Friday, January 18, 2008


Bemidji lawmaker Frank Moe suggested last year that there should be a law outlawing operating levy referendums for education. Royalton Legislator Al Doty likes the bill primarily because it would force lawmakers to take a good hard look at school funding formulas in Minnesota. Doty said the bill is simply a way to call attention to the problem, that the system is broken, that the state constitution mandates students are educated equally and the money is not handed out equally. Doty said we need to look at all school funding formulas and they were all good ideas back when they were suggested. Now, making piece-meal changes and bandaid fixes only helps some districts while messing up others in another part of the state. Operating levy referendums failed last year in Brainerd, Crosby-Ironton, Wadena-Deer Creek and Walker-Hackensack-Akeley.

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Walker Lawmaker Larry Howes intends to introduce a bill in this year's legislative session to name March 29th Vietnam Veterans Day in Minnesota. Howes said the bill has a good chance of passage. Howes said he's talked to House Speaker Margared Anderson Kelliher to ask her if the bill could be 'fast-tracked' and she gave her support. Howes said whether people liked the war or not, veterans who came back from it were not treated as well as the should have been. One other state has proclaimed a Vietnam Veterans Day so far.

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A group of Minnesota State Senators suggested last year that Minnesota get out of federal No Child Left Behind standards. Brainerd Lawmaker John Ward said the law needs serious examnination. Ward said as the leadership changes, so do theories of education and he sees few things about No Child Left Behind that he embraces. Ward said, in his opinion, much of the law should be scrapped but there are some good things and they should be kept.

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The tone of Friday morning's question and answer session with area lawmakers wasn't all doom and gloom but last November's $373-Million deficit in state government tax income seemed to be lurking in the wings. The Brainerd Lakes Chamber's Eggs and Issues session at the Red Roof Inn in south Brainerd included State Representatives Al Doty, Larry Howes and John Ward and State Senator Paul Koering who fielded questions from area business leaders. Royalton lawmaker Al Doty said it was going to be a year of not "who you can help the most but who can you hurt the least." State Senator Paul Koering predicted that the February state economic forecast would have even more bad news, that he considers himself an optimist "but there comes a time when we have to face facts and the facts are that the economy is really, truly tanking." Koering added that the coming session will be "very ugly" and very divisive. And despite recent suggestions that Democrats would back off on their attempts to remove Transportation Commissioner Carol Molnau, Koering believes the Senate will not confirm her for another term.

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Thursday, January 17, 2008


Cass County Authorities are investigating the death of 48-year old Cary Lieth Sinn. He was found dead last Thursday in his home. An autopsy has been ordered. Sinn was to appear next month on a charge of failure to notify police of a personal injury accident. A Baxter woman died in a crash last summer and police believe Sinn may have been the driver. Authorities told the Lake Country Echo they do not suspect foul play.

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The Pequot Brush Pilots Snowmobile Club will hold its 14th annual Antique Snowmobile Rendezvous this weekend around the Pequot Lakes Trailside Park. Organizer and antique snowmobile rider Dave Guenther said this will be a fun blend of new and old machines. Guenther said he expects a lot of vintage machines like Sno Jet, MotoSkis, Wheelhorse, old Mercuries, Evenrude's and Johnsons. He said there are only four companies that make snowmobiles now but at one time anyone who made lawnmowers and outboard motors probably made snowmobiles too. Guenther said the event starts Friday afternoon at 1pm with a trail ride and includes vintage machine races and an antique show Saturday afternoon. If you need more information, call Dave Guenther at 218-543-4146.

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Central Lakes College Media Center Manager Larry Kellerman has accepted additional responsiblity to become the new Executive Director for the Rosenmeier Center for State and Local Government. Kellerman said he looks foreward to working with the board of citizens encouraging good government programs. Kellerman said he didn't know Gordon Rosenmeier but went to the late State Senator's home in Little Falls and was able to add a number of Rosenmeier's books to the CLC collection.

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34-year old Chrissy Nakonsky would like to challenge House District 12A State Representative John Ward this fall. Nakonsky is the first potential candidate to make a bid. Nakonsky lives in Brainerd, has worked for a fast food restaurant, a cashier and overnight stocker for a department store, and done volunteer work for OutFront Minnesota. The single father of four and a transgendered male-to-female said the campaign will emphasize the issues of poverty and education and tougher penalties for pedophiles and drunk drivers. Nakonsky intends to seek the Republican endorsement to run against Ward. Crow Wing County party chair Dale Walz told the Brainerd Dispatch it will make decisions about candidates during the endorsing convention later this spring.

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The American Cancer Society has introduced its on-line survey, The Great American Health Check. Spokesman Matt Flory said people know there are some things they can do to be healthy and the society wants to help them get the year off on the right foot. Flory said the quiz covers risks for the most common causes of cancer and makes recommendations on how to reduce your chances. Flory said heredity does play a role but behavior is a big factor. Check out the cancer quiz at

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Wednesday, January 16, 2008


The Crosby Ironton School Board and C-I teacher's union settled on a new two-year contract Monday night, about a day ahead of the deadline Tuesday night at midnight. Superintendent Jamie Skjeveland said the contract calls for a 5% total package increase but most of the increase comes at the end of the contract. Skjeveland said what he didn't want to result was one party "whistling Dixie and the other hanging their head, singing the Blues." He said he congratulated both school board members and union negotiators for their ability and leadership to work collaboratively with each other to get to a resolution. Skjeveland said the settlement would work in with the rest of the school's financial challenges. The board had been told it would have to cut $1.3-Million from next year's budget but the board decided to trim roughly $750,000 and reduce the school's emergency fund reserve even more.

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The Department of Natural Resources will hold a public hearing tonight on new rules that would better outline where all terrain vehicle riders could go in Minnesota state forests. Part of the discussion at Wednesday night's meeting will be about forest land around the first 40 miles of the Mississippi River. Sierra Club spokeswoman Lois Norrgard thinks its a bad idea. She said its inappropriate to have motorized recreational trails in the Mississippi Headwaters Forest, that they would be very damaging to soils and wetlands. The DNR plan would allow ATVs on 85 miles of roads and trails in the Headwaters. Norgaard said the area is an amazingly rich ecosystem that should be a treasure the state protects. The meeting in the Hobson Memorial Union at Bemidji State University starts at 6pm. The DNR is accepting written public comments until Wednesday, January 23rd.

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The Baxter City Council decided to host this year's Ride with Jim on Sunday, June 1st. The annual bike ride with Congressman Jim Oberstar promotes Minnesota bike trails. The council also decided to spend $1,000 on the event and accepted a donation of $500 from Widseth Smith Nolting if they could put their company's logo on the route maps and at the refreshment site. The council hopes to raise the rest of the money through donations. Public Works Director Trevor Walter told the Brainerd Dispatch he'd donate $20 if Council Member Gary Muehlhausen rides for 20 miles.

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Spicer Mayor Perry Wohnoutka pleaded guilty on Monday to misdemeanor assault for a September 1st bar fight. Prosecutors dropped another charge and the trial was canceled. Wohnoutka was drinking at Melvin's on the Lake in Spicer and he told Judge Michael J. Thompson that he doesn't remember much from the incident. His blood alcohol level was .217 that night. Mayor Wohnoutka will be sentenced at a later date.

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Public relations students at the University of North Dakota are planning a massive sky dive in memory of Pequot Lakes woman Dru Sjodin. Dru was a student at UND in 2003 when she was kidnapped and killed by convicted sex offender Alfonso Rodriguez, Jr. who is now on death row in a federal prison. The students are calling the event Dru's Dive and they hope students all over North Dakota will take the plunge on April 26th in Fargo. The jump costs $600 and that includes the plane ride, equipment, and a licensed tandem jump master to go along for the ride down. Proceeds will go to North Dakota anti-violence organizations.

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At least 17 Minnesota school districts will have $25 per pupil subtracted from their state aid package because they weren't able to sign contracts with their teachers. The deadline was last night at midnight. The largest Minnesota district without a new teacher contract is St. Cloud. Superintendent Bruce Watkins said settling for the $1.5-Million increase in pay and benefits for teachers was more expensive than the $257,000 in one-time penalties. Watkins said he doesn't expect a teacher's strike and most elements of last year's contract continue in effect. Teacher's union officials said the average pay increase for this year was 2.4% but that doesn't include health care benefit and seniority and merit pay increases.

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Tuesday, January 15, 2008


Scammers trying a new approach to separating senior citizens from their money contacted a Deerwood woman last week. Lois Luecker said a young woman called and said she was her granddaughter. Luecker said the phone rang and the young voice said, "Gram, this is Amy." The girl went on to say she was stranded in Canada and wanted Luecker to send money to an address in Canada. Luecker said the voice didn't sound familiar at first but the connection wasn't the best and the girl seemed to know a number of personal family details, so she kept talking. The girl called back a second time, asking if Luecker was on her way to get the money. The Deerwood woman became suspicious and told the girl to say her name, "not Gram, but my real name." Luecker said there was a pause and the phone when dead, "end of message." Local police were contacted and given the Canadian address but so far, nothing has come of the investigation.

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Consultants, contractors, and city spokespeople will hold a meeting tonight about the future of Downtown Brainerd. Representatives from Widseth, Smith and Nolting and SRF Consulting Group will host an open house beginning at 6:15pm and share ideas about what may be done to downtown. Brainerd Lakes Chamber Main Street Coordinator Emily Roragen said she hopes Brainerd citizens come to share their thoughts about the future downtown. Roragen said business owners should be there becausse the open house is to gather ideas about what the area will look like, nitty-gritty details like scorched cement or pavers, should there be kiosks and where should they go, what kind of trash cans, and what kind of trees would work. Roragen said the affected area is on Front and Laurel Streets between Sixth and Seventh and on Seventh between Laurel and Maple. The meeting will be at the First Lutheran Church at 8th and Norwood. There are no specific plans yet as to when the project will begin.

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The Brainerd Jaycees Icefishing Extravaganza is set for a week from Saturday, January 26th on Hole in the Day Bay on Gull Lake but the ice wasn't thick enough last week. Crow Wing County Sheriff Todd Dahl is optimistic about the ice and the weather though. Dahl said he's hoping for cold weather but he's not going to jeaopardize public safety. Sheriff Dahl said official would check the ice this week and next week and continue to check until the day before the contest. The contest usually draws more than 10,000 anglers. This year's prize package is worth $150,000.

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Governor Pawlenty outlined his bonding bill proposal Monday. The Governor would like to spend 38% of the $965-Million pool on transportation projects to replace 600 bridges around the country from the Lowry Avenue Bridge in Minneapolis to the Highway 2 Bridge over the Zumbro River in Wabasha County. Pawlenty's bill also includes $70-Million for the Central Corridor Light Rail Project that would run along University Avenue between St. Paul and Minneapolis. St. Cloud State Senator Tarryl Clark said those plans won't necessarily fit with those of her party. Clark said higher education and water treatment will place highly on the list of projects. Assistant Majority Leader said solving transportation problems with the bonding bill may be unconstitutional. Clark said Democrats will introduce a Transportation Bill in the session that will be similar to the one Governor Pawlenty vetoed last year but "tweaked" a bit. Senator Clark said leaders will try to modify the bill to gain more votes in the House rather than try for a veto override like last year. The legislative session begins in five weeks.

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Brainerd School Superintendent Jerry Walseth announced his retirement at last night's school board meeting. His last offiical day on the job will be July 1st. Walseth has been the superintendent for 9 years and held the same job in Eaton, Colorado before he moved to Brainerd. Walseth told the Brainerd Dispatch he had planned to retire last year but stuck around for last year's levy referedum. The board's personnel committee will meet Thursday morning to talk about finding a new superintendent.

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Otter Tail County Sheriff's Department is looking into the death of 82-year old Arnold Claassen whose body was found outside his home around 8am Friday morning. Investigators don't know how long Claassen had been outside. The investigation continues.

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62-year old Chuck Minge died Saturday afternoon just before 1:30pm after his pickup truck was struck by a train at a rural Becker County intersection near Lake Park. Investigators haven't determined yet whether the signal crossarms didn't come down or Minge was trying to cross the intersection before the train arrived. Minge had owned several supper clubs in Otter Tail County including the Otter Supper Club which he opened in the 1970s.

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Todd County Sheriff Peter Mikkelson said someone broke into a Michelle Peterson's fish house early Sunday morning. The house is on Lake Peppin near Swanville. Items taken include a depth finder, a jar with cash and a part of a twelve pack of Bud Light. If you have information about the break-in, call the Todd County Sheriff's office.

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Monday, January 14, 2008


36-year Bradley Erickson died Sunday morning after his pickup truck went through the ice on Leech Lake. Erickson apparently had tried to drive across the ice around 1am then swam across a channel and tried to walk to his camp site. A DNR Conservation Agent found his pickup and alerted Cass County Deputies who found him 8:30am, unresponsive and suffering from exposure. He was taken to St. Joseph's Hospital in Park Rapids but died later in the morning. An autopsy has been scheduled.

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Governor Pawlenty unveiled a number of proposals last week that dealt with illegal immigrations. One would explore affecting state aid to so-called "sanctuary cities", those that prohibit their law enforcement officers from asking criminal suspects their immigration status. Fort Ripley State Senator Paul Koering said its an issue too few Minnesotans seem to be concerned about. Koering said he intends to introduce a bill this spring that would make English the official language of Minnesota. Brainerd lawmaker John Ward said most of the laws that deal with illegal immigration are federal laws and and they should be enforced. He said lawmakers understand the problem but they have other issues to address. Ward said he's not saying being illegal is good but rather we have to help those that want to become productive members of society. Ward said the governor introduced illegal immigration measures two years ago and there were a number of groups that lobbied against them. Koering said its an important issue in some areas of the state now but its a growing problem and something needs to be done.

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Fraser, Colorado and International Falls, Minnesota are competing for the right to use the phrase "Ice Box of the Nation", again. International Falls City Administrator Rod Otterness said his city was granted trademark rights to the phrase 20 years ago but forgot to re-file its trademark. The agreement in 1987 was that Fraser, Colorado could use the phrase in Colorado only and the taxpayers of International Falls paid Fraser $2,000 in the case. Otterness said there probably won't be another legal action because the 20-year old agreement, as far as he and City Attorney Joe Boyle are concerned is still in effect.

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The Brainerd Lakes Ministerial Association met with Brainerd School District officials last week to offer their help. Brainerd Schools have to cut next year's budget by $5.5-Million and Superintendent Jerry Walseth has made a number of public requests for assistance. Ministerial Association Vice Chairman David Uhrich said he's convinced positibe opportunities can be created within the school district. Uhrich said the purpose of the meeting was to see if there was a role for area churches to play and if there was enough interest from both sides. Uhrich said the next step is to form a task force and build on the ideas generated from last Thursday's meeting. The Brainerd School Board meets tonight. On the agenda, closing Whittier Elementary School.

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Minnesota State Highway Patrol Sergeant Curt Mowers said the year has just begun and already at least five people have died on state roadways. Mowers said last year's highway fatalities indicate what may become a tragic and sobering trend. Mowers said at least 503 people died in highway crashes in 2007. That total seems to indicate a reverse of the downward trend over the last five years. 657 people died in crashes in 2002, less than 500 in 2006. Mowers said traffic crashes are the leading cause of death for Minnesotans aged 4-34 and the vast majority of traffic deaths are predictable and preventable. This year so far, at least 5 people have died in Minnesota highway traffic crashes.

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