Friday, December 14, 2007


Kinship Partners' drive for 100 mentors in 100 days was a resounding success. Executive Director David Downing said the final total was 107 and there are still applications, 20-30 that were reqested during the driver and haven't been returned. Downing said this will be a very Merry Christmas for a number of Kinship kids who will start 2008 with an adult mentor in their lives.

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The Crosby Ironton School Board meets Monday night, December 17th to talk about budget reductions. Both Business Manager Bill Tollefson and Superintendent Jamie Skevlund told the board earlier that spending will have to be reduced by nearly $1,000,000 by the end of the school year. Skevlund said Monday night's meeting will also include a discussion of the definition of a good fund balance and SOD or statutory operating debt, and enrollment predictions for the 2008-2009 school year. Skevlund said he gets a lot of people pleading with him to cut nothing and if SOD happens, so be it, that C-I was in that condition before and got out and can do it again. Skevlund said that's a terrible way to run any business including education. Minnesota's Department of Education can declare a school district in SOD if 2.5% of the previous year's budget was in deficit. The C-I board removed the district from SOD two years ago. This year's budget was based on an estimate of nearly 1400 pupil units, a state education formula term. Actual enrollment on December 7, 2007 was 1,189.

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Salvation Army Red Kettle Campaign organizers are optimistic about reaching this year's $100,000 goal but the numbers show both volunteer hours and amount raised are lagging behind last year's pace. Red Kettle Co-Chair Brian Lehmann told the Brainerd Dispatch that the drive needs your help or it can't help those who need it. Captain Brian Reed said as of Monday, volunteers had put in nearly 160 fewer hours than last year at this time and donations were running about $4,000 less. If you can ring a bell for an hour or two, call Debbie at the Salvation Army Office in Brainerd. Her number is 829-1120.

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Safer mascara, flags made in the USA and more information to use during your car buying experience are subjects of laws that go into effect on the first of January in Minnesota. The state is apparently the first to ban intentionally-added mercury in cosmetics as a preservative. Retailers could face a $700 fine for selling mercury-tainted mascara, eye liners and skin-tightening creams next year. Mercury is also banned in stoves, barometers, cooking thermometers, toiletries and fragrances and manufacturers could face a $10,000 fine if the mislable the product. Other new laws include the Car Buyers Bill of Rights that requires retailers to disclose the cost of vehicle add-ons and how they affect your monthly loan payment. The law also defines the term 'certified motor vehicle' and dealers must disclose if a consumer credit report was used to complete a loan transaction. Beginning next year, American flags sold in Minnesota must have been manufactured in the United States. And amusement rides have to have an annual state inspection and be inspected every day by the owner or operator. And school bus seats have to be safer after January 1 with thicker cushions and higher seat backs.

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Cass County Sheriff Randy Fisher and the rest of the county has been sued by the heirs of a man who hanged himself in the county jail. 47-year old Thomas VanKleeck had been charged with robbing the Backus branch of the First National Bank of Walker three years ago. The suspect was placed on a suicide watch and checked every 15 minutes but jailers found him dead and were not able to revive him. Officials told the Brainerd Dispatch VanKleeck's heirs are asking for damages in excess of $50,000.

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Police in Maplewood arrested and handcuffed 27 year old McKenzie Schafer Sunday, believing she had stoled a laptop from the North St. Paul Athletic Association building. Officers locked McKenzie in the back of the squad car and went back into the building to continue their investigation. When they came out of the building, the squad car was gone and so was McKenzie. Law enforcement pulled her over later in front of a sandwich shop. She told police she had taken the car to help look for the men who had burglarized the building. She was charged with two counts of burglary and one count of escaping from custody.

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Thursday, December 13, 2007


The National Governors Association unveiled a wide-ranging proposal on developing and using alternative transportation fuels on Thursday. Governor Tim Pawlenty chairs the NGA and said the Securing a Clean Energy Future effort calls for the country to reduce its dependance on foreign oil. Pawlenty said America is the world's leading consumer of petroleum and uses more than 7.6-Billion barrels of oil a year, 60% of it imported. The Governor said the solution won't come from the development of one or two new energy sources. Pawlenty said independence from foreign oil will come when states and the nation develop a variety of alternatives like bio-fuel, bio-mass, syn-fuels, wind power, solar power, nuclear and others. The NGA energy conference released a report declaring America's current energy path unacceptable because of escalating economic risk and serious environmental consequences.

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38-year old substitute teacher Kellie Ann Lundon-Cormican pleaded not guilty Wednesday to four counts of 3rd degree criminal sexual conduct with a 14-year old male student. According to the complaint, she told police she thought the boy was 16 and had sex with him 4 times between August and November. Lundon-Cormican had been working for Crookston Schools as a special education paraprofessional until last spring. No bail was set for Lundon-Cormicon as long as she has no contact with the boy or his family.

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7 years ago, the City of Jenkins boasted 287 citizens but the city has grown by an estimated 24% since then to a population of more than 356. And now Jenkins is about to get its first stop light. MnDOT enginner Tim Bray told the Lake Country Echo that a temporary signal light will be installed late next spring at the junction of Crow Wing County Road 16 and Highway 371. Cost of the project may be as high as $400,000 but Jenkins and Pequot Lakes would have to pay roughly $5,000. Federal and county taxpayers will pick up the rest of the cost. The intersection will also include a crosswalk for pedestrians and a "be prepared to stop" warning system.

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The St. Paul-based Wilder Foundation has reported that about 1,200 Northern Minnesota American Indians are homeless but many of them don't meet the federal definition of homeless. Researchers asked 674 people last fall on Red Lake, Leech Lake, Mille Lacs, Bois Forte and Fond Du Lac Reservations and found that many people were living in overcrowded homes with multiple families. Roughly half of them were children. The only reservation with a homeless shelter is the Red Lake Reservation.

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The Lake Country Echo reported Thursday morning that members of the Pequot Lakes City Council have made up their minds about where the expanded Highway 371 should go. The council is to vote on the issue on Tuesday, December 18th. Echo reporters contacted members of the council and a majority said they prefer the bypass by a 4 to 1 margin. Mayor Cathy Malecha said she'd prefer it not be in the paper but in her heart couldn't see the future highway going through town. Council member Craig Nagel said the community would be best served with the alternate route around town. Councilman Jim Orascovitch said at the time he was contacted he would vote for the bypass. Councilman Tom Ryan said he would continue to support the through-town route. Councilman Dave Sjoblad said he was elected in a near landslide last year because he supported the bypass. "What am I supposed to do, turn my back on that?" Sjoblad said. The next step is to reach 'municipal consent', a formal expression of the council's desire for the future highway route with MnDOT.

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A management analyst with the Minnesota Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board said Secretary of State Mark Ritchie didn't violate state campaign laws when he passed two names on to his re-election campaign staff. The two had attended a public event sponsored by the Secretary of State's office and listed their email addresses to get updates on the topic covered. Ritchie admitted handing over the names to campaign staff himself. Legislative Auditor James Nobles investigation is still pending.

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Wednesday, December 12, 2007


This year's deer harvest is expected to be one of the top five in history. DNR officials expect totals from this year's hunt will be around 250,000, not better than the 290,000 four years ago but still not bad. Area Wildlife Manager Gary Drots said that will have an effect on future hunting and in some areas, hunters will have to sign up for a lottery to get a license. Not so for one area nearby. Drots said the area near Brainerd will continue to be an 'intensive' hunting area and sportsmen will be encouraged to take up to five deer each. Area 242 around Brainerd, from Baxter to Gull Lake through Pelican and Whitefish Lake will probably allow hunters to take up to five again next year. Drots said the area will probably stay 'intensive' because of so much private property that doesn't allow hunting but does allow deer safe sanctuary. Drots said some area around 242 will probably go to a lottery next year but he won't know for sure which ones until early next year.

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Minnesota House Republicans unveiled a plan to make health care more affordable and still accessible without exploding the size of state government. House Minority Leader Marty Seifert said the package of provisions will empower consumers, open up more options to buy from any insurance company in the country and let free markets drive prices down. Seifert said the cost of health care is rising but the proper response is not more government control, but less. The package of legislative proposals includes a measure that would allow easier price comparisons between services and providers. Seifert said the bills would also protecting the freedom of choice Minnesotans enjoy now while ensuring their privacy and security.

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A 5-year old Fergus Falls boy died yesterday and Otter Tail County Health officials said he had symptoms consistent with meningitis. The boy died in a Fargo hospital. His name has not been released.

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The Crow Wing Count Board of Commissioners decided unanimously to increase next year's tax levy by 3% rather than 5% as previously discussed. Commissioner Rachel Reebe Nystrom said members of the board got a wake-up call when levy referendums in Brainerd and Crosby failed by substantial margins. She said what she hears from people at meetings and at Truth in Taxation hearings, is that things are tough out there, financially. Nystrom said the board tried to figure out how lean the board could be and still provide the services the people of the county want. Nystrom said an unexpected bit of good news came from a state Department of Corrections contract that may bring in $250,000 next year by housing state inmates. Nystrom said some wondered if prisoners would stay in Crow Wing County after they had served their sentence. Jail administrator Jerry Negen said the DOC pledges that each prisoner gets a bus ticket back home upon their release.

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The Centers for Disease Control reported a rise in the teen pregnancy rate last year. Brigid Riley is with the Minnesota Organziation on Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention and Parenting. She said that's the first time it's happened in fourteen years and officials don't know if its a trend. Riley said the 3% increase is significant. Riley continues to believe the best way to prevent unmarried teen pregnancies is to present science-based information through schools and churches about abstinence as well as methods of protection from pregnancy, HIV and STDs. The rate of unmarried women of all ages bearing children reached a new high last year. 38.5% of women who gave birth last year were not married, an increase of 8% from the year before.

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Todd County Sheriff's Deputies arrested two men for stabbing a third in Hewitt early Sunday morning, December 9th. 21-year old Justin Meech of Menagha and 23-year old Daniel Richardson of Montivideo apparently stabbed 30-year old Jason Thompson of Motley a number of times with a knife. The victim is recovering at Tri-County Hospital. The suspects have been charged with second degree assault and are awaiting their next court appearance.

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Tuesday, December 11, 2007


Organizers are very excited about the first Christmas In The Park on Wednesday, December 12th. Cuyuna Range Chamber of Commerce spokesperson Johnna Johnson said this is a great way to get into the holiday spirit. Johnson said the event runs from 5-8pm in Crosby Memorial Park. The official tree-lighting ceremony takes place at 5:15pm. Santa will make a special trip and everyone gets free hot dogs, cookies and hot cocoa, free horse-drawn hay wagon rides and lots of chances to sing your favorite carols. Johnson hopes to make this an annual event.

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Former Brainerd lawmaker Paul Gazelka said Monday that he won't be a candidate for office next fall. Gazelka was defeated for re-election in 2006 by incumbent District 12A State Representative John Ward. Gazelka said the primary reason he's not running is very personal; his family. He has five children, three of them teen-agers, and there are lots of important events coming up in their lives he said he doesn't want to miss out on. Gazelka said for now, he's looking for someone to support, someone who wants to run in the fall who agrees with his positions on family values and fiscally responsible government. He's also looking for someone who only wants to run for one term. Gazelka said by 2010, the next election cycle, he would definitely consider a run for state legislature.

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Three MnDOT supervisors have been reprimanded for not keeping track of the emergency manager who didn't return when the I-35W bridge collapsed. Sonia Morphew Pitt was fired last month. One of her supervisors was suspended for three days without pay. Another was given a written reprimand for not watching her expense reports better. A third man who said he didn't notice she was gone until a week after the bridge collapse was verbally reprimanded. State Senate Assistant Majority Leader Tarryl Clark said lawmakers need to make sure this is an isolated case and not an indicator of a larger problem. Clark said there are a number of legislators on both sides of the aisle who are concerned about bureaucratic transparency and making sure those in government are not taking personal advantage of their public position. She said there are no official legislative overtures at this time.

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The Brainerd School Board approved February 15, 2008 as the final closing date in the sale of Franklin Junior High School to Artspace Projects. The Minneapolis-based arts organization will buy Franklin for $750,000 and lease parts of the school back to the district for $39,000 a year. Artspace intends to build 25 art studio living spaces in the old school using tax increment financing and a $875,000 loan from the city of Brainerd. School Business Director Steve Dickinson told the Brainerd Dispatch that just about all the legalities for the sale have been taken care of and by "mid to late January, it will be all the way done."

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At Monday night's meeting, the Brainerd School Board authorized Superintendent Jerry Walseth to adjust next year's budget by $5.5-Million. The board also authorized taking the next steps toward closing Lincoln and Whittier Elementary Schools for traditional students but Lincoln will be re-used for the Minnesota Learning Center, now housed at the old state hospital east of Brainerd. The board will hold a public hearing at Whittier School to talk about its closing on December 19th at 7pm. The board also voted not to renew the contracts for 57 teachers on probationary status. Business Services Director Steve Dickinson told the Brainerd Dispatch that some of those teachers may be re-hired depending upon what programs are cut. Financial diagrams show that the district overspent its unreserved fund balance over the last five years. Without budget cuts, the district would be in deficit spending, something not allowed for governmental bodies unless they're federal.

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Monday, December 10, 2007


DNR Area Fisheries Manager Tim Brastrup said cold-weather anglers must be going crazy these days. The sudden snowfall last week was a mixed blessing and on deeper lakes, it actually kept lakes warmer and ice didn't form. Brastrup said people who like to fish like to get out there early because that's when "fish seem like they're committing suicide. It's got to be frustrating for people who fish a lot but I don't have an answer." Brastrup said shallower lakes may be safer, like Perch Lake, White Sand and Red Sand. He said the "shallower the lake, the thicker the ice" because there's not as much heat in the water. But he's said it before and he'll say it again, there's so such thing as safe ice.

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The Crow Wing County is to decide at Tuesday's meeting whether to increase its budget by 3% or 5% for next year. The board decided at an earlier meeting to accept the 5% increase but a 3/2 vote at the last meeting asked county staff to develop a scenario for the lower figure. County Commissioner Doug Hauge said he voted against last week's motion and supports the higher figure. Hauge said his biggest fear is that a 3% level of spending may require cuts in staff. He said he didn't want to see staff cuts until some major changes in county operating structure had been made. The board meets Tuesday, December 11th at 9:30am.

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Members of the Paynesville and Roccori High School Just For Kix dance programs will perform Monday night at a fundraiser for the Cold Spring woman who came in contact with the e. coli bacteria two months ago. 22-year old Stephanie Smith teaches the programs. Smith ate a tainted hamburger and remains at Mayo Clinic in a drug-induced coma. A portion of the fundraiser's proceeds will help pay Smith's medical bills.

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The City of Brainerd's Street Department will be removing snow from Oak Street from South Sixth to State Highway 25 and on 8th Street from Washington to Quince on Wednesday, December 12 from 4am until the snow is removed. Parking is banned on affected streets during snow removal. Vehicles will be towed and the owner will be billed for the charge.

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The US Senate may take up the farm bill this week. Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar said she's proud that the Ag Committee has produced what she calls a forward-looking farm bill with money for cullulosic biofuel production and well as more money for conservation. The bill also includes a permanent disaster assistance program and more money for food stamp programs. Klobuchar said the program could restrict farm subsidies to farmers with income no greater than $750,000 per year, to make sure federal support goes only to farmers who genuinely need the money.

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Some law enforcement officers believe the gunman who killed one and injured four at a Colorado Springs church may be the same man who killed two and injured two people at a Denver suburb religious training center on Saturday. A Chisholm woman, 26-year ol Tiffany Johnson died in the shooting on Saturday and 22-year old Charles Blanch of Bloomington was shot twice in the leg. Arvada Police Chief Bob Wick said Sunday night he believed the shootings were connected. An armed security guard killed the gunman yesterday afternoon after the midday service.

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A man from Orr died late last night in a single vehicle roll-over crash. 42-year old Duane Malecha lost control of his pickup on Highway 53 four miles south of Orr, crossed over the roadway and rolled in the ditch. Malecha was thrown from the vehicle. He was not wearing a seatbelt and alcohol was detected in his system.

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The Minnesota State Patrol with help from lots of city and county officers will be watching the roadways especially for those driving under the influence. Crow Wing County is now number eight on the list deaths from crashes involving alcohol. State Patrol Sergeant Curt Mowers there's something all of us can do to drive that number down. If you see someone driving who appears to be under the influence, call 911 and let law enforcement handle the problem. If you know you're going to a holiday party and going to have a drink, make sure you know who's going to drive in case the one drink turns into more than one.

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