Blaine Backes was appointed Monday to the Forest Lake City Council, replacing Michael Freer who resigned his seat last month amid allegations that he had moved outside the city.

Mayor Ben Winnick appointed Backes at a special meeting after the council was unable to agree on a candidate from among the 13 applicants they interviewed, interim city administrator Dan Undem said.

Backes, a lawn care and landscape specialist, will be sworn in at the council's regular meeting this Monday.

Freer, who had served on the City Council since 2011, is a fiscal conservative and one of three council members who voted last year to disband the Forest Lake Police and instead use Washington County deputies for law enforcement duties.

City Council members voted last fall on a measure to remove Freer from office but deadlocked on a 2-2 vote.

He came under scrutiny last summer after it was reported that he and his family had moved to Maple Grove. Under state law, elected city officials must live in the city they serve.

According to his LinkedIn profile, Freer was chief human resources officer at North Hennepin Community College in Brooklyn Park before taking a similar job at St. Cloud State University in late 2016.

The seat now occupied by Backes is up for election this fall.

Emily Allen

Anoka County

Board approves electronic voting rosters

Anoka County voters will use electronic voting rosters — also known as e-poll books — when they next go to the polls.

County commissioners recently approved a contract to buy an electronic roster system, which will replace paper rosters. The new system could debut as early as the Aug. 14 primary election.

"It's good for the voters. It's good for our election judges," Cindy Reichert, the county's elections manager, told commissioners at their March 27 meeting.

Reichert said the new system will guide election judges through the check-in process, rendering "almost impossible" errors such as registering a voter in the wrong precinct.

The county received a state grant of about $238,000 to help cover the $602,000 cost of the electronic system. The county will pay about $336,000, with yearly operational costs expected to total $63,000.

The county will buy the system from KNOWiNK, a Missouri-based company. Hennepin County, which rolled out electronic rosters in 2016, also uses KNOWiNK equipment.

Hannah Covington

Board OKs body cams for Sheriff's Office

Officers with the Anoka County Sheriff's Office soon will be hitting the streets equipped with body cameras.

The Anoka County Board voted unanimously to buy body cameras from Axon Enterprise, an Arizona-based company, approving a five-year contract for up to $464,520.

"This has been in the process for a long time," Sheriff James Stuart said at the March 27 meeting. "Our staff has very much embraced the concept of having body cameras."

Stuart said the Sheriff's Office picked Axon as its vendor because it offered long-lasting batteries, good picture quality and superior data storage methods.

"Today really checks the final box in order to complete what's necessary to roll this system out," Stuart told commissioners.

Officials with the Sheriff's Office said they expected to implement the program by the end of the year.

Hannah Covington


Anderson to resign City Council seat

Carl Anderson, an Anoka City Council member for 13 years, announced at the March 19 meeting that he will resign his seat later this month because he is moving to Champlin.

And he shared some ideas about the kind of person he'd like to see fill his shoes on the council.

"Let me just give you a hint," Anderson said at the council meeting. "One thing we need on this council is somebody of the other gender."

He told the five-member council that it could also benefit from having a younger person.

City leaders plan to discuss the vacancy at an upcoming workshop. The person they appoint to the seat will fill out Anderson's term, which ends Dec. 31.

Hannah Covington

South St. Paul

District holding meetings on start times

The South St. Paul school district is inviting residents to learn about the effects of possible new school start and end times, a decision it expects to make this fall and implement if necessary in the fall of 2019.

Upcoming meetings will be held at 6:30 p.m. Thursday at Kaposia Education Center, 1225 1st Av. S.; 6:30 p.m. on April 26 at South St. Paul Secondary School, 700 2nd St. N.; and 6:30 p.m. on May 23, also at South St. Paul Secondary School.

Erin Adler