The top candidate for Brainerd chief of police declined to accept a job offer, saying that the COVID-19 pandemic had denied him the chance "to sit across a table from each of you, look you in the eye, and tell you who I am; nor did I get the same opportunity to learn who you are."

But money also may have played a role in his decision.

At a meeting last week, the Brainerd City Council received a letter from George Vinson, who had been offered the job to replace retiring Chief Corky McQuiston. Vinson is a lieutenant with the Fargo Police Department.

The city had interviewed candidates via videoconference instead of in person due to the pandemic.

"A decision of this magnitude is certainly life changing," Vinson wrote. "And at age 40, I cannot afford (figuratively and literally) to get it wrong."

Mayor Dave Badeaux said there was also disagreement on both sides over the job's salary, pegged in the range of about $108,000 a year.

"We don't want to have employees who are underpaid, but we try to be fiscally responsible," he said. "We were fortunate to have a number of very well-qualified candidates."

Badeaux said the City Council now has made an offer to Brent Baloun, chief of the police department in Becker, Minn.

John Reinan

Northeast Minnesota

Loan program brings in two new dentists

Two new dentists have started practicing in northeast Minnesota thanks to the Martha Mordini Rukavina Loan Forgiveness Program, a grantee of Iron Range Resources & Rehabilitation.

Jennifer Enich is practicing general dentistry in her hometown of Chisholm, and Gretchen Kreklow began work in Ely.

Both are 2020 graduates of the University of Minnesota School of Dentistry.

The program, designed to help alleviate a dental shortage, pays up to $120,000 to compensate for qualified school loans over four years to dentists committed to practicing full-time in the area for at least five years.

The dentists are also expected to work in at least one program caring for underserved populations.

The average educational debt of a graduating dental student last year was nearly $300,000, according to the American Dental Association.

The Rukavina loan forgiveness program was started by former state representative and St. Louis County commissioner Tom Rukavina in 2009 and is named in honor of his mother.

Pam Louwagie