For the first time in 16 years, Stearns County will have a new sheriff.

Steve Soyka, a sergeant in the department, will move into the top spot after defeating Waite Park Police Chief Dave Bentrud in the Nov. 6 election. Soyka will be the county’s 29th sheriff, overseeing 222 full-time employees and a $24 million annual budget.

Soyka, who has been with the department since 1996 after working for the Benton County Sheriff’s Office, has also worked as commander of the Central Minnesota Violent Offender Task Force. He starts the job Jan. 7, and a swearing-in ceremony will take place at 9 a.m. Jan. 8.

Soyka replaces Don Gudmundson, who came out of retirement to lead the office after 14-year Sheriff John Sanner retired in 2017 before his term was up. Gudmundson, the former sheriff of Fillmore, Dakota and Steele counties, is believed to be the only sheriff to serve in that role in four Minnesota counties. He said he wouldn’t seek the permanent position.

The high-profile job leads a department that was at the center of investigating the 1989 disappearance of Jacob Wetterling. The case remained a mystery until 2015, when Danny Heinrich was arrested on child pornography charges and later confessed to the boy’s abduction and murder. Last fall, Gudmundson criticized the investigation by saying it “went off the rails” within weeks of Jacob’s disappearance.



City’s historic hotel plans renovation

A hotel company that traces its origins to the early years of the Mayo Clinic will invest $30 million in renovating two downtown hotels.

The Kahler Hospitality Group said it will refresh the century-old Kahler Grand Hotel, a city landmark, along with the Towers at the Kahler Grand. The hotels are a short walk via tunnels to the Mayo Clinic and have long served as one of the main hotel options for patients and their families. The company didn’t offer a project completion timeline.

The Kahler Grand Hotel was built in the early 20th century in coordination with the Mayo brothers and their vision for Rochester’s future. The renovations come amid a construction boom set off by a $5.6 billion expansion of the Mayo Clinic and Rochester’s downtown.

New hotels on the way include the Hyatt House extended-stay hotel, with an expected opening in January; the 19-story Titan Hilton Hotel, which is expected to open in April; and the former Holiday Inn, which is undergoing renovation and should reopen in May as the Hotel Indigo.

The Kahler Hospitality Group owns five hotels, seven restaurants and bars and 139 retail stores in Rochester.

Matt McKinney