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GALLERY: Faribault honors veterans with ceremony; speaker advocates suicide prevention

On a cold and windy day, a number of Faribault area residents gathered at the Rice County Veterans Memorial for a short Veterans Day ceremony. (Philip Weyhe/southernminn.com)

Attendees young and old paid tribute to veterans with a salute. (Philip Weyhe/southernminn.com)

Veterans lined up at the Rice County Courthouse grounds, home to the area veterans memorial. (Philip Weyhe/southernminn.com)

Veterans stood in honor of the flags at a Veterans Day ceremony in Faribault Nov. 11. (Philip Weyhe/southernminn.com)

It was a bitter, near freezing morning, the wind blasting the faces of attendees at the Faribault area Veterans Day ceremony Thursday, but speaker Kirk Mansfield reminded everyone there that those inconveniences didn’t hold a candle to the anguish that many veterans regularly experience.

Former Faribault American Legion Commander and organizer of the 23 to Zero Faribault nonprofit, Kirk Mansfield spoke to the Veterans Day audience in Faribault about suicide awareness and prevention, especially for veterans. (Philip Weyhe/southernminn.com)

“The fact the weather has been inclement is no factor for us, considering what they’ve had to endure and what their families continue to endure in their mourning,” Mansfield said.

He was one of the speakers at the ceremony at the Rice County Veterans Memorial Thursday, and, while he’s also a former commander of the Faribault American Legion, he spoke about his involvement with the local Operation: 23 to Zero chapter. The organization strives to support veterans and prevent suicide.

Empty pairs of boots circled the center of the veterans memorial Thursday, and Mansfield explained their meaning.

As part of the 23 to Zero mission, boots were laid out at the Rice County Veterans Memorial Nov. 11 to commemorate and raise awareness to the veterans who commit suicide daily. (Philip Weyhe/southernminn.com)

“Before you on the central plaza lay 23 sets of boots, representing the 22 veterans and one active duty service member who are suiciding each and every day,” he said. “Since noon yesterday, a small contingency of wonderful patriots has been on the grounds here at the memorial, and at 12:30 p.m. yesterday, we began taking boots from the top half of the plaza and bringing them to the central plaza. At the bottom of every single hour, for the past 23 hours, we’ve laid one set of boots, offered up a prayer and a final salute to remember and honor our fallen who have died by their own hands.”

He finished with a message of encouragement.

“There is nothing we can do to bring them back, but our hope is we may reach other individuals in a place of darkness and struggling,” he said. “There are many resources available to help. What I ask for you is to take note of these numbers, educate yourselves, and by all means, please look around in your family unit and recognize the signs of struggle and offer immediate assistance.”

The ceremony, while short, featured several other tributes to veterans. Rev. Susan Lester, of Congregational Church UCC in Faribault, provided the benediction.

Rev. Susan Lester, of Congregational Church UCC in Faribault, provided the benediction at the Veterans Day ceremony in Faribault. (Philip Weyhe/southernminn.com)

“Spirit of freedom, I sleep undisturbed,” she said. “My family is safe, because citizens of this country served us faithfully. Bless them. Bless our souls, oh spirit. We are, they are in your protection and care and in our hearts forever. Shalom, salaam, amen. “

Jim Glynn, the “Last Man” of the Post 43, was the honored veteran for Veterans Day 2021. The Last Man group stems from a tradition that began on May 8, 1948 honoring all those who served during World War II, meeting yearly and making a toast to all who had fallen.

Glynn enlisted in the Navy at 17, after finally convincing his father to sign off on it. He shipped out to the Great Lakes training center for three months of training on his 18th birthday. He was discharged in August 1946.

A rifleman fires a volley into the sky during the Veterans Day ceremony in Faribault Nov. 11. (Philip Weyhe/southernminn.com)

A student places the honorary wreath as part of the Faribault Veterans Day ceremony Thursday. (Philip Weyhe/southernminn.com)

Trumpeter Steve Bonde brought music to the Veterans Day ceremony in Faribault. (Philip Weyhe/southernminn.com)

Also at the ceremony, veterans raised and lowered United States and military flags, a trumpeter played taps, a students laid an honorary wreath and the honor guard fired a rifle volley.

Several dozen people were in attendance, young and old, including the fifth- to eighth-grade students from Faribault Lutheran School. The students braved a cold walk from their school to the veterans memorial and listened patiently throughout the ceremony.

Students from Faribault Lutheran School braved the cold to attend the Veterans Day ceremony in Faribault Nov. 11. (Philip Weyhe/southernminn.com)

“We thought it was important for them to realize how much the veterans have done for them. We normally write letters and things to vets, and this year, we chose to come down here,” teacher Joyce Kromminga said. “We’ll go back now and do some talking, because I know they’ll have questions about some of the ceremonial parts.”

The ceremony was followed by a lunch at the American Legion.

Local leaders seeking state bonding funds pitch projects at academies, prison
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Rice County residents could see some state investment for local projects from the state government in the coming year. At least that’s what officials from Faribault and Northfield hope.

Members of the Minnesota House Capital Investment Committee toured sites of proposed investment across southern Minnesota on Tuesday and Wednesday. The proposed projects, including renovations to Faribault’s Minnesota State Academies for the Deaf and the Blind and the Minnesota Correctional Facility-Faribault, as well as the Mill Towns State Trail in Northfield, were presented to committee members throughout the afternoon.

The Legislature is expected to approve a bonding package during the 2022 session. But before the package is finalized, committee members tour the state to meet with local officials and discuss their proposals. A Senate committee will be in the region next week to hear bonding proposals before determining its priority list of projects.

The governor is also expected to recommend projects for a bonding bill, though that won’t likely be released. until early next year.

Minnesota State Academies for the Deaf and the Blind

The House committee’s Faribault tour began with a presentation by Terry Wilding, superintendent of the Minnesota State Academies. Because Wilding is deaf, his presentation was given in sign language and translated into spoken English for committee members.

Terry Wilding, superintendent of the Minnesota State Academies for the Deaf and the Blind, left, presented the school’s $6.5 million request from the House committee for site renovations on Tuesday. (Julian Hast/southernminn.com)

The Minnesota State Academies are requesting $6.5 million to renovate three dormitories on the campus of the Minnesota State Academy for the Blind, or Blind School, as well as a building on the campus of the Minnesota State Academy for the Deaf, or Deaf School.

The Blind School dormitories, Wilding said, have been only minimally remodeled and upgraded since they were constructed in 1982. The renovation would seek to redesign and remodel the area to meet current American Disability Act standards for accessibility, as well as replace new window systems to enhance student security and conserve energy.

“This dorm needs to be changed so our kids have full accessibility … same as what you would have at home,” Wilding said.

Renovations to Pollard Hall, a Deaf School building which was constructed in 1937, would include upgrades to the fire alarm, electrical and communication systems, as well as a replacement of the 80-year-old steam radiation heating system with new heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems. Air quality and energy conservation would also be greatly improved by the renovation, as would the addition of new shower areas, restroom facilities, remodeled bedrooms and modifications to other parts of the building that would make it ADA-accessible.

Asked by a House committee member how Minnesota State Academy students fared during periods of distance learning the previous year, Wilding said things had been very difficult.

“Our kids did not do well in distance learning,” he said, explaining that asking parents to provide accommodations for the daily schooling of their deaf and blind children was very challenging. “In-person is definitely a better place for us.”

Minnesota Correctional Facility-Faribault

The state Department of Corrections is requesting $7.3 million for renovations and an addition to the Minnesota Correctional Facility-Faribault, the state’s largest prison by population. On Thursday, 1,711 offenders were on site. Capacity is 2,000.

The proposed project includes the demolition of a two-story brick building in dangerously poor condition, the construction of a new 4,400 square foot single-story addition for additional programming, renovation of an existing 19,500 square foot building and other site improvements.

Tracy Beltz, the prison’s warden, told the House committee that because about 95% of the incarcerated population is eventually released back into the community, MCF-Faribault takes rehabilitation “extremely seriously.”

Tracy Beltz, right, warden at the Minnesota Correctional Facility-Faribault, presented details of a $7.3 million request to the House committee for renovations and an addition to the site on Tuesday. (Julian Hast/southernminn.com)

In order to do that rehabilitative work, though, Beltz said, certain treatments and programming opportunities need to be available to inmates, which she said, can’t be offered due to a lack of space.

“If we could gain this programming space, we would be able to utilize it so much more effectively and really work with these guys in a meaningful way so that when they get out, they stay out,” Beltz said.

Beltz and other MCF-Faribault officials also said that in order for meaningful work to get done at the facility, inmates and staff both need to feel safe, which they said would be greatly helped by additional renovation to facilities, some of which are water damaged, collapsing or otherwise in need of repair.

The facility has had many incarnations over the past 143 years, including a state hospital which closed in the late 1980s. In 1989, the Legislature approved its conversion to a correctional facility.

Mill Towns State Trail

Northfield Mayor Rhonda Pownell began her presentation of the city’s request for just over $7.5 million in state bond funds to complete the land acquisition, pre-design, design, construction and development of the Mill Towns State Trail. If completed, it will run from Northfield’s Riverside Park to the Waterford Historic Bridge in southern Dakota County.

Northfield Mayor Rhonda Pownell presented the city’s $7.5 million request for the Mill Towns State Trail to the House committee on Tuesday. (Julian Hast/southernminn.com)

Pownell, who spoke to the group from the city’s Riverside Lions Park, emphasized the importance of the project for the future connection of the Mill Towns State Trail to the Sakatah Singing Hills Trail in Faribault and the Cannon Valley Trail to the north.

Northfield, Pownell said, is an historic river town and a destination for visitors.

“We have amenities such as hotels, restaurants and small shops,” she said. “This is a significant regional community and economic development opportunity for the state that can provide recreational opportunities for all Minnesotans to enjoy.”

Pownell also emphasized the project’s role in helping the city of Northfield achieve its goal of being a 100% carbon-free community by 2040 by providing 10 additional miles of bike and pedestrian infrastructure. It would also help the city address inequity, she said, by providing transportation alternatives to vehicles for economically disadvantaged communities.

The proposed timeline for the Mill Towns State Trail is completion of design by 2023, project bidding beginning in 2023 and construction planned for 2024.

After the presentation was completed, Rep. Fue Lee, D-Minneapolis, chair of the Minnesota House Capital Investment Committee and a Carleton College graduate, said that the committee’s recommendations regarding which communities’ projects should be funded with state funds will be decided in January. Right now, he said, the important thing is for committee members to hear from local communities about the projects that are important to them.

“We saw with the pandemic that the use of our outdoors with the trails is critically needed, and this is something we should really consider when we think about the larger picture of how do we make investment into the livelihood of all Minnesotans,” Lee said.

He added that the state is “in a good budgetary situation,” with the ability to bond for over $3.3 billion for local projects in 2022.

“So I think it’s critical for us to use this as an opportunity,” Lee said.

Board lands on $170,000 as minimum salary for new superintendent
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Faribault Public Schools is in the market for a new superintendent. It’s not going to be cheap.

Even if the new superintendent has just a few years’ experience as superintendent, they are likely to be paid about the same as Faribault’s current superintendent, Todd Sesker, despite Sesker’s decades of experience. After a lengthy discussion among School Board members Monday over the acceptable salary range for the position, School Board member Chad Wolff and Nicole Yochum, human resources director at Faribault Public School, landed on a range of $170,000 to $190,000 to offer prospective superintendents.

Yochum also told the board that, although the results of the recent community survey regarding the superintendent search indicated a strong desire for the next superintendent to live in Faribault, the district legally cannot require this. The district’s legal counsel said it can likely pay for moving expenses or living arrangements as an incentive, and it can ask the applicant if they plan to move to Faribault, but it cannot enforce the move itself. Even if the applicant indicates in the interview a willingness or intention of moving to Faribault, they can later choose not to without consequences.

The bartering begins

Yochum began her presentation to the School Board by explaining that much of her analysis comes from conversations with Ted Blaesing, senior associate with Hazard, Young, Attea and Associates, an education consulting firm helping the school district recruit its next superintendent. Blaesing was looking for direction from the board on what he can share about a potential salary with applicants reaching out to him.

Yochum told the board that a $20,000 range is typical for the superintendent position, as it takes experience into account.

The reasons why the low end of the salary range will likely approximate Sesker’s compensation — $172,554 for the 2021-22 school year, adjusted up 2.5% to $176,868 for the following year when the new superintendent would start — have to do with the current state of the superintendent market, Yochum said. With a shortage of prospective superintendents and other districts offering higher salaries, the district simply doesn’t have the option of offering much less, unless it want to lower its standards.

“That doesn’t make sense to me,” School Board member Richard Olson said.

“I agree,” Yochum said. “Logically, it doesn’t. But realistically, that’s what the market is doing right now.”

School Board member Courtney Cavellier agreed with Olson that the price tag was “pretty hard to swallow,” but countered that an inexperienced superintendent still likely has an abundance of experience working with school districts. She indicated that $175,000 was an acceptable starting range.

Board member John Bellingham agreed on that figure, as did Board member Carolyn Treadway.

“We want the best person for this job,” Treadway said. “Unfortunately, we’d like to pay them the least we can, but that’s not going to attract the quality of person that we want … I think we have to decide on a number that is palatable to us and move forward.”

Olson said he wanted the next superintendent to come to Faribault “because it’s Faribault, not money.”

Wolff agreed with the sentiment but explained that Sesker’s 11-year tenure at the district was unusual, given the average tenure for a superintendent is closer to three years. That means compensation cannot be left out of the conversation.

Olson said he would accept $165,000 as an acceptable starting range, but not higher. Wolff responded that if starting at $165,000 eliminates top-tier candidates, the board should adjust upward. Bellingham agreed.

“This is a big district. This is a complicated district,” Bellingham said. “We’re not buying a car here … We simply can’t afford to have a quality candidate not even apply or turn it down because we’re low to start out with.”

Given the majority of the board’s comfort starting at $170,000, Wolff said he would indicate to Blaesing that $170,000 to $190,000 was an acceptable range.

Wolff finished the discussion by imploring the board to be willing to compromise more quickly in the future so they can move on with the superintendent recruitment process, which is time sensitive. According to Yochum, formal interviews begin in early January.

“If this is the way it’s gonna go on every little detail of this, buckle up,” Wolff said.

Police: Search brings meth, pills, marijuana and trio of drug charges
  • Updated

Agents with the region’s drug task force say two Faribault men illegally possessed prescription pills, along with methamphetamine and ⅓ pound marijuana, some of it secured in a locked case, when their car was stopped earlier this week.

Alonzo William Brandenburg, 24, and Jake Joseph Wingen, 29, were each charged Wednesday with three counts of felony drug possession, including first-degree meth possession for allegedly having more than 50 grams of the drug.

Agents from the Cannon River Drug and Violent Offender Task Force stopped a vehicle driven by Brandenburg Tuesday, according to court records. Wingen was reportedly sitting in the passenger’s seat. When asked to step out of the vehicle, the agents reportedly noticed a short plastic straw that was melted on one end and smelled the “odor of fresh marijuana coming from inside the vehicle.”

Wingen then told the officers that drugs were inside the vehicle and inside his backpack in the vehicle, according to court records.

During a search of the Wingen’s backpack, officers reportedly found a large zipper bag with two heat sealed bags of suspected marijuana, a zipper bag of suspected methamphetamine, a case with suspected marijuana, a digital scale, drug paraphernalia, and a green case and zipper bag both with a heat-sealed bag with suspected methamphetamine.

A digital safe was reportedly found inside the vehicle’s trunk. Inside, police allege, was another heat-sealed bag containing several smaller zipper bags of suspected marijuana which appeared to be packaged for sale, suspected Xanax tablets, empty plastic bags and drug paraphernalia.

Brandenburg and Wingen admitted to knowing the vehicle contained the controlled substances, but disputed who they belonged to.

In total, officers report finding 53.5 pills, all labeled as Xanax, a medication used to treat anxiety. The total amount of suspected methamphetamine found in the vehicle was 68.4 grams. The suspected meth and digital scale found inside the backpack field reportedly tested positive for methamphetamine. The total amount of suspected marijuana found in the vehicle weighed 141.5 grams.