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"After all these years, still doing a great job!!" -Ron Hermanson
St. Croix firefighter joins council
By Paul Rignell
Kirk Anderson, a local marketing consultant, received appointment to the St. Croix Falls City Council at the Jan. 29 meeting.
Anderson, who has recent Dedicated Service Award and Firefighter of the Year honors from the city Fire Department, had filed for April election to the seat when filings were open earlier this month.
However, then-incumbent Jerry Berger had filed a notice of non-candidacy for the seat that represents District One, and Berger has since submitted a letter of resignation from the council with about three months remaining in his term. City staff reported that Berger cited work demands in resigning from the council.
As Anderson was the only candidate to file for the right to succeed Berger in the District One seat, the current council simply voted to bring Anderson aboard ahead of a new term.
Anderson noted Monday that he has been married for nearly 20 years, and that he and his spouse have five children. Anderson has lived within the city for only 16 months, but otherwise near the city limits since 2002.
Among other action Monday, council appointed Alderperson Chris Chelberg to step in as council liaison to the city planning commission. Berger had been filling that role.
Mayor Brian Blesi looked for a new planning liaison in either Chelberg or in Alderperson Brent Waak. Both were elected to the council only last April.
“I could fill that vacancy,” Chelberg said.
Waak was quick to make a motion. “I would nominate Chris Chelberg,” Waak said.
February 1, 2018
Former Luck counselor facing felony charges
By Lynda Berg Olds
Former Luck teacher Vern Longhenry, 55, of West Sweden (Town of Luck), who resigned amidst allegations of immoral conduct this past December, has now been formally charged with “Expose Child to Harmful Descriptions,” a Class I Felony.
On Dec. 11, Luck School District Administrator Cory Hinkel shared the following statement with the press – a statement which had gone out to all of the families in the Luck School District on Dec. 8 through the school’s email/phone system:
“Parents of School District of Luck students: The district received a student complaint against one of our staff members earlier this week. The administration investigated these allegations and while the investigation was ongoing the staff member resigned.
“The alleged conduct constitutes immoral conduct as defined by Wisconsin Statutes. Therefore the district has reported the situation to the Department of Public Instruction. Sincerely, Cory Hinkel.”
It was then incumbent on Luck Police Chief Monte Tretsven to escort the allegedly immoral educator out of the school building and off of the campus.
The Luck Board of Education held a special closed session meeting at 7:00 a.m. on Dec. 7 to discuss this matter – and a Letter of Resignation featured prominently on the agenda of the school board meeting on Dec. 20.
Chief Tretsven sent this press release, dated Dec. 8, to the Ledger Newspapers editor on Dec. 11:
“The Luck Police Department is currently investigating an incident involving one staff employee of the Luck School District and one student. The investigation involves inappropriate behavior during, and outside of school hours. The staff member is no longer at the school. The Luck Police Department is investigating at this time with the cooperation of the School District.
The name of the offender was withheld at that time in accordance with legal counsel – at least until the investigation was complete – but now that Longhenry has been charged (by criminal complaint filed last Friday), the matter is public.
The Criminal Complaint
The criminal complaint is a four-page document that mostly revolves around Longhenry’s phone and it’s whereabouts. His phone was never found. The victim, a 15-year old girl, did turn her phone over to the authorities and some absolutely sickening messages from Longhenry to her were found. The text messages are so revolting, so over-the-top inappropriate, that Ledger Newspapers couldn’t possibly repeat them.
The messages recovered were mostly sent on the evening of Dec. 4 into the early morning hours of Dec. 5. It should be noted that Longhenry told the student to delete a bunch of messages, which the girl said she did.
Luck Police Chief Monte Tretsven said he initially got the call from Luck School Superintendent Cory Hinkel regarding sexual based text messages between a staff member and a 15 year-old student. Hinkel said Longhenry, the school guidance counselor, had sent inappropriate text messages to the student (victim) the previous night. The victim showed the messages to a teacher who reported the incident to administration, who hung onto her phone. Tretsven read the messages and confirmed they were from Longhenry’s phone.
As it turned out, Longhenry had just called Tretsven the day before.
Elementary Principal Jason Harelson advised Tretsven that at 9:25 a.m. (Tuesday morning, Dec. 5), Longhenry had sent an email to all Luck School staff, stating that he had lost his phone the previous day, at about noon – and requested the staff attempt to locate it.
Tretsven recorded a conversation with Longhenry about 10:00 a.m. on Dec. 5, where Longhenry asserts he had not seen his phone since around noon the day before – and he denied sending any inappropriate messages. Tretsven prompted, “Do you remember talking to me at 3:30 p.m. yesterday?”
“Oh yeah, I must’ve had it after that.”
It was Longhenry’s wife who ultimately advised that he had his phone both the night before on Dec. 4 – and that she had also received a text from him at 8:30 a.m. that morning (Dec. 5) about a house payment.
Tretsven told Longhenry to turn over his phone, but he denied having it or knowing its whereabouts. The school was searched but it did not turn up.
How it started
Tretsven met with the victim and her parents around noon on Dec. 5 and asked her to tell him what happened with Longhenry. She said that a few weeks prior she had obtained Longhenry’s phone number so she could talk to him as she was having problems with other students. She said the text messages became sexual in nature just after Thanksgiving. The victim stated that Longhenry told her to delete the messages, so she did. She said she received many other text messages over the past couple of weeks. She then handed her phone over to Tretsven.
The victim also stated that Longhenry had patted her on her buttocks a couple of times – and also remarked about her breasts being different sizes.
On Dec. 6, as part of the ongoing investigation, the victim’s cell phone was delivered to an investigator with the St. Croix County Sheriff’s Office for a forensic exam.
On Dec. 8, Tretsven met with the investigator and was provided with a printout listing the text messages exchanged between the victim and Longhenry. Tretsven said the investigator was unable to retrieve the deleted text messages – but the graphic, explicit, “sext” messages sent from Longhenry’s phone to victim’s were included in the criminal complaint.
In one of the text conversations, which allegedly are all sent by Longhenry, according to the criminal complaint, he exercises a bit of caution – asking the victim if she is alone…and if she is going to be a “naughty ho.” And, towards the end, “You still there? Do me one more favor quick??? It’s super easy….Oh. Cool. I thought maybe he was already there…LOL. The favor is change my name in your contacts. I changed yours to Synidam. LOL…Can I ask you something else? What are your measurements?…”
Beyond those snippets, Ledger Newspapers chooses not to print the vulgar obscenities.
At the very end of the report, Tretsven states that on Dec. 7 he had spoken with the victim’s mother. Tretsven states the victim had shown her mother a video she had made of Longhenry displaying both of his middle fingers.
Court records show that Longhenry’s initial appearance will be at 2:00 p.m. on March 19 in Judge Jeff Anderson’s Branch 2 courtroom.
If convicted, Longhenry could be fined not more than $10,000 or imprisoned not more than three years and six months – or both.
February 15, 2018
Some heated talk on hockey matter
By Paul Rignell
St. Croix Falls School Board members on Feb. 13 were holding their first discussion since hearing a financial request from district hockey parents last month.
The district does not coordinate its own competitive hockey programs, but rather it has authorized interested students to try out and participate in programs sponsored and hosted by Somerset.
For the boys hockey program, Somerset also includes students from Osceola. For the girls program, Somerset, Osceola and St. Croix Falls athletes also team up with students from Amery and New Richmond.
Local hockey parents told the St. Croix Falls board in January that all other participating districts were contributing financially to Somerset’s co-op hockey program, and had been asking why St. Croix Falls was not covering similar costs for coaching, officiating and road game transportation.
Funds that are generated by hockey booster programs in Somerset have been covering the shares of those costs for St. Croix Falls participants, while the other students’ home districts (such as Amery and Osceola) have been paying those bills. The St. Croix Falls shares of those costs totaled more than $4,700 last year for five students, and the booster clubs would be obligated and are expecting to cover the costs for eight St. Croix Falls students this year.
The booster groups otherwise have covered fees for assistant coaches, summer ice time (and some winter ice time), plus pucks, skate sharpening and other costs for all student participants.
Board member Dr. Steven Bont told the St. Croix Falls parents last month that from the time the hockey cooperative was formed, St. Croix Falls had never been asked to contribute financially.
Board member Brent McCurdy noted the same issue Feb. 13. “This is the first time we’ve been asked for money,” McCurdy said last week, adding that he took offense for the board to be confronted over the district’s lack of support for the hockey co-op when the board had never heard a request for funding.
All of the districts have an agreement to continue the hockey co-ops for one more season, in 2018-2019.
St. Croix Falls board member Matthew Brice has a daughter involved in the Somerset hockey program, and so he officially recused himself from the girls program discussion last week. He did, however, join the board discussion in a separate review of the boys program.
Brice said the boys booster club simply is not designed to continue its subsidies for the St. Croix Falls share of head coaching, officiating and road game travel costs. He said those costs are no different than what the district and high school are paying in principle for football, baseball or other boys athletic programs that St. Croix Falls sponsors on its own.
McCurdy emphasized that his reaction to how the board has been asked now for financial support of hockey does not mean he will vote against a funding request when it comes up for the board’s decision at the next meeting Feb. 26.
However, Brice said that if a board majority should decide the district cannot afford to cover costs for its male student-athletes choosing hockey, “we should (also) be proposing cutting other (athletic) budgets then.”
McCurdy said he wanted reports on athletic fees and hockey costs in other neighboring districts for review before the board’s scheduled vote next week.
Superintendent Mark Burandt noted Feb. 13 that the district had received 26 applications or inquiries about the elementary school principal position since officials opened the application process Feb. 1. He added that the board could maybe expect 50 total applications by the end of this month.
He said that he was envisioning an interview process to start March 8, which could include four to seven top candidates.
Patti Roberts has served as interim principal at St. Croix Falls Elementary since early January, after the retirement last fall of long-time school principal Jeff Benoy.
Plan commission reviews Glacier area
By Paul Rignell
St. Croix Falls city officials have many concerns for the commercial areas between 220th Street and Glacier Drive that are north of Highway 8.
With movie theaters, a supermarket, a financial institution, multiple restaurants and other buildings within that district, high amounts of traffic go through the area daily.
In addition, with other land parcels still open for development there near the highway, city officials are interested in improving access to all lots while also easing congestion on Glacier Drive that separates those lots from Walmart and other properties to the east.
Tasked with designing a potential frontage road that could be built and maintained by the city, engineer Jon Herdegen from MSA Professional Services brought some drawings to St. Croix Falls planning commissioners at their meeting March 19.
Through a first phase for a possible frontage road project, MSA has proposed the city could establish a street going west from Glacier between the Subway and Dairy Queen restaurant lots.
Traffic commonly may turn there off of Glacier to visit the Falls Cinema theaters or other businesses, but it is not as of yet a city street. Mayor Brian Blesi said Monday that many citizens have expressed concern over the city not fixing potholes in that area; road maintenance there is out of the city’s jurisdiction, he repeated.
A proposed frontage road could curve north and to the west of the cinema and Tractor Supply parking lot and then west toward 220th Street along the back wall of the supermarket. Herdegen said the city could also extend a frontage road south toward Highway 8 between the supermarket and bank parking lots. Like the drive between Subway and Dairy Queen, that exit point onto westbound Highway 8 is not now an official city street.
Also as part of a frontage road project’s first phase, MSA has proposed that access points to Subway and the neighboring strip mall be closed off from Glacier. New accesses to those lots – and another parcel now open between those lots and the bank – would come from the frontage road.
Residents and property owners to address the planning commissioners on Monday included the owners of the strip mall. They noted that closing their access point at Glacier would pose a change for patrons of the Chinese restaurant and other businesses in the mall, but they expressed greater concern for service and delivery access by trucks behind the mall from a frontage road.
Mayor Blesi said the traffic and access issues would not improve in these commercial areas without any action. However, he added that the property owners who would benefit from an established frontage road would need to unite and approach the city for moving forward (because those owners likely would be assessed for the road improvements).
“That’s for them to tell us, ultimately, (to build that road),” Blesi said. He added it would be best for all parties to “move this along. … We should get this worked out.
“Things were done (with past development) without really good planning to get us to this day,” he acknowledged.
Planning commissioner Warren White shared some ideas regarding a frontage road proposal, saying that some park or green space should be incorporated east of the supermarket and north of the bank in the event that a new road is built. He said that for a second phase in the project, the frontage road should be extended east from Glacier Drive (and between McDonald’s and Eagle Valley Bank) to curve and come out at the existing Walmart access point on Highway 8.
March 22, 2018
After resignation, board names new president
By Paul Rignell
The Village of Dresser had three of its board trustee seats up for election on the state election day of April 3, but there was more uncertainty on the board’s future make-up during the last week in March.
The trustees and their constituents learned early last week that former Village President Bryan Beseler intended to step down from that position effective 3:00 p.m. March 29. The timing coincided with the start of a plea hearing for Beseler that afternoon at the Polk County Justice Center. After receiving two felony counts related to child abuse allegations last spring, to which he pleaded not guilty in May, Beseler on March 29 pleaded no contest to a felony charge of physical abuse of a child leading to reckless causation of bodily harm. Sentencing is scheduled for July 2. Maximum sentencing could include a prison term of 3 years 6 months, plus fines up to $10,000.
Before the announcement of his plea hearing, Beseler was scheduled for a jury trial to start May 7. For more information, see this week’s County Ledger Press.
At a special meeting of the Village Board that had been called early last week for late afternoon Wednesday, March 28, Beseler’s former colleagues made an official vote to accept his board resignation.
Also on the board’s special agenda March 28, trustees were asked to consider appointment of someone among them to complete Beseler’s term as village president expiring April 2019. Beseler had been re-elected in April 2017.
Board members present for the special board meeting, excluding Beseler who could not legally vote on the matter, unanimously decided to appoint Trustee Bryan Raddatz as interim Village President.
Raddatz was not present for the meeting; he was listening to the discussion by phone and thus could not participate in the board’s vote on accepting Beseler's resignation.
Beseler said that though he couldn’t vote on an appointment, he urged other trustees on March 28 to make an appointment because legally the Village could not cover payroll or pay other bills without a sitting president.
Village residents Karen Andrie and Jeff Gutzmer, who were virtually guaranteed to be joining the board after the April 3 elections, both asked the sitting trustees March 28 to consider delaying appointment of a new president until after the elections. After the board’s final decision to appoint Raddatz on March 28, Andrie and Gutzmer both were present at the board’s monthly regular meeting April 2 but neither of them raised the issue again there.
Raddatz’s term as trustee was expiring after this week’s elections, and he had not filed for the election. Only incumbent Elina Kuusisto and the challengers Andrie and Gutzmer ran for three open seats that day.
April 5, 2018
Last meeting for Mayor Blesi
By Paul Rignell
After elections April 3, when current alderperson Arnie Carlson was voted to be the next mayor of St. Croix Falls, current Mayor Brian Blesi (who did not run for re-election) presided over his last regular meeting April 9. Blesi has served for six years as the mayor after five previous years as an alderperson.
“I’ve gotten more than I’ve given,” Mayor Blesi said of his time in the role.
He made special note of the city’s employees. “I very much appreciate the dedicated service of our public employees,” the mayor said. “I think for many, it’s a calling.”
Blesi noted he would be present for the city’s “annual meeting” later this month, when Carlson takes an oath as the next mayor while local chiropractor Dr. Joy Zasadny is sworn in as a new alderperson after winning election to Carlson’s current seat. Mayor Blesi said he would certainly keep following city business. “On occasion, I’ll sit in the back row (at council meetings),” he added.
The regular agenda of business April 9 opened with a monthly report from Police Chief Erin Murphy.
He noted multiple reports of bear sightings in the city as winter begins to thaw (sort of).
“We just encourage people to take down food sources,” Chief Murphy said. “They (the bears) will move on.”
He said residents could deter the animals from entering their properties for now by keeping any bird feeders in storage until later in the season. Murphy said residents should also be cognizant of how long they are keeping their garbage bins at curbside or otherwise in the open.
In a Facebook post on the morning of April 10, the Police Department encouraged city residents to call the National Forest Service at 800-228-1368 with any bear sightings. The Forest Service may once again make a decision to relocate the bears.
Commenters on that Facebook post said they had seen a bear this week near Maple Street and Blandingswood Road (near the school campuses) and also on the 700 block of Maryland Street.
One concerned citizen said it was believed bears had established a den within a culvert in the Riegel Park area, near where the city has approved the design and opening of a nine-hole disc golf course. “Don’t play in late fall or early spring. I think that’s the lesson there,” Mayor Blesi quipped.
Fire Chief Mike Dorsey gave a monthly report from his department, and said that crews had responded to 21 calls in March. Most of those calls were primarily for first responder aid, but Dorsey said they also put out a car fire and crew members also gave mutual aid service at the Crystal Ball Farms fire south of Osceola.
Dorsey said that his department is still seeking qualified volunteers to join their crew. He noted that state regulations require a great deal of training. He stated his belief that the time commitment detracts lots of people. “People’s time is more important to them than money is,” Dorsey said.
Mayor-elect Carlson said he looked forward to working with the Fire Department to attract more volunteer members with the ability and the right spirit.
Council tabled action on a proposed ordinance for fire code inspection enforcement.
New language would allow or require a minimum of two fire inspections each year (one in January through June, and one in July through December) for all buildings, premises and public thoroughfares – exempting the interiors of private homes.
If subsequent fire inspections are required to check on compliance for needed corrections after standard inspections, property owners would be charged fees per the city’s fee schedule for those extra inspections.
Council asked to continue its review and possible approval of the ordinance at a scheduled meeting May 14.
Council heard from Library Director Su Leslie, who noted that this is National Library Week.
Regular hours at the library are 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. weekdays and 10:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. Saturday.
Council approved temporary banners for the St. Croix Falls Lions Club to promote its second annual spring chicken dinner, planned for 11:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. April 28 at the Senior Center. The Lions will serve grilled BBQ chicken with beans, potato salad and dessert for admission prices of $10 per person ($6 for youth 12 and younger).
Council also approved a temporary beer and wine license for the Falls Chamber of Commerce and its annual “Falls Sampler” event planned for May 4 on the county fairgrounds.