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"After all these years, still doing a great job!!" -Ron Hermanson
Local woman now missing for 10 years
T.A. Doughty-St. Hilaire
Many readers might remember 10 years ago when local woman, Rose Marie Bly went missing.
Bly was last seen at 7:30 p.m. Aug. 21, 2009 when she left her home on the 2300 block of River Road in St. Croix Falls. She left to meet her cousin at a local bar in Cushing.
Bly was driving a 2001 Pontiac Grand Am. Some time later that night she had called her husband to let him know that she would be home by midnight. However, Bly never arrived in Cushing, and has never been heard from again.
Five days after Bly vanished, her car was found abandoned in a parking lot in Grantsburg near the post office that was often used by truck drivers to park their tractor trailers. The car was not damaged. There were no signs of foul play and the keys were missing.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) issued a Violent Criminal Apprehension Program (ViCAP) Alert for Bly. The Alerts are used for certain missing or unidentified persons in whose cases foul play is suspected. Bly, 21 at the time of her disappearance, was classified as a missing/endangered person.
At the time of her disappearance Bly was 5'0”, 110 pounds. Her hair was light brown and she had brown eyes. Bly also had a tattoo of two cherries on the outside of her right ankle.
Ten years after Bly's disappearance law enforcement is no closer to solving the mystery of what happened to Rose Marie Bly. They may have parties of interest, but no solid evidence to dictate the direction of the investigation.
Bly's husband filed for divorce three weeks after her disappearance. He also sought a court order to prevent her from returning and taking the children. The couple had married in 2009. Their relationship was said to be troubled. Police were called to their home at least once for a domestic violence incident. Bly's husband accused her of slapping him, she accused him of putting her in a headlock and banging her head to the ground. In June 2009, her husband had filed for divorce, but withdrew the filing after they reconciled.
Bly's husband took a polygraph test and wasn't considered a suspect. His divorce petition was granted and he was granted sole custody of their two daughters.
A week before Bly's disappearance, her mother noted that she had fallen off a horse. She reportedly told her mother that she was having headaches after the incident. Her mother had advised her to see a doctor, but there is no evidence that she ever did. Bly's mother speculated that her daughter became disoriented due to her injury and wandered away. However, there is no evidence to support this theory.
Right now, there is no telling what exactly happened to Rose Marie Bly. If she had met with an accident, she would likely have been found by now. Might she have been abducted, there is no way at this point of saying for certain.
Anyone with information is asked to contact the Polk County Sheriff's Department at 715-485-8300 or call into the FBI tip line at 1-800-CALL-FBI or into your local FBI office.
August 22, 2019
Civic auditorium deal is one step closer
T.A. Doughty-St. Hilaire
The saga of the Civic Auditorium is one that has lingered on for well over 10 years, and for all involved it has taken some intestinal fortitude to persevere.
Construction of the Civic Auditorium began in 1916 and concluded in 1917. Local residents watched their first silent film there.
In its time since it has served many purposes all the way from the Red Cross using it to wrap bandages as a part of the war effort to a movie theater, and even as a theatre for plays.
There has been a great deal of animosity in regards to the Civic Auditorium. There was a plan over 10 years ago to use the money collected from the TID (tax increment district) for restoration, and at one time expansion of the building.
There are those volunteers that have given blood, sweat, tears and time to keep the project on track. They, however, met their match with a previous incarnation of the city council who had an openly hostile attitude towards the project.
At one point, the project was all but closed down. The city council instructed that the Centennial Committee who was charged with fundraising for the project to disband. And that would have appeared to been that.
However, those volunteers that had spent years donating their time energy and in some cases money to the project, were not about to give up so easily.
Prior to the current council being seated, a vote regarding the future of the Auditorium was taken with one seat being vacant, in a hurry up and get it done measure.
This matter was brought up again by the new council who questioned the fairness of the decision made by the outgoing council. The matter was brought up again and the council voted in a show of support for the project.
On Monday night, the saga continued at the St. Croix Falls City Council meeting. A few people spoke about the project, one of them was Rick Anderson who has purchased several buildings downtown including the Clayton Hardware Building, the old bank that housed the Inter County Publishing co-op office, and the yellow building that used to house In August.
“I would really like to see the agreement before it is voted on,” stated Anderson, adding that the city had been part of a realty agreement, and that $6 million dollars for said project as “ridiculous.”
Anderson also asked what business owners there were that supported the project and asked why he never saw them at any of the city council meetings that he has been attending religiously for the last year and a half.
One of those business owners who Anderson claims he never sees was at Monday night's meeting and has spoken several times in support of the project.
Leif Bjornson is co-owner of Luhrs/Bjornson Artworks, located on main street in St. Croix Falls for the last 34 years.
“We will have been here 34 years next month,” noted Bjornson. “The downtown just lost another business, Treasure Alley is moving to Osceola because they are investing in their downtown.”
Bjornson went on to note how Music on the Overlook events really bring a lot of people into the downtown and pointed out the value of making targeted investments.
The agenda for Monday night's meeting included a closed session during which a Letter of Intent as well as a triple net lease was discussed.
While both items were approved, they are at this time non-binding.
The Letter of Intent reads, in part, as follows:
This non-binding letter of intent outlines the basic terms and conditions upon which the City of St. Croix Falls is willing to partner with the Friends of the Civic Auditorium (FCA), other parties may include the St. Croix Falls Community Development Authority (CDA)...
The obligation of the parties to complete the transactions described in this letter of intent is subject to the preparation and execution of a definitive triple net lease and/or development and operations agreement, satisfactory in form and substance to the parties...
The transaction being proposed pursuant to the terms of this letter of intent is expressly subject to the negotiation, execution, and delivery of the agreement...
...Parties intend to renovate the Civic Auditorium using available CDA funds...
...The FCA will lead project development including construction redesign, bidding costs and overall project management. They will present plans to the council which will be subject to approval...
The FCA and the City will agree on a project plan setting forth a detailed construction design model, cost of construction and allocation of funding, and a timeline for completion...
...In order to successfully fund the project, the City is to provide information regarding the exact amount of funds available for the project so the renovation project plan can be redesigned to fit within those funding parameters.
The triple net lease that is currently being considered would become active when the project nears (substantial) completion. The lease term will be renewable as long as both parties agree and the terms of the lease are being met. Each lease term is slated to last 10 years. The terms of the lease shall be reviewed by the parties in years two and five of the lease and modified if needed.
Rent will be $1 a year in exchange for operating and maintaining restrooms that will be open to the public from 6 a.m.-12 a.m. seven days a week, subject to seasonality.
An annual Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILOT) will be paid by the FCA based on a pro forma schedule, Year #1 - $1,000, Year #2 - $3,000, Years 3-10 - $5,000.
The FCA will be responsible for any repairs and maintenance including the roof, HVAC, plumbing and electrical systems, snow removal, janitorial expenses, etc.
The FCA will also be billed directly for all their utility costs.
The FCA will also be required to furnish a proposed operating budget and operation plan.
A reserve fund will also be required for operations and maintenance.
The City will require ongoing reporting and record keeping including an annual business and financial report to the city.
The FCA will also be required to carry their own general liability, property insurance and workers compensation insurance.
These are just some of the highlights of the Letter of Intent and proposed triple net lease.
They are currently non-binding, but the plan is to combine these two documents into a final agreement and move the project forward in the very near future.
August 29, 2019
Request from Wal-mart again denied by council
T.A. Doughty-St. Hilaire
At the St. Croix Falls City Council meeting on Monday night, the request from Wal-mart to be able to include alcohol sales through their grocery pickup program was again denied.
Grant Sjoberg the current manager of Wal-mart in St. Croix Falls, was present to again discuss the matter.
Wal-mart has a curbside service that it currently provides. Customers make their order online via computer or smart phone. From their Wal-mart staff gather the items in the order, and they are available for pickup curbside.
Sjoberg was questioned at length regarding the training employees receive and the safeguards that are in place to assure that customers don't abuse the privilege.
Sjoberg noted that he has worked at 14 different stores over the last 32 years and have had zero issues with customers taking advantage of picking up alcohol with their grocery purchase. The store was also recently audited/tested for compliance at a higher level and received 100 percent.
The request to amend is an item of old business. A year ago the store had come forward with the request and was denied. This latest request to amend their Class A liquor license has been in the works the past few months.
“I find it ironic that Wal-mart is suing the city and is asking for this,” observed Alderwoman Joy Zasadny. “For me personally...”
“This doesn't have anything to do with pending litigation,” stated Alderman Jeff Virchow.
“Our local store here isn't responsible for what the corporate Wal-mart is doing,” noted Mayor Arnie Carlson.
“This (request) has been for over a year, it is not a legal issue with their business,” observed Alderman Kirk Anderson.
Virchow noted that his initial hesitancy to approve the request had to do with not having input from police chief Erin Murphy. Murphy had met with Wal-mart reps and was shown their system of checks and stated that he did not have any reservations about allowing the sales as part of the curbside service.
It was also noted that the curbside service is only available from 8 a.m.-8 p.m., they are allowed to sell indoors from 8 a.m.-9 p.m. so that they are well within the limits of their license/ordinance.
“Then are we going to allow every other facility (with a liquor license) in the city to do this?” asked Zasadny. “Everyone should be entitled to the same privilege. So will the Crystal Tavern and the St. Croix Tavern be allowed to do this?”
It was pointed out that bars have a Class B license, not Class A, like Wal-mart, MarketPlace or the Holiday stations.
When the matter finally came to a vote, Aldermen Virchow and Anderson voted to approve and allow for alcohol sales with the curbside service, Alderman Warren White and Zasadny voted against, creating a tie for the mayor to break.
“No offense to Wal-mart, or this drive thru type service,” said Carlson. “But I don't trust drunks, they are sneaky people. Whether it be one or two or 12 of those, buying their Jack Daniels and driving down the road, that would be my concern.”
September 12, 2019
Reber sentenced to 45 years
T.A. Doughty-St. Hilaire
On Monday Blake Reber, 33, of Dresser faced sentencing for four felonies: Count 1 - 1st degree sexual assault of a child, sexual contact with a child under age 13; Count 2 - 1st degree sexual assault of a child, sexual contact with a child under age 13; Count 3 – sexual exploitation of a child; Count 4 – sexual exploitation of a child.
Originally, Reber was facing 50 felony counts for the offenses that occurred in April 2018, when the two girls were in Reber's care.
According to the criminal complaint, the Polk County Sheriff's Department had been contacted by the Wisconsin Department of Justice – Department of Criminal Investigation of Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force (ICAC) who advised there may be children in danger in Polk County.
ICAC advised that they had received a tip from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. They were advised that a Google account user had uploaded images that appeared to be child pornography.
At least 21 photos and two video were uploaded of Reber's assault on the two female children in his care. One victim was three years old and the other eight years old at the time of the incident.
The matter did not go to trial. Instead, Reber plead guilty to the four aforementioned counts, the repeater portion of the charges was stricken. The remaining charges were read into the record.
On Monday, after multiple delays, it was time for Reber to be sentenced to the crimes he had plead guilty to. The Honorable Jeff Anderson presiding.
The pre-sentence investigation was reviewed and defense attorney Brian Smestad listed the issues he had with it and Anderson took them into account.
In particular, was the statement that Reber had a sexually transmitted disease at the time of the assaults, though he did not, so that item would not be considered as a modifier during sentencing.
Also considered was a report from a psycho/sexual counselor who interviewed Reber for the defense and submitted a 17 page report to the court.
It was an emotional and traumatic day for those in the courtroom as illustrated when the mother of the victims read a personal impact statement, her voice cracking with emotion as she tearfully shared her feelings and the challenges her daughters are now facing.
“You're disgusting,” she stated. “I hope you never get out. You have taken their innocence away...They struggle to know the difference between right and wrong...you wrecked everything. They cry all the time and don't understand why you did this to them...I never hated someone so much. You did it to them...what a disgusting person you are. They are two beautiful girls that will have to pay for what you have done...”
Defense Attorney Smestad listed what he considered to be mitigating factors for Reber's behavior including a traumatic brain injury he received as a young child due to a fall, an IQ estimated to be 72, which is considered to be borderline mentally retarded at the very least.
Smestad also stated that Reber himself was the victim of sexual abuse himself at the age of 11 and again at 17.
Smestad noted that Reber's actions were both shocking and unfathomable, but the recommended 60 year sentence was a death sentence for Reber.
“Nobody died here,” noted Smestad. “Never seen someone serve life for a sexual assault. We can't let emotion take over everything. How did we ever get to this point? Nobody ever saw this coming.”
It is true that while Reber's criminal record is quite lengthy and stretches back over the years he has never before been charged with a sex crime. He has been in court for things like burglary, disorderly conduct and methamphetamine. It is estimated that he has spent three to five years incarcerated for these offenses.
In fact one of the reason's given by Blake as to why he committed his crimes in April 2018 against two little girls was because he shot up methamphetamine while he was the sole adult responsible for the care of the children.
Smestad also noted that Reber was also diagnosed with a number of mental health issues including extreme depression, ADD/ADHD, adjustment disorder, major depressive disorder, personality disorder, and poor impulse control in addition to his cognitive deficiencies.
“A nine year old is not held to the same standard as adults,” observed Smestad.
Judge Anderson noted that the counts that Reber was facing were both Class B and C felonies, “It really doesn't get much more serious than this,” he observed, adding that Reber was originally facing more than 40 counts for child pornography.
Anderson noted that the three and eight year old victims had placed their trust in him and that Reber violated it in the most egregious way. He noted that Reber had sent images to one of the victim's email accounts so that she would be victimized again.
Anderson seemed to eschew the excuse that the methamphetamine that he had injected is what lead him to molest the children in his care, noting that he was cogent enough to stop and get dressed when there was another adult in the home, and then resumed the abuse after they left.
“You said after injecting meth you get butt ass naked and horny, and the abuse began before the other (victim) got home, she was not even four years old, “You were cogent enough to stop and get fully dressed.”
Anderson also noted that Reber was also cognizant enough to upload the images and videos that he was recording.
Anderson noted that Reber had stated that one of the victims didn't really seem to mind what was happening.
“I felt yucky, and sad and a little bit scared,” Anderson recounted the words of the victim. “They were not old enough to give any type of permission. You advised her not to tell anyone...you told her not to tell anyone or you would go back to jail. You were cogent enough to understand, and you had some knowledge that it was wrong.”
Anderson went on to note that the two victims had ongoing behavioral issues and have also been given a life sentence, having to deal with the aftermath of the abuse in a small community.
“It was not their fault and will never be their fault,” Anderson stated. “It was not a couple of seconds, or a couple of minutes, it was hours.”
Anderson noted the things he had to take into consideration during sentencing: protecting the community, punishing the offender, deterrence, restitution, and justice.
Anderson also noted he had to consider the gravity and nature of the crimes, the need to protect the public, the personal character traits, culpability, age and repentance.
Anderson gave the sentence as follows:
Count 1 – 35 years, 20 incarcerated, 15 extended supervision, consecutive to counts 2, 3 and 4. $290.60 fine, with 518 days credit of time served.
Count 2 – 35 years, 20 incarcerated, 15 years extended supervision, consecutive to counts 1, 3 and 4. No fine.
Count 3 - $500 (one image), 15 years, 5 incarcerated, 10 years extended supervision, consecutive to counts 1 and 2, concurrent with Count 4.
Count 4 – $500 (one image) 15 years, 5 years incarcerated, 10 extended supervision. Concurrent to Count 3, consecutive to counts 1 and 2.
Total sentence: 45 years incarcerated, 40 years extended supervision.
Reber is not to have contact with the two victims except as delineated by court and the statement submitted by the psycho/sexual doctor's report. He is to have no contact with anyone under the age of 17. There is no restitution and will be required to register as a sex offender for life.
“I am sorry,” stated Reber Prior to his sentencing. “I am glad I was caught. I was going down the wrong path. The past 17 months has given me time to think. I have needed help and have not gotten it. It isn't an excuse. There isn't any excuses for what I have done. I hate myself for what I have done...”
September 19, 2019
Taylors Falls, out with the old, in with the older
T.A. Doughty-St. Hilaire
At the Taylors Falls City Council meeting on Monday night, the council addressed the sudden departure of Zoning Administrator Adam Berklund and how they intend to fill the position.
Mayor Mike Buchite informed the council that he and councilman John Tangen had met with Taylors Falls resident Steve Heth, who served as an engineer with the city years before.
Heth, who is currently retired, stated that he was bored and wouldn't mind working part time. Heth has over 20 years of engineering experience and is expected to take over duties immediately.
“We are very fortunate in that Steve has a tremendous amount of knowledge,” noted Mayor Buchite.
The pay rate agreed upon was $27 an hour, not to exceed 32 hours a week. While it is a higher rate than was paid previously, the city will remain within their budgeted amount due to the reduction in hours.
In addition, many of the duties like permitting and community club rentals will be transferred back to the clerk.
It was noted that the relatively new city clerk Elizabeth Nealy “has done an outstanding job,” according to Buchite.
In other business, the council approved a request from the public works superintendent for he and one other employee to attend winter maintenance and plow training with a cost of $30 per person.
September 26, 2019
Ordinance enforcement up for discussion
T.A. Doughty-St. Hilaire
At the St. Croix Falls City Council meeting on Monday night, attorney Paul Mahler was present to discuss ordinance enforcement options.
Mahler noted that ordinance enforcement is part art, part science, part police power, and part political.
“There are two ways this can be approached,” noted Mahler. “Number one, is passive enforcement, in which you are complaint driven. Or number two, you are proactive, in which there would be zoning enforcement personnel that are actively looking for problems. The question is how the council wants to approach it in general.”
Mahler went on to note that there are generally three types of offenders when it comes to ordinance violations. The easiest to deal with are the people that don't understand the rules. This can be resolved through education and usually addressed by a letter/phone call.
The second type cited by Mahler was those with a “problem” whether it be physical/mental/financial. For whatever reason, these individuals can't address the problem.
“These might be dealt with a little differently aside from giving them a citation/police action,” said Mahler. “You may want to get them into contact with a church or charitable group that can help them fix the problem.”
Mahler went on to note that there is a third and final type, which is the toughest to deal with.
“Scoff laws know not to do it and don't care,” Mahler observed. “It is possible that it goes to court costing everyone time and money.”
Mahler noted that there should be a process and person in place that handles ordinance violation complaints and recommended that it be someone on the staff since the person should be non-political. He noted that it was also not ideal to have it handled by the police chief.
However the city decides to handle it, Mahler noted that they should have an established system like letters being sent out. A first one should alert the property owner to the problem and educate them.
If no remedial action is taken then another letter is sent out with a certain number of days given for the problem to be addressed. If not addressed within the specified time period then a third letter, from the city's attorney would be sent.
“From there a suit could be filed or daily citations given,” said Mahler. “Eventually the city could go in perform an abatement and clean up the property. They could then charge that expense on the tax rolls.”
Mahler noted that whatever the city decided to do, they need to be willing to see things out until the end, knowing that litigation may be a potential outcome in some cases.
“I would reach out to your municipal prosecutor so they know what's coming and get their feedback,” observed Mahler.
Alderwoman Joy Zasadny noted that the city was currently going through the recodification process.
“We are going through the process right now of recodification,” noted Zasadny. “But there is not hardcore enforcement of the ones we have on the books. Either we should enforce them or take them off the books.”
“I think education would be a good first step,” stated Mayor Arnie Carlson. “Having a knowledge of what they (ordinances) are in the first place.”
It was noted that the city and its residents will be able to utilize an app that allows them to search through the city's ordinances easily by using their smartphone or computer.
There was some discussion on whether or not the city should remain a complaint driven enforcer.
Alderman Kirk Anderson stated that he was not sure that having a person proactively seeking out violations was the correct way to go.
“We are not Minneapolis, but we are not a township in Burnett County either,” countered Zasadny. “We live in a city where we decide what the standard is. Unlike Kirk, I am not afraid of not getting reelected if we enforce an ordinance.”
Zasadny went on to ask Attorney Mahler if there were commissioned based enforcement officers, to which Mahler stated he didn't know if that would be such a good idea.
Alderman Jeff Virchow noted that he was not in favor of proactive enforcement, “We have a passive policy that is complaint driven, but once that complaint is made, we have an obligation to address that violation.”
October 10, 2019
Auditorium agreement still getting hammered out
T.A. Doughty-St. Hilaire
The Civic Auditorium has proved to be a bone of contention for many of those who reside inside the City of St. Croix Falls. Some see it as a dilapidated drain on the resources of the City of St. Croix Falls while others see it as it could be, a draw for the downtown that has been caught languishing in recent years.
However, over all those years there has been a steady force of people that want to see the Civic Auditorium developed and used to its full potential.
Some of those were previous council members who decided to dedicate TIF (tax increment financing) funds from their Tax Increment District.
Plans were drawn up and the project languished. For years. As time passed, the building did what everyone does, it aged further and suffered damage to its roof, among other things.
Then with the previous council there was a great push by at least two members to end the project, and return the monies to the taxing entities. They had gotten their way voting 2 to 1 (one seat was vacant) just prior to the installation of a new council who had a very different agenda. That decision was overturned. The project whose team of dedicated volunteers, some of which had spent years with the cause, breathed new life.
At the city council meeting on Monday night, there was a closed session held to discuss the potential sale of the Civic Auditorium to the Friends of the Civic Auditorium and the negotiation of a master use agreement.
The closed session lasted until after 10 p.m. and no formal agreement was reached.
The Master Use Agreement is 37 pages long. The Friends group had some concerns and would like a little more time to go through it.
“We will probably hold a special (closed session) meeting sometime before the next city council meeting in the next week or two to go through it,” noted City Administrator Bob Kazmierski. “It's a pretty fluid timeline. We might be more productive then. We want something that both protects the City and enables the Friends (of the Civic Auditorium).”
October 17, 2019
School board sets mill rate
T.A. Doughty-St. Hilaire
On Monday night the St. Croix Falls School Board held their annual budget hearing and meeting.
The budget hearing portion of the meeting included a presentation from Superintendent Mark Burandt and helped to explain where the dollars came from and how aid to the district is determined.
Four things enter into the equation when considering the budget of a school district: the student count, equalized value, state aid and the revenue cap.
A majority of the revenue comes from state and local sources, another significantly smaller portion comes from other sources like grants, etc. And an even smaller portion of the monies comes from federal sources.
The all fund tax levy for 2019-2020 was approved at $7,119,667 at a levy rate of 0.00928082 or a mill rate $9.28 per thousand of valuation. This is a slight increase the 2018-2019 when the mill rate was set at $9.22 per thousand.
The budget for 2019-2020 also kept the annual salaries for board members the same with the president earning $3,500 and members earning $3,000.
Daily lunch and breakfast rates were set. Grades K-4 will pay $2.70 for lunch, $1.55 for breakfast. The reduced rates respectively are 40 cents and 30 cents. Grades 5-12: $2.85 for lunch and $1.80 for breakfast. Reduced cost for lunch and breakfast are 40 cents and 30 cents. Milk costs 45 cents. Adult lunches are charged at a rate of $3.85 and adult breakfasts $2.20. The only increase over last year is five cents in the regular daily lunch rate for grades K-12.
October 24, 2019
No decisions made on agreement for Auditorium
T.A. Doughty-St. Hilaire
There wasn't much on the agenda for Monday night's meeting of the St. Croix Falls City Council, however, there was another closed session held to discuss the Master Use Agreement between the City and the Friends of the Civic Auditorium.
Representatives of the Friends of the Civic Auditorium were available during the closed session to consult with council members. The Friends recently came forward with a counter offer. That amongst other items were likely discussed during closed session.
However, after closed session the meeting reconvened in open session only to adjourn.
Members on both sides of the agreement will continue to hash out the details until they can come reasonable terms that are acceptable both to the City of St. Croix Falls and the Friends of the Civic Auditorium.
Prior to going into closed session Mayor Arnie Carlson consulted with their legal counsel Anders Helquist.
“I was hoping that we could do this in open session,” stated Carlson. “We want to make as much of this as open and available to the public as possible.”
Helquist stated that he understood the desire to do so, but since there were still items being negotiated, it was probably not time for it yet.
“Sausage making can be a little messy sometimes,” observed Helquist.
In other business, the council approved a request for a temporary banner for La Jewelry LaDy, who will be moving to 135 South Washington.
The council also renewed the maintenance contract with Bowmar Appraisals, Inc. for assessment services for the 2020-2021 school year.
Alderwoman Joy Zasadny voiced her concerns when the council was in the process of approving claims.
At issue was an outlay by the fire department for brass shut off (hose fittings), in particular a payment for $2,694.
“The way I understand it, department heads are supposed to get prior approval for purchases over $1,000,” noted Zasadny. “That's why it's nice to have a public works meeting. Unfortunately, the public protection committee doesn't meet.”
October 31, 2019