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"After all these years, still doing a great job!!" -Ron Hermanson
There's a new sheriff in town – and assemblywoman
By Lynda Berg Olds
It has been a busy time in Polk County and across the great State of Wisconsin. Some officials are retiring, some are being sworn-in. Sheriff Pete Johnson stepped down last Friday, eight years and one day after being sworn in (in 2011). Then, on Saturday, Gae Magnafici's In-District Ceremonial Inauguration took place at the Polk County Justice Center. On Monday, Sheriff Brent Waak was sworn-in by Judge Jeffrey Anderson in his Branch II courtroom. Finally, on Tuesday, Joan Ritten was sworn-in as Clerk of Circuit Court, also by the Honorable Judge Anderson.
There was a really nice turnout at Sheriff Johnson's retirement bash on Friday, with a creative and fun fishing décor. And cake. Lots of cake. Johnson turned the responsibility of the weekend over to Waak. He was all done at the county with a weekend off before assuming his new job as an attorney in a Princeton, Minn. Practice.
Waak was ready to pick up the reins and his swearing-in was both solemn and sincere. Surrounded by family he approached the courtroom, amid dozens of well wishers. Indeed, after the official “Swearing on the Bible,” Judge Anderson asked if anyone else present wanted to share some pearls of wisdom with him. And so they did, beginning with Judge Anderson, followed by his campaign manager, father-in-law and the Honorable Judge Daniel Tolan.
Each individual spoke rather eloquently to Waak's character and wished him well – and then there was a reception – with cake.
Prior to Sheriff Waak's formal proceedings though, were 28th District Assemblywoman's Gae Magnafici's.
There was a tremendous turnout for this Saturday afternoon gala affair, which was presided over by Master of Ceremonies Alan Walker, Chairman of the Polk County Republican Party. The Pledge of Allegiance was led by Gae's husband Tom and the inspired Invocation was by Reverend Richard Hutchinson.
At that time still Sheriff-elect Brent Waak, spoke, giving some great “remarks,” which were followed by more “remarks” by Tom Magnafici. Those remarks left a little something in many of the attendee's eyes.
Same with Gae herself, who knocked on 10,000 doors and walked in 16 parades. Oh, and there was more cake.
The following was submitted after the uber-official pomp and circumstance in Madison:
Representative Gae Magnafici (R-Dresser) was sworn in as the state representative for Wisconsin’s 28th Assembly District this afternoon as the state Assembly convened to begin its 104th session. Rep. Magnafici joins the Assembly with 35 years experience as a nurse and a current small business owner. She and her husband, Tom, currently reside just outside of Dresser.
“I am both excited and proud to get to work here in Madison and make positive changes for my constituents back home,” said Rep. Magnafici. “Healthcare and the economy are two issues that affect everyone, and my experience as a nurse and small business owner will bring an invaluable perspective to our already strong Republican caucus.”
Rep. Magnafici will serve as the Vice-Chair of the Assembly Committee on Substance Abuse and Prevention, as well as serve as a member of the Assembly Committees on Aging and Long Term Care, Constitution and Ethics, Health, Jobs and the Economy, Mental Health, and Tourism.
To find more information on Polk County's Representative visit legis.wisconsin.gov/assembly/28/magnafici.
Many of those who attended Magnafici's inauguration on Saturday also attended the grand re-opening of what used to be Crickets and is now Brow Tine in Apple River.
January 10, 2019
“Rock solid” - distinguished career honored
By Lynda Berg Olds
Right out of the gate at Tuesday's meeting of the Polk County Board of Supervisors, County Clerk Sharon Jorgenson shared a heartfelt message on behalf of the clerk's office and the county. The subject: Interim County Administrator and longtime Corporation Counsel... the inimitable Jeff Fuge, who officially retires in early March.
“I want to extend heartfelt gratitude to Mr. Fuge for his exemplary survice to Polk County. His tireless efforts and willingness to go above and beyond the call of duty to serve the County well are appreciated and have not gone unnoticed.”
Jorgenson provided a brief summary of Fuge's career with Polk County, which began in 1998 as Assistant Corporation Counsel. By 2004, he was the top man on that totem pole as Corporation Counsel. With the advents of former County Administrator Dana Frey's sudden retirement, Fuge took on the leadership role of Interim County Administrator. As Jorgenson said, this presented a new learning curve and many challenges “that he willingly took on as of March 2018.”
“Mr. Fuge has been and continues to be an outstanding ambassador representing Polk County in a positive manner at functions and meetings during and after work hours.
“His ethics and integrity have been rock solid throughout his tenure and he endeavored to do the best job he could at all times,” Jorgenson continued.
“On behalf of the County Clerk’s office, we thank you for your willingness to assist us with a wide array of questions. You provided valuable advice and assistance in many areas. Our office appreciated your sincere honesty and forthrightness even if it meant telling us an agenda was a debacle, minutes needed rewording, or questioning whether I had sarcasm cereal for breakfast.”
Jorgensen then presented Fuge with a very special momento, a rock, hand-painted with a King Salmon (or possibly a large rainbow trout?) jumping out of the water (ostensibly onto Fuge's hook as he is an avid fly-fisherman – and duck hunter...with his trusty dog).
“I would like to present you with a memento from the Clerk’s office,” she said. “The item I selected to give you is a simple rock. But what makes the rock special is the scene hand-painted on it by Keighley James who works in the Treasurer’s office. Keighley is an amazing artist who painted an amazing scene on the rock for an amazing person.
“You may wonder why I chose a rock. A rock is a multi-purpose item. It can serve as a paper weight, door stop, room décor, or possibly even a weapon. But more importantly this rock represents the solid character of Mr. Fuge.
“His rock solid dedication and commitment were evident as he maneuvered the steep learning curve and transition to Interim County Administrator which was rocky at times and filled with challenges.
“His rock solid patience was tried repeatedly throughout his career by a plethora of constituents, employees, and County Board Supervisors alike.
“His rock solid endurance was evident as he toiled long hours.
“His rock solid integrity and ethics were always foremost throughout his career and evident in his daily life.
“His rock solid character, inner drive, and dependability are a firm foundation of qualities that he applied in his work.
“In March, he will move to new uncharted waters. This rock serves as a reminder that you will experience continued success by exhibiting the rock solid character traits in your new endeavors.
“Best wishes to you and thanks so much Mr. Jeff Fuge for everything!”
Those words were a tough act to follow, but several other staff members of the Clerk's Office lent their voices to sing Fuge's praises. Some of them included Stephanie Sansler, Lisa Ross and recently retired Marilyn Blake who also spoke for Carole Wondra. Later, Deputy Administrator and Employee Relations Director Andrea Jerrick – and Supervisor Chris Nelson also expressed their gratitude for Fuge's guidance and bid him a fond fare-thee-well.
After more than two decades of earnest and exceptional service to Polk County, Fuge's illustriousness, distinctive visage (and sometimes caustic wit), will indeed be sorely missed.
February 21, 2019
Snow days strike a nerve
By Lynda Berg Olds
Chief among several items on the Luck School Board's agenda Monday night was discussion/approval of make up days for all the school closures. Superintendent Cory Hinkel began the conversation:
“We have six days that we canceled, three late starts and one early release. At this point we have to make up two days. Two of the days could be this week but it is just too short of notice for parents. The next two are the 21st and 22nd of March, where we have half of our high school gone on a music trip for those days (to Disney World!).
“April 18, 19 and 22 is our Easter break and those days are up for a possibility. June 5th is the last day of school, which is currently scheduled as a half day. And June 6 is already scheduled as a teacher in-service day, so then June 7 and 10 would be possible make-up days for in-service days.”
Clearly there are many factors to take into account. Hinkel noted that past practice has been to “forgive” two work days for educators – and left it up to the school board members to either continue that practice or not. He said teachers worked one of six days, so then they would need three more days – and two of those need to be with students for DPI hours.
“We would still need a half-day of in-service for the teachers and what I propose is for us to allow the principals to utilize before or after school time and get some of that curriculum work laid out and get some ground work done.”
The other option Hinkel provided is taking April 18, which is an in-service day and making that a full day with students, as well as having April 22 be a full day with students. Teachers would still have to make up 7.5 in-service hours at the discretion of the teachers.
“The problem is we are only in the end of February and March is usually one of our snowiest months...we could make June 5 a full day and June 6 a half-day and keep adding on.”
Hinkel didn't want the school year to go on too long in June as Summer School is due to start on June 11.
School Board President Jacob Jensen stated, “I would say with certainty that we are going to have another day.”
Hinkel responded, “So do you want to add them all right away?”
Jensen indicated he would rather add minutes to the school day then go any farther into the month of June.
“Schools that add minutes though – their start time is 8:30 a.m. and their end might be 3 p.m.,” Hinkel observed. “We already go from 8 a.m. to 3:25 p.m. We have one of the longest days. We are in good shape that way, but we can always add more, I'm not saying you can't. We have to look at high school, which has the most minutes.”
Suddenly the room (more or less) erupted, with everyone talking at once.
Jensen persisted and asked if school could start at 7:55 a.m. and end at 3:30 p.m.
“Ten minutes a day does add hours,” conceded Hinkel. “The problem is everybody looks at this with blinders on as to how it affects them...that's why I want to bring it to you guys.”
School Board member Rick Palmer queried, “Other than running into summer school, what is the negative about adding on days at the end of the school year?”
School Board member Todd Roehm replied, “From a family perspective, I would say...”
Palmer's rebuttal was, “But we are affecting other people's plans if we start taking days away too.”
“I think no matter where you go – it goes back to affecting me.” Roehm said. “You don't affect me one bit doing the 21st and 22nd (of March). I'm going to work and my kids are going to be sitting at home or in day care. But if you go to the 9th (of June) affecting me – or the 7th or whatever - into June, that's when we already have plans. No matter how you do this, somebody is not going to like it.”
Again with the cacophony of sound as everyone started talking at once again, a bit more loudly.
“And Jake is right,” Roehm went on, 'you can't think that we are done with canceled days, so the sooner you start to use them, the better off we are, because we can't go back.”
Roehm also stated that what he hears from the public about adding a few minutes to a school day – is that it is a “complete joke.”
“Are you really, at the end of the day accomplishing what the mission is – if you add three minutes? Does the kid really get three more minutes of education? Did we help that kid at all? I don't think there is any value in it.”
Jensen opined that there isn't much difference with adding days at the end of school.
“When you add days on at the end, when the landing gear is set, and we are already coming in for a landing...we are going to get three more days of movies. What good is that going to do anybody?”
The matter obviously had to be decided upon, and this is what the board decided, as summarized by Superintendent Hinkel:
“Students will report April 18 and April 22 to make up the required Department of Public Instruction required hours. If another snow day or days occur before March 15, then the days will be made up March 21 and 22 respectively. The last day of school is June 5, which is currently a 1/2 day. If any more delays/early releases occur, this will become a full day. If we have snow days after March 15, the make up days will be added to the end of the school year.
“Teachers will have in-service scheduled by the principals to make up the time before or after school. In the event of any more snow days, teachers may be expected to come in on any future days.”
The Ledger asked Hinkel if he thought this was the best option and he responded in the affirmative:
“I do believe this is the best option with summer school starting June 11. At this point, all days need to be looked at and we are getting valuable educational time as was stated in the meeting rather than adding five minutes on the end of the day and figuring how that fits in the schedule.”
The plan for Unity does utilize adding five minutes to the school day – adding five minutes to the elementary school day at the end of the day, from 3:30 p.m. to 3:35 p.m. For the middle and high school, three minutes get added at the start of the day and two minutes gets added at the end of the day, so they get out at 3:37 p.m. instead of 3:35 p.m.
But that is not all of course. There are full and partial day changes. The Ledger communicated with Unity Superintendent Brandon Robinson, who said May 24 (graduation day) changes from an early release to a full day of school; June 6 changes from a staff in-service to a full day of school; and June 7 remains a staff in-service, but may change if additional inclement weather days occur. In the event another day occurs, this day would be an early release day with students being dismissed at 12:30 p.m.
Editor's note: This change has, in fact, occurred already, due to the late start on Monday.
February 28, 2019
“Top Secret Mission” for snow days
By Lynda Berg Olds
Members of the Unity School Board zipped through a considerable amount of business Tuesday night, which was necessitated by the cancellation of the February meeting due to inclement weather.
Superintendent Brandon Robinson addressed the weather issues in his District Administrator's report.
“Weather has caused some calendar changes for us this year, the first of which is the May 24 graduation will be a full day. We will also have school on June 6 and 7 and our plan is to get out early on June 7.”
Robinson said he would be communicating with parents regarding the changes.
“In addition, we have added some minutes to the school day for the remainder of the year to adjust accordingly for the instructional hours.”
School Board President Deb Peterson shared that in the southern part of the State, they are utilizing virtual school.
“Some of the people I have talked to said they are doing it, but they don't know if the DPI (Department of Public Instruction) will approve it – and they also don't know how they will track it.”
Robinson observed that the DPI came out with a little bit of guidance about two weeks ago regarding virtual schooling.
“Our administrative team worked on this a couple weeks ago and we now have plans in place so if we have to cancel school again we can do a virtual learning day. So that we don't have to push further out into the summer.”
School Board member Sheryl Holmgren advised that the elementary students were sent home with two big manila envelopes – one for the first snow day that may be coming up and one for another.”
The envelopes are labeled “Top Secret Mission.”
Holmgren noted the kids are not supposed to open them until the snow day. Robinson added they can't open the envelopes until they get the “password.”
The board members all thought this was clever and great fun. Robinson continued:
“At the middle and high school levels, of course they have the devices that we have given them – as the school district provides iPads for the students, so their learning day will be a little bit different. They will be doing some things online and some things they will be able to download ahead of time.”
Robinson said a lot of preparation has gone into identifying what standards they want kids to work on – remotely – at home; and what they want the kids to learn on a specific day.
“We appreciate what the administrative team and the teachers have done to pull that together. I think everybody wants to be done early enough in June, but we also want to make sure those days are high quality days of learning for students. There are some really neat activities, we just want to make sure they keep those envelopes closed until then.”
Robinson went on to say that they wanted to make sure there is student choice involved with activities they can choose on a given (snow) day.
“We didn't want kids to be at home and not have the resources, tools or crafts to complete a project. There might be a grid of nine or 12 things kids can choose from and each one is based on a different subject area or a different concept. That's what is really innovative I think about our approach, which is that when kids do have that opportunity – and hopefully they won't and we won't have any more snow days this year, but if they were to have that opportunity, there is going to be a lot of choice involved. So kids can eagerly engage in the process and not feel like they are doing homework – but rather that they are really learning and exploring.”
Unity's' physical education classes have taken advantage of the snow - enjoying snowshoeing and cross-country skiing, while science classes have been learning animal tracking in the snow.
On another note, there were six drafts of the school calendar for the 2019-2020 school year before it was finally submitted for approval. With this year's unprecedented snow days, the calendar fell under greater scrutiny than usual. Finally, most everyone was satisfied, with compromises and concessions for all. The new calendar will soon be published on the “World Wide Web,” which celebrated its 30th birthday on Tuesday.
March 14, 2019
Strong solidarity to “Save Calm Dam”
By Lynda Berg Olds
The county boardroom was bursting at the seams Tuesday night as Clam Falls residents and neighbors flocked together in solidarity to save the Clam Falls Dam. Northwestern Wisconsin Electric's Dave Dahlberg was on the Polk County Board of Supervisors agenda to present a proposal to transfer the Clam Falls Dam's ownership to Polk County. The presentation was preceded by several passionate public comments. Some excerpts follow:
Tom Broody, of New World Energy, spoke first.
“We would like to see the dam be saved – and to do that we are willing to donate $650,000 as an endowment to keep the dam maintained by (Polk) the county. It is not large enough to be a viable energy producer. However, we are dam people and we think it is important for it to stay there for the community to enjoy as it has been a part of the community for many years.”
Broody said for this to happen, there is a three-question matrix, the first of which is, “Will the county accept ownership of the dam if the DNR allows - and a study can be done by an engineering firm that proves the stability of the dam can accept the 500-year flood over-topping it;
“And then, if that is possible, if that is a 'yes' to that question, then will the DNR grant an exception to allow this dam to stay in place.”
Broody stressed that if the answer to any part of the three-part question is 'no,' then the dam will be torn out. If all three answers are 'yes,' the county would end up with ownership of the dam – and an endowment of $650,000 to maintain the dam in perpetuity. He also noted that there is a website called, “Save Clam Falls Flowage” where supervisors (or anyone else) can find further information – and can add their names to the petition, which had been signed by 367 individuals as of Monday.
Many of the public comments pointed to the economic impact of the dam, saying without it, there would be no Clam Falls community.
Tamara Larson was one of the speakers and she spoke as both an officer (she is Chief in Frederic) and as a wildlife rehabber.
“First of all, as a police officer, I was thinking in terms of safety for Clam Falls. Clam Falls has the only dry hydrant around. If we take out the lake and it is the middle of winter and everything is frozen, we will not get water to save our farms and homes if there is a fire – so that is my big concern...if the fire department can't get water, be it Frederic or Lorain – that is a big concern we have.
“Also, because I do wildlife rescue, I'm thinking of the wildlife. Maybe most of you all know that Clam Falls has the biggest clam population in Wisconsin. If you take out that lake and wreck that river, Clam Falls is not going to have the clams that we do in that river. The DNR is currently doing a study as clams are endangered in Wisconsin – and actually, if you read the rules, you can't take clams out of the river as they are so endangered.”
Truly passionate, Larson continued:
“The loons, loons are very territorial and we have a pair of loons on that lake. You take that lake out and you have killed that loon family. And all the wildlife that I rehab, like swans, ducks, everything – I bring down to that lake and release to our whole community, to the State of Wisconsin. You take out that lake and I don't have a lake to rehab the wildlife there.
“Also, I did some research, and talked to Parks and Recreation here in the county and I found out that the Kennedy Dam, you had a FEMA project that actually took over the expense it cost you for the Kennedy Dam. Otherwise, there have not been a lot of repairs on the Kennedy Dam until now, 2019, you are going to take on quite a bit of repair – it is going to be about $100,000. And Atlas Dam hasn't been repaired since 1995 when you spent $192,000 – and you haven't spent any money on that dam since then, except you do mowing and clean up the park and that kind of thing. So if you look at from 1995 to 2018, that dam did not cost you a lot of money.”
Larson had done her homework indeed. She looked up water grants and said there are a whole bunch if the county needs money down the road to maintain the dam after the $650,000 is used up.
“Basically, I am asking you to save our people - and to save our animals – and save Clam Falls.”
There were many more examples, with historical significance, generations of family, campgrounds that thrive, kids fishing with grandpa, etc., imploring the board not to take away their way of life. And when the public comments time was up, which was limited to 30 minutes (three minutes each), Board Chair Dean Johansen told the large crowd dressed in orange for solidarity, “You can be assured that we will address the situation, but we will be taking no action tonight.” He also commented that most decisions are originally being made at the committee level.
Next up was Dahlberg, who provided some more history. He said the dam was built in the time period of 1914-1915.
“It was built for the purpose of generating power...but the decision was made by Northwestern Electric in 1987 that it was too expensive to repair the turbine or the generator, so we haven't used the dam for energy since the 1980s.”
Dahlberg said the DNR has three hazard ratings for dams – low, significant and high. Clam Dam is rated as a significant hazard. He said the clock is ticking to make repairs as the DNR gave Northwestern Electric five years to have the dam be able to pass the 500-year flood benchmark in 2017.
“Modifications have to be made to increase the spillway capacity so that it can pass what they call the 1000-year flood and don't ask me what that means – it is a lot of water.”
Dahlberg said the cost of repairs to bring the dam completely up to that high standard would be between $1.3 and $1.5 million.
“However, there is a tiny little clause in the rules that says you can get an exception to the hazard rating requirements if you can show that the dam can be over-topped safely without failing. And we know from experience that the dam has over-topped at least twice.” [Most recently on July 10 of 2000.]
So a study needs to be done, which will cost $46,800 to have Ayers do it. The ball is in the county's court now to decide whether or not they will accept the undertaking and they will likely be asked to commit one-third of the funding for the study. It is also worth noting that for the past several years it has only cost about $8,000 annually to maintain the dam.
March 21, 2019