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.

North Branch mayor, council member face censure

Posted by: Jennifer Brooks Updated: April 14, 2015 - 1:42 PM

The newly-elected mayor of North Branch, Minn., and a four-term city council member could be censured and stripped of their committee assignments by fellow council members, irate over testimony the two gave before the Minnesota Senate last month.

Mayor Kirsten Hagen-Kennedy and Council Member Kathleen Blomquist face censure at Tuesday evening's city council meeting after they testified in an official capacity against legislation the majority of the council supports.

It all started with a number. Last year, four of the five council members voted in favor of expanding the city's Water and Light Commission from three members to five. Hagen-Kennedy and Blomquist -- the lone vote against the expansion last year -- argue that a five-member board would bog down the public utility commission's decision making.

When State Sen. Sean Nienow, R-Cambridge, introduced legislation that would allow the city to expand the commission, the two opponents asked the council to reverse its support for the plan. When that motion failed 3-2, they headed to St. Paul to testify against the legislation themselves.

Every Minnesotan has the right to testify before the Legislature. The censure resolution, brought by Council Member Joyce Borchardt, blasts Hagen-Kennedy and Blomquist for testifying as the mayor of North Branch and a four-term city council member, rather than as private citizens.

According to Borchardt's resolution, the city attorney had instructed the council that members were free to weigh in on the Senate bill, "but must qualify it by saying that this is their individual position and not the position of the city of North Branch."

At a March 16 meeting of the Minnesota Senate State and Local Government Committee, Hagen-Kennedy opened her testimony with this statement: “I am before you today as the mayor of the city of North Branch, along with council member Kathy Blomquist.”

Blomquist, who served on the city's Water and Light Commission from 2002 to 2008, told committee members that a bigger board would mean longer wait times for utility projects.

“My biggest concern is that more people on the commission will cause delays in needed expenditures,” she testified. “Unless we can appoint people who have an extensive background in utilities, I believe decisions will take too long and could impact the electrical and water service to the people in our city.”

Nienow noted that the two officials "are not here speaking on behalf of the city, just to clarify." But the majority of the committee, unwilling to wade into a divisive local political issue, voted down the bill.

If the censure motion passes Borchardt's resolution calls for a second vote that would remove Hagen-Kennedy and Blomquist from all their commission and committee appointments as well, "due to [their] demonstration of failure to represent the Council as a whole and the Council's positions on matters concerning the city."

Censure motions carry no legal weight, but are a way to show public disapproval of an elected official's behavior. Last year, the Maple Plain city council voted unanimously to censure their mayor and remove him from most of his public duties, citing his "extreme anger" and complaints from a female city employee that he was creating an "unsafe and unfriendly" atmosphere in the workplace.

The censure motion is a first in North Branch, a community of 10,000 in Chisago County. Hagen-Kennedy, Blomquist and Borchardt have not yet responded to calls for comment.


New details on ring found with human remains on I-90

Posted by: Jenna Ross under AFC, NFC Updated: April 9, 2015 - 9:46 AM


A gold ring with a red stone was found with the remains discovered this week along I-90 near Albert Lea, the Freeborn County Sheriff's Office announced Thursday morning. Officials are hoping details about that ring, plus a pair of shoes, will help identify the body.

The 10-karat gold ring, shaped like a class ring, features a large red stone. The shoes, made by the Mario De Gerard brand, "are in such poor condition that photos won’t be useful," according to the sheriff's office.

The first phase of an autopsy, performed Wednesday, is complete. The cause of death has not been determined, a news release stated. The second, more detailed phase will be conducted soon.

From Tuesday's story:

Freeborn County Sheriff Kurt Freitag said that the bones appear to be from a man and, judging from their condition, have been lying next to the highway’s south side for several years.

On Monday, a man whose property abuts the highway was collecting litter near its fence when a round object caught his eye, Freitag said. “He looked even closer at it and saw it was a skull.”

The man called Freitag, who posted a guard at the site and alerted the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, which has been helping with the investigation. Early Tuesday morning, agents cut away the brush, dead branches and saplings to get to the bones, some of which had sunk a couple inches into the soil.

“I could see how all this time, no one saw it from the road,” Freitag said by phone Tuesday.

There are no active missing person cases in Freeborn County. The sheriff's office is asking people with information to call 507-377-5205.

Human remains found near Albert Lea

Posted by: Jenna Ross Updated: April 7, 2015 - 2:52 PM

Authorities are investigating a suspicious death after human remains were found beside Interstate 90 near Albert Lea.

The Freeborn County Sheriff's Office said that the remains appear to be from a male and look like they've been there for a number of years.

A nearby property owner called 911 just after 6 p.m. Monday about the remains, which deputies found by a fence along the south side of the I-90, east of Highway 13 and near a SuperAmerica.

The Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension is helping the sheriff's office with the investigation. BCA agents were searching Tuesday along the wooded area near the highway, according to the Austin Daily Herald.

The remains will be taken to the Ramsey County Medical Examiner's Office to determine a cause of death, a news release from the sheriff's office says. "There are no known missing persons cases in Freeborn County which can be connected with this investigation at this time," the release says.

Federal civil rights office to visit St. Cloud high school

Posted by: Matt McKinney Updated: April 6, 2015 - 5:45 PM

A federal civil rights office will visit St. Cloud Tech high school next week in the wake of claims by Somali students that they've been harassed for their religion, dress and culture. The students walked out of classes twice last month in protest over what they said was the administration's weak response to their concerns.

The visit from the Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights will bring together administrators and student representatives, said district spokesperson Tami DeLand.

News of the meeting was welcomed by a spokesman for the Minnesota chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations. "Somali students from St. Cloud Technical Senior High School that we spoke with have reported a number of incidents of harassment and bullying by students targeting Somali students," said Jaylani Hussein, in a statement issued Monday. 

About 100 students walked out of classes last month at St. Cloud Tech High School after learning that a white classmate had posted a picture online of a Somali student and suggested she was part of ISIS, the Islamic terrorist group. Other Somali students complained that students spat on them, knocked coffee cups out of their hands, jumped on the cafeteria tables and stomped on their lunches or told them to go back to Somalia. A second walkout two days later erupted when students said they felt the administration was not doing enough to stop the harassment. 

The St. Cloud School Distirct has been operating under an agreement with the Office of Civil Rights since 2012, after a Somali student's complaint of harassment lead to a federal civil rights investigation of the school district. The agreement required that the district make its schools more welcoming to Somali students, but found that the district broke no federal rules in handling the incidents of alleged harassment of Muslim students at two St. Cloud high schools.

Next week's visit is a continuation of that agreement, said DeLand. 


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