BULLETIN BOARD: Oakdale, Lake Elmo, Maplewood & Ramsey Co. Review - January 9, 2019

Maplewood’s month-long election


The entire Review coverage area saw its fair share of government turnover following last fall’s election — that is, except for Maplewood, which saw a bit more. 

The city received a couple extra servings of election upheaval — including ties, challenged ballots and revotes — that dragged out the decision. The Maplewood City Council wrapped up the November election at its Dec. 3 meeting.

“I want to commend you both,” said council member Kathleen Juenemann to incumbent city council candidate Mary Lee Abrams and council challenger, Nikki Villavicencio, whose campaigns ran a month long. “You’re up, you’re down — you’re down, you’re up ... It’s terrible.”

In the end, Abrams defeated Villavicencio by five votes — the final tally was 5,760 to 5,755. 


Oakdale council shakes up, but mayor stays


The Oakdale City Council had three of its four seats up for grabs this fall, and each will be filled by a new face. 

Challengers Colleen Swedberg and Susan Olson won the two available full-term seats, narrowly edging incumbent council member Mark Landis. Swedberg received more than 5,000 votes for 28 percent of the total tally. 

Olson earned 4,509 votes, winning the second seat by 72 votes and edging out Landis, who came up short with 4,437 votes. 

Rounding out the competitive four-way campaign was Dallas Pierson, who received 19 percent of the vote. 

The third open seat was for a partial term that ends in December 2020. Only Jake Ingebrightson ran for the seat, and he won it.

For mayor, Oakdale residents chose incumbent Mayor Paul Reinke over challenger and current council member Kevin Zabel. 

As for his staying power as mayor, Reinke — who racked up 63 percent of the vote — said he thinks it comes from “the good things happening and momentum” in the city. 



North St. Paul mayor retires after 11 years


The North St. Paul mayor’s office has been a place of consistency. The mayor before last held the gavel for 30 years.

Former Mayor Mike Kuehn was first elected 11 years ago after serving on the city council for 17 years. Rounding out nearly 30 years of North St. Paul public service, Kuehn retired from City Hall at the end of 2018.

Projects Kuehn said he was particularly proud of were housing initiatives, including the construction of Polar Ridge Senior Living on Helen Street, which provides housing for people looking to downsize from their single-family homes. Recently, Kuehn and city officials broke ground an a 32-unit assisted living facility on 13th Avenue. 

Council member Terry Furlong ran unopposed for mayor last fall and won.


Maplewood mosque vandalized in possible hate crime


Two young men were caught on security footage as they vandalized a Maplewood mosque around 1:30 a.m. on July 29.

The youth spray painted three outside walls of the Islamic Institute of Minnesota Al-Salam Mosque with two drawings of male genitalia and a cross. They also spray painted text reading “Jesus saves,” “F—k 69” and “666,” which is a reference to the devil.  

“This type of crime is unacceptable and has no place in Maplewood,” said Maplewood Public Safety Director Scott Nadeau in a statement.


North St. Paul woman witnesses 103 years of local history


Josephine Zeug, who is likely the oldest person in North St. Paul, celebrated her 103rd birthday with cake and ice cream at home with her two sons and her granddaughter on Jan. 20, 2018.

So far in her lifetime, Zeug has experienced many life-changing advances in technology and watched North St. Paul transform from farmland to a first-ring suburb.

“She grew flowers everywhere all around the house, in the front and in the back,” Zeug’s son, John Zeug, remembered of his childhood. 

“She spent a majority of her time in the garden every day,” he added, explaining how she got the affectionate nickname, “Flower Lady.”




Home constructed for homeless women veterans


“You use phrases like ‘You should thank a veteran,’ or maybe, ‘Support the troops’ and ‘We’re a veteran-friendly organization,’ and those are great phrases, and as a veteran myself, I really feel good about hearing things like that,” said Jon Lovald, operations officer for the Minnesota Assistance Council for Veterans. 

“What those words will do for me, that doesn’t help a homeless veteran. What the homeless veteran needs is action.”

That action, created through a partnership between MACV, Builders Association of the Twin Cities-Housing First Minnesota Foundation/HomeAid Twin Cities, and others, resulted in a new home constructed on an empty lot in Maplewood to provide transitional housing for five homeless women veterans. A ribbon-cutting celebration was held Oct. 4.

The house, which had been under construction since May, is located in the 2600 block of East Fifth Street, and will be owned and operated by MACV, a nonprofit organization that provides assistance to veterans and their families who are experiencing life crises.


Minnesota sex trafficking org with Oakdale, Maplewood branches, shutdown 


Concluding investigations of an international sex trafficking organization’s Minnesota branch that started in 2016, the final defendant was sentenced to 12 years in Washington County District Court Nov. 8. 

According to a joint Ramsey County and Washington County press release — both worked on the case — a judge ordered Sophia Wang Navas to spend 12 years in prison for her role in the California-based sex trafficking ring with Minnesota ties, including operations in Oakdale and Maplewood. Navas was also ordered to pay a fine of $8,500.

“This brings to a close a significant joint effort between the Ramsey and Washington County Attorney’s offices to curtail the trafficking of human beings in our region,” said Ramsey County Attorney John Choi. “The victims in this case were especially vulnerable, as they were trapped in a foreign country where they barely spoke the language and were sold for sex.”


North St. Paul police assist in underage sex sting


Undercover police investigations proved fruitful when, between July 25 and Aug. 1, the Ramsey County Attorney’s Office brought charges against 19 men who showed up to an undercover apartment in North St. Paul with the alleged intentions of having sex with minors. 

All 19 men, who reside in cities throughout the metro area, were discovered during a sting conducted Jan. 25 to 29 by members of the Minnesota Human Trafficking Investigators Task Force, the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension and the North St. Paul Police Department.

In most instances, according to court documents, undercover police officers made posts on dating apps or websites, posing as a young male or female. 


Semitrailer driver charged after causing fatal accident


A semitrailer driver was charged with criminal vehicular homicide Feb. 28, following a fatal crash that happened the day before on Highway 36 in Lake Elmo. The roads were dry at the time of the crash.

Robert Bursik, a 54-year-old resident of Amery, Wisconsin, stopped his Toyota Scion for a red light at the intersection of Highway 36 and Lake Elmo Avenue just after noon on Feb. 27. His vehicle was in one of the eastbound lanes of Highway 36 when a Freightliner semitrailer, driven by Samuel Hicks, crashed into it, killing Bursik, according to the Minnesota State Patrol.

Hicks, a 28-year-old resident of Independence, Wisconsin, was treated by medics on the scene, but did not need to go to a hospital. 

Authorities say texting while driving is allegedly to blame. Hicks pleaded not guilty to the charge in October.


Police find aspiring Oakdale business owner’s prostitution connections


A potential Oakdale massage parlor was denied licensure June 26 by the city council after, at a previous meeting, Police Chief Bill Sullivan reported that the applicant, Lisa Liu Ramos, and several of those she planned to employ, had connections to prostitution. 

The massage therapy premises license would have allowed Ramos to operate a business, Sunrise Massage Therapy, at 1237 Geneva Ave.

“In fact, Ms. Ramos intends to employ Li Yang, the previous Geneva Spa business applicant, as well as a number of former massage therapists of Geneva Spa, each of whom have a history of employment with businesses identified as providing illegal sex acts and engaging in prostitution,” Sullivan said, adding that Ramos, herself, also has connections with massage parlors allegedly providing such illegal services.


Cheerleading returns to North, and Oakdale cheerleading squad wins national championship


The beginning of another school year brings new school supplies, new classes and new schedules, and sometimes, a new cheerleading team.

In the fall of 2018, North High School football games were brimming with school spirit as the first fall-season cheerleading team in 18 years made its debut.

Head cheerleading coach Jill Schoneberger, a former North cheerleader herself with 14 years of coaching experience, explained that 2000 was the last year a cheer program was offered at the high school, until student Autumn Tuhy started a petition in June 2017 to bring the sport back.

Schoneberger noted that the crowd at the first game of the season on Aug. 30 seemed quite surprised when the cheerleaders whipped out “a wicked routine,” complete with stunts. 

“I didn’t expect the crowd to react the way they did,” she said.

Out of Oakdale, cheerleading squad Lightning won the Recreation Level Three Division All Star Cheer Competition National Championship, which was held in April in Indianapolis, Indiana.

The squad is made up of 14 cheerleaders aged 10 to 18, including residents of Oakdale, Lake Elmo and North St. Paul, among other cities in the metro area.

“This group of girls worked really hard,” said Carla Ekwall, the head coach and owner of Cheer Xtreme, which organized the team. She added the team scored 94.86 out of 100 with its April 7 performance at the national championship.

Cheerleader Ashlynn Ackfeld, a 16-year-old from Lake Elmo, said her favorite part of Lightning’s routine last year was the pyramid — she was in the top center of it.


—Solomon Gustavo

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