Montrose city administrator fired during questionable meeting  

By Doug Voerding

At a special emergency meeting last Thursday, Nov. 13, the Montrose City Council took disciplinary action against an unnamed city employee.

On Monday, it was verified that City Administrator Barb Swanson was fired by the council.

At the beginning of the 6:45 Thursday night meeting, Mayor Roy Henry closed the meeting, saying, "This is an emergency personnel meeting."

The mayor and four councilmembers were at the meeting, along with this reporter who was told to leave when the meeting was closed.  No members of the public were at the meeting.

When the meeting was reopened at 7:35, Henry said that the meeting was a "discussion of disciplinary action, and that a vote was taken."

When the council was told by this reporter that under the state open meeting law no votes could be taken at a closed meeting, Henry called for a roll call vote.  Henry and Council-members Lloyd Johnson, Mark Krotzer and Michelle Otto voted yes and Councilmember Ben Kuehl voted no.

When asked what the motion was, Henry said, "to carry out disciplinary action."

Since the person was not named and the charges not stated, this reporter and the Wright County Journal-Press consulted with Mark Anfinson, the Minnesota Newspaper Association attorney and an expert on the Minnesota open meeting law.

Said Anfinson, "They (the council) made a complete mess of their obligations under the open meeting law."

"They failed to state the name of the employee," said Anfinson, "they failed to state a specific legal reason for the closing, and they failed to take a vote on a clear motion in a public meeting."

Added Anfinson, "A council may close a meeting for preliminary consideration of charges against an employee, but, once the council concludes that discipline may be warranted, future meetings about those charges must be open."

Swanson, on Monday, said that she did not know about the meeting until two councilmembers met her at city hall on Friday morning and handed her a termination letter.

In a phone conversation with Henry on Monday, Henry said, "I can't tell you who the subject of the meeting was.  That's private information.  I don't want to break the privacy law.  I am following the state law.  I talked to two different attorneys, friends of mine, and I have done everything legal by the League of Minnesota Cities.  The city attorney has not returned our calls."

Henry also said that no recording, as required by the open meeting law, was made, but that Otto took minutes of the meeting.

As of Monday, Swanson and her union representative were considering appropriate action against the council.



City of Buffalo purchases property for planned Central Ave. upgrade

A traffic circle is planned at this intersection of Highway 25 and 8th Ave. N. near the Holiday store and Perkins Restaurant in Buffalo.  The city is buying the property directly across the intersection in the photo, which was taken from the Holiday store site.

Buffalo Mayor Brad Nauman, left, declared  Nov. 24 - 30 as Buckle Up for Safety and Lives Week. The campaign was developed by Dr. Rita Varner-Otness, center, and Dr. Tom Kuzma, right, and is sponsored by the Wright County Sheriff's Office, KRWC radio, the Wright County Journal-Press, Dr. Varner-Otness, and Dr. Kuzma. During Thanksgiving week, the campaign will especially be urging Wright County drivers and passengers to wear seat belts. As a reward, drivers observed wearing seat belts may receive  $10 and free T-shirts. The week will start early afternoon, Monday, November 24, with a Wright County sheriff's deputy in the Walmart parking lot with those rewards. During the rest of the week, the sheriff's deputy will be in other heavily traveled places in the area. (Photo by Doug Voerding)


By Doug Voerding

Preparations for the upgrading of Central Ave. in Buffalo have begun with the first acquisition of property needed for the traffic circle at Central and 8th Ave. N.

The property at 709 Central is being purchased for $159,900 plus related moving expenses to be determined later.

According to City Administrator Merton Auger, acquiring the property is a lengthy process since federal, state and city money is funding the project. "In fact," said Auger, "the documents were 150 pages long."

The payment of moving expenses is required by the federal government, but there is a cap.

Auger also told the council that money has been allocated by the state for the property purchases so that the city is not the banker.



In other action, the council:

* proclaimed next week as Buckle Up for Safety and Lives Week.

* approved the sale of the 1999 Chevrolet Suburban no longer needed by the fire department. After listing the vehicle for sale, it was sold to Craig Dornbusch for $4500.

* accepted, with regret, the resignation of Miles Camarati, who worked as water operator for the city for the past two years. Camarati has accepted a position closer to his residence.

* will meet Monday, Nov. 24, in workshop to consider the 2015 budget.



The Buffalo Farmers' Market will be indoors at the Community Center from 10:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. on Nov. 22, Dec. 6, Dec. 13, Jan. 3, and other dates in February, March and April.

Councilmember Paul Olson urged residents to try to use ice melting products that include magnesium chloride rather than sodium chloride. The magnesium chloride is less corrosive and more tolerant for pets. Olson suggested using birdseed as an alternative to any salt on ice. Olson also warned residents to be wary of the thin ice on Buffalo Lake and to not blow snow into the streets.

Councilmember Steve Downer congratulated Nauman and Scott Enter, who were re-elected to the council, and Eric Anderson on his win.

Downer also told the council that Natasha Meyer, chair of the Beyond the Yellow Ribbon Committee, has resigned.

The Safe Schools coalition will be sponsoring a Know the Truth Forum for parents on Jan. 22 from 7:00 to 8:30 p.m. at the Buffalo High School Performing Arts Center.

More than 400 coats were distributed at the Community Center - more than last year.

A card signing for heroes will be Dec. 3 and 4 at the Community Center. The sponsoring group is looking for new, unused Christmas cards for the project.

Nauman thanked the street department for their snow removal efforts. "It's an imperfect science, but we are doing the best we can," he said.



BHM moving ahead after voters approve $33 million in bond issue projects

On Election Day, Tuesday, Nov. 4, 2014, voters went to the polls and approved the Buffalo Hanover Montrose (BHM) School District bond referendum.  With 6,270 YES votes (55%) and 5,172 NO votes (45%), the district can now move forward with the $33 million in improvement projects that have been identified district-wide.

"We knew it was going to be a close election," stated BHM Superintendent Scott Thielman. "It was important for us to educate the voters on our needs and they responded at the polls. I want to thank the district residents for their show of support and especially the Citizens Supporting Our Schools Committee for all of the hard work they did to support our messages and get voters out on Election Day. We are truly grateful and now the exciting work begins. The projects included in this bond will benefit every student and school in this district. We can't wait to get started."

The first thing that needs to happen is for the district to open the bidding process for the bonds at the Nov. 24 school board meeting. The actual sale of the bonds will happen at a special school board meeting prior to the regular school board workshop on Jan. 12, 2015.  The bond funds will become available to the District in February or March.

While the district waits for the bond process to begin, work has already begun on a project timeline. The architects will finalize the drawings for all of the building and renovation projects. Physical work on the actual projects will begin as early as June 2015. The district hopes to finish all of the projects as quickly as possible, within three years, but knows it could take up to five years if there are any delays.

"We know there are some anticipated projects, such as the secure entrances at Discovery, Hanover and Tatanka, additional classroom spaces and technology upgrades that people are interested in," continued Thielman. "We will be sure to keep our taxpayers updated on the progress of all of our projects through our district's Facebook page, website (, Insider news-letters and in the Wright County Journal-Press."

Thielman added, "Again, thank you to our voters! We appreciate the approval we received to provide improvements and repairs to our facilities, an investment in our technology infrastructure, and the purchase of equipment which will provide for the needs of our district for many years to come."



Construction management services contract approved for county public works project

Some changes and additions are being planned for the county's public works site (above).  The County Board approved a construction management services contract this week.  (Photo by Ed DuBois)


By Ed DuBois

A contract for construction management services was approved by the Wright County Board last Tuesday, Nov. 18.  The action involves the upcoming Public Works Building project.

Based on a review of four proposals, the Board received a recommendation to select Kraus-Anderson, Inc.  The contract amount is $528,000.  A selection team unanimously recommended Kraus-Anderson, even though one of the other proposals offered a lower cost.

Kraus-Anderson was rated the highest due to factors such as: experience, strong references, size and reputation, and more hours allocated to the project.

Commissioner Pat Sawatzke called for the contract cost to be a "not to exceed" amount.

Construction activities could take place from July 2015 to August 2016.

In other business:



The Board is considering a drug and alcohol policy change that would bring the policy up to current standards as set by state statute.  The change would allow the county the option of conducting random testing.

Commissioner Charlie Borrell raised a concern about seeing the policy change for the first time with no discussion at the committee level.  He said the matter should have been on a committee agenda so members of the committee could work through it before sending it to the County Board for final approval.

Other commissioners indicated they agreed with Borrell.  They approved a motion by Borrell to send the matter to the Personnel Committee on Friday, Nov. 21 at 11 a.m.



In other actions, the Board:

* approved flowage easement agreements secured by the U.S. Fish and Wild-life Service, which is working with Ducks Unlimited on the installation of a 12-inch-wide pipeline to improve water level management in the Victor Water-fowl Production Area located just west of Howard Lake;

* approved filling positions, including: crew supervisor in the Highway Department, case aide and social worker in Human Services, and three deputies and one corrections officer in the Sheriff's Office;

* approved two weeks of claims amounting to $568,922 and involving 445 transactions with 290 vendors.




St. Michael woman dies due to crash on freeway

A multi-vehicle crash on I-94 near Rogers last Sunday morning, Nov. 16 resulted in the death of a 24-year-old St. Michael woman, the State Patrol reported.

Troopers responded at 9:17 a.m. to the area along the freeway where a bridge over the Crow River is located at the Wright County and Hennepin County border.  Road conditions were icy.

The driver of a Toyota Corolla lost control and spun out.  This caused a Buick Lacrosse to strike a Pontiac G6, which then left the roadway and struck a stationary piece of construction equipment.

The driver of the Pontiac G6, Megan Hinchliff, 24, of St. Michael, died due to the crash.  The driver of the Lacrosse, Craig Heckman, 42, of Clearwater, had no apparent injury, and neither did the driver of the Toyota, Larissa Bohler, 17, of St. Michael.

The freeway was closed for about two hours.  All eastbound lanes of I-94 between Highway 241 in St. Michael and Highway 101 in Rogers were closed due to the crash, and traffic was detoured.



Monticello woman dies in I-94 crash

A 31-year-old woman from Monticello died in a crash on I-94 near St. Cloud last Thursday evening, Nov. 13, the State Patrol reports.

Her car was traveling on the ramp from southbound Highway 15 to eastbound I-94 near the Stearns County Road 74 overpass around 7:30 p.m.  The vehicle drifted off the roadway to the right and then veered to the left shoulder, striking the guardrail and an overpass pillar.  The car then veered off the roadway to the right before coming to a rest.  The driver, Renee Hall-berg, 31, of Monticello, was pronounced dead at the scene.

Among survivors are her husband, Dan, and daughters, Rylee, 8, and Jordyn, 6.

Services for Renee Hallberg were scheduled on Wednesday, Nov. 19, 11 a.m., at Trinity Lutheran Church in Monticello with interment at Clear Lake Cemetery of Clear Lake.

Funeral arrangements were with the Peterson-Grimsmo Chapel of Monticello.



Clearwater man dies due to I-94 rollover

A Clearwater resident died due to a rollover crash on I-94 last Saturday, Nov. 15.  The incident occurred just before 3 p.m. in Stearns County north of Clearwater near milepost 177, according to the State Patrol.

A pickup truck driven by Patrick J. Thomes, 47, of Clearwater was westbound on the freeway when Thomes lost control.  The vehicle left the roadway and rolled before coming to a stop in the center median.  Thomes died at the St. Cloud Hospital from his injuries.

The road conditions were icy, the State Patrol reported.

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Learning how to be a dog

Tater the beagle lived two years at a lab and now has a new life, thanks to the Beagle Freedom Project

By Ed DuBois

At two years old, Tater would normally be well adjusted to life as a family pet.  But the young beagle never had a family until about a month ago.  Because he lived his first two years in a cage at a lab, he is just now learning how to be a dog.

Tater, who was officially dubbed Potato by Melissa Gudvangen's six-year-old son, Ben, has been receiving foster care at Melissa's home in Montrose.  Like other former laboratory beagles, he is getting a new life through the Beagle Freedom Project, which is based in Los Angeles and has rescued more than 300 beagles from across the country since 2010, according to a recent CBS Los Angeles news report.  Beagles in labs are often used for testing chemicals and pharmaceuticals, the report said.

Known as AZP2 in a lab somewhere in the Midwest, Tater never knew about being petted, playing with toys, running in a yard, and being taken for walks.

"We are pretty sure his vocal cords were removed because he never barks," Melissa said.


Two beagles

Fortunately, Tater lives with Melissa's 14-year-old beagle, Buddy.

"Tater uses Buddy to speak for him," Melissa commented.

Tater is learning from Buddy.

"He's learning to be a dog," said Melissa.  "It was like having a baby, in a way.  He didn't know how to do anything."

Because he did not get a chance to use his muscles at the lab, Tater needed to be carried up and down the stairs.  He could not jump up on furniture.

But Tater has been a fast learner, and his muscles have been getting stronger.  He now runs up and down the stairs, and jumping up on a couch or a bed is no problem at all these days.

"I have been impressed by how quickly he has learned," Melissa mentioned.

He wasn't 100 percent housebroken last week, but he was catching on fast.


Not much information

Melissa doesn't know much about Tater's life before being rescued.  All she knows is that he was in a lab in the Midwest.  The Beagle Freedom Project might know more, but a non-disclosure agreement was involved with Tater's release from the lab.  Perhaps because using animals in labs is unpopular, labs are reluctant to release information to the public.

For Melissa, the fact that Tater is now free is her current focus.  She mentioned that it might have been just as easy for the lab to euthanize Tater as to turn him over to the Beagle Freedom Project.

She has been working to get him adjusted to family life so he can be adopted into a loving home.

There is a chance Tater will end up staying close to her family.  Her former husband, who was Buddy's originally owner, met Tater and almost immediately wanted to adopt him.  He has since filled out an adoption application and if approved by the Beagle Freedom Project, he could become Tater's new owner in the near future.


Saw it on Facebook

The process that brought Tater into Melissa's life began when she saw the Beagle Freedom Project page on Facebook.

"We love beagles, and I decided to sign up to be a Beagle Freedom Project foster care provider," Melissa recalled.

"We don't know what tests were done, but he seems very healthy," she added.  "We realize he has a higher risk for things in the future.  We don't know what to expect because there is no way we can know what he was exposed to at the lab."

Asked what she likes about beagles, she said they make great pets.  They are docile and gentle.  They are just the right size and taking care of them is very easy.  She has no concerns about children playing with Buddy and Tater.

"Beagles go with the flow and are safe with children," Melissa commented.


First time on grass

Tater was extremely shy at first.  When he was ready to be taken home, a meeting was set up on Oct. 18 with the Twin Cities Beagle Freedom Project director of operations at a location in Inver Grove Heights.  Tater looked scared and was cowering in the back of a car.  Approaching slowly, Melissa started petting him.  Ben crawled in and petted and snuggled with Tater.  He was eventually led out of the car, and then he walked on grass for the first time in his life.

To help with his house training, Melissa took Tater to work for two weeks.  She said her bosses are very nice.  She works in the office at Craft Pattern in Montrose, which does foundry work and machining.

At home, Tater loves belly rubs.  Melissa said he likes new experiences, including opportunities to meet other dogs.

The arrival of snow on Nov. 10 was interesting.  Melissa said Tater did a careful "monster walk" down the driveway.  He then started running in the snow on the yard and loved it.  He ran in the snow all over the yard.

Melissa tries to take Tater along whenever she goes on a short trip so he can socialize.  He is still shy around people but has been getting much better.


Needs more attention

"It has been so much fun seeing his progress," Melissa said.

Meanwhile, Tater's tender paws have been getting tougher.  He never walked on the ground and on small rocks and things before leaving the lab.

Walking while on a leash is "a work in progress," Melissa said.

"It's like walking a cat," she explained.  "Sometimes he just stops and rests, and when he is ready, he resumes walking."

Her commitment as a Beagle Freedom Project foster care provider involves keeping a dog at least two or three weeks.  When a dog is ready for adoption, it is posted on the Beagle Freedom Project website.

Efforts are made to be certain that those adopting a dog understand where it came from and that it will likely need more attention than most dogs typically need.

The foster care provider shows the dog to those interested in adopting.  The foster care provider can provide recommendations on which prospective adoptee would be best for the dog.

While caring for a dog, foster care providers are invited to post updates and photos on a foster and adopter Facebook page.


Adopting a birth date

If Tater ends up being adopted by Melissa's former husband, she said Oct. 18, the day the young beagle was taken to Montrose, will likely be the day his birthday is celebrated.

"We know he is two years old, but we don't know his actual birth date, and the only other information we have about him is that he was given a rabies shot," Melissa said.

She mentioned that while in foster care, Tater's veterinary care is paid for by the Beagle Freedom Project.  His care has included the attachment of an identification microchip.


A new and different way

The once terribly shy beagle from a lab has undergone tremendous change.  He has experienced the joy of contact with others, playtime and going out for walks and runs.  He is constantly on the go, both inside and outside the house, as he explores his newfound freedom.

At two years old, he would normally have adjusted to life as a family pet long ago.  But until about a month ago, he never had a family.  He had known nothing but the inside of a cage and occasional contact with lab techs who knew him as AZP2.

Free from that life, he is just now learning about a new and different way.

He is learning how to be a dog.