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October 28, 2007

New Dakota County 911 call center

Dakota County has a new system for 911 calls—one without handheld receivers. In their places, the new center has equipped headsets and flat-panel touch screens that show the caller’s location that can be forwarded to emergency response vehicles like fire engines, ambulances, or squad cars. There will be 23 workstations with six computer screens each.

The computer technology cost $6.3 million, and construction of the 25,000 square foot center was an additional $7.8 million. The Dakota Communications Center, located in Empire Township, south of Rosemount will open on Dec. 9, according to the Pioneer Press.

Other 911 centers in Dakota County, five total, “will transfer over their operations and shut their doors by the end of the year,? according to the Pioneer Press. Within the first three years, they expect to save $2.4 million in operating expenses, says the center’s executive director, Kent Therkelsen.

Studies for a new dispatching system began in 1997 and the 9/11 attacks brought grants as incentives for connecting to other agency dispatch systems, Therkelsen told the Star Tribune. Currently, Hennepin, Ramsey, Anoka and Carver counties use that new regional system to communicate with one another.

The new system, says Therkelsen, will allow contact with volunteer firefighters across the county and give care instruction to callers with medical needs before paramedics arrive.

The center will handle over 400,000 calls a year, and uses the same 800 megahertz regional system Hennepin County used during the I-35W bridge collapse.

Anoka County-Blaine Airport expansion

Last Tuesday, Anoka County Commissioners and their private partners reached a decision on the airport’s expansion plans.

The new plan is for quick construction that are “targeted toward corporate jets – the same types of planes that could be diverted form St. Paul’s Holman Field during the 2008 GOP Convention,? according to the Pioneer Press. The Anoka airport hopes to be complete an expansion of a hangar-and-office complex by the convention date.

The Metropolitan Airports Commission needs to approve the plan, with the earliest vote date on Nov. 19. Following that, the Federal Aviation Administration will have to approve the designs, which could take several months, Joel LeVahn, attorney and on of the partners to the Anoka County airport expansion, told the Pioneer Press.

LeVahn says that if everything can’t be finalized by December, there could be a problem.

LeVahn told the Star Tribune that the airport “isn’t well-respected in the private community? and that he is hoping that will change with the improvements. Blaine’s airport is one of several reliever airports that could be used if the Secret Services close the downtown St. Paul reliever airport around the time of the Republican Convention. Compared to some of the other airports, Blaine’s is much closer to the downtowns of St. Paul and Minneapolis.

October 19, 2007

Analysis: Woodbury's new complex

I think that both papers treated the issue fairly, though it is an interesting subject as it is a proposed SportsPlex and a presentation hasn’t even been made. I felt that the Star Tribune seemed fairer to the subject as it stressed that this is a proposed and not finalized plan—the quote from Hargis was a very perfect summary of the issue at hand:

“Because we do our work out in public, sometimes people think the deal’s a done deal when it’s not,? he said. “The concept would be for the private group to manage the entire ice arena, but we’re a long way from getting to that conclusion. We have not seen detailed pro formas or market studies.?

The Pioneer Press didn’t seem to mention that the process for the SportsPlex is in its very early stages and hasn’t been presented to the city planning commission yet. I did, however, appreciate that the Pioneer Press used the managing partner with Mesaba Capital Partners as a source. That inclusion gave more details from a different point of view and it still had comments from the mayor.

Woodbury's new complex

Woodbury is planning on building a new sports complex onto its existing Beilenberg Sports Center. The Woodbury SportsPlex would cost $40 million and have seven-rinks, which “would rival the Schwan Super Rink in Blaine as one of the largest skating complexes in the world? according to the Pioneer Press.

Woodbury’s mayor, Bill Hargis, says that it’s only a concept at the moment and Mesaba Capital Partners hasn’t actually made a presentation to the city’s planning commission, according to the Star Tribune. The SportsPlex could be completed by June 2009 and “would be built on 15 acres of municipal land.?

Fifteen-thousand square feet of the SportsPlex would be open for specialty shops, sporting goods stores, and even a restaurant. Another 100,000 square feet would be set aside for a field house, containing an indoor soccer field, which could be used for a variety of sports including baseball and football.

Though many times municipal hockey rinks are financed by taxpayer money, this one would not and Mesaba could even take over the operation of the facility, which could save the city money (Star Tribune).

And with the Minnesota Wild looking for a new place to go because of the business of the Xcel Energy Center, Woodbury is an option that Doug Risebrough, Wild president, is thinking about using for practice.

October 15, 2007

Cottage Grove drive-in may close

Cottage Grove’s drive-in, Cottage View, one of Twin Cities’ last remaining drive-ins, according to Minneapolis/St. Paul Journal, now faces competition from PariPassu Cos., a Minneapolis-based company.

The developer proposes a lifestyle center that includes non other than a Wal-Mart. In addition, it may also have an outdoor amphitheater and a few department stores, other restaurants and stores, and even “green spaces and fountains.?

Though there hasn’t been a formal hearing by the city quite yet, many residents think that the development will go through, according to the Star Tribune. Community members argued with one another on the local newspapers web site, writing whether or not they thought the development – and a new Wal-Mart—in place of the unique drive-in was good for the city or not.

According to the Minneapolis/St. Paul Journal, Howard Blin, Cottage Grove's director of community development, “expects the approval process to start next month and run through the end of the year.?

Wal-Mart’s Minnesota representative, Julie Idelkope, however, says that it’s too soon to know whether or not Wal-Mart will build on that area, though there have been conversations with the developer. According to the Star Tribune, Wal-Mart has 36 supercenters and 24 service centers in Minnesota.

There is some skepticism about the location and timing for such a center. Because of its location near the river with limited crossings, Cottage Grove doesn’t have a strong retail market, said John Johannson, senior vice president of retail leasing at Welsh Cos.

Gerry Herringer, the owner of the Cottage View Drive-In, built the theater in 1966, but has been looking to sell the land for a few years now. The theater is one of only two Twin Cities’ drive-ins. There are only six in the state.

October 14, 2007

Name for new library in Forest Lake

Washington County commissioners are planning to name a new library based on help from the public. The $6.3 million Forest Lake county library is set to open on Oct. 29.
They will choose from 10 names, but since there are no guiding principles for naming anything, the whole process presents some problems.

Patricia Conley, director of the county library system, suggested that the library be named for a “historic event, historic person or geographic factor that ties it to the county,? according to the Pioneer Press.

According to the Star Tribune, the board members are leaning toward naming the library after the Hardwood Creek Trail.

Other choices for the names include:

  • Garen Crossroads: since the library is built “near what was once the town of Garen? (Pioneer Press)

  • Headwaters Library: because of the library’s closeness to Headwater Parkway

  • Shawn Silvera Memorial Library or Officer Shawn Silvera Memorial Library: to honor the Lino Lakes police officer

  • Forest Lake Public Library: to reflect the community name

  • Washington Lakes Library: because of the numerous lakes in the area

  • James J. Gessell Memorial Library: for the 1970s Forest Lake mayor

  • Forest Lake Regional Library: since built in Forest Lake, but meant to serve the surrounding communities

  • North Washington County Library: because of the library’s location

  • Thomas E. Doherty Library: Doherty owned and operated the Forest Lake airport and once owned the land the library’s built on

October 10, 2007

Mother charged with drowning of baby

A Lakeville woman has been charged with manslaughter, following the drowning of her 11-month-old daughter while she shopped online for shoes.

Katherine Renae Bodem, 38, left Cecilia in the tub with her 2-year-old brother for a few minutes while she surfed the web, reported the Pioneer Press. When she didn’t hear them playing, Bodem went to see what was going on and “found the boy trying to pull Cecilia out of the tub.? Though Bodem claimed that she was only on the computer for a few minutes when this happened, Bodem’s 10-year-old daughter said that it was about 20 minutes; after receiving a search warrant, a forensic inspection was done, showing that the 911 call was placed 19 minutes after Bodem had begun looking for shoes.

Bodem has three surviving children, writes the Pioneer Press, and her mother, Betty Koberoski, suspected that Bodem suffered from depression and even called Dakota County Juvenile and Protective Services last year with concern for her daughter’s children. Bodem filed a restraining order against Koberoski in November.

According to the Star Tribune: “Bodem was charged in Dakota County District Court with two counts of second-degree manslaughter, one for negligence and the other for causing the death of a child through neglect or endangerment.?

The Pioneer Press reports that if Bodem is convicted, she “would face four years in prison under state sentencing guidelines.? She will appear in court on Nov. 5.

October 7, 2007

Analysis: State sues Sprint

Both the Star Tribune and the Pioneer Press covered the story of Minnesota’s attorney general suing Sprint Nextel. The Star Tribune article refers to the lawsuit, and is correct in its explanation of the case, as shown by the civil filing in Hennepin County’s District Court. The article informs readers that some of the complaints include a threat of $200 in cancellation fees; this checks out in the civil filing as Elizabeth Adamek was an individual who “was told that she would have to pay $200 in early termination fees if she canceled her service.? Other defendants, according to the filing were told to pay anywhere from $150 to $400 in cancellation fees.

The article also references a “courtesy discount,? which could be seen in Peggy Dahl’s example in the filing. Dahl had been receiving a 5% discount on her account for months without being informed; though she had been with the company for more than five years, Sprint was still going to charge a $150 cancellation fee because of the change with the 5% discount. This same discount that extends the contract was given to Katie Rogness and was referenced in section 21 in Factual Background.

The Star Tribune also writes that Swanson is asking for restitution and civil penalties, as well as barring practices. This is confirmed in the filing: “Enjoining Defendants, and its employees, officers, directors, agents, successors, assignees, affiliates, merged or acquired predecessors, parent or controlling entities, subsidiaries, and all other persons acting in concert of participation with it, from the conduct described herein, or violating in any other way Minn. Stat. §§ 325F.69 and 325D.44, subd. 1.? Civil penalties and restitution are explicitly recognized in parts C and D.

The Pioneer Press article refers to the lawsuit as well, mentioning that Sprint violated the Minnesota’s consumer Fraud and Deceptive Trade Practices Act, which corresponds to the two counts on pages 18 and 19. The quote that is in the article is found in the Introduction to the case.

The article’s reference to Semple is documented (#36 on page 15), but I was unable to locate David Peterson in the document.

Based on my examination of the civil filing, both of the papers were accurate and fair in their coverage of the suit. I was able to find all of the information that was given by the paper, except for the Pioneer Press's reference to David Peterson. I'm not sure if I just missed him in the document or if he was an outside source.

Both articles did a good job of breaking down the 21-page filing into something that anyone can understand it still got details. I thought the Pioneer Press did a better job of bringing in the individual examples in the document and thus gave a more comprehensive story than the Star Tribune.

October 4, 2007

State sues Sprint because of contract complaints

On Thursday, Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson filed a lawsuit against Sprint Nextel Corp., accusing the company of extending customer contracts without consent.

Though other wireless companies extend contracts for changes to plans like adding minutes, Swanson has selected Sprint because of the numerous complaints from Minnesota residents, many of whom have been threatened with $200 cancellation fees.

According to the Pioneer Press, a customer can great a good deal on a new cell phone if they sign up for a contract for a certain period of time; the company’s contract will specify that any changes made to the original contract will extend it. Swanson’s case has examples from both businesses and individuals who have been unhappy with Sprint’s service.

An MSN Money survey rated Sprint Nextel the worst of 400 companies, based on opinions of 5,000 consumers across the nation.

Swanson cited violation of “consumer state protection laws that require adequate disclosure and knowing consent to alter contract terms,? wrote the Star Tribune.

Legislation for fair cell phone services was introduced in 2007 with the Minnesota Wireless Telephone Consumer Protection Act. Though it went through necessary House committees, Senate committees won’t hear it until the 2008 session. The new bill would require companies not only to tell the customer that the contract was extended with a change, but also require accurate coverage maps and “allow customers to restrict access to third-party services such as text messaging.?

Woman found guilty in file sharing case

The fight against music piracy continues, but now the recording industry is getting a little further ahead. Today, a Brainerd woman was found liable for illegal music sharing. According to the Star Tribune, Jammie Thomas, 30, was ordered to pay a group of recording companies $222,000. The Pioneer Press wrote that the total came from “the sum of $9,250 for each of 24 songs for which the companies sought damages.?

The companies (Sony BMG, Arista Records LLC, Interscope Records, UMG Recordings Inc., Capitol Records Inc. And Warner Bros. Records Inc.) “accused Thomas of downloading the songs without permission and offering them online through a Kazaa file-sharing account,? according to the Star Tribune. Thomas denies charges, claiming not to even have a Kazaa account. Thomas’s case is the first such lawsuit to go to trial, according to the Pioneer Press.

In his closing, Thomas’s lawyer, Brian Toder, said that the companies didn’t prove that “Jammie Thomas, a human being, got on her keyboard and sent out these things,? according to the Star Tribune.

Record companies have filed over 26,000 lawsuits since 2003, wrote the Pioneer Press.

Copyright law infringement ranges from $750 to $30,000 each. Cary Sherman, president of the Recording Industry Association of America, believes that cases against illegal downloads need to be in the media so that the public knows the RIAA is trying to protect their rights.

Both Thomas and Toder declined to comment.