Local briefs

  • Updated: December 5, 2007 - 10:35 PM

Two schools in St. Louis Park received the all-clear from state environmental authorities Wednesday.

Air testing results showed that St. Louis Park High School and Park Spanish Immersion School did not contain chemical vapors from the soil beneath their basements. State and federal officials announced Tuesday that 270 houses and commercial buildings in the suburb west of Minneapolis will be tested next month.

The two schools in the testing area were checked on Nov. 30 and Dec. 1 to make sure students were not at risk, according to Minnesota Pollution Control Agency Commissioner Brad Moore. Preliminary results from 12 samples showed that six were free of the chemicals, and six others showed concentrations "well below levels of concern," according to authorities.

State pollution-control and health officials have scheduled meetings on Dec. 13 and 15 at the St. Louis Park Recreation Center to explain the investigation and answer questions.

TOM MEERSMAN

Federal departments' local offices honored

Minnesota offices of the U.S. departments of Justice, Health and Human Services, and the Treasury are to receive an "Investigator of the Year" award today for their prosecution of Christopher William Smith for selling more than $24 million through an illegal Internet pharmacy. The presentation will be made at the National Health Care Anti-Fraud Association's conference in Anaheim, Calif.

Smith was convicted in November 2006 on nine charges of conspiracy, illegal distribution of drugs, money laundering, and operating a "continuing criminal enterprise." He was sentenced to 30 years in prison.

Those commended for their work are: FBI Special Agent George S. Kyrilis; Assistant U.S. Attorney Nicole Engisch and former Assistant U.S. Attorney Elizabeth Peterson; FDA Special Agent Kenneth C. Kulick; and IRS Special Agent Chad D. Vetter.

DAN BROWNING

Ruling finds professor fired for abortion views

The Minnesota Department of Human Rights has found probable cause that the University of St. Thomas improperly denied a visiting professor a permanent post because of her stance on abortion.

Ashley Sovereign, a St. Thomas graduate, worked as a visiting psychology professor at the St. Paul school during the 1995-96 school year.

"There was an understanding that it was going to be a steppingstone for the other job," said Marshall Tanick, Sovereign's attorney. "It was mutually understood that the one-year position would be the predecessor for the permanent position."

During that school year, St. Thomas officials became concerned that Sovereign had been previously employed by Planned Parenthood.

According to the ruling, "there is documentation that a [St. Thomas] administrator wrote that due to [Sovereign's] past affiliation with a health center that offered abortion services, the hiring of [Sovereign] was offensive to the Catholic community and would not be repeated."

Tanick said Sovereign is an assistant professor of psychology at Argosy University.

St. Thomas officials are considering whether to enter into conciliation with Sovereign through the Department of Human Rights. "We're disappointed in the decision," St. Thomas spokesman Doug Hennes said.

The Department of Human Rights found in favor of St. Thomas in Sovereign's claim that she was discriminated against because of gender.

JEFF SHELMAN

St. Paul council hears billboard arguments

Critics of electronic billboards got their say Wednesday night in front of the St. Paul City Council, and proposed license fee increases for bars and restaurants changed once again.

The council is considering an ordinance that would severely limit the conversion of traditional billboards to electronic ones.

Electronic billboards are ugly, unsafe and hurt the environment, said John Mannillo, co-chairman of Scenic St. Paul, an anti-billboard group. "St. Paul cannot afford any more billboard blight."

The council will take up the issue again on Dec. 19.

The council also delayed action on the latest license fee plan, which calls for a 5 percent across-the-board increase for the city's 850 restaurants and 175 bars with full liquor licenses.

That compares with a proposal for a 12 percent increase that council members first saw earlier Wednesday and a 25 percent hike suggested earlier.

Bob Kessler, director of the city's Department of Safety and Inspections, said the 5 percent increase would short his department in 2008, but he said he was confident that other money would be found to make up the difference.

The license fee is expected to be acted on next Wednesday.

CHRIS HAVENS

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