May 24, 2022
Blue Earth Area School District students will continue to learn more than just about the “3 R’s.”
School Board members recently approved a three-year contract with the Faribault County Sheriff’s Department to provide a School Resource Officer (SRO).
And, it will cost the district more than $85,000 in the last year of the agreement if it is renewed.
Chief Deputy Scott Adams says deputy DJ Bullerman has been working as an SRO for the district since 2013.
“He does a fantastic job, and we are fortunate to have him in that position,” says Adams.
Bullerman is expected to be a resource person for staff, classroom members and administrators in the promoting of positive behavior in all the district’s buildings.
According to the contract, the district reimburses the county 75 percent of the wages, insurance, benefits, PERA and workers compensation associated with the sheriff department’s lowest paid deputy.
In addition, the district also pays expenses related to use of a squad car and any personal equipment needed by a deputy.
Adequate office space, a telephone and other reasonable clerical support services will also be provided by the district.
“Our deputies work 2,223 hours per year, so DJ puts in 75 percent of those hours at the district during the school year. The other 25 percent he is a road deputy during the summer,” says Adams.
The first payment to the county of $38,040 is due by Dec. 1 of this year. Next school year, the district will pay $39,850 on June 1 and the same amount on Dec. 1.
In 2024, the county will receive $41,204 on June 1 and on Dec.1 and the final payment of the contract will be $43,367 on June 1, 2025.
Under the contract, the county will provide coverage when Bullerman is absent due to vacation, holidays, training or other activities. Also, either party may cancel the agreement with a 30-day written notice.
May 21, 2022
Justice prevailed for the owner of Schooter’s Bar in Winnebago when the state Court of Appeals issued a ruling in his favor on May 17.
On a 2-1 vote, a three-judge panel reversed David Schuster’s conviction for violating a city ordinance regulating liquor sales.
Under the hours and days of sale section dealing with liquor licenses, a bar may not sell alcohol 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.
In a bench trial, Faribault County Judge Troy Timmerman found Schuster guilty of a petty misdemeanor and fined him $110.
Timmerman ruled because Schuster did not have a city license for Sunday liquor sales, he was not allowed to have anyone in his bar.
Schuster says hiring an attorney and appealing the verdict rather than paying a small fine was a matter of principle.
“This was a nonsense issue that should have never gone to court,” he says. “After 16 years of loyal service I have never violated the law. I don’t have a blemish on my record and wanted to keep it clean.”
Schuster was initially charged in March 2020 with violating an “executive order” that prohibited bars from being open during the coronavirus pandemic.
He was accused of being in the bar with three friends and serving them drinks on Sunday, March 22, although the doors to the bar were locked and it was closed to the public.
County Attorney Cameron Davis dismissed the charge, however, pursued the ordinance violation charge after talking with Police Chief Eric Olson.
According to the appellate judges, there’s nothing in the ordinance that prohibits a person from being on the licensed premises on a Sunday.
“The district court’s interpretation would mean that even a repairperson performing routine maintenance on a Sunday would subject the licensee to criminal liability, since that repairperson would be neither the licensee nor an employee,” the judges wrote.
“Such a result would be absurd. Those who enacted the ordinance, like the legislature, are presumed not to have intended an absurd result,” the judges concluded.
Judge Tracy Smith disagreed with the other judges saying that Timmerman applied the only reasonable interpretation of the ordinance and that it does not have to be revised to achieve its plain purpose.
She says the evident purpose is to clear out bars within 30 minutes after the lawful sale of alcohol ends and to have them remain unoccupied until alcohol sales can resume.
“The appellant (Schuster) was not licensed to sell alcohol on Sundays, yet he had guests in his bar that day. In my view, that conduct violated the ordinance, and I would affirm the district court,” she says.
May 17, 2022
Faribault County Sheriff Mike Gormley didn’t have to take the next two weeks
to decide if he’s ready to retire.
On the first day of filing for county offices, Gormley sat in his vehicle for 15 minutes Tuesday morning, waiting for the auditor’s office to open.
Shortly after 8 a.m., Gormley paid the $50 filing fee to make it official that he is seeking his fifth four-year term.
“I had a lot of support and peer pressure to run,” says Gormley. “When you love your job and the people you work with, it makes it an easy decision.”
Gormley’s law enforcement career spans more than 30 years, 16 of those serving as sheriff.
“I will continue to be a hands-on working sheriff and be available for the citizens of Faribault County,” he adds.
The incumbent sheriff is expected to face an opponent in the Nov. 8 general election.
North Mankato police officer Jacob Kral last month announced he plans to seek the post.
The filing period for county offices is from May 17 until May 31 at 5 p.m.
For city and school board races, filing opens on May 17 and closes May 31 if a primary election is expected. If there is no primary, the filing period is Aug. 2 through Aug.16.
May 15, 2022
It was a split decision for Faribault County following a jury trial to settle
a lawsuit involving a $2.866 million county ditch improvement project.
Following seven days of testimony from some 20 witnesses, the jury found
county officials breached their contract with Northern Lines Contracting (NLC), Inc.
In their decision, jurors ruled the county must pay the Bloomington. Minn.-based construction company $397,987 in damages and that it was obligated to pay that amount back in January 2019.
On Dec. 28, 2018, NLC sent a letter to the county saying the company had
met the contract’s Dec. 31 deadline of “substantial completion.”
However, county officials through its engineer, ISG Professional, LLC., refused to grant a certificate of “substantial completion” on Jan. 28, 2019.
Through a letter and an e-mail on March 20, county officials again refused to
issue a certificate.
ISG ultimately signed off on the project as being “substantially” completed on April 29 with an effective date being Dec. 23, 2018.
County officials filed a countersuit against NLC alleging breach of contract and negligence. They also made a claim on the performance bond issued by Granite Re for the project.
As a result, the county withheld payment of $287,284 for contractor damages outlined in a “flooding damages summary” conducted by ISG.
In their suit, NLC says the county did not incur any financial loss due to claims that the company caused crop damages to 11 farmers affected by the project.
NLC claims the county tried to apply for federal disaster relief aid when the company could not be held liable for any damages caused by storms that occurred in June and July of 2018.
“The county’s simultaneous applications for federal disaster relief funds and not paying NLC because of flooding amounts to fraud,” NLC contends.
The jury found NLC breached its contract with the county and awarded damages totaling $338,004, however, it did not grant compensation to any farmers.
The jury’s verdicts will result in a net judgment being entered on behalf of NLC.
May 11, 2022
Winnebago City Council raising water rates may have overshadowed their effort to
help those unable to pay their utility bill on time.
At their Nov. 9 meeting, council members voted to reduce the monthly late fee by 50 percent.
Instead of charging 10 percent of the total amount due, it will now be 5 percent.
“We knew water rates were going up a lot and that we could lower the late fee,” says City Administrator Judi Hynes. “We’re not in the business of making money.”
The city each month mails out about 700 utility bills, says Hynes, and of those around 645 are water users. She says some 50 customers will end up receiving a shut-off notice.
Residents needing help paying their water bill can now turn to Minnesota Valley Action Council (MVAC) for the first time.
Depending on household size and income guidelines, MVAC will issue homeowners or renters grants ranging from $300 to $2,000.
Eligibility for the assistance program is based on the three most recent months of maximum income which are: household of one, $8,804; household of two, $11,520; household of three, $14,230; household of four, $16,941; household of five, $19,651; up to a household of 20, $29,477.
MVAC is currently accepting applications and the deadline to apply is May 31.
Anyone wanting more information may call (800) 767-7149 or the Blue Earth office at (507) 526-5291.
April 30, 2022
An investigation has determined the cause of a camper fire that badly burned a Delavan man.
Shortly after 9 p.m. on Friday, April 22, authorities received a 911 call of a report that a camper was on fire at 504 S. Main Street in Delavan.
According to the State Fire Marshal and Sheriff’s Office, a faulty heater attached to a propane tank ignited the blaze that totally destroyed the camper.
Delavan Fire and First Responders arrived on the scene found the owner of the camper, 44-year-old Thomas Wayne Bowen, inside and injured.
“He was airlifted to Hennepin County Medical Center for burns to his arms, face and smoke inhalation,” says Adams. “We have not received an update.”
Also assisting at the scene were the Winnebago Ambulance and Mayo Ambulance Service.
April 29, 2022
A long-time serving Blue Earth council member is calling it quits, adding to the
number of council seats that will be on the Nov. 8 general election ballot.
Glenn Gaylord, who was elected in 2000 and is serving his sixth four-year term,
has submitted his letter of resignation.
“I feel that the council at this time is not representing the financial interests of the citizens of Blue Earth,” Gaylord wrote in his letter.
Gaylord did not respond to a request to provide further explanation on why he is stepping down.
City Administrator Mary Kennedy says Gaylord’s resignation letter is listed on the council’s May 2 meeting agenda.
“The council will need to approve the resignation and determine the next steps,” says Kennedy.
On the council, Gaylord has the title of vice mayor and his current term was set to end on Jan. 6, 2025.
Incumbent council members up for re-election include Russ Erichsrud, Wendy Cole, Marty Cassem and Ann Hanna.
The filing period for council races --- along with county, state and federal contests ---- runs from May 17 through 31.
April 26, 2022
The location of a vehicle accident Saturday afternoon in Kiester was anything but typical.
Faribault County authorities responded to a report of a single-vehicle rollover around 1:54 p.m. in an alley near North Street and Main Street by City Park.
“A juvenile who has a permit was driving and an adult male was a passenger in front,” says Chief Deputy Scott Adams.
According to the Sheriff’s Department, those arriving on the scene found the occupants of the vehicle trapped inside.
Investigation of the crash revealed a 2011 Hyundai Sonata driven by a juvenile female turned into an alley off North Street and headed south.
The driver of Madison Lake reportedly lost control and drove up the guide wire of a nearby utility pole.
“There are not any charge pending at this time,” says Adams.
The other two passengers in the car were identified as a juvenile male of Good Thunder and 51-year-old Chad Fure of Kiester.
Ambulance crew members provided medical attention to the crash victims who did not sustain any injuries.
Authorities were able to roll the car back over on its wheels and it was driven away from the scene with significant damage.
Assisting the Sheriff’s Department at the scene were the Wells Police Department, Kiester Ambulance and Kiester Fire Department.
April 23, 2022
Although it is not official, there’s someone who wants to be the new sheriff in town.
North Mankato police officer Jacob Kral says he plans to run for Faribault County sheriff in the Nov. 8 general election.
“As a resident of Faribault County for many years I feel it is my time to give back to the community and be a voice for all residents,” says Kral. “I look forward to meeting and listening to the people of Faribault County.”
Kral touts 17 years of devoted public service, working as a Faribault County deputy, police officer, reserve officer and instructor of DNR youth safety classes.
He also is a member of the Lura Lake Association, Lura Lake Aeration Association and Faribault County Farm Bureau.
Kral and his wife Brooke have three children and live on family farm in Faribault County.
Meanwhile, incumbent Sheriff Mike Gormley must decide whether he wants to seek another four-year term.
“The period for filing hasn’t opened up yet, so no one can truly file. I will be making a decision soon,” he says.
Gormley’s law enforcement career spans more than 30 years, 16 of those serving as the county’s sheriff.
Should Gormley decide not to seek re-election, it could open the door for Chief Deputy Scott Adams.
Adams has nearly 26 years of law enforcement experience, 15 as second-in-command of the sheriff’s department.
The filing period for county offices opens on May 17 and closes on May 31 and there is a $50 filing fee.
April 22, 2022
It didn’t take a jury trial to decide whether a Faribault County part-time would be able to keep her job.
“She resigned last weekend,” says Chief Deputy Scott Adams. “She sent me a text and then followed up with a letter.”
A two-day trial was held April 18 and 19 in Nicollet County District Court and jurors found 34-year-old Trisha Lynn Westphal of Winnebago guilty on two felony theft charges.
Westphal was hired last October and observed two shifts, says Adams, before being charged on Nov. 12.
“She notified us of receiving information that theft charges were pending and knew that would affect any employment in law enforcement,” he says. “All training was stopped at that point.”
Westphal was accused of stealing an autographed football card worth $5,000 while she was a North Mankato FedEx employee.
A court complaint says the card was found for sale at a sports card retailer in the Twin Cities. The man who sold the card to the store told a North Mankato police officer that Westphal gave it to him.
In its verdict the jury says, “The state has proven beyond a reasonable doubt that the sports card had a value of more than $1,000.”
Westphal was convicted of theft of movable property valued at $1,001 to $5,000 and theft by appropriation of found property valued at $1,001 t0 $5,000.
The court has ordered a pre-sentence investigation and set June 28 as the date for sentencing.
April 18, 2022
If you believe in the power of prayer, then put the success of Greenfield ethanol plant and reduction of inflation rate on your list for divine intervention.
At their meeting Tuesday night, Winnebago City Council got an earful from a handful of residents following the aftershock of the recent utility hikes.
Mayor Scott Robertson says rates needed to be increased because the water fund is $212,000 in the hole and sewer fund is $511,788 in the red.
“The sewer fund is definitely linked to Corn Plus closing, no doubt,” says Robertson. “It took $900,000 out of the fund.”
As a result, the monthly residential sewer fee was raised from $15 to 45, as well as the water rates.
However, water rates will be based on actual gallon usage rather than the tier-pricing system that has been used for the past two decades and charged a set minimum.
Councilman Calvin Howard says two years ago following an audit it was recommended rates should be increased 10 percent. However, the council decided on 5 percent.
“We’ve been trying to raise rates in a responsible way. This is not a catch-up or trying to make up for lost ground. This is probably what they should have been for three years,” says Howard.
Robertson read a letter from Elise Nielsen, who was in attendance and is employed at Homestead Realty.
The tremendous rate hikes are unfair to those on a tight budget, says Nielsen, pointing out that the city’s utility bill is more than her heating and electric bills combined.
Nielsen says in March 2021 her utility bill was $92, that compares to nearly $160 this past March.
“I have noticed since this rate went into effect, many homebuyers are looking East and West. People want to live where they can afford to live,” she says.
Jim Ness, co-owner of Homestead Realty, says the increases could not have come at a worse time and the city should have done a better job informing residents.
City Administrator Judi Hynes says flyers were distributed to businesses in town and also available at City Hall, Post Office and library.
“I don’t want to be rude about this, but why didn’t you put one those with a bill in an envelope and mail it?” says Ness. “People were shocked. The animosity toward City Hall is huge because they didn’t know it was happening. Don’t leave the public out of it.”
Robertson took issue with the notion that city officials didn’t try to warn and prepare residents.
“As long as some are tossing grenades up here, I am going to toss them back,” says Robertson. “When is the last time you got a letter from the county telling you your taxes are going up? A letter from BENCO that the rates are changing? From CenterPoint? We’re not trying to fleece anybody.”
Although costly, Howard says the city should consider whether notices regarding rates changes should be mailed out in the future.
Councilman Paul Eisenmenger says he understands how residents have been affected because his bill has gone from about $130 to $214.
The Rural Water Association conducted an independent analysis and recommended what the rates should be, says Eisenmenger, and inflation has increased operating costs for the water and wastewater facilities.
“I think honestly, if we had to go back and refigure, the numbers (rate increases) would be even higher,” he says, adding that the electric bill last month for both plants was $4,500.
City officials are banking on Greenfield discharging more water into the wastewater facility which will add revenue to the sewer fund.
“And, if the prices of materials to treat the water goes down, there’s a real good chance the utility rates could go down. Every year we look at the rates,” says Eisenmenger.
Howard is optimistic that the ethanol plant back up and running will have a positive impact.
“I’m hoping we can lower it (sewer rate) or at the very least not raise it for a number of years,” he says.
April 14, 2022
Blue Earth Area School District’s four top administrators were given new contracts at Monday night’s meeting.
School Board members approved contracts for Superintendent Mandy Fletcher, Fiscal Services Director Alan Wilhelmi and principals David Dressler and Conan Shaffer.
All of the contracts are for three years and scheduled to start the next school year.
Fletcher is set to earn an annual salary of $139,020 the first year, $141,020 in year two and $143,020 for the 2024-2025 school year.
In addition, the district will match up to $4,000 that Fletcher contributes to a tax sheltered annuity plan in the first year of the contract. The amount increases by $500 in each of the following two years.
Under the agreement, Fletcher’s salary can never be reduced, and the district will provide health insurance to her and dependents at no cost.
Fletcher will receive 25 days of paid vacation each year and unused days may be carried over to a maximum of 60 days. She will also get 15 days of sick leave in the first year of the contract and will be allowed to earn up to 120 days.
Wilhelmi will be paid $103,575 next year and will earn $106,620 in 2024-2025 and $109,819 in the final year of the contract. After completing 15 years of service, $3,000 will be added to his annual salary.
The district will pay for Wilhelmi’s health insurance as well as his dependents if they choose coverage. He will also have 15 days of each year and unused days may be carried over to the next year.
Dressler will be $102,959 in the first year of his contract and $106,048 the second year and $109,229 the final year.
Shaffer’s annual salary next year will be $99,910, $102,907 in 2023-2024 and $105,995 in the final year of his contract.
The district will pay the health insurance premiums for the principals and for their dependents if they choose family coverage.
April 9, 2022
Legal disputes between a former Delavan bar owner and City Council are moving through the court system.
In December 2020, disagreement over payment terms of a lease between John Martin the owner of Johnny M’s Tavern and the city came to light.
City officials also claimed Martin had violated ordinances during the 13 years he has operated the bar.
Council members ultimately canceled the lease on June 1, 2021, and revoked Martin’s liquor license. The five-year lease was scheduled to expire at the end of this year.
Martin says the council has signed a new lease agreement and issued a liquor license to someone wanting to re-open the bar.
“I was never notified and the city held meetings behind my back,” he says. “They violated the Open Meeting Law. It’s unbelievable what they are trying to pull.”
As a result, Martin filed a civil suit against the city and council members Christopher Kruse, Daniel Haugh and former Mayor Kevin Walker.
Last October, a case to evict Martin from the city-owned building where his business is located was dismissed without prejudice. However, city officials could refile to reopen the case.
In his suit, Martin accuses the city of breaching its contract, violation of due process, not acting in good faith and passing a resolution in violation of its bylaws.
Although the bar hasn’t been open for several months, Martin says he continues to pay the monthly utility bills and other expenses.
Martin says the city has offered $50,000 to settle the civil case, but he says that’s not nearly enough.
“It’s been a nightmare, but I’m not backing down one bit,” he says. “It’s ridiculous what they’re offering. I’m not going to give in and I’ll fight it.”
A court trial has been set for Sept. 7, 8 and 9, according to court documents. However, Martin says it is expected to be rescheduled to sometime in October.
April 9, 2022
A former doctor acquitted of assault charges in 2020, but found guilty of DWI, is in legal trouble again.
John Christian Urban, 62, of Winnebago was arrested by local authorities on March 28 and transported to the Faribault County Jail.
At his first court appearance, Urban was charged with third-degree DWI, gross misdemeanor; DWI, misdemeanor; driving after license revocation, misdemeanor; and operating a vehicle with expired registration, misdemeanor.
During a three-day trial in October 2020, jurors found Urban not guilty of domestic assault strangulation, third-degree assault, domestic assault and terroristic threats. He was convicted on a misdemeanor charge of DWI.
Urban was discharged from supervised probation last December after one year of monitoring.
Ruth Martinez, executive director of the Minnesota Board of Medical Practice, says Urban’s medical license expired at the end of October 2020.
“The Minnesota medical license issued to him is currently inactive,” she says. “It was his choice not to renew it.”
Urban’s next court appearance is an omnibus hearing scheduled for April 18 before Judge Troy Timmerman.
Urban’s release from jail was set at posting a $12,000 bond or bail with no conditions.
With conditions he would not have to post bail but agree to abstain from use of alcohol or controlled substances; random testing; no possession of alcohol or drugs; alcohol monitor; remain law-abiding; and make future court appearance.
April 6, 2022
While United Hospital District (UHD) ponders the future of its clinic in Winnebago, some city leaders aren’t waiting to see what happens.
“We have been talking with UHD and I’m tired of this,” says businessman Bob Weerts. “I’ve brought a doctor to town before, and I can do it again.”
Weerts was referring to Dr. Terry Cahill, a UHD family practice physician, who opened a clinic on the corner of Cleveland Avenue West and Main Street.
The clinic, which was later sold to UHD, was closed in 2020 shortly after the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Later that year, Weerts and Mayor Scott Robertson began discussing how they could bring a doctor to town.
Efforts in recruiting a physician, according to Weerts, has been a long process and is progressing well.
“I’m planning to bring a doctor to town hopefully soon and possibly other medical services,” he says.
Robertson says the city’s economic development specialist Angie Stier, business leaders and other interested parties meet monthly to discuss health care needs.
“There’s a lot of elderly people living in town. They and others shouldn’t have to go out of town to get medical care and medication,” he says.
Weerts says UHD officials believe costly repairs are needed before the clinic could be reopened. So, the group has found other possible sites.
“We’ve got a little ways to go,” says Robertson. “We’re not giving up and are going to continue chasing this.”
March 20, 2022
Public opinion can be found on social media platforms and other forms of conventional mediums.
But, at a gas pump while trying to fill up your vehicle?
You've probably noticed an “I did that!” sticker showing President Joe Biden pointing his finger at the high price of gas.
As the cost of fuel continues to skyrocket, the stickers have been popping up more and more across the country.
Tripleanews.com attempted to contact Bert Howard, manager of Casey's in Winnebago, to find out the company's policy regarding the stickers or if employees are required to remove them.
Howard did not respond to an e-mail for comment, nor did officials at the company's headquarters in Ankeny, Iowa.
Posting the stickers may seem to be a funny political statement for some people, however, it is a form of vandalism and technically considered criminal mischief.
Although it is highly unlikely charges would be filed because the damage caused is so minor, the sticker may be hard for an employee to remove.
The issue remains: Are the stickers defacing private property or protected political speech?
March 10, 2022
Winnebago City Council went into closed-session during Wednesday night's meeting to address allege misconduct by a police officer.
“I can't discuss anything, any information will have to come from City Attorney David Frundt,” says Police Chief Eric Olson.
Frundt did not attend the meeting because he is on vacation.
During the council's discussion behind closed doors, Olson handed out results of an investigation conducted by the Fairmont Police Department.
After the meeting was re-opened to the public, Councilman Calvin Howard made motion to accept findings of the investigation. And, it was passed unanimously.
“There was no wrongdoing found,” says Mayor Scott Robertson. “There are no other decisions that have to be made.”
Because the allegation of misconduct was not substantiated and no disciplinary action was taken, results of the investigation, nature of the complaint and identity of the officer is not made public.
Currently, the police department has three full-time officers and six who are on the part-time roster.
March 4, 2022
A Faribault County part-time jailer is currently facing a felony theft charge.
Trisha Lynn Westphal, 33, of Winnebago was hired last October after being interviewed by the county's central services/human resources director, jail administrator and assistant jail administrator.
“She sat and observed for two shifts,” says Chief Deputy Scott Adams. “She hasn't trained since mid-November.”
Adams says all job applicants seeking employment with the county sign a waiver to conduct a background check involving criminal history, driving record, past employment and a five-county in-house computer check.
“In October, there was not an employee that was criminally charged,” he says. “Anytime we do a background check you can only rely on the information you are given or find.”
Adams says former employers when contacted generally do not say why someone is no longer an employee.
Westphal, a former North Mankato FedEx employee, was charged in Nicollet County District Court on Nov. 12.
A court complaint says a seller of an autographed Kyler Murray football card worth $5,000 reported using FedEx to send it to the buyer last summer. But, an empty package was delivered to the person.
The card reportedly was found for sale, according to the complaint, at a sports card retailer located in the Twin Cities.
A North Mankato police officer was able to find the man who sold the card to the store and was told that Westphal gave it to him.
The complaint says Westphal gave three different stories on how she got the card. She first claimed someone gave it to her, that she found it at a gas station parking lot and found it in the FedEx lobby.
Last month, Westphal requested a speedy trial and a pre-trial hearing has been scheduled for April 5.
“I would say she is still employed. We are aware of her legal situation and are waiting for it to be resolved,” says Adams.
March 3, 2022
What a difference a week makes.
For the second week in a row, Winnebago City Council held a special meeting on a Tuesday to discuss how to fill the city administrator's position.
Council members decided to offer the job to deputy city clerk Judi Hynes, after their first choice Robert Harris III turned them down.
“I made a point to talk to people in this town and had nothing but positive feedback to making Judi the city administrator,” says Mayor Scott Robertson. “We need to get on with things.”
Council members agreed it was best to hire Hynes rather than reopening the search process for new applications.
Councilman Paul Eisenmenger says putting the job back out for bids would be a gamble and wouldn't be fair to Hynes.
“If we take a chance of not getting anybody at all to apply and then going back and saying, 'Judi, will you accept the job now,' I think that would be an absolute kick in the teeth,” he says.
Last week, Eisenmenger made a motion to hire Hynes after she and Harris were interviewed by the full council. But, it died for lack of a second.
This time, Eisenmenger's motion to offer Hynes the job was approved on a 3-0 vote.
With an OK from Hynes, council members kept the meeting open to the public to discuss a salary and benefit package.
The council agreed to pay Hynes an annual salary of $52,582 plus retirement and insurance benefits for a total of $71,448.
At the recommendation of City Attorney David Frundt, Councilman Tim Hynes resigned due to a conflict of interest created by the hiring of his wife.
The city will be advertising in local mediums and social media to the fill the deputy city clerk and council vacancies. Applications will be accepted through March 18.
The person selected to be on the council will serve until a special election in November. The person elected then will finish out the final two years of Hynes' four-year term that ends in January 2025.
Anyone wanting more information may contact City Hall at 507-893-3217 or visit the the city's website at www.cityofwinnebago.com.
February 26, 2022
It was a case of thanks, but no thanks.
Winnebago City Council scheduled a special meeting Tuesday night to discuss contract details with Robert Harris III, who was selected by the council to be the new city administrator.
But, five minutes before the start of the meeting, Mayor Scott Robertson was handed a letter from Harris that had been emailed to City Hall around 4:30p.m. He was turning down the job offer.
“It (letter) came in at the 12th hour. We were prepared to go into closed-session and discuss the contract,” says Robertson. “It took me by surprise.”
Last week, Harris and deputy city clerk Judi Hynes were interviewed to replace Jake Skluzacek.
Council members voted 2 to 1 to offer the position to Harris, who currently is living in Albert Lea.
Robertson says another special meeting has been scheduled for Tuesday, March 1, to determine what their next move will be.
The council can decide whether to offer Hynes the position or restart the search and seek new applications.
Robertson says the council will likely ask Hynes if she's still interested in the job. If she is, they could go into closed-session to iron out contract details.
“My intentions are to get this hammered out so we can move forward,” says Robertson.
If Hynes is hired, her position would need to be filled. Also, City Attorney David Frundt says her husband must resign from the council due to a conflict of interest it would create.
Tuesday's meeting will be held at the Municipal Center building and is scheduled to begin at 6 p.m.
February 24, 2022
No charges will be filed against a man who ripped a Black Lives Matter (BLM) sign from a woman at a Maple River football game last October.
The Blue Earth County Attorney's Office received investigation results of the incident more than three months ago from Mapleton police.
Assistant county attorney Ryan Hansch says prosecutors were required to apply the “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard when reviewing police reports and documents.
“The conflicting evidence did not rise to the level needed to support criminal charges,” says Hansch.
It took a month to conduct the investigation, says Police Chief Benjamin Honsey, that involved the interviewing of multiple individuals.
Attempts to contact Nusser and Herrmann for comment were not successful.
On Oct. 1, Laura Marie Nusser was holding a BLM sign in the bleachers when a man, who reportedly was wearing a Make America Great Again (MAGA) cap, grabbed it from her hands and tossed it to the ground.
The man was later identified by Nusser as Kip Herrmann, who was allowed to stay and watch the game while she was told to leave at the request of school district administrators because of her “offensive language.”
Nusser, whose two sons were on the team at the time, says she was sitting in the student section with her sign because of an alleged incident earlier that day.
According to one of her sons, both who are biracial, a classmate made an off-color remark during a homecoming activity about him going to the back of the line to wait behind white students.
February 19, 2022
After two hours of asking and then being asked questions, Winnebago City Council took a step closer to hiring a city administrator.
On a 2 to 1 vote, the council has offered the position to Robert Harris III of Albert Lea.
Harris and current deputy city clerk Judi Hynes were two finalists interviewed during a special meeting held Tuesday.
The council will now be working on a salary and benefit package they hope Harris will accept.
“We've only got so much to spend,” says Mayor Scott Robertson, pointing out the council has made large expenditures recently.
After two-and-a-half years on the job, Jake Skluzacek was earning slightly more than $57,000 when he left last month to accept a planner's position in Elko New Market.
If Harris declines the council's financial package, City Attorney David Frundt says the position could be offered to Hynes or city officials may reopen the search.
Hynes and Harris were interviewed separately and asked the same 10 questions.
Both candidates stressed they would encourage teamwork and not micro-manage employees.
“I am not a yeller and bullying tactics aren't my thing either,” says Hynes. “You have to listen and I will provide guidance to employees. I like to try and make a difference and find solutions to problems.”
Harris says he expects employees to be community-focused and solve problems as a team.
“We are expected to wear many different hats and work collaboratively. Everyone has to take ownership of their own job,” he says.
Hynes and Harris were asked how they would handle controversial issues and irate citizens.
Listening and trying to understand someone's point of view, says Hynes, are important when dealing with unhappy residents.
“The number one goal should be de-escalate, de-escalate. Most people just want to be heard,” says Harris.
Hynes says her 15 months working as a deputy city clerk and handling some administrator duties since Skluzacek left qualify her for the position.
“I have done a lot of soul searching. I want this job,” she says. “I'm invested in this community. I have a lot to learn. I'm not afraid and willing to learn.”
Harris, a Chicago native, has a bachelor of arts degree from Carleton College and is working on earning a master's degree in business administration.
While not having any experience in the day-to-day operations of city government, Harris is the current executive director of a conservation and development council. He also works part-time for Community and Economic Development Associates (CEDA) of Chatfield.
For one year, Harris also did public policy work for the Minneapolis Regional Chamber of Commerce.
“I've been part of the Minneapolis political machine and that can be nasty. This seems right, the timing … to relocate to a small city,” he says, when asked why he is interested in the position.
With Hynes and Harris not present, council members discussed the pros and cons of each candidate.
Council members Calvin Howard and Jean Anderson were impressed with Harris' experience and qualifications, although they acknowledge Hynes is doing a good job in handling some administrator duties in the interim.
Council members agreed that hiring Hynes might provide more stability to the position which has seen six city administrators since 2003.
“We've had to see people come and go,” says Councilman Paul Eisenmenger. “It's annoying.”
Eisenmenger says Hynes is doing a fantastic job and it would be a smoother transition if she were hired.
Robertson spoke in favor of offering Hynes the job and says that Harris is possibly over qualified.
“The people who are here should have a higher score. We all agree that we're tired of people leaving,” says Robertson. “You know what you're getting with Judi. I don't like rocking the boat a lot.”
Eisenmenger made a motion to hire Hynes, but it died for lack of a second. A motion made by Howard to offer Harris the job and seconded by Anderson was then passed.
February 16, 2022
Everyone should know when digging out following a winter storm, you can't just toss or push the white stuff anywhere.
Apparently, there are some Winnebago residents who have forgotten and they recently had to be reminded.
Last Friday, City Hall mailed out some 22 letters to property owners who have been identified as violators.
“It was just a courtesy letter. It wasn't threatening or that they were going to be fined,” says Judi Hynes, deputy city clerk.
Workers at City Hall have had to field phone calls and questions from those who have received a letter.
“They were told they cannot plow snow onto a city street or city-owned property,” she says. “Some people have blocked road rights-of-way and even put the snow on people's property.”
While there is no city ordinance making it illegal to shovel snow into the street, there is a state law that does.
Pushing snow out of your driveway across a state, county or city road is considered to be a misdemeanor and carries a maximum penalty of 90 days in jail and a $1,000 fine.
Winnebago does have an ordinance pertaining to when sidewalks need to be shoveled after a storm.
Property owners adjacent to a public sidewalk are required to remove snow or ice no longer than 24 hours after a snowfall. Homeowners could be charged if city workers have to clear the walk.
Anyone having questions or wanting more information is asked to call City Hall at (507)-893-3217.
February 9, 2022
United Hospital District (UHD) has expanded its presence in Fairmont with a large financial investment.
Recently, UHD announced it was purchasing the Dulcimer Medical Center and property that includes a medical and dental practice.
Will that have an impact on the hospital district's clinic in Winnebago, which has been closed for more than a year? UHD also operates clinics in Fairmont and Wells.
“We do not intend to close the Winnebago clinic as some have assumed,” says Rick Ash, UHD CEO. “Our goal remains to open the clinic again.”
The COVID pandemic and workforce factors, says Ash, have stalled efforts to begin the reopening process.
Angie Stier, the city's business development specialist, says officials have met with Ash to discuss the clinic's future.
Although no specific date to reopen was given, Stier says they were reassured UHD has “full intentions” of maintaining the clinic.
“Staffing the location has been an issue and the building is in need of repairs to bring it back to an operational level,” she says.
Cost of repairs needed at the clinic were not available as well as the price tag for the Dulcimer acquisition.
Ash says because UHD operates as a private non-profit organization, how much was spent to buy Dulcimer is private information.
As a hospital district, UHD does have the power to levy property taxes for projects the board of directors deem necessary.
February 5, 2022
The recent surge in COVID-19 cases has taken its toll at a long-term care facility in Wells.
Parkview is owned and operated by Heartland Senior Living, which also operates long-term care facilities in Truman and Winnebago.
Last December, Parkview was among 50 skilled nursing facilities statewide that received help from the Minnesota National Guard to relieve staff working extra shifts each week.
Chris Knoll, managing agent for Heartland, says the number of staff at Parkview has gone from 80 down to 50.
“Some have gone elsewhere for employment and some have decided to leave the health care industry all together,” he says. “There was a lot of staff burnout. It's a problem that I don't see going away.”
Five to 10 Guard members arrived at Parkview just prior to Christmas, says Knoll, and were on site for three weeks.
“It was an early present for our workers. They were able to take some time off and spend it with the family,” he says.
Near the end of November, Gov. Tim Walz announced a plan to deploy 400 Guard members to reinforce nursing staffs at facilities struggling with shortages.
The lack of workers meant that nearly 80 percent of the state's nursing homes are unable to take in new residents.
“As our staff allows. That's the mentality we're taking when it comes to new admissions,” says Knoll. “The pandemic has turned into a systemic and economic issue. We're paying staff out of our ears. It's kind of scary.”
Due to less staff at the facility, some workers at times have been asked to do things they normally would not.
“A person use to doing maintenance work like mowing lawns may have to make beds one day,” Knoll says. “It's the it takes a village approach, all the village."
January 30, 2022
COVID-19 cases have been on the rise in Faribault and Martin counties.
One reason for the omicron-driven wave may be the low vaccination rates of each county.
According to Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) data, 56.4 percent of Faribault County's residents are fully vaccinated and in Martin County it's 55.5 percent.
In January, both counties saw an increase in the number of confirmed cases every week of the month.
Martin County had 18 residents who needed to be hospitalized, while Faribault County had eight.
“The more unvaccinated people you have, the higher death and hospitalization rates you'll see,” says MDH official Doug Schultz. “Those who are not fully vaccinated have a hospitalization rate that's 10 times higher than people who are.”
Faribault County had 534 new cases last month to bring the total number of cases to 3,281, compared to Martin County's 675 for 4,639 cases.
MDH statistics show that Faribault County's cases of 232 in the final week of January was 73 percent higher than the previous week. Martin County had a 56 percent increase for the same period.
Since the pandemic began, Martin County has reported 54 deaths and Faribault County has had 45, which is the highest COVID-19 death rate among the nine counties in south-central Minnesota at about 33 per 10,000 residents.
January 26, 2022
Winnebago City Council is “thinking outside of the box” in their search for a new city administrator.
City officials have decided not to pay South Central Service Cooperative a fee of more than $8,500 to find candidates to replace Jake Skluzacek.
“It's sad to leave. It's been a hard two-and-a-half years,” says Skluzacek. “I just think I have to leave and it's something I have to do.”
At the Jan. 11 council meeting, Skluzacek submitted his letter of resignation with his last day on the job being Jan. 20.
Mayor Scott Robertson says the council should focus on trying to find a person with local ties.
“I hate being the stepping stone for the next job. I don't like all this moving on,” says Robertson. “It's tough seeing people coming and going so easy. I certainly don't hold any grudges.”
Councilman Tim Hynes points out that since 2003 there have been six city administrators.
“Unfortunately, in a small town like this a lot of your hiring is like running a college sports team. You get people for thee or five years and they move on,” says Hynes.
Council member Jean Anderson says the next city administrator should be a good leader and progressive.
“I want someone who is innovative. Telling us why something can be done instead or not be done,” she says.
Council members agree whomever is hired should be cross-trained to be able to perform clerk duties.
They also aren't requiring the person to have a four-year college and are encouraging city employees and area residents with administration experience to apply.
“I don't want your bachelor's degree,I want your experience,” says Councilman Calvin Howard.
Discussion during a special meeting held Jan. 18 centered on whether the position should carry a different title, however no change was made.
Councilman Paul Eisenmenger says he would like to see someone hired as a public works director and have the ability to perform administration duties in the front office.
Eisenmenger asked Skluzacek if more pay would have kept him from leaving.
“It's location, it wasn't about the pay,” says Skluzacek. “I make enough money to pay my bills and have some left over.”
Skluzcek has accepted a planner's position at Elko New Market, which is located near his hometown of Lonsdale. His departing annual salary was slightly more than $57,000.
Council members agreed to use local media outlets and city's website to advertise the position with an application deadline of Feb. 2. That could be extended if there are not enough applicants.
In the meantime, the council approved a $3 per hour pay hike for deputy clerk Judi Hynes to handle some of Skluzacek's duties.
Police Chief Eric Olson told the council he is willing to help Hynes until someone is hired.
“I want the council to know I helped last time and I am here to do it again,” says Olson. “I don't care about the pay.”
The council approved having Olson assist administrative staff and will do research regarding additional pay.
January 24, 2022
A man who ripped a Black Lives Matter (BLM) sign from a woman during Maple River's homecoming football game last October is still awaiting his fate.
Two months ago, the Mapleton Police Department turned over results of an investigation to the Blue Earth County Attorney's Office.
“A decision has not yet been finalized, but should be soon,” says Ryan Hansch, assistant county attorney.
Laura Marie Nusser was holding a BLM sign in the bleachers when a man, who reportedly was wearing Make America Great Again (MAGA) cap, ripped it out of her hands and tossed it to the ground.
Nusser, whose two sons were on the team at the time, says she sat in the student section with her sign because of an alleged incident earlier that day.
She says one of her sons, both who are biracial, reportedly told her a classmate made an off-color remark during a homecoming activity about him going to the back of the line to wait behind white students.
Nusser later identified the man as Kip Herrmann, who was allowed to stay and continue watching the game while she was told to leave at the request of school district administrators because of her “offensive language.”
Police Chief Benjamin Honsey says his department will receive a letter if prosecutors decide not to file any charges.
January 20, 2022
Faribault County and Winnebago law officers took part in a manhunt near a salvage yard located on 240th Street Tuesday afternoon.
Nicollet County Sheriff's Office conducted a traffic stop at 4 x4 Truck and Auto Parts, four miles north of Winnebago.
“They got a tip that someone who was wanted on a warrant was in the area,” says Chief Deputy Scott Adams.
The vehicle that was stopped was a 2003 blue Jeep Liberty sport-utility registered to a party who lived in Granada.
According to authorities, the Jeep driven by Michael Paul Schugel of Mankato was pulling a Dodge pickup truck with a rigid hitch and without any lights.
The Jeep reportedly pulled into the salvage yard and 39-year-old Jacob John Friedrichs bailed out of the vehicle and ran.
Friedrichs, who was wanted on a felony warrant in Nicollet County, was arrested after a search that took more than one hour due to the wooded area and hundreds of vehicles in the salvage yard.
Adams says his department's K-9 officer Zeus and Winnebago's K-9 officer Jack took part in the search. Two local drones also were used in locating Friedrichs.
He was found hiding in an old camper and arrested without incident, according to authorities.
Other law enforcement agencies at the scene included the Blue Earth County Sheriff's Department, Minnesota State Patrol and Amboy Police Department.
An organization that provides services to area veterans may or may not be in the midst of a “major” fundraising campaign.
A 6x2-foot “thermometer” poster dons a vertical glass pane at the gymnasium entrance of the former Winnebago school.
The poster has been on display since November and shows that the goal is to raise $10 million. However, it does not indicate if any money has been raised thus far.
The building is the site of the Veterans Resource Center & Academy (VRCA), which is operated by Veterans Enterprises Inc. based in Madelia.
In April 2020, the city of Winnebago sold the school building to Veterans Enterprises for $61,000 to provide transitional housing, educational training and health care services for former service members.
At that time, Garth Carlson, Luke Weinandt and Jack Zimmerman told City Council members that the facility would also be available for the public to use.
According to VRCA's website, Carlson is listed as one of the five founding fathers, along with Lynn Marvin Johnson, Randy Olson, Ted Harrison and Mike Tamin.
Carlson and Olson did not respond to email requests for comment.
January 6, 2022
Despite a Faribault County commissioner's concern whether the Extension's curriculum contains a “woke” emphasis, the hiring of a support position is progressing.
Outgoing board chairman John Roper says three applicants applied for the 30-hour a week job and interviews are being conducted.
At a Dec. 9 meeting, commissioner Tom Loveall told board members,”If there is critical race theory or a 'woke' emphasis in the teaching, then I have a problem with it.”
Allison Sandve, spokeswoman for the University of Minnesota Extension Office, says the 4-H's curriculum takes a “learn-by-doing” approach, unlike that used by school districts.
“The curriculum focuses on the ways a youth development organization can help young people thrive,” she says. “It covers a wide range of areas, including fine arts, livestock and STEM (Science, technology, engineering and mathematics).”
Critical race theory (CRT) has become a controversial issue in school districts across the country, however, the curriculum is not taught in Minnesota schools.
So, it's unclear where Loveall got the notion that CRT is being taught in 4-H programs.
“We are available to commissioners to answer questions and help them learn more about how 4-H helps build youth,” Sandve says. “We value the support of counties across the state and our important connection with commissioners.”
According to CRT, “U.S. social institutions ---- criminal justice and education systems, labor and housing markets and healthcare system ---- are laced with racism embedded in laws, regulations and procedures that lead to different outcomes by race.”
Becky Harrington, Extension director of operations and systems, says 4-H programs support fairness, equity and inclusion.
December 22, 2021
Officials in two area school districts took different approaches when responding to possible threats recently received.
Cori Reynolds, superintendent of Martin County West Schools, says district officials Monday afternoon became aware of a threat of violence to occur at the junior/senior high school.
In an email to parents, Reynolds says school officials met with Sherburn police and decided classes would not be held Tuesday and Wednesday.
“Because the safety of our students and staff is our highest priority, we have decided to close all Martin County West schools out of an abundance of caution,” she says.
All the school buildings were closed and activities before, during and after school --- both home and away ---- were canceled.
District officials are cooperating with the police department in an ongoing investigation.
Police Chief Brad Hughes says a student found a note in a classroom and took it to the principal's office.
“It was handwritten, small and very brief. There was a threat of possibly being gun violence. But, it did not reference a specific date,” he says.
Local authorities say it's unclear when the note was written and Hughes says, “It could have been stuck in this location since last week.”
Reynolds says parents of students in grades 7-12 are being asked to discuss the incident with their children and give any credible information to principal Michele Baker.
“If this is contributing to struggles your children are having with mental health, please reach out to their schools so we can help connect you with resources,” says Reynolds.
Meanwhile, officials at Granada-Huntley-East Chain School District would not comment on a tip received by Tripleanews.com that there was a “kill list.”
Taylor Topinka, middle and high school principal, says laws governing schools do not allow him to make a comment.
“We are not able to disseminate information on school topics or investigations without an educational need to know,” he says.
But he adds, “School safety and security is our top priority and we do take this very seriously.”
December 19, 2021
After more than 18 months, dispute over a residential water bill totaling more than $21,000 for the months of June, July and August 2020 has come to an end.
High water usage at a house owned by Mark Franta started shortly after work on the $8.9 million infrastructure project in Winnebago began near 215 2nd Avenue Northwest in April 2020.
Following a lengthy discussion, City Council members voted 2-1 to settle the matter by charging the highest usage rates for three months prior to when the leakage began.
Councilmen Tim Hynes and Calvin Howard voted in favor, while Council member Jean Anderson cast the dissenting vote.
That means the city will collect about $300, rather than the $17,545 recommended by the city's Utility Committee after fees were waived.
“We (council) just wanted to get this behind us and get it done,” says Mayor Scott Robertson. “This happened before I was elected last November.”
“I would like to have split the bill with them (Holtmeier Construction). I think we should have both shared in it,” adds Robertson.
With a 10 percent late fee being assessed monthly the amount owed quickly grew to more than $50,000. As in previous months, the renter of the house kept paying the monthly amount normally due which was about $90.
Robertson says a water department employee contacted Franta as soon as the city noticed high gallons of water being used at the residence.
However, he was on vacation so a phone message was left and after that it's not clear what happened.
“It (the bill) fell through the cracks and wasn't addressed. In the future we have to make sure we stay on it,” says Robertson.
Council members agreed the water line in the basement more than likely was broken when construction crews were working on the road. But, it would be difficult to prove.
Bolton & Menk engineer Matt Cole says Holtmeier Construction isn't going to admit that it was their fault.
“They're not going to pay half of the bill if their insurance company won't pay,” he says.
A water line no longer in use was capped but it came off and more than 147,000 gallons of water was metered the first month and 851,000 gallons the next month.
“It is a real coincidence that it happened during construction. We have chased insurance companies but nothing has happened,” says Robertson.
Hynes says he wishes that the problem would have been dealt with more promptly and just wants it to be over.
“I view it as a construction issue that the construction company doesn't want to pay for it and Mr. Franta doesn't want to pay for it,” he says. “You can't come up with $20,000 water bills and expect people to come up with that.”
Howard seemed puzzled as to how nobody was able to notice such a large leakage in the house.
“To have 800,000 gallons of water go through the house, that's a lot of water,” he says. “That's four swimming pools worth.”
The area where the leakage was occurring, says Franta, is a small crawl space containing no appliances or any equipment.
Franta says he couldn't hear water leaking when he entered the house and discovered the problem when he opened the trap door to the basement.
“This is property I've owned for about seven and a half years with no problems like that,” he says. “We've had two incidents within less than three months.”
Franta says he has called the insurance company many times but has not gotten a response.
If the insurance company and Franta don't want to pay the bill, says Anderson, why should the city?
Anderson expressed concern that the council might be setting a precedent of allowing utility bill adjustments too easily.
Some on the council felt the case was different and unique because the problem resulted from a project that was contracted and paid for by the city.
“I understand you have to worry about a precedence. But, a $17,000 water bill. How are you going to pay that? That's crazy,” says Howard.
Anderson suggested that Franta pay about $6,000 of the bill, which would be a portion of the water bill and half of the sewer.
“He should be glad he doesn't have to pay the full $17,000,” she says. “It might be a little over the top, but I think it's fair for everybody."
December 10, 2021
There's been an “exodus of employees” recently at KBEW radio station in Blue Earth.
“Three people have left or been let go from the station during the short time I have been here,” says a former employee. “Management has not been good there. Hopefully, that will change during the year ahead.”
Another former employee says a total of six employees, including part-timers, have either resigned, retired or been fired since Ron Revere took over as general manager in June 2020.
Carolyn Becker, who owns and operates Riverfront Broadcasting with her husband, says the station will have a new person at the helm soon.
“Ron Revere is retiring at the end of the year and Heather Anderson will be the new general manager,” Becker says.
Anderson has worked at the station as an account representative and will be its first woman general manager since going on the air in 1963. She did not respond to a request for comment.
One change has already taken place, when Stacey Huntington was hired following the departure Brent Wiethorn as news director.
Wiethorn had been at the station nearly nearly seven month after replacing Norm Hall in mid-June when he announced his retirement.
Becker says account representative Jason Spencer is no longer employed at KBEW. The station is currently airing ads to fill the position.
December 3, 2021
A rural New Richland man was recently rescued from the freezing waters of Rice Lake located in Delavan Township.
Faribault County authorities received a report of a male struggling to get his duck boat across the lake around 4:34 p.m. last Sunday.
“He was out there retrieving his broken-down boat,” says Chief Deputy Scott Adams. “We were notified of the incident by an off-duty jail employee.”
According to authorities, 46-year-old Albert John Fenton was in the lake and could no longer move his boat.
When deputies arrived on the scene, according to a press release, Fenton was hanging off the side of the boat in the water.
Fenton was able to get on top of the ice and began walking towards the shore as fire department crew members went out on an inflatable raft.
“The male party fell through the ice again and was eventually loaded onto the raft and escorted to an ambulance,” authorities say.
Fenton was treated in the ambulance before being transported a short distance to Mayo Air.
Assisting the sheriff's office were the Minnesota Lake Police Department, fire departments from Blue Earth, Minnesota Lake and Wells, Kiester Ambulance and Mayo Auto launch.
After being examined by medical personnel, he was able to leave with family members.
Fenton and rescue crew members did not sustain any injuries, according to authorities.
November 11, 2021
Although not required to do so, a Winnebago police officer removed a social media comment he recently posted.
“Josiah you have succeeded somehow in making this even funnier!!!” Jacob Pettit wrote in a post.
Pettit was responding to a rock band's song that was dubbed over a “low-speed” bike chase video he was involved in on July 1.
“I spoke with him, reviewed our policy and it was not a violation of policy,” says Police Chief Eric Olson. “So, I don't know why he deleted it.”
Under the Police Department's policy manual, there is nothing that is intended to prohibit an officer from expressing their views as a private citizen.
However, there may be some instances when an officer's right to comment publicly has to be restricted.
Due to an officer's work and influence associated with the profession, says the policy, it may be necessary to impose “reasonable limitations.”
“Speech or expression made pursuant to an official duty that tends to compromise or damage the mission, function reputation or professionalism of the Winnebago Police Department or its employees,” the policy says.
Officers are encouraged to consult with their supervisor if they have any questions regarding the policy
Tripleanews.com was unable to contact Pettit for a comment.
The “low-speed” pursuit of more than 10 minutes covered a four-block area that went down streets and alleys, through yards and between houses.
October 31, 2021
Mapleton police are through investigating a disturbance that occurred at the high school's Homecoming football game on Oct. 1.
Police Chief Ben Honsey says the Blue Earth County Attorney's Office should expect to get the full file sometime this week.
“There were multiple individuals interviewed,” he says. “The county attorney's office will make the determination as to any criminal charges. Any details of the incident will need to be released by them.”
The investigation involved Laura Marie Nusser, who was holding a Black Lives Matter sign, and Kip Herrmann, who she claims ripped it out of her hands and tossed it to the ground.
Honsey says the investigation, which took a month to complete, meant extra work for the department's three full-time officers.
“We are a small agency and sometimes investigations take longer and slow down because we have other responsibilities and duties,” he says.
Nusser, whose two sons were on the football team at the time, says she sat in the student section with her sign because of an alleged incident earlier that day.
She says one of her sons, both who are biracial, reportedly told her a classmate made an off-color remark during a Homecoming activity about him going to the back of the line to wait behind white students.
Police made Nusser leave the game at the request of school district
administrators because of her “offensive language.”
However, Herrmann reportedly was allowed to return to his seat after the incident and watch the game.
October 21, 2021
A man riding a bike with no headlight or reflectors late at night may be unsafe but also seemed a little suspicious to a Winnebago police officer.
Local authorities have been investigating recent incidents of spray paint vandalism, so officer Jacob Pettit decided he should talk with the man.
Pettit turned his squad car around and that's when Michael Pepin of Fairmont noticed the officer and began to pedal faster.
A pursuit of more than 10 minutes that covered a four-block area began on Third Street Southwest around 11:11 p.m. on July 1.
Pettit followed Pepin from Fourth Avenue Southwest to First Avenue Southwest with his squad car's emergency lights and siren activated.
“I do believe he handled the situation properly,” says Police Chief Eric Olson.
During a four-minute portion of the squad car's cam video, Pettit tells Pepin, “Stop the bike. Use your head. What are you thinking?”
Pepin says he refused to stop because he didn't think he did anything wrong. He tells Pettit that he has had a bad experience with police and thought he was going to get beat up.
At speeds of 8 to 12 mph the officer follows Pepin down streets, through the Garden Court parking lot, alleys and yards, and between two different houses four times.
Olson was asked whether the pursuit should have been terminated because it could have posed a safety issue to the public.
“I believe that the incident was at low speeds and officer Pettit was aware of his surroundings,” says Olson.
Under the police department's vehicle pursuit policy, the purpose and scope states:
Officers must not forget that the immediate apprehension of a suspect is generally not more important than the safety of the public and pursuing officers.
In the policy, one of the factors to consider when to end a pursuit ---- extended pursuits of violators for misdemeanors not involving violence or risk of serious harm (independent of the pursuit) are discouraged.
Pepin was never charged in connection with the vandalism incidents, but was charged with fleeing a peace officer. Pettit was able to apprehend him with the assistance of two other men.
He was convicted of a misdemeanor on Sept. 22, sentenced to 12 days in jail and given 12 days credit for time served. The judge also waived any fines and surcharges.
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 or 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.