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April 26, 2009

Girl Scouts Help Aveda Recycle Caps

Local Girl Scouts have joined with beauty products company Aveda to help recycle an often-overlooked product.
The scouts have collected over 100,000 plastic bottle caps to be recycled into packaging for skin and hair care products, the Pioneer Press reported.
Aveda began the program last September when they learned that recycling companies either discard or cut the top quarter off bottles turned in with caps.
The Girl Scouts participated as a part of overall efforts to promote green living and a "reduce, reuse, recycle" mentality.
The program was the second annual opportunity for scouts to participate in service learning. Last year the girls collected pajamas and books for children, program director Shelly Burzinski told the Pioneer Press.
Thirteen-year-old Alice Szeliga collected 300 caps in one week for her Girl Scouts chapter.
"That's how many bottles were saved from being thrown out at the recycling company — that's a lot," Alice told the Pioneer Press. "Those caps find their way into oceans and all sorts of things that are detrimental to the environment."

April 19, 2009

St. Charles Residents in Limbo After Fire

Residents of St. Charles, Minn., are facing an uncertain future after a fire destroyed the town's cornerstone business, a large-scale meat processing plant.
The fire broke out Friday afternoon at North Star Foods, a plant that handled beef, pork, and poultry and employed 150 of the town's little over 3,000 residents.
The town was evacuated overnight because the flames were nearing anhydrous ammonia tanks, which would have posed a significant danger to residents if ruptured.
The fire was extinguished by 6 a.m. with the help of 70 firefighters from St. Charles and neighboring towns. According to the Star Tribune, the plant was considered a total loss.
Now residents are questioning whether they can remain in the town after one of its largest businesses and utility customers has been destroyed. The plant's owners told the Star Tribune that it could take up to two years and $75 million to rebuild.
State fire marshals have not yet determined the cause of the fire.
For now, residents can only wait to see what the future holds for the town.
"Most of the workers are waiting to see what happens," Rogelio Molina, a father of two and five-year employee of the plant, told the Star Tribune. Molina is reluctant to leave St. Charles with his family.
"This town is good for my sons," he said.

Coon Rapids Residents Divided Over Proposed Community Center

Residents of Coon Rapids are divided over the proposed construction of a multimillion dollar community center that would replace the city's aging Cook Ice Arena.
A community meeting was held at the Crooked Lake Library last week, the latest of several sponsored by city officials to discuss the site's future.
The most grandiose proposition suggests the construction of a 152,000-square-foot community center with a gym, meeting areas, and outdoor ice skating trails, the Star Tribune reported.
Though economic conditions do not merit the center's immediate construction, city officials see it as a part of a future development plan for the city.
City Council member Denise Clint told the Star Tribune that phone and email contacts have shown a 10-to-1 ratio of residents in favor of the community center.
However, many have also adamantly spoken out against the construction, noting the increased property taxes that it would involve. The center could cost the city as much as $60 million.
Some residents have asked that the proposal go to a referendum to better gauge the public's sentiments. The issue will be discussed by City Council later this month.
Klint told the Star Tribune that the issue could have been better presented to Coon Rapids residents.
"I would have presented it as, this is something we have been talking about for years," she said of the most expensive plan. "I would have made it more clear that... it is our wish list if we had unlimited funds, that this is what we would want, and then we would explore that after we listen to everyone."

April 11, 2009

Search Called off For Missing Student

Police have called off the search for a University of St. Thomas student who went missing early Sunday morning.
Daniel Zamlen, whose 19th birthday passed on Wednesday, has not been seen or heard from since early in the morning on April 12.
Zamlen, a diabetic, had been at a party where he was seen drinking, St. Thomas spokesman Jim Winterer told the Minnesota Daily. Winterer said Zamlen left the party after an argument, and his friends had called him, intending to pick him up.
When the friends could not find Zamlen, whose phone had died, they contacted the police. For the next several days, intensive searches were conducted throughout the St. Paul neighborhood where he was last heard from and along the Mississippi River.
The search, which involved neighborhood canvassing by friends and family, water and helicopter patrols and the use of a bloodhound dog, was called off on Thursday.
Zamlen's Type I diabetes likely intensified the effects of his drinking, and the lack of insulin could have quickly caused him to enter a coma.
Daniel Zamlen's father, Dale Zamlen, told the Minnesota Daily that his friends and family will continue searching for Daniel. “We got to find him,” he said.

Chaska Bakery Closes after 125 Years

After 125 years of selling baked goods in the same building in downtown Chaska, the historic Chaska Bakery will close its doors on Saturday.
Owner Dave Blackowiak said the recession, as well as fuel costs and competition from chain stores such as Rainbow Foods nearby, contributed to the bakery's decline. Blackowiak told the Star Tribune that it was one of the last from-scratch bakeries in the Twin Cities area.
Many loyal customers are sad to see the store go.
"It's a shame," Chaska Mayor Gary Van Eyll told the Star Tribune. "I know they tried to keep it open. I feel bad for them and for Chaska."
The Chaska Bakery was founded by Gottlieb Eder in 1884, just 13 years after Chaska was incorporated as a village.
Blackowiak said he is disappointed to see the bakery come to an end.
"It's always been a family operation." Blackowiak told the Star Tribune. "I'm second generation. I always thought my kids would be the third generation to take over. That's not going to happen."

April 4, 2009

Metro Transit Driver Fired for Driving Drunk

A Metro Transit bus driver accused of driving drunk on the job was fired last week, the Star Tribune reported.
Alonzo V. Martin, 46, was arrested on March 21 after witnessed reported that the Route 5 bus he was driving was swerving all over the road.
Police said he Martin to hide a beer can when we has stopped, and he had a blood-alcohol content of 0.24.
He was dismissed on March 23 for “gross misconduct,” Bob Gibbons, a spokesman for Metro Transit, told the Star Tribune.
In addition to violating the Metropolitan Council’s drug and alcohol policy, Martin is accused of falsifying his employment application and falsifying statements to a manager’s inquiry, Gibbons said.
In a response to the incident, Metro Transit is reviewing its hiring policies as well as its procedures for evaluating employees.
Gibbons also said Martin did not file a grievance over his discharge during the six-day period following his dismissal.
Metro Transit said this incident is unprecedented in the company’s history.

School Officials and Police Divided in Chaska

Officials at Chaska High School and the Chaska police disagree on the level of gang involvement in a recent altercation at the school.
According to police, a student at the school flashed a gang signal at another student in the cafeteria area on Wednesday morning, inciting a fight among nine teenage boys that involved one student being repeatedly kicked on the ground.
School officials, however, argue that the fight was not caused by gang issues.
“As the altercation became more heated, a gang sign was used, and that probably fueled or contributed to the issues, but I don’t believe it started it,” Principal David Brecht told the Star Tribune.
Additionally, the two sources disagree on the significance of a weapon found on one of the students involved in the fight.
Though no weapons were brandished during the fight, a corkscrew with an attached blade was discovered in a student’s possession after the argument was broken up. School officials say it was a simple coincidence, though police consider the presence of a weapon more serious.
Regardless of the fight’s cause, many Chaska parents are worried about gang activity in the school. Police say gang-related violence is an issue an increasing number of suburban high schools are facing.

March 29, 2009

Food Stamp Recipients to Increase Benefits

Minnesotans receiving food stamps from the government will see a 14 percent increase in their benefits thanks to federal stimulus money allotted to the program.
The food stamp program will increase by $20 billion nationwide, with a $175 million bump in Minnesota.
Over 300,000 Minnesotans rely on the program, and the difficult economy has made it even harder for some to make ends meet.
Families often run out of benefits before the end of the month and must return food to the shelves, Ia Thao, a grocery store cashier who also relies on food stamps, told the Star Tribune.
Officials hope the increase in funds will not only help individuals and families receiving aid, but will also boost grocery store business and indirectly benefit those who don't receive the stamps.
"Having this influx of sales will help us maintain jobs in our communities and also for our food manufacturers,'' Jamie Pfuhl, president of the Minnesota Grocers Association, told the Star Tribune. "It will drive up demand for the food industry in Minnesota.''
The federal funding will begin Wednesday and will last until October 2010. Over $315 million of food stamps were distributed in Minnesota last year.

March 28, 2009

Five Store Clerks Face Charges for Lottery Fraud

Five Twin Cities store clerks will face charges after failing lottery compliance checks conducted by the Minnesota State Lottery in past months.
According to lottery officials, the clerks told agents, who were posing as customers, that the specially-constructed winning tickets they presented for verification were losers, and offered to throw them away.
The clerks then attempted to cash the tickets at lottery headquarters either themselves or through accomplices.
The tickets were winners between $7,000 and $21,000, and the state lottery requires stores to refer customers to their headquarters for verification and prize redemption for all winnings over $600.
Along with the five clerks, three accomplices are charged with fraud. The suspects could face up to five years in prison for the felony.
The five stores that failed the tests could also face the loss of their lottery sale licenses. One hundred eighty-six Twin Cities stores were tested in all.
Though the state would obviously prefer total compliance, the numbers were within a reasonable range, said John Willems, director of alcohol and gambling enforcement for the Minnesota Department of Public Safety.
"From our standpoint, it is an effective program," Willems told the Star Tribune. "The overwhelming majority of people out there did the right thing."

March 15, 2009

Minnesota Inmate Denied Tranfer to Russia

A Stillwater inmate convicted of murdering his wife in 2001 was denied his request to finish his 30-year sentence in a Russian prison.
Pyotr Shmelev, a native of Russia, noted in his request that the state would save $32,800 a year by taking advantage of a government treaty that would transfer Shmelev, along with the expenses of keeping him, over to the Russian government.
The reciprocal treaties stemmed from the poor conditions of U.S. citizens being held in prisons abroad, and requests must be approved by both countries.
Shmelev, whose request was denied by the state, is only one of about 300 Minnesota prisoners who qualify to be transferred to their native countries. Twenty of the 26 inmates that have applied for the transfer in the past six years have been denied by the state’s current corrections commissioner, Joan Fabian.
"I support the community expectation that violent offenders or serious drug traffickers should serve their entire prison sentence in Minnesota before returning to freedom in their home country," Fabian told the Star Tribune.
Inmates granted the transfer are to serve the same sentence in their homeland as they were given in Minnesota, but some critics don’t trust foreign governments to uphold the standards.
“There is no assurance that the sentence imposed by a Minnesota court will be administered similarly in an offender's home country," Fabian told the Star Tribune.

March 14, 2009

Two Children Shot Near Farview Park

Two children, 11 and 15, were injured in a non-fatal shooting across the street from Farview Park in Minneapolis on Friday afternoon.
An 11-year old boy and a 15-year old girl were standing near North 29th and Lyndale Avenues, and the shots were fired from about a block away, police spokesman Sgt. William Palmer told the Star Tribune.
The boy, who was shot in the abdomen, underwent surgery at North Memorial Medical Center in Robbinsdale, and the girl, who was shot in the leg, was treated at Hennepin Count Medical Center in Minneapolis.
The children were not likely the intended targets of the shooting, and their injuries are not believed to be life-threatening, police told the Star Tribune.
Between 30 and 50 children were at the park’s recreation center for after-school activities at the time of the shooting. Officials quickly evacuated and closed the building.
Police told the Star Tribune that they have suspect information in the case, but did not release any details.

March 8, 2009

Local School Votes Down Four-Day Week

The Forest Lake School District voted Thursday to retain a five-day school week, though many area schools are still considering dropping a day to cut costs.
The discussions come after schools across the country have switched to shorter weeks with longer days.
At a public hearing in Forest Lake last week, most of the parents and teachers were skeptical of the change.
Many opponents said the longer days would be too much for students to handle. Others were concerned about working parents who would need childcare on the days off.
Schools that have successfully implemented the switch to a four-day week have often been located in rural areas- like southern Minnesota's MACCRAY district.
MACCRAY instituted the change this school year, and Superintendent Greg Schmidt told the Pioneer Press that estimated savings for the district will range from $85,000 to $100,000 of the $6.9 million annual operating budget.
Schmidt also said that the change had received a positive response from parents, teachers and students.
"If you don't have the parents' support, you're not going to go to a four-day week," Schmidt told the Pioneer Press.
Though Forest Lake will not pursue the switch, other Minnesota schools are still considering the four-day week. Glenville-Emmons, Littlefork-Big Falls, Rochester, Round Lake-Brewster and Windom are all discussing dropping a school day this fall.

March 6, 2009

Driver's License Photo Bill Offensive to Religious Groups

A state legislator has adjusted the terms of a proposed bill that sparked controversy from religious groups earlier this week.
The bill would have banned head coverings in driver's license photos taken by the state, including hijabs, which many Muslim women are required to wear by religious custom.
Rep. Steve Gottwalt, R-St. Cloud, announced Thursday that the bill will be modified to allow head coverings to be worn "for religious or cultural purposes," the Star Tribune reported.
The new standards would mirror those of U.S. passport photos, but many outspoken religious figures are still unhappy with the wording.
"It's still unclear what the actual amendment will say," Jessica Zikri, a spokeswoman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, told the Star Tribune. "It needs to be more precise."
Muslims are only one of several local groups who have expressed concern over the new bill. Others include Jewish and Amish groups, who also wear head coverings as a religious practice.
Gottwalt defended his bill in a press release, saying it "is not intended to offend any person or group of people."

February 28, 2009

Two Teens Shot at Edina Mall

Two teenage boys were shot Friday evening in a gang-related fight outside an Edina mall.
The boys, 15 and 18, were shot in the parking lot outside the J.C. Penney store at Edina's Southdale Center. Their names have not been released.
Police said the fight was between two rival Hispanic groups of unknown sizes.
Both teens were taken to Hennepin County Medical Center in Minneapolis for treatment. One was treated for a bullet wound in his leg, and the other underwent surgery for an abdominal wound.
The suspect, believed to be between 16 and 18 years old, fired at least four shots from a .45-caliber handgun before fleeing the scene.
Police and mall security are examining security camera footage in attempts to identify the shooter.
No arrests had been made by late Friday, Edina Police Chief Mike Siitari told the Star Tribune.

February 26, 2009

Twin Cities Jazz Musician Killed by Bus

A local jazz musician and educator was hit and killed by a bus at Minnehaha Avenue and 46th Street on Wednesday evening.
Mary Ann O'Dougherty, 55, had just gotten of the light rail train and only a block and a half form home when she was killed, her husband, Steve Alm, told the Star Tribune.
The driver of the bus told investigators he was unaware he hit anyone, and the bus's single passenger verified this account, Metro Transit spokesman Bob Gibbons said.
The driver has been placed on paid administrative leave, Gibbons said.
O'Dougherty was well known in the for her Brazilian music as well as French and Portuguese songs.
She was "a significant figure in the Twin Cities music community," Tim Sparks, who played with O'Dougherty in the group Mandala, told the Star Tribune.
She performed in over 30 countries in her career as well as teaching in the St. Paul schools, Alm said.
Investigators are currently examining the video from two cameras on the bus.

February 22, 2009

Dying Man Sees Son Married in Hopsital

A Wisconsin man in declining health had his wish granted when he watched his son get married in a St. Paul hospital Saturday.
Bob Vesperman, 70, was not expected to live to see his son, Christopher Vesperman, marry his fiancee Anne Gibbons this September.
His wife, Kathy Vesperman, decided three weeks ago that the family should first be planning a wedding, not a funeral. When the couple agreed, they quickly made plans to move up the ceremony and hold it at Bethesda Hospital where their beloved husband and father was being treated.
The wedding was held Saturday in the hospital's chapel, where Bob Vesperman, excited and emotional, was joined by about 25 family members and friends.
Bob Vesperman was the principal at Osceola High School in Wisconsin until a stroke left him paralyzed fifteen years ago. Last September, he had a heart valve replaced, which led to three more surgeries to fight internal bleeding and infections.
In January, his health began to seriously decline, and doctors prepared the Vesperman family for the worst.
"A doctor told me he could have a heart attack any day, and he'd be gone." Kathy Versperman told Pioneer Press.
At the wedding ceremony, in painful speech, Bob Vesperman thanked hospital staff and family members for helping him through the recent months and for making his wish of attending the wedding come true.

February 20, 2009

Massage Parlor Controversy Spurs Policy Considerations

The Mounds View City Council will consider new licensing policies on Monday for the massage business after recent arrests involving the owner and an employee of a city massage parlor.
A new ordinance proposed by the council would require that those seeking massage licenses from the city would have to remain in "good, moral character," according to the Star Tribune.
Mounds View Mayor Joe Flaherty explained that any sort of legal infraction could warrant the revocation of a massage license.
The policy considerations come in response to the December arrests of Xiu Ji Li, owner of Jian Kang Massage in Mounds View, and an unidentified male employee.
Police conducted a series of undercover visits to the business after an anonymous informant said sexual acts were being performed there.
On one such visit, a female employee began to massage the undercover officer's genitals as part of a "standard" massage.
A police affidavit also said that surveillance showed only male customers entering and leaving the establishment, according to the Star Tribune.
Li and the male employee were booked at the Ramsey County jail on Dec. 29.

February 15, 2009

St. Paul School Implements New System of Learning

St. Paul's Hazel Park Middle School Academy is home to a new style of grading that has many parents raising eyebrows.
The system, referred to as "standards-based grading," weighs the entirety of students' grades on how well they understand the material.
Homework is optional, and students can prove knowledge of the subject matter through tests, projects, or a variety of other activities.
The system rates students' understanding on a number scale. A zero represents no understanding whatsoever, and a "4" indicates a level above proficiency.
The new system is a response to the school's recent low scores on statewide standardized tests. It is meant to better shape learning to match the education standards expected by the state.
Similar systems are in place across the country, including elementary schools in Edina.
Some parents are responding favorably, while others question the new system. However, teachers and administrators stand behind the new principles.
"I'd love to get away from the idea of a report card," Jenni Norlin-Weaver, director of teaching and learning for the district, told Pioneer Press. "I'd love to think about a continuous process in which parents, students and teachers have a great sense of how the student is progressing."

Local Libraries Thrive in Face of Budget Cuts

In spite of economic hardships and potential budget cuts, local libraries are thriving with business.
As conditions seem to worsen with the economy, more and more people are turning to their libraries for support- from Internet access to job searching to free entertainment.
Though the advent of technology may seem a threat to libraries, their mission to provide information to the public has been reshaped and reinvented to evolve with the times.
Since 2000, library circulation in Minneapolis alone has increased by a staggering 37 percent. Economic downfalls have only strengthened this growth.
The projected $6 billion to $7 billion state budget deficit, however, is threatening to leave libraries with huge cuts in funding.
Library supporters argue that the local hubs are becoming more and more important for residents who can't afford to maintain Internet connections, purchase literature, or rent movies from expensive chain stores.
Eagen resident Heidi Ohlander, 31, is a strong advocate for local libraries. She told the Star Tribune that the library helped her plan her own wedding, start a small business, and begin her first novel, among other things.
"I just want you to know that the library is not only essential to me but to all my fellow Minnesotans,'' Ohlander recently wrote to her legislators. "Libraries are the place Minnesotans turn to during tough times."

February 7, 2009

Wi-Fi Network Will Soon Cover City

The largest municipal Wi-Fi area in the United States will soon be finished here in Minneapolis.
The network, owned and operated USI Wireless, has already been in use for over a year in parts of the city.
Some of the last neighborhoods to be included into the network are those around the University of Minnesota.
USI and city representatives announced that the service will be available in the Prospect Park neighborhood by the end of March, The Minnesota Daily reported.
Other areas close to the university, such as Marcy-Holmes and Southeast Como, will have to wait longer- possibly several months.
The development of the citywide network follows in the footsteps of Philadelphia, where a similar network was implemented but ultimately failed. This is likely because the city offered free Wi-Fi to everyone, Lynn Willenberg, the city's chief information officer, told The Minnesota Daily.
The cost to access USI's service for one year at the six-megabyte level will be $397. A comparable service from Comcast costs users $851.
The Wi-Fi network will also include a public safety network for the benefit of the city's police and fire departments. A similar network proved a boon to city officials responding to the Interstate 35W bridge collapse in 2007.

February 6, 2009

Brooklyn Park Man Convicted for Wife's Murder

A Brooklyn Park man was convicted Thursday of second-degree murder in the death of his wife last July, a victory for defense lawyers who argued his actions were emotional and not premeditated.
According to the Star Tribune, Michael Collins Iheme, 51, will now face a likely sentence of around 30 years in prison, as opposed to the life sentence tied to a conviction of first-degree murder, as he was charged.
Iheme never denied that he shot his wife on her way home from work that day. In fact, he called police shortly after to admit his crime.
Anthonia Iheme, the convicted's 28-year-old estranged wife, was sitting in her car outside the nursing home where she worked when Iheme shot her seven times.
Though some evidence pointed towards premeditation-- he had signed his car title over to his roommate and changed the emergency contact information at his children's preschool-- defense attorneys convinced jury members that Iheme's actions were prompted by a fit of passion.
The defense claimed that Iheme's wife had just told him that he was not the father of their youngest child, triggering the passionate response.
Iheme is being held in the Hennepin County jail pending sentencing on March 4.

February 1, 2009

St. Paul Man Fatally Shot

A St. Paul man was murdered early Saturday morning while trying to defend his cousin from an attempted robbery.
Jeffery Lamont Logan, 44, was shot outside the Attucks-Brooks American Legion Hall in St. Paul after he confronted three men who were accosting his cousin.
The police responded to calls from the American Legion and arrested the three suspects after a brief chase.
The (Minneapolis) Star Tribune reported the suspects as a 20-year-old man from West St Paul and two men, 27 and 28, from St. Paul. The three are being held in the Ramsey County jail and await formal charges.
Logan was a regular at the American Legion, and those who knew him said he was kind-hearted and always looked out for his friends and family.
Though he had no children, Logan treated his nieces and nephews as his own. He was the oldest of eight siblings and was close to his many cousins.
Logan's brother, Charles Walker Jr., described him as a "mother hen."
"He watched over everybody," Walker told the Saint Paul Pioneer Press.
Logan's death comes as the third in St. Paul this year.

Burst Pipe Will Cost Univeristy $1 Million

A burst pipe in the Electrical Engineering and Computer Science (EECS) Building caused an estimated $1 million in damages and forced professors to cancel or relocate their classes Friday.
Around 3 a.m., a pipe connected to the cooling system burst and flooded all five floors of the building with chemical-filled water.
After examining the situation, the Department of Environmental Health and Safety, along with Facilities Management, Emergency Management, and the University of Minnesota Police, determined it was safe to dispose of the water in the sewer system.
Crews worked for several hours, but all Friday and Saturday classes in the building were either canceled or relocated.
Many students arrived at their classes only to discover that they had been canceled.
"We heard that maybe some classes might still be open, so we figured we had to check it out first," electrical engineering sophomore Kevin Lammi told The Minnesota Daily.
This is the second instance of pipes bursting at the university this season. Over winter break, a pipe also burst in the Bell Museum of Natural History; however, the damages there were minimal.
Several classes will return to the EECS Building Monday, while many others will continue to be relocated.
Officials predict it will take a week to 10 days for crews to repair walls, replace carpets, and thoroughly dry out the building to prevent future problems with mold.