A Review year in review - 2015

Another eventful year has passed in the Review area. Here is a recap of the stories that stood out.

1. District 622 levy referendum fails
Across the state, voters approved at least one operating levy request in 47 districts on Election Day, for a passage rate of 90 percent.
According to the Minnesota School Boards Association, only five districts came out on the other side, including the North St. Paul-Maplewood-Oakdale School District.
Despite a concerted campaign effort, well supported by new Superintendent Christine Osorio, the two-part levy referendum fell flat.
A total of 10,836 voters, representing about 23 percent of the 46,378 registered voters in the district, cast a ballot with nearly 60 percent voting against the two-part referendum.
Without the additional levy funding, district officials now have to evaluate where budget cuts for the 2016-17 school year will come from.
Question No. 1 sought an operating levy increase of $900 per student for maintaining class sizes, adding student support services and expanding college and career pathways for students.
The district currently receives about $913 per student in local, state and federal tax revenues.
Question No. 2, which was contingent upon the first question passing, would have equipped the district with $3 million in technology funding for bandwidth and infrastructure improvements, as well as increased safety and security measures.
While voters approved the continuation of an existing operating levy in 2011, District 622 has not seen an increased operating levy in well over a decade.

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2. Two new faces join Maplewood City Council
Tou Xiong and Bryan Smith won the Maplewood general election to serve as the city's two newest council members — beginning January 2016 — with 3,153 (30 percent) and 2,729 votes (26 percent), respectively. Incumbent council member and former mayor Bob Cardinal trailed closely behind Smith with 2,584 votes (24 percent) and former mayor Diana Longrie came in last with 2,053 votes (19 percent).
It was a historic election for Maplewood, as Xiong will serve as the city's first Hmong council member.
Mayor Nora Slawik says Maplewood will benefit from the diverse perspectives Xiong and Smith will bring to the table. The council will certainly be looking to Xiong for cultural insight as the city continues to work with its large Hmong population, she says.
Slawik highlighted their youth and professional backgrounds as additional assets.
"I think that the voters of Maplewood were ready for new, fresh voices," she told the Review.
Campaign finance records show the two largely outpaced their competitors, with Xiong raising $24,300 for the general election, nearly double the amount he raised for the primary. And Smith raising $3,121 for the general election, citing multiple endorsements from labor and business organizations representing a wide range of supporters.
Longrie and Cardinal, combined, raised roughly $3,000 for the general election. Xiong is an urban planning organizer for Harrison Neighborhood Association and a Maplewood resident of 12 years.
Smith is a marketing manager at Tennant Company who has lived in Maplewood for five years with his wife and 7-year-old son.

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3. 3M closed Tartan Park
The Dec. 18 closure of the 452-acre Tartan Park recreational area in Lake Elmo marked the end of an era.
3M had owned the scenic property since 1958 and first opened the golf course to its employees in 1963.
To help bring in more revenue 3M decided to expand the private golf course's admission to the public in 2012, but it appears the plan fell short of expectations.
3M spokesperson Lori Anderson had told the Review that Tartan was in need of expensive updates to its roadways, heating and cooling systems and the pumping stations used to irrigate the course.
Former park manager Dave Lonetti was there at the very beginning of Tartan Park. He was in the Men's Club and recalls that Tartan Park began as a nine-hole course. Lonetti says the old clubhouse was located in a "mansion" on property he recalls was owned by a guy by the name McNeely before it was passed to 3M and the 3M Club, which ran the park.
"I recall the Friday night fish fries we used to have," Lonetti said with enthusiasm. "The lines were more than half a mile long for one of the most popular events we used to put on."
The late John Leslie hired Lonetti; Leslie was a member of the 3M Club and served for many years as its director.
Tartan Park was funded and overseen by the Lake Elmo Foundation — made up of several 3M executives who were very much employee oriented. When the Lake Elmo Foundation disbanded, the Tartan Park facilities were taken over by 3M.
Lonetti remembers former 3M treasurer Dick Brust was "a very influential — near avid — supporter of the continuation of the 3M Club and the concept of Tartan Park as an essential aspect of employee relations."

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4. Tennin arrested in murder of Maplewood mother

Todd Larry Tennin, 31, was charged in Ramsey County District Court with second-degree murder for shooting his wife, April Tennin, 41, in the mouth.
Following the Aug. 23 incident, Tennin had fled the scene. He was arrested by the U.S. Marshals Service Great Lakes Fugitive Task Force on Sept. 3 without incident and held at the Lake County, Illinois Jail.
According to police reports, at 6 a.m. Sunday, Aug. 23, gunfire at the Trails Edge Townhomes in Maplewood claimed the life April Marie Tennin, a mother of three. All three children, ages 12, 15 and 16, were present in the home when she was shot.
"Preliminary information suggests there was an argument between the deceased woman and the adult male a short time before the shooting," police said.
Emergency responders declared her dead at the scene.
A search of public records shows Tennin's criminal history dates back to 2001, when he was convicted of second-degree felony assault.
According to a 2006 case record, Tennin was tried for domestic assault by strangulation, but the case was dismissed. Nearly six months later, he was convicted of malicious punishment of a child.
His other offenses include two fourth-degree DWIs and two accounts of disorderly conduct.

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5. NSP Veterans Park got finishing touches
After nearly four years of planning and months of construction, finishing touches for the new North St. Paul Veterans Memorial wrapped up for the Aug. 15 dedication ceremony.
The new park is located at the intersection of Highway 36 and Margaret Street across from North St. Paul High School. The ceremony started at 11 a.m., followed by a reception at the North St. Paul Legion.
Before Veterans Park, the site housed Central Park, which later became Cannon Park. Henry Castle, founder of North St. Paul and a Civil War veteran, had donated the land to the city in 1887.
In 2011, North St. Paul council member Terry Furlong, liaison to the Parks and Recreation Commission, took suggestions from World War II veteran Ellsworth Erickson and gauged interest among local veterans in creating a veterans park.
With $5,000 in seed money from the city and the support of local veterans service organizations —  including the American Legion Post 39, Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 1350 and the North High School Air Force Junior ROTC — a core volunteer group started planning and fundraising the following summer.
In 2014, the city secured $100,000 in bonding funds through the state Legislature to help construct the memorial. That same year, North St. Paul Veterans Park, Inc. acquired nonprofit status to ensure the memorial is well maintained in the future.
As of Aug. 5, the group had raised $134,456 through the sale of 690 individual pavers engraved with the names of veterans, 37 group pavers and five benches — all of which were included in the memorial.

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6. YMCA-MCC partnership approved
In May, the city of Maplewood announced it had entered into a new operational partnership with the YMCA, which has assumed responsibility for management of the Maplewood Community Center's aquatics programs, along with supporting overall marketing efforts.
"The YMCA has an impressive track record of creating powerful collaborative relationships with other cities, schools and community organizations and its expertise in aquatics, fitness and healthy living will help us better meet the needs of our residents," Parks and Recreation director DuWayne Konewko said in a press release.
Back when the MCC was built, it fit a nationwide trend of cities looking to provide residents with a place to gather, swim, exercise, take classes or go to a theatrical production. Over the years, however, Mayor Nora Slawik says the MCC fell victim to the same financial hardships that affected other city-owned community centers.
As outlined in the contract, the YMCA has agreed to a fee and revenue sharing plan that would allow the city to essentially break even on the partnership.
Through 2018, the city will pay the YMCA an annual fee of $157,500 for managing and operating the MCC aquatic center, along with $30,000 to manage the city's beach contracts and $70,150 for marketing and management services.
In turn, the city will retain all revenue generated from outdoor beach contracts and pool rentals, keep 25 percent of participant fee revenues collected from swimming lessons and receive an annual maintenance fee.
Reporting on the new partnership nearly four months in, Konewko said "the budget numbers are trending higher," largely thanks to the additional swimming lessons.
Initially, one executive position was cut to bring on a new YMCA program executive, Susannah Peterson. This may not be the last change in staffing, Konewko said.

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7. Zuleger severed ties with Lake Elmo council
The June 9 departure of former city administrator Dean Zuleger marked one of the more tumultuous moments of the Lake Elmo City Council's dysfunction in 2015.
His separation agreement brought the tally of Lake Elmo employees heading for the City Hall exits up to four, including former receptionist Stacy Bodsberg, taxpayer relations manager-communications coordinator Alyssa MacLeod, and assistant city administrator and city clerk Adam Bell.
At the council meeting, Zuleger said he appreciated the outpouring of support he had received from residents and the business community, but said it was time for the council to find someone else to take the reins as city administrator.
"Clearly, I have a philosophy of government that might not be in tune with [the current council]," he said, noting a "hostile work environment" created by the city council prompted his decision to move on.
Zuleger filed a confidential complaint last fall, alleging he was repeatedly abused and harassed by council member Anne Smith, whom he alleged created the hostile work environment for him and three other staff members — although no other staff member has publicly named Smith, or any other council member as bullying them.
Smith has denied all allegations of abuse and harassment leveled against her.
But the allegations and tensions inside council chambers run much deeper.
Even after interim city administrator Clark Schroeder was brought on board, the political theater continued — first a female council majority censure placed on council member Justin Bloyer, then a stiff warning issued by the League of Minnesota Cities Insurance Trust, and most recently the hiring of a parliamentarian to run the council meetings.

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8. Thorsen resigned, following council blowout
As North St. Paul council members discussed bar hours during a workshop March 3, Mayor Mike Kuehn and council member Scott Thorsen got into a heated argument.
According to various accounts, insults and threats flew across the room and down the hallway, as the two city officials made their way to the main floor lobby of City Hall, where city manager Jason Ziemer and city attorney Soren Mattick intervened.
Kuehn allegedly stood up from his chair and challenged Thorsen to take their argument outside and proceeded to make physical threats.
Kuehn recalled suggesting that they bring their altercation outside, but he said he never had any intention of taking it to a physical level with the 31-year-old firefighter.
"Sometimes anger provokes stupid comments. It wasn't one of my proudest moments. I take responsibility for it," Kuehn told the Review, following the incident.
Once both men had calmed down in the lobby, Thorsen says, he walked back upstairs and apologized to the rest of the council members, along with the residents and a bar owner and her young daughter, who were in attendance.
The mayor then followed suit, as they all had to prepare for the start of the city council meeting, which included a swearing-in ceremony for new police officers. Then council business proceeded as usual.
But Thorsen said he felt the incident had crossed a line, so he filed a police report, alleging the mayor made physical threats against him. He posed an ultimatum: that if Kuehn didn't step down, he would.
At the following council meeting, Thorsen read his resignation letter and walked out of council chambers. The council decided to proceed by interviewing candidates and appointing a replacement, rather than holding a formal election.
On June 3, the council voted to appoint Tom Sonnek, 48, to serve through the remainder of Thorsen's term, ending December 31, 2016.

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9. Oakdale Hy-Vee opened
The much-anticipated grand opening of the new Oakdale Hy-Vee store took place Sept. 22, the same day the retailer opened a new location in New Hope.
An aspect that sets Hy-Vee apart from other stores, store representatives said during a tour, is each store's ability to stock foods or brands local customers want — and even to lower prices.
The Oakdale store has the largest selection of homeopathic products of any of the retailer's 230-plus stores, and boasts over 6,000 natural and organic products, as well as over 1,200 produce items, Hy-Vee’s vice president of operations Jamie Franck said.
The supermarket is located at the site of the old Oakdale Mall, near the northwest corner of the Interstate 694 and Tenth Street North intersection.
The $26 million store opened with over 51,000 items in stock, and a total of 660 employees, 155 of them working full time.
The retail complex includes an express clinic, liquor store, pharmacy, full-service restaurant, convenience store and gas station. It also features in-store chefs, dietitians, cooking demonstration stations, a sushi bar, a pharmacy, bulk foods section, as well as postal and dry cleaning services.
Hy-Vee's Oakdale and New Hope stores mark the employee-owned company's entry into the competitive Twin Cities market. The Iowa-based company plans to open four or five stores per year in the metro over the next several years.
In an effort to keep pace with its competition, the Oakdale Cub Foods store decided to move into a larger space at the other end of Bergen Plaza, just across the street from the new, sprawling Hy-Vee complex. The large retail storefront has been empty since Kmart closed in September 2014.  

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10. Husband attempted to kill wife with hammer
An Oakdale man who attacked his wife with a hammer while she was sleeping pleaded guilty to attempted murder in Washington County District Court Aug. 17.
Prosecuting attorney Siv Yurichuk said it was a "straight plea," meaning there would be no sentencing agreement for 32-year-old Brian Thomas Henjum.
According to the criminal complaint, police arrived at the couple's Oakdale home shortly after 6 a.m., Oct. 2, 2014, on a report of an assault.
Officers arrived at the scene and spoke with Henjum's wife who told police she awoke to her husband hitting her in the head with a hammer.
Police reported significant lacerations and bruising on her head above her eyes and a blood trail throughout the home.
The woman, who was 32 at the time, ran outside looking for help. A woman out walking her dog that morning came to assist her, according to the complaint.
The victim then realized their three young children were still inside and she yelled for them to get out of the house, away from their father who had just attacked her, the complaint stated. Henjum was originally charged with second-degree assault, but the complaint against him was soon amended to a second-degree attempted murder charge after detectives listened to a 911 call where Henjum told emergency dispatch, "I tried to kill my wife."
He reportedly told police he was unhappy and did not want to spend the rest of his life with her and he "chose the wrong path to take and tried to hurt [her]."
Prior to this incident, he had a criminal history score of 0, meaning he has a clean criminal record with little-to-no criminal convictions.
Henjum was sentenced to 11 years in prison. He'll serve about seven years behind bars and, with good behavior, the remainder on supervised release.

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Compiled by Review staff

 

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