unclear whether the incident may be related to thefts in Brown and Nicollet counties.
In March, five converters were stolen in March; one in rural Nicollet County and another in New Ulm.
St. Peter police are also dealing with a rash number of thefts, 18 in late April and early May.
Winnebago Police Chief Eric Olson says so far his department has not received any reports of missing converters.
June 2, 2021
One person was arrested, however, authorities are still looking for three others involved in the chase of a Utility Task Vehicle (UTV) near Bass Lake north of Winnebago.
A resident who lives nearby says there were numerous law officers and a K-9 unit searching the area. Roadblocks were set up and a law officer could be heard over a loudspeaker.
“The cops were driving around in a yard with spotlights looking in the slough and telling someone to surrender and they were under arrest,” says the resident.
Chief Deputy Scott Adams says 20-year-old Seth Michael Swehla of Winnebago was a passenger in the UTV and ran away from authorities. He was later arrested and required medical attention by the Winnebago Ambulance crew.
“He was treated for hypothermia,” says Adams. “At this time no additional parties were arrested but the investigation is ongoing.”
Swehla appeared in Faribault County District Court on Tuesday and was charged with fleeing police, obstructing the legal process and underage consumption. His next court hearing has been scheduled for June 28.
According to a news release from the Sheriff's Department, deputies responded to a driving complaint in the 39000 block of 225th Street Winnebago in Delavan Township around 11:00 p.m. Sunday.
A deputy who arrived on the scene saw a 2016 Honda Pioneer Utility Task Vehicle following a motor vehicle southbound on 400th Avenue.
The headlights of the UTV reportedly were not on but there were flashing red and blue lights on the front end of the vehicle.
According to the Sheriff's Office, a deputy tried to pull over the UTV but the driver sped up and drove through a bean field and damaged some crops.
Authorities say four occupants fled on foot into a wooded area and left behind the UTV and several alcohol containers.
Swehla allegedly admitted he had been drinking and refused to identify the other passengers in the UTV.
Also assisting at the scene were the Blue Earth and Winnebago police departments.
Anyone with information regarding the incident may contact the Sheriff's Office by calling (507) 526-5148.
May 29, 2021
COVID-19 restrictions for indoor gatherings and venues have been lifted and the owner of a Winnebago event center is back in business and isn't wasting any time.
Garth Carlson has scheduled a fundraising concert featuring country singer Connie Lee on Saturday, June 12, in the Carlson Event Center, located at the old school building.
Last January, the state Attorney General's Office sued Carlson for allegedly planning to hold a New Year's Eve party in violation of an executive order aimed at preventing the spread of the coronavirus.
Two temporary restraining orders have been issued to prohibit events at the center, with the latest being in March by Judge Troy Timmerman.
John Stiles, deputy chief of staff for the attorney general, says Timmerman's order simply requires Carlson to comply with the law.
“The governor's executive orders around COVID-19 were different then than they are now,” says Stiles. “Under new COVID-19 regulations that go into effect May 28, indoor concerts can be legally held.”
According to a poster advertising the event, tours of the Veteran Resource Center and Academy begin at 3 p.m. and Lee will start performing at 6 p.m.
Tickets cost $15 at the door or donations can be made by going to the website: www.veteransresourcecenterandacademy.org.
Those attending are being asked to bring their own mask, maintain social distancing and food and pop will be available.
The state's case against Carlson is moving forward with a hearing scheduled on June 14 in Faribault County District Court.
It's unclear whether Carlson is being represented by legal counsel. In a letter dated April 22, Jason Kohlmeyer informed court officials he was no longer representing Carlson.
May 26, 2021
Winnebago's police chief this month celebrated seven years with the department and also received a favorable annual job review.
City Administrator Jake Skluzacek informed City Council members during their May meeting that Eric Olson's performance is, “Satisfactory or above and I recommend he receive a 3 percent pay increase.”
The council voted unanimously to up Olson's hourly rate of pay to $33.14.
Skluzacek's summary fails to meet the evaluation standard recommended by the League of Minnesota Cities (LMC).
“The summary should provide enough information for the public to get the best possible sense of the performance of the employee,” according to a LMC memo.
There was no mention who conducted Olson's performance evaluation or what criteria was used.
Most job reviews usually involve rating an employee in several areas on a 1 to 10 point scale. Also, the employee's strengths and weaknesses are discussed with goals being set to make improvements.
Although details of the review were skimpy, Council member Jean Anderson expressed her appreciation for Olson's service.
“We are very lucky to have you, especially during these trying times,” she says.
In 2019, the city may have been looking for a new police chief as Olson was one of four finalists interviewed in March for the top post of the Morris Police Department.
May 16, 2021
A former Winnebago man serving prison time for an October 1998 murder was recently transferred to the Faribault County Jail.
Ryan Robert Owen, 46, was placed on work release status as of May 12, according to the Minnesota Department of Corrections (DOC) website.
“Offenders are eligible for work release during the last eight months prior to their supervised release date,” says the DOC. “The program contracts with public and private agencies for residential work release services.”
Owen was booked into the county jail at 9:27 a.m. on Wednesday and was listed as a prisoner of other agency.
The DOC says selection criteria for work release includes current and prior criminal behavior, institutional adjustment and alcohol/chemical dependency history.
“Programs provide structural living and close supervision and surveillance, with the intent of better preparing offenders for a successful crime-free life,” says the DOC.
On Oct. 12, 1998, Sheri Osborn was reported missing when she failed to show up for work at an electronics plant in Winnebago.
Area law enforcement officers and volunteers conducted massive searches which lasted
more than two weeks, ending when Owen confessed to murdering Osborn.
Owen was sentenced to a 23-year sentence in the Stillwater prison and was currently at a facility in Red Wing, a 45-bed adult minimum security unit where prisoners learn a trade to transition back into the community.
Owen's official release date is scheduled on Feb. 21, 2022, and has an expiration date of Oct. 19, 2033.
May 11, 2021
A 20-year-old Winnebago man faces a felony charge of criminal vehicular homicide in an early morning crash that killed a Blue Earth man last October.
According to court documents, Jeffrey Gordon Gunzenhauser was drunk when he drove in the wrong lane and caused the fatal crash.
Charges were filed in Faribault County District Court on Tuesday and Gunzenhauser has been ordered to make his first court appearance on May 24.
He also was charged with gross misdemeanor criminal vehicular operation.
The crash occurred Oct. 31 south of Winnebago on Highway 169 and killed 76-year-old Harold Elvin Renkley.
Winnebago police officer Jacob Pettit, who was off-duty according to Police Chief Eric Olson, witnessed the head-on crash after Gunzenhauser nearly struck his vehicle.
Pettit was southbound around 12:30 a.m. when he had to swerve onto the shoulder to avoid hitting a Dodge Dart traveling north in the southbound lane.
Court papers say that Gunzenhauser failed to brake and kept going in the wrong lane as the officer turned around and called the county dispatcher.
The officer saw the Dodge Dart strike Renkley's mini-van, according to court documents, as it was traveling south and tried to avoid Gunzenhauser.
A blood sample taken from Gunzenhauser showed that he had an alcohol level of 0.10.
Gunzenhauser, Renkley and a passenger in his vehicle, Stanley R. Oppedal, 84, of Ames, Iowa, were all unconscious.
Renkley died at the scene and Oppedal was transported to a hospital with non-life threatening injuries. Gunzenhauser suffered serious injuries and was airlifted to a Twin Cities hospital.
Crash data provided by the Dart's airbag control module shows Gunzenhauser did not brake before the crash, according to a State Patrol investigator.
A woman who knows Gunzenhauser reportedly told investigators she was talking with him on the phone when the line suddenly went dead.
May 5, 2021
Four area churches need a new pastor after theirs was recently arrested for an alleged sex crime that occurred in Ohio.
Steven P. Woyen, 46, of Albert Lea was taken into custody by Freeborn County authorities on a warrant issued April 16 in Ohio for sexual battery, a third-degree felony crime.
Last January, Woyen was featured in a local newspaper story when he was hired as the pastor for Bricelyn Lutheran; North Blue Earth Lutheran; Our Savior's Lutheran, Kiester; and Trinity Lutheran, located south of Kiester in Iowa.
A member of one of the congregations confirms that Woyen is no longer their pastor and believes there may be a search under way for a replacement.
Woyen was booked into the Freeborn County Jail after being arrested for being a fugitive of justice and later transported to the Tuscarawas County Jail in Ohio.
According to a news report, a Tuscarawas County Grand Jury indicted Woyen on three counts of sexual battery that allegedly occurred between 2008 and 2011.
Woyen reportedly engaged in sexual conduct with a minor who attended or was a member of First Lutheran Church of Strasburg when he was its pastor.
Since the Ohio allegations surfaced, Woyen has submitted his resignation as a Lutheran pastor.
May 2, 2021
One of the largest employers in Faribault County will undergo a multi-million dollar face-lift soon.
Wells City Administrator CJ Holl says Wells Concrete is planning to build a new production plant at its current location along Highway 22.
“It will give them expanded capabilities and will likely mean new employees being hired,” says Holl.
Officials at the company's headquarters in Albany, MN, did not respond to requests to provide more details.
Holl announced the expansion plans Thursday morning during an interview on KBEW Radio.
Holl tells Tripleanews.com that the precast concrete producer has been operating in the city since 1957 and currently employs about 150 workers.
The new facility in Wells is expected to cost $7 million and an additional $2 million will be spent for equipment.
“Construction will start shortly and go throughout the summer,” says Holl. “They have a batch/assembly plant there now and are adding another one.”
According to a business website, Wells Concrete has five other production plants in Rosemount and Albany, MN; Denver, Colo; Crystal Lake, Ill.; and Valders, Wis.
The company has provided architectural and structural precast products, says the website, for commercial construction projects from Canada to New Mexico and Indiana to Colorado.
The U.S. Bank Stadium for the Minnesota Vikings and the University of Minnesota Athletes Village are among the many projects in the state that Wells Concrete has supplied precast concrete.
April 22, 2021
It's been nearly a year since a rash number of vandalism incidents occurred in Faribault County.
Local authorities are saying very little on whether they are getting any closer to making an arrest. However, it does appear they are on the same page when asked to give an update.
“It is still an open investigation,” says Chief Deputy Scott Adams.
Last July, county authorities received reports of windows being damaged by BB gunshots in the Delavan and Kiester area.
At that time, Adams said that northern Iowa communities also experienced similar incidents and county authorities were reviewing video footage of possible suspects.
In Winnebago, nine vehicles had windows shattered and a Main Street storefront window was hit with BB gunshots.
“Still open,” says Police Chief Eric Olson, who refused to give an estimate of the total damage.
Blue Earth Police Chief Tom Fletcher says there were five reports of BB gun vandalism and also have no idea on the extent of damage.
“It is still under investigation and I don't have a dollar amount available at this time,” he says.
Not even a $350 reward being offered by a Blue Earth business owner has yielded any useful tips.
Anyone with any information can call the Sheriff's Department at (507) 526-5148, Blue Earth Police Department at (507) 526-5959 or Winnebago Police Department at (507) 893-3218.
April 14, 2021
A 38-year-old Blue Earth woman has lost an appeal to overturn her perjury conviction related to the 2017 assault of a Blue Earth Area football player.
Allison Ann Mastin was accused of lying during a July 2018 omnibus hearing for Wyatt Tungland, a teen involved in the assault of a teammate at another player's house in Winnebago.
On Monday, the Minnesota Court of Appeals dismissed Mastin's claims that:
there was not enough evidence to support the jury's guilty verdict;
judge Troy Timmerman and prosecutor LaMar Piper committed errors;
and, Piper did not tell the defense that Tungland said during a pretrial interview his brain was “mush” due to prior concussions.
According to court documents, Mastin testified that Tungland was at her home in Blue Earth at the time the teen was beaten unconscious, which occurred around 2 a.m. on Oct. 18.
Tungland, who was dating Mastin's daughter, admitted in an interview with Winnebago police that he was at the underage drinking party and witnessed the assault, But, he denied taking part and did not tell authorities he went to Mastin's house.
In a 17-page decision, a three-judge panel says the appellate court performs “painstaking analysis” to determine whether the evidence supports the jury's guilty verdict.
“The circumstances proved are consistent with only one conclusion, Mastin knowingly testified falsely that Tungland was at her house on the night of the Winnebago party,” says the ruling. “Because the evidence at the trial established beyond a reasonable doubt that Mastin committed perjury, we affirm her conviction.”
In her appeal, Mastin's attorney says Timmerman should not have allowed Winnebago police chief Eric Olson to testify the assault had received significant media attention after prohibiting media articles from being used as evidence.
Allowing the evidence was a “stark reversal” of Timmerman's pretrial order and it was irrelevant to the perjury charge, claims the appeal.
The appellate judges found that Timmerman did not exclude testimony about media coverage and even if he had, the testimony would not have had a significant impact on the jury's verdict.
“When an error is of no vital consequence or does not materially affect the substantial rights of the accused and there is sufficient evidence to support the verdict, we will not disturb the conviction,” says the appellate panel.
Mastin contends that Tungland telling the prosecution that his brain was “mush” could have been used to question his credibility.
But, the appeals court says there was enough evidence showing that Tungland was at the party and that knowledge would not have changed the jury's verdict.
“An appellate court should only reverse the district court's decision regarding a discovery violation where the prosecutor's conduct was inexcusable and so prejudicial that the defendant did not receive a fair trial,” says the appellate ruling.
In January 2020, Mastin was convicted of perjury but found not guilty of obstructing an investigation. She was sentenced to 30 days in jail, placed on supervised probation for two years and fined $1,085, which can be paid by working on Sentence-to-Serve (STS) crews.
April 9, 2021
A second mother accused of trying to cover-up her son's involvement in the assault of a Blue Earth Area football player has struck a plea deal.
Renee Lee Nagel, 47, of Blue Earth has accepted Faribault County Attorney Kathryn Karjala's offer of a continuance for dismissal.
Under the agreement, Nagel was placed on six months probation which will expire on Sept. 29.
If she remains law-abiding and has no same or similar charges for six months, the case will be dismissed.
Nagel's son was charged and convicted in the October 2017 assault that occurred during a party held at a teammate's home in Winnebago.
Last month, Shawna Barnett, 47, of Des Moines, Iowa, also agreed to a plea of a continuance for dismissal with the same conditions. Her probation will expire on Sept. 16.
Both with charged with aiding an offender; aiding an offender obstructing an investigation; conspiracy to aid and offender; and conspiracy to obstruct and investigation.
According to court documents, subpoenaed text messages show that Nagel and Barnett, “consulted each other and third parties about the assaults and worked to eliminate the risk of conviction for their sons and others.”
April 7, 2021
After nearly one hour of discussion, Blue Earth City Council will not let residents decide whether a council member should continue serving.
At their meeting held Monday, council members voted 6-1 to reject a petition seeking a recall election for Councilman John Huisman.
City officials hired attorney Chris Kennedy to determine whether the petition signed by 265 residents has sufficient grounds and is valid.
Although petitioners followed the City Charter and state statutes, Kennedy says that's not enough.
“The charter is in violation of the state constitution, it requires findings of malfeasance or non-feasance,” he says. “I don't see any allegations in the petition that indicates there was anything in his role as a councilman. I don't see how you can have malfeasance if he was not acting on behalf of the city.”
Mayor Rick Scholtes was the lone dissenting vote, saying the charter doesn't mention malfeasance or non-feasance and the petitioners did what was required.
He says the council shouldn't have to decide whether a letter signed by Huisman and sent to KBEW rises to the level of malfeasance.
“I took an oath to uphold the City Charter,” says Scholtes. “I went by our charter. That's all my vote was based on. That was it.”
Because police officers and city staff are held to a higher standard of conduct, says Scholtes, he and the council should also.
“I feel that I am always the mayor, 24/7,” he says. “How do you determine when you are a council member or not? I think that is a perception some people have and struggle with. Finding ourselves exempt is troubling to me.”
Residents at the meeting were allowed to comment prior to the council taking a vote.
Dan Brod, who helped organize the petition with four others, called the letter, “very subversive, secretive and offensive.”
Huisman and 13 people --- members of the county's DFL Party --- signed a letter expressing their displeasure with the radio station airing The O'Reilly Factor and sent it to station management.
Those who signed the letter said they would encourage businesses not to advertise and people not to listen. Some members of the public took that as threats being made.
“It was so unbecoming as a councilman and it irritated me immensely. The first time I saw it I came unglued,” Brod says. “My gosh, this was improper activity.”
Sue Hauskins gathered 60 signatures with her husband and says some residents expressed their disappointment and anger.
“The community knows they were heard. You guys know that we were heard. But, the rest is up to you,” says Hauskins, who worked for the city for 21 years.
Sue Scholtes says a council member should not do or say anything that would hurt businesses financially.
As in the past, Huisman again apologized to the council, KBEW and residents of the city.
“I am really truly sorry from the bottom of my heart. I want us to move forward as best we can. I want to help this city to bring opportunities and job. I want us to move in a positive direction.”
Council members agreed that the city's charter should be updated to provide clearer guidelines for holding a recall election.
City Attorney David Frundt says the city should get an Attorney General's opinion on any changes being proposed to the charter.
Before making a motion to reject the petition, Councilman Glenn Gaylord asked Kennedy whether the council really had any choice.
Kennedy says if the petition is approved and Huisman takes the matter to court, a district judge would have to follow the state constitution and issue a restraining order to stop a recall election.
April 5, 2021
The search for a new Faribault County chief prosecutor is expected to begin soon.
Tripleanews.com has learned County Attorney Kathryn Karjala has submitted her letter of resignation.
John Roper, chairman of the County Board, says the five-member board will have to vote at their Tuesday meeting to accept her resignation effective July 1.
“It (resignation) came as a surprise to me,” says Roper. “I understand she is engaged and will be moving out of the county.”
Karjala was hired in January of 2018 after County Attorney Troy Timmerman was appointed to serve as judge for Faribault County in the Fifth Judicial District.
Ten months later, she ran unopposed and was elected to a four-year term in the November general election.
“We want to start looking for a replacement right away. We'll post the opening in trade magazines and courthouse/county websites,” says Roper.
Although Karjala's resignation is not listed as a meeting agenda item, she is expected to provide commissioners with her monthly report on county attorney business.
April 2, 2021
The owner of a Winnebago events center who was sued by the Attorney General's Office has dropped his counterclaims against the state.
A Zoom hearing scheduled Tuesday in Faribault County District Court was canceled after Garth Carlson withdrew the claims.
“In my client's realization, he is simply one man against the entire state of Minnesota and needs to conserve resources,” Carlson's attorney Jason Kohlmeyer told Judge Troy Timmerman.
In his claims, Carlson cites he suffered defamation and financial losses when the state filed a lawsuit against him for planning a New Year's Eve Party in violation of the governor's shutdown order during the COVID-19 pandemic.
In a letter to the court, Carlson's attorney says publicity of the lawsuit have damaged his client's reputation and it has interfered with his ability to collect donations.
Timmerman issued a temporary restraining order and the event was not held. Now, the judge has issued a new injunction.
In court documents, Carlson's attorney contends the governor's executive order is unconstitutional and not evenly enforced.
Carlson says the event advertised as a “New Year Eve dance” was a religious gathering exempt from the governor's order.
“I never had and have no plans to host an event in violation of the law or executive orders,” Carlson says in an affidavit.
In a March order, Timmerman says Carlson's arguments are “unpersuasive.”
The state's lawsuit is based on social media advertisements appearing to be promoting the dance with a live band.
According to court documents, the ads listed a $25 fee to attend, the letters “B.Y.O.B,” and words in Spanish that translate to “you can bring your own beer or liquor.”
Carlson claims he was asked to host a Hispanic religious gathering and believed the event was in compliance with the executive order.
The $25 admission fee was a donation in lieu of charging a rental fee, says Carlson, and he did not look over the advertisement closely before sharing it on social media.
Carlson says he developed a COVID-19 preparedness plan required by the state for businesses and organizations allowed to operate during the shutdown.
But, Carlson has not “submitted any evidence whatsoever detailing what made the planned event itself religious in nature,” says Timmerman's order.
The judge's order requires Carlson to produce a copy of the preparedness plan within 30 days.
On challenges regarding the constitutionality of the executive order restrictions, the judge says Carlson has not met any legal threshold.
The court has not yet scheduled the next hearing date in the case.
March 30, 2021
A special meeting held by the Blue Earth City Council to consider whether there should be a recall election may have been improperly held and conducted.
Council members met last Thursday after a petition with 265 valid signatures was turned into City Hall last week.
Petitioners are seeking to have the council determine if there are sufficient grounds to pass a resolution to have a recall election for Councilman John Huisman.
However, Huisman's attorney ---- Thomas Anderson ---- told council members he doesn't know why there was a meeting.
“I don't know who called the meeting. The City Charter says the petition will be voted on at the next City Council meeting,” says Anderson. “It doesn't say anything about setting a special meeting.”
The petition alleges Huisman violated freedom of speech and freedom of the press protected by the First Amendment by signing a letter sent to KBEW.
In the letter, the councilman and 13 others were critical of a program called The O'Reilly Factor and said they would encourage businesses not to advertise on the station and residents not to listen.
During the meeting, Huisman argued that the petition should be rejected because there weren't sufficient grounds to demand he face another election.
Huisman's comments and participation during the meeting appears to have violated an elected official's responsibility to avoid a Conflict of Interest outline in a League of Minnesota Cities information memo.
According to the self-judgment section, an official should exclude themselves from any discussion about themselves.
“On the theory that no person should serve as the judge of his or her own case, courts have generally held that an officer may not participate in proceedings where he or she is the subject,” says the memo. “As a result, council members probably should not participate in a decision involving their own possible offense.”
Near the end of the meeting, Huisman made a motion to reject the petition but it was voted down. He also voted a motion ---- which was approved --- to have the city hire an outside attorney to decide the petition's validity to have a recall election.
The council is expected to discuss the petition at their next meeting scheduled for April 5.
March 26, 2021
A petition to recall a Blue Earth City Council member that was spearheaded with the help of a former councilman was tabled during a special meeting held Thursday.
With the help of city staff and following the City Charter, Dan Brod and four other residents gathered 15 more than the required 250 valid signatures to seek a recall election of Councilman John Huisman.
“He's a councilman and I don't think it was a very good thing to do,” says Brod on why the group circulated a petition.
Huisman and 13 people --- members of the county's DFL Party---- signed a letter expressing their displeasure that KBEW was airing a program called The O'Reilly Update and sent it to station management.
Brod says that Huisman and the others attempted to censor a program and made threats to the station by encouraging businesses not to advertise and people not to listen.
Huisman violated freedom of speech and freedom of the press, says Brod, which are protected by the First Amendment.
“You can threaten people because of the First Amendment? I don't think so, I don't think it goes that far,” Brod says.
Huisman says he signed the letter as a private citizen and not as a member of the City Council.
“I did not violate the First Amendment in any way, shape or form,” he says.
Mark Hauskins says Huisman, who is a retired educator, should better than to sign a letter that made alleged threats.
“This (letter) borders on bullying and it is not to be tolerated. You tell advertisers to pull their advertising, that is bullying in my manual,” Hauskins says.
In a letter to council members, Huisman's attorney ---- Thomas Anderson ---- explains why the petition is not valid. He says state law sets out high standards for a recall election and the City Charter does not.
“Malfeasance and non-feasance must be found. It must be an illegal act, evil act or something that a person ought not to do,” says Anderson. “It's the law folks. The letter is political speech. You are constrained by the law and just can't do what you want.”
Mayor Rick Scholtes says the purpose of the special meeting was for the council to decide whether the petition is valid.
“Based on our charter, the petition is sufficient. They did their part and brought the petition to us,” says Scholtes.
City Attorney David Frundt told the council because of a conflict of interest, he does not believe it would ethical for him to determine whether state law prevails over the City Charter. He suggested they hire an outside attorney to settle the issue.
Council Dan Warner says the petition, like the letter to KBEW, would “create division and ugliness in our town.”
“I don't support a recall election at taxpayer cost. My opinion on the matter is we let this go,” he says.
Councilman Glenn Gaylord says he felt being strong-armed and threatened by Huisman's attorney to OK the petition without enough information.
“We're working for the people of Blue Earth and not this attorney. He doesn't mean anything to us,” says Gaylord. “He says you got to do this and our charter says another thing.”
Huisman made a motion to reject the petition, however, that was defeated on a 5-2 vote. Warner and Huisman voted in favor of dismissing the petition.
On another 5-2 vote, the council ---- except Huisman and Warner --- agreed to have Frundt hire an attorney who would be willing to handle the matter and possibly have an answer by the April 5 council meeting.
March 25, 2021
Like the state's 2020 end-year total, Faribault County issued nearly twice as many handgun permits than the year before.
Sheriff Mike Gormley processes permit to carry applications that have been provided by the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA) and tracks the numbers.
And, like other sheriffs across the state, Gormley saw more than an uptick in the number approved. In fact, it was almost a 53 percent increase.
“We saw more women getting permits,” he says. “As for reasons for the overall increase, I could only speculate. They don't specify why they want a permit.”
According to Gormley's figures, there were 258 new permits plus 86 renewals for a total of 344 last year and three applications denied.
That compares to 2019 when there were 142 new permits, 40 renewed and two denials.
Martin County saw 344 new permits issued, 79 renewals and one application denied last year. In 2019, it was 137 new permits, 79 renewals and two denials.
The state's BCA yearly Permit to Carry Report shows 96,554 permits to carry were issued last year, while the number was 51,404 the year before.
The state currently has 358,897 valid firearms permits. In 2020, 103 were suspended, 36 revoked, 968 voided, 1,191 denied and nearly 102,000 applications were submitted.
March 11, 2021
Since July 2018, a third Level 3 sex offender is being released from prison and moving to Winnebago.
Police Chief Eric Olson says a public notification meeting is being held for 39-year-old Archester Rodgers Jr. on March 16 beginning at 6 p.m. at the Municipal Center Community Room.
“Because of social distancing, there will also be a link to join the meeting remotely from a computer,” says Olson. “The link will be supplied on the city's webpage. Representatives from the Department of Corrections (DOC) and Winnebago Public Safety will be available to provide useful information.”
Mark Bliven, director of Risk Assessment/Community Notification for DOC, says Rodgers is currently serving a 30-month sentence in St. Cloud for a 2017 violation of not registering.
He also was convicted of a fifth-degree criminal sexual conduct misdemeanor charge that involved two adult female victims, but did not have to serve time in prison.
Bliven says Rodgers has a concurrent 24-month sentence for a 2019 violation of failing to register that is associated with a misdemeanor domestic assault conviction.
“He has served time in prison four times,” says Bliven. “His next release is scheduled for Monday, March 15.”
Because a Level 3 sex offender is considered a high risk to re-offend, state law requires a public meeting be held by law enforcement to inform local residents.
As of July 1, 2019, there were 18,000 people required to register as an offender in the state, according to the DOC. Of those, 54 of the registrants live in Faribault County.
While 15 registrants have a Winnebago address, according to local authorities, eight are actually living within the city limits.
March 7, 2021
The pandemic has slowed progress of opening the Corn Plus facility in Winnebago, which has been closed since September 2019.
Economic Development Authority board members got an update Wednesday from the city's EDA specialist Angie Stier.
“I'm waiting to get a response from an email I sent last week,” says Stier. “It's been a slow response.”
When Mayor Scott Robertson asks Stier if there was any reason to be alarmed or concerned, she answers, “No.”
Stier says Greenfield Global of Canada is unable to send anyone to the facility because of the country's strict travel restrictions.
Company officials have said that repairs and improvements to the nearly 30-year-old facility are needed before it re-opens.
“We are staying in contact and working to keep things moving forward,” Stier says.
Robert Dekker, vice-president of communications and public relations for Greenfield, tells Tripleanews.com company officials are hoping to visit the city and facility soon.
“The local support has been wonderful and we are excited to get started,” he says. “In fact, we are bringing on new employees this month, focused on permitting and making improvements to the plant. We're still planning on a Fall startup.”
Since Greenfield announced its purchase of Corn Plus last October it has been a topic of discussion at monthly EDA meetings.
“It is very critical for the city of Winnebago. It would be a huge shot in the arm,” says Robertson. “We have to keep Winnebago afloat somehow.”
At the time of its closing, Corn Plus produced 49 million gallons of ethanol annually and employed about 40 people.
With headquarters in Toronto, Ontario, Greenfield operates four fuel distilleries to make it the largest ethanol producer in the country. In addition, it owns five specialty chemical and packaging plants and two “next-generation” biofuel and renewable energy research and development centers.
March 3, 2021
Two mothers who were charged after their sons were convicted of assaulting a Blue Earth Area football teammate in 2017 appear to have their cases coming to an end.
Mankato attorney Patrick Casey says while the court hasn't addressed his client's right to a speedy trial, he and Faribault County prosecutors have reached a deal.
“The state has agreed and we have accepted a six-month continuance for dismissal,” says Casey. “The only condition is that Shawna Barnett have not same or similar violations of law and this case will be dismissed in six months.”
Barnett, 47, of Des Moines, Iowa, and Renee Lee Nagel, 47, of Blue Earth each face four felonies for conspiring to cover up the assault committed by their sons and two other teens.
According to court documents filed in Faribault County District Court, the two were charged with aiding an offender; aiding an offender obstructing an investigation; conspiracy to aid an offender; and conspiracy to obstruct an investigation or prosecution.
Barnett and Nagel, “consulted each other and third parties about the assaults and worked to eliminate the risk of conviction for their sons and others,” says the complaint.
Subpoenaed text messages are cited as evidence, according to the court complaint, and a cellphone belonging to Barnett's son reportedly disappeared before authorities could view video of the assault.
According to the court's schedule, Barnett was scheduled to have an arraignment hearing on March 17.
Nagel's next court appearance was a contested omnibus hearing set for April 26, but it was canceled and rescheduled to a plea hearing on March 29.
Nagel's attorney, Michael Kircher, did not respond to a request for comment.
February 14, 2021
Faribault County commissioners have fallen victim to the adage ---- garbage in, garbage out.
On Jan. 19, the County Board on a 3-2 vote approved the “Citizens Rights” resolution. However, it wasn't the one County Attorney Kathryn Karjala emailed Tripleanews.com for a story.
“It does appear that I attached Mr. Carlson's resolution twice instead of the resolution as passed,” Karjala says. “The county probably will not face litigation.”
The county attorney is referring to a resolution Commissioner Tom Loveall introduced on behalf of Garth Carlson, the owner of Carlson Events Center located in the old Winnebago school building.
Loveall and fellow Commissioner Greg Young voted in favor of the Carlson resolution, although Karjala called it “unconstitutional,” could result in lawsuits against the county and loss of potential coronavirus relief aid. Commissioners John Roper, Bill Groskreutz and Bruce Anderson voted against it.
The resolution that was ultimately approved, following some changes made by Loveall, still supports the rights and liberties of citizens set forth in the Fourteenth Amendment.
“The Faribault County Board of Commissioners acknowledges the ability of the individuals and businesses of Faribault County to determine their best course of action to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic,” the resolution says.
Loveall, Young and Anderson supported the revised version, while Roper and Groskreutz did not.
“I think it was unnecessary to vote for something that we already do as a commissioner when we took our oath of office,” Roper says.
Groskreutz says he wanted to wait and have the county attorney determine whether the resolution is constitutional.
“We're not going to tell a business that they can or not be open or anyone that they can defy the governor's executive orders,” says Groskreutz. “If they do, we won't be there to bail them out. They'll have to face the consequences.”
February 6, 2021
Investigation of a second complaint filed against Winnebago's police chief and a police officer is complete and cost more than $20,000.
City Administrator Jake Skluzacek says the city paid Isaac Kaufman of Red Cedar Consulting in Edina $22,122 for the investigation that began last July.
Because of state Data Privacy Laws, says Skluzacek, findings in the report will not be made public.
“The information cannot be released by the city without express consent for its release from the employees,” he says.
The complaint reportedly alleged Police Chief Eric Olson and officer Jacob Pettit used “excessive force” during a traffic stop for a suspected driver's license cancellation on May 6.
Because information of the investigation will remain private, that means there was no wrongdoing found and no disciplinary action will be taken.
“The City Council will vote on Feb. 9th to take no further action on the complaint,”says Skluzacek.
In another investigation, Kaufman billed the city $3,100 and determined there was no “abuse of power and overreach” when a bar owner was charged with violating an executive order to remain closed during the coronavirus pandemic.
In early July, Michelle Soldo of Soldo Consulting Group, P.C., of Woodbury began working on the investigations and Kaufman was hired later.
According to a website page, Kaufman has served 11 years as head of the Law Enforcement Labor Services (LELS), Inc., the largest law enforcement union in the state.
As part of his duties he traveled throughout the state representing members in Internal Affairs investigations, grievance arbitrations and litigation.
February 2, 2021
Despite signing a letter that KBEW's general manager called “an attempt of extortion,” a Blue Earth councilman will continue to serve.
After nearly one hour of public comment, the City Council chose not to vote on whether Councilman John Huisman should be removed.
Mayor Rick Scholtes told those in attendance he decided to put discussion of the letter on the Monday meeting agenda because of public inquiries.
“In the past week and a half I received numerous emails, texts and phone calls about what we were going to do,” says Scholtes.
Huisman and 13 people ---- members of the county's DFL Party --- signed a letter expressing their displeasure that KBEW was airing a program called The O'Reilly Update and sent it to station management.
“We wanted our voice heard and to me that is the American way,” he says. “None of the 14 people released the letter to social media, we didn't want that to happen.”
Huisman speculates that it was a staff member at the radio station who took a copy of the letter and posted it on social media.
That drew a sharp denial from station general manager Ron Revere, saying that employees were told not to make any comments about the letter publicly.
“How it got there I have no idea. It does bother me we were blamed for putting it on social media,” he says. “That is absolutely false.”
Revere admits he did make copies for business owners who requested one.
When asked what the council could do to reprimand Huisman, Scholtes explained that five of the seven council members would need to vote in favor of removing him.
Huisman could have resigned, but chose not to. He also serves on the Economic Development Authority board and plans to explain at their next meeting why he should remain a member.
Scholtes says the fifth-term councilman could still be subjected to a recall vote if 250 eligible voters who voted in the last election sign a petition.
The signatures would have to be verified of being valid and then the council would need to pass a resolution to hold a special election.
In the letter, members of the community and area would be asked to refrain from listening to KBEW and businesses owners encouraged not to advertise on the station.
Huisman says the county's DFL Party held a special meeting recently and did not take action on the group's recommendations.
“My employees felt it was a threat to destroy the radio station. It was a deliberate attempt to harm our business, we didn't take that very well,” says Revere. “It was an attempt to scare us.”
In issuing an apology, Huisman says the group never intended to cause any harm to anyone.
“I am sincerely, truly sorry that this happened. If I could take it back, I would. One hundred times over,” he says. “It clearly was a mistake on my part.”
Revere accepted Huisman's apology, saying it was time to move on.
Scholtes says the city does not have a code of conduct pertaining to council members and it is something that should be addressed in the future.
January 30, 2021
A letter sent to the local radio station has some residents angry and is listed as a New Business item ---- KBEW letter ---- on the Blue Earth City Council agenda for Monday's meeting beginning at 5 p.m.
On a Saturday 12:15 p.m. radio newscast it was reported the letter was going to be discussed.
The letter, addressed to the station's general manager and program director, takes issue with The O'Reilly Update, a 15-minute program that airs daily beginning at noon.
“In a time of deep division among our citizens, Bill O'Reilly's poisonous, divisive political rhetoric deepens those divisions in the United States of America,” says the letter. “We feel KBEW is not a vehicle with which to air these extreme, venomous positions.”
O'Reilly once hosted on the conservative Fox News network a top-rated show called “The O'Reilly Factor,” which he touted as being a “no-spin zone” analysis of news and current events.
At the end of the KBEW broadcast O'Reilly thanks those for listening and adds his show is, “No spin. Just facts. And, always looking out for you.”
The letter, which is not endorsed by the Faribault County DFL Party, lists the names of some local Democrats --- including Councilman John Huisman.
Those who sent the letter requested it be placed in the station's “public inspection file,” which the Federal Communications Commission requires. However, a copy of the letter was also posted by someone on social media.
According to the letter, the county's DFL Party would be encouraged to take the following steps:
Never purchase any more advertising on KBEW in the future;
Encourage members of the community and area to refrain from listening to KBEW;
Tell current and future KBEW advertisers their dollars could be better spent elsewhere;
and, advise future candidates we support for political office not to use KBEW as a marketing vehicle.