From Wabasha to Warroad, from Sleepy Eye to Silver Bay, Dateline Minnesota scours the state to bring you breaking news from outside the Twin Cities.

Northfield throws a City Hall open house

Posted by: Curt Brown Updated: June 24, 2014 - 11:12 AM

The mayor and city council members in Northfield will show off their recently remodeled City Hall to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the old Washington Elementary School that was turned into the home of city government.

The open house will run Wednesday from 2 p.m. until 5 p.m. -- featuring tours, city vehicles like fire trucks, harp music, hot dogs and ice cream.

There will also be historical photographs and art work on display.

Critics call on Bagley to close school doors to controversial speaker

Posted by: Jennifer Brooks Updated: June 23, 2014 - 6:13 PM

A controversial preacher will speak again in Bagley Monday night, telling his audience that Islam is a dangerous cult, despite protests and appeals to the local school district to ban the event from school grounds.

"With the wisdom God gave me I know how bad the disease of Islam is," Usama Dakdok told the Bemidji Pioneer last week, after the school district reversed course and allowed him to rent the Bagley High School auditorium for his three-day event. The district, which did not respond to repeated calls and emails Monday, was threatened with lawsuits after it turned down a previous request last October.

A Muslim woman who attended one of Dakdok’s speeches over the weekend reported that she was harassed by the speaker and his audience, prompting renewed calls for the district to shut the event down.

"We support freedom of speech, and that freedom includes the right to peacefully listen to even hate speech without fear of being set upon by an angry and threatening mob," Lori Saroya, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations of Minnesota, said in a statement Monday.

CAIR, a civil rights and legal advocacy group for Minnesota Muslims, described the speech as a "hate event."

"People were yelling at the Muslim woman, 'Get out' and 'You weren't invited,’” the CAIR press release continued.

The woman, who had participated in a protest outside the venue on before the Sunday speech, walked into the auditorium carrying a protest sign, said Bagley Police Chief Larry Peterson, who was called to the school before the speech started and stayed for the duration.

“One side of the coin said she was looking for a seat. The other side of the coin said she was protesting,” Peterson said.

“But nothing got physical. No threats. No mob,” Peterson added. “It was just a discussion initiated by both parties and both parties were participating.”

There was tension, however, when  Dakdok opened the floor to questions at the end of his speech, he said.

“The other side of the coin came up and started asking him questions,” Peterson said. “Things got somewhat heated. After the program had ended and everyone had left, there was just a handful of both sides of people, who were having discussions and some of the locals were partaking in it. When it became loud, I told everyone they had to leave.”

Dakdok, who runs the Florida-based Straight Way of Grace Ministry, tours the country, giving similar speeches about his belief in the dangers of Islam.

He was originally invited to speak in Bagley in October, but the speech was shifted to a local church after the school district reversed its original decision to allow him to rent the auditorium.

"We asked to change the venue to the church because the speaker did not appear to coincide with school district policy," Steve Cairns, superintendent of Bagley Public Schools, told the Bemidji Pioneer at the time. "The appropriateness of the conversation appeared to be more in tune with the church."

Wabasha wants you to know it's not flooded

Posted by: Jennifer Brooks Updated: June 23, 2014 - 11:36 AM

Despite what you may have heard, Wabasha is not under water.


Pictured: Downtown Wabasha Monday morning, unflooded.

Pictured: Downtown Wabasha Monday morning, unflooded.

Torrential rains soaked this Mississippi River town last week, just like everywhere else in Minnesota. But when the sun came out this weekend, the tourists stayed away, alarmed by reports on the Weather Channel and in the papers that warned that the river was above flood stage and rising.


That's true -- the Mississippi is a foot above flood stage and won't crest until later this week.

"Above flood stage" isn't the same as "flooded," but still, people canceled weekend plans in Wabasha and Bald Eagle Day at the National Eagle Center in Wabasha attracted far fewer visitors than expected, said Cheri Wright, executive director of the Wabasha-Kellogg Chamber of Commerce.

The swollen Mississippi rolls by, but not over, downtown Wabasha.

The swollen Mississippi rolls by, but not over, downtown Wabasha.


"Flooding? No, and where?" said Wright, who drove to the Twin Cities this weekend without hitting any high water. "I'm on Main Street and I'm wearing open-toed shoes."

Monday morning, the chamber sent out a press release with the headline: Wabasha Is Not Flooded. Some of the low-lying areas by the river are getting soaked, she said, but not any part of the downtown or any of the major roads.

Still, the calls about flooding were coming in and the visitors weren't.

"I thought it would just blow over, kind of like a bad Kardashian rumor, but it hasn't," Wright said. "We just don't have any flooding."

As proof, she sent in a few pictures of downtown Wabasha Monday morning, showing the swollen Mississippi rolling by, but not over, the sunny downtown.

Small houses coming to Brainerd

Posted by: Jennifer Brooks Updated: June 17, 2014 - 4:31 PM

The city of Brainerd took a big step toward smaller houses.

Monday night, the city council agreed to change the zoning code to allow construction of smaller houses -- as small as 500 square feet -- on the hundreds of odd-sized and otherwise unusable lots around town.

The vote followed several months of debate about how small was too small when it comes to housing. Tiny houses are trendy these days, but opponents worried that they could drive down the property values of their larger-scale neighbors.

The original plan called for houses as small as 400 square feet. Bumping the limit up to 500 square feet put Brainerd on a par with Minneapolis,where houses can be as small as 500 square feet and 350-square-foot efficiency apartments are legal.

“We went from tiny to small,” said Brainerd City Planner Mark Ostgarden.

So far, he said, no developers have approached the city with plans for small house construction.

If anyone does want to build small in Brainerd, there are limits. The houses can only be built on older lots that are too small for the city's standard 750-square-foot minimum for houses. Tiny home builders would also have to secure a special permit from the city.

The only no vote to the plan came from City Council member Dolly Matten, who, according to the Brainerd Dispatch, objected to the idea of houses that could be as narrow as 18 feet wide.

The vote adds Brainerd to the growing list of communities that are embracing smaller homes as a way to make housing more affordable and available. New York recently legalized 275-square-foot apartments. Madison, Wis., plans to use tiny houses to shelter the homeless.

Duluth wins online contest for best outdoors town in America

Posted by: Pam Louwagie Updated: June 15, 2014 - 11:14 PM

Congratulate Duluth’s hard-working civic boosters. Their online voters swarmed a national outdoors magazine website to win the crown of Best Town in America on Sunday night.

Duluth bested Provo, Utah to gain the title from Outside Magazine by a vote of 66,758 to 54,875.

It was a social media-boosted contest that had even Gov. Mark Dayton and U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken urging Twitter followers to vote for Duluth last week.

Spurred by a #VoteDuluth campaign and website, the city routinely got more votes than any other of the 64 cities originally competing through six rounds of bracket-style face offs that began last month.

As the votes continued to climb Sunday, Mayor Don Ness all but declared victory several hours before the contest ended. Ness acknowledged that title was just an online popularity contest, but credited a change in attitude for the win.

“This contest has been an effective measure of city pride and enthusiasm and people invest in cities that they are confident and optimistic about – they invest in their home, their business, their own skill sets, their careers, etc.,” Ness wrote on his Facebook page Sunday evening, well before the contest ended at 10:59 p.m. Central Time.

For too long, Ness wrote, pessimism hung over the city, with people too ready to accept that Duluth would never reach its potential.

“Is this change real?” Ness continued. “Ask yourself this question…. Do you think Duluth could have won this contest 20 years ago?”

In earlier rounds, Duluth beat out Columbia, Mo; Athens, Ohio; LaCrosse, Wis., Minneapolis and Asheville N.C. 

Outside magazine asked voters which town was the best place to live if they love an active lifestyle. Duluth's boosters posted photos of Lake Superior and promoted the area's range of opportunities for activities including hiking, biking, kayaking and skiing. VoteDuluth touted the town’s “outdoor adventures within the city limits.”


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