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Minnesota GOP: AG Ellison threatened Northfield farmer who's hosting Trump rally

The Republican Party of Minnesota alleged that Attorney General Keith Ellison threatened a Northfield farmer on Tuesday, calling it an “abuse of power,” a claim the Attorney General’s Office is refuting.

Doug Felton, who hosted the Make America Great Again event featuring President Donald Trump’s son Eric Trump at his Northfield farm Tuesday evening, said he received a call from the Attorney General’s Office that morning informing him that he must follow Gov. Tim Walz’s COVID-19 response mandates and submit a plan for the event to the state. He said he didn’t submit a plan because he didn’t know how to fulfill the request or have time for an attorney to review a plan Tuesday.

Before the event began, there were several hundred people gathering at Felton’s farm, many wearing “Make America Great Again” hats. A majority were not wearing masks. Eric Trump’s stop in Northfield Tuesday was part of his tour to campaign for his father’s reelection.

Felton said the call he received was politically based intimidation by the attorney general. Noting the negative consequences the pandemic and government response has had on farmers, he said he doesn’t support the state’s regulations in regard to age and pre-existing conditions, which can make a person more vulnerable to a serious complications from COVID-19.

“If the good Lord wants me, he’s going to take me,” Felton said.

Ellison said in a statement that it’s everyone’s responsibility to curb the spread of COVID-19 and the call Felton received was “a routine inquiry” about his COVID-19 preparedness plan for the event.

“Our goal in making inquiries like these, which we have been making of events for months, is to protect people’s lives: We do not try to stop events, we simply try to make sure they’re held safely,” Ellison said.

Ellison said Felton assured the Attorney General’s Office that he has a preparedness plan and was asked to submit to the office. The AG’s Office said Tuesday afternoon it was waiting to receive Felton’s plan.

Jennifer Carnahan, chair of the state Republican Party, said Ellison was “using his office to play politics” by threatening Felton. Residents aren’t required to file paperwork with the state for private gatherings and the state Republican Party plans to file a cease-and-desist order with the Attorney General’s Office, according to Carnahan.

John Stiles, Ellison’s deputy chief of staff, said Ellison didn’t call the event venue himself and didn’t know the call was happening. An attorney in the office who helps enforce Walz’s executive orders regarding the pandemic called Felton to inquire about his COVID-19 preparedness plan, which is “a pretty routine call,” according to Stiles.

The Attorney General’s Office doesn’t know what the state political party means by cease-and-desist order and hadn’t received anything like that as of Tuesday evening, according to Stiles.

Carnahan said Ellison selectively enforces the mandates based on political considerations and violates the freedom of association in the U.S. Constitution. She called on his office to release similar COVID-19 plans sent to other businesses. It’s “a clear abuse of power,” she said, pointing out that DFLers have also spoken at large events during the pandemic, including when Walz spoke at the vigil in Minneapolis for the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

“The abuse of power and control from certain elected officials in Minnesota is infringing on the rights of our citizens,” she said.

Residents asked to keep an eye out for invasive beetle signs this winter

It’s fall which means it’s the perfect time to break out the rake, as hundreds of colorful leaves cascade to the ground. It’s also the perfect time to take a closer look at ash trees for signs of the pesky and invasive species —emerald ash borer.

In March, just prior to the pandemic shutdown, the Minnesota Department of Agriculture confirmed emerald ash borer in Rice County. A Faribault Public Works Department employee had spotted signs of EAB on a tree on private property within the city after participating in a MDA workshop on the topic in Medford.

“We haven’t been able to really do any surveys since it was found, but just an initial drive through the area, I mean it was pretty early on,” Jonathan Osthus of the MDA Plant Protection department said. Osthus deals with EAB statewide and leads community training sessions.

The invasive beetle had been found in Medford in September 2019. Once found in an area, an initial survey with the community is completed and it’s up to residents to report any sign and symptoms they may see, Osthus says. No reports have been made within Owatonna at this time.

“We rely on people recognizing the symptoms and reporting them,” he said.

Due to the pandemic, Osthus had to cancel some in-person workshops, surveys and presentations he had planned to give to various public works departments. Instead MDA has been hosting webinars since April. The department recently hosted an online public meeting in September for Mower (another county with a recent infestation) and Rice county residents.

“It’s definitely not as good as having a nice central location in a city for people to come out and ask questions, but we are continuing to do online stuff,” he said.

Osthus hopes to host outdoor workshops allowing for appropriate social distancing this winter. However, that is contingent upon state restrictions and other COVID-19 precautionary measures. Meanwhile, EABs will spend the winter dormant underneath the ash tree bark, waiting for it to become warm enough in the spring tol continue its development cycle.

“When the leaves drop it’s a lot easier to look for signs of emerald ash borer, so we look for woodpecker damage,” Osthus said. “So that’s when we do most of our surveys, because it’s a lot harder to tell an infested tree by a thinning canopy.”

He explained the specific kind of woodpecker damage to look for, as the larvae are a good food source for the birds. The damage usually starts in the mid to upper canopy of the tree first before working its way down, as this is the location where the infestation begins. The woodpeckers will scratch off some of the outer bark leaving a blonde spot, before drilling a dime size peck hole just deep enough to get to the larvae, Osthus says.

A common symptom of EAB is bark cracks. Tunneling larvae beneath the bark can cause tree bark to split open revealing the galleries. With the help of binoculars, Osthus says the winding s-shape galleries the larvae leave behind are sometimes visible. Throughout the winter an ash tree will accrue woodpecker feeding damage making it easier to identify the infestation prior to spring leaves growing.

“It’s best to look in the winter time and typically in March,” Osthus said.

It can take up to two to three years, before visible signs of an infestation appear. Thus it’s possible that EAB could be festering elsewhere, making it all the more important that residents keep their eyes out for it and report it as soon as possible.

Since discovering the infestation both Rice and Steele counties have been placed on quarantine, meaning any ash material or firewood (anything four foot in length or less) cannot be taken out of the county and into a non quarantine county, according to Osthus. You can move within quarantine countries that are adjacent and touching each other.

An emergency quarantine went into effect just this week for Carver and Sibley counties, counties not immediately adjacent to Rice or Steele counties.

An interactive map of the area where EAB has been confirmed as well as quarantined counties can be found by visiting https://bit.ly/2SCov8n.

“Everything that is kind of on our map is the extent of it, we’ve seen visible symptoms, but that was as of last March,” Osthus said.

More information on the EAB can be found on the Department of Agriculture’s website at mda.state.mn.us/eab or the University of Minnesota Extension website at bit.ly/33FD7Kg.

henry schonebaum

Faribault junior midfielder Henry Schonebaum charges up the field during Monday’s 3-1 victory against New Ulm in the Section 2A playoffs at Bruce Smith Field. (Michael Hughes/southernminn.com)

What would a Faribault magnet school look like? Board weighs in

The coronavirus pandemic may have disrupted plans for starting a magnet school in the Faribault School District, but as non-traditional learning practices become more common, the conversation again feels relevant.

Director of Teaching and Learning Tracy Corcoran reopened the conversation during Monday’s School Board meeting, looking to get the board’s feedback on possible timelines and themes.

Corcoran’s predecessor, Ryan Krominga, delivered a project proposal for a possible magnet school back December 2019. At that time, a magnet school, one with specialized courses or curriculum, could meet the district’s mission to attract and retain students by providing unique and relevant programming to today’s learners. However, since new education models transpired as a result of the pandemic, Corcoran said a magnet school could also utilize the alternative learning structures students have applied since spring.

“We want to bring 21st-century learning into schools in a way that is new and different than what a traditional school might look like,” Corcoran said. “We are a choice-based community, and we’re thinking of ways to offer that to Faribault Public Schools families as well.”

At the meeting, Corcoran listed some themes the district might consider for the magnet school, such as a community school, an international school or a STEM (Science Technology, Engineering and Math) school. However, Corcoran said the district could explore a number of other themes that might better suit the community.

A community school, Corcoran explained, allows space for schools to form partnerships, and invites parent and community involvement. This type of school allows for a personalized curriculum that emphasizes real-world learning and community problem solving. Community schools often operate with the help of a site leadership team of educators and community partners that share the same vision. While the community school wouldn’t be based entirely off of the Community School program in the Faribault district, Corcoran said the school would follow a similar philosophy.

An international school would present an interdisciplinary theme-based model to teaching and learning. Corcoran said international schools could implement language immersion components, but that isn’t their whole purpose. This type of school brings global perspectives and problems to the table with a project-based approach to learning.

Corcoran asked the board to consider whether implementing the magnet school in fall 2021 gives the district a realistic timeline.

Though Superintendent Todd Sesker believes fall 2021 is a realistic start date for the magnet school, but some School Board members expressed uncertainty. Board member Carolyn Treadway also noted that staff and teachers already feel overwhelmed, and she wants to ensure the project won’t add more stress.

Board member Jason Engbrecht said his only concern is that the board succumbs to “paralysis by analysis” by thinking too hard about the right choice.

“I hope we can all sit down with the desire to take an action from this,” Engbrecht said. “ … I’m worried we’re going to be here for a while, and I would like to see us moving along.”

For the next step in the process, Corcoran will bring the information to stakeholder groups and collect their feedback to help the board make an informed decision. She plans to gather input from staff and families as well as students.