A former Plymouth city official was charged by the U.S. Attorney's Office last week with receiving almost $60,000 in bribes from contractors in exchange for city contracts.
Ronnie Eugene Taggart, 50, was charged with one count of wire fraud. Taggart was the city's facilities supervisor from October 2012 to November 2016, making him responsible for maintenance on all buildings owned and operated by Plymouth.
Taggart, who controlled the awarding of contracts for certain city projects, was found by an FBI investigation to have defrauded the city from 2014 through November 2016.
According to investigators, Taggart would instruct contractors to draw up false decoy quotes in order to give the appearance that he had complied with legal bidding requirements.
Some of those bids would come at an inflated cost to cover up the cost of bribes or kickbacks given to Taggart, according to federal prosecutors.
In all, Taggart accepted $58,532 in cash bribes and services, officials said. That included thousands of dollars in kitchen appliances, newly installed carpet, a concrete driveway and garage door, extensive landscaping, electrical work and more.
Taggart's initial appearance in U.S. District Court will be announced at a later date.
Dam opened to lower water on lake, creek
Officials opened Grays Bay Dam last week to reduce the chance of high water levels on Lake Minnetonka and the prospect of flooding along Minnehaha Creek.
The Minnehaha Creek Watershed District installed aerators near the dam gates to break up the ice and allow the dam to begin releasing water from the lake into the creek. Staffers with the city of Minnetonka helped break up the final layer of ice, which allowed the dam to begin discharging water.
The proactive measure was taken to reduce Lake Minnetonka's water level before the spring snow melt and rainfall. The early discharge of water will make room in the lake for runoff and reduce the chance of high flows in Minnehaha Creek during the spring thaw.
Anticipating the record snowfall on April 14, senior project manager Tiffany Schaufler said that the watershed district applied for a permit from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to install the aerators as soon as possible.
"Releasing water early will help prevent future flooding," she said.
The watershed district operates Grays Bay Dam according to an operating plan approved by lakeshore communities and the DNR. The goal is to prevent water levels in Lake Minnetonka and Minnehaha Creek from becoming too high or low.
The watershed district also works closely with the National Weather Service in its management of the dam. Information provided by the weather service helped prevent flooding on the creek and lake in 2016, the wettest year on record.
County joining HIV information campaign
Hennepin County is among the first government agencies in the country to join an international campaign to share new information about how HIV treatment can also prevent its spread.
The Prevention Access campaign includes more than 600 health departments and community organizations across 75 countries.
County officials said the campaign will enhance the Positively Hennepin initiative, a strategy designed to end the HIV epidemic.
"Our initiative is called Positively Hennepin because a positive HIV test now gives people power," said Jake Maxon, the program's coordinator. "For people who test positive for HIV, it's the power to get and stay treated, suppress the virus in their bodies and live healthy, vibrant lives. For those who test negative for HIV, it's the power to take protective steps to stay that way."
Maxon said the campaign is about breaking down the stigma at the community, clinical, and personal levels that marginalize the people who can end the epidemic. The county is engaging with the communities hardest hit in order to connect people with prevention and treatment.
While HIV can infect anyone, it has had a bigger impact on gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men; black men and women, American Indians, Hispanics and transgender people. Black men and women in Hennepin County are nearly five times more likely to live with HIV, Maxon said.
City moves forward on bike share program
Edina is expected to adopt a dockless bike share program on a trial basis for the rest of the year.
A representative from LimeBike, a Bay Area-based company, presented its system this month to the Edina City Council, and LimeBike is expected to launch bikes in Edina in early June, according to City Manager Scott Neal.
Dockless bike share is similar to the regular bike share system in Minneapolis and St. Paul. However, there are no docking stations, meaning the bikes can be parked anywhere around the city. LimeBike participants locate and unlock the bikes using a smartphone app.
Rides on regular LimeBike bikes cost $1 for every half-hour, with discounts available for students and lower-income residents. There also are different varieties of bikes available, including three-speed and electric-assist bikes.
Edina council members said they were intrigued by the program and looking forward to learning how the bikes are used during the trial period.
Golden Valley became the first city in Minnesota to adopt dockless bike share when it did so this month. Like Edina, the city contracted with LimeBike for a pilot period.
Other suburbs — including Robbinsdale, St. Louis Park and New Hope — have shown interest in partnering with the company, according to Edina city documents.