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Christine McDonald Park and Hilltop

Park and Hilltop Elementary Principal Christine McDonald is resigning from the Le Sueur-Henderson School District at the end of the month. Upon accepting her resignation, the School Board voted to offer her position to Battle Lake Superintendent/K-6 Principal Darren Kern. (File Photo/southernminn.com)

Le Sueur County resident surprises officer Matson with custom golf cart

Former Waseca Police Officer Arik Matson was gifted a custom golf cart by Shelly Bartlett of Washington Lake to aid in Matson’s recovery after being shot in the line of duty. Matson sits in the cart with his wife Megan Matson while Shelly Bartlett and her husband Marvin Bartlett pose next to them. (Photo courtesy of Shelly Bartlett)

The Waseca police officer who was shot in the line of duty last year received a surprise gift thanks to the fundraising efforts of a Le Sueur County resident.

Arik Matson’s life was completely changed when he was shot in the head while investigating a disturbance at a Waseca residence on Jan. 6, 2020. The resulting traumatic brain injury has forced Matson to relearn the little every day tasks once taken for granted like retrieving a beverage out of the fridge, sorting medicine as well as bathing or dressing himself.

His mobility has also been limited. Since the attempt on his life, Matson is more easily fatigued and unable to drive on the road.

The story of Matson’s sacrifice while serving the Waseca community and his recovery resonated with Lake Washington resident Shelly Bartlett. As a former 15-year part-time officer with the city of Mankato, Bartlett said she felt a little bit connected and wanted to support Matson the same way she would want someone to help her. Over the past two summers, she organized boat parades on Lake Washington to raise money for the Matson family. But last week, Bartlett had an even bigger surprise in store.

On Oct. 11 at the Waseca Police Department station, Bartlett presented the Matson family a customized golf cart to help Arik Matson get back out on the road.

The vehicle is more of a miniature car than a standard golf cart. Minnesota Golf Carts of Madelia worked with Bartlett to equip the cart with four seats, seatbelts, signal lights, tail lights, brake lights, a horn and an arm rest — giving Matson everything he needs to drive himself and his family around town.

Community and business donations supported additions like cupholders, a USB charger, embroidered seats with Matson’s badge number, police-themed decals as well as a banner reading “Matson Strong.”

“It’s the greatest feeling helping someone that you know is really deserving of it,” said Bartlett. “[Arik] had mentioned that he was overwhelmed and I asked ‘Do you like it?’ and he said ‘I love it.’ He couldn’t stop talking about being able to pick up his girls at the bus stop and taking them trick-or-treating.”

The Le Sueur County resident was inspired when she saw a video on Instagram of Matson driving a car on his wife’s grandparents’ farm. Bartlett reached out to Matson’s wife Megan Matson over Instagram asking if Arik could drive a golf cart. Megan believed Arik would feel better driving a golf cart and so Bartlett set out to build a custom vehicle for the family.

The golf cart was kept a secret from Arik Matson so he could be surprised when the day finally came to unveil it.

“It was cool to finally get some independence back again,” said Arik Matson. “We’ll pick up the girls from the bus stop and drive back after school and stuff. I really appreciate the support the area has given me and the people around Waseca that love me.”

Megan Matson was hopeful that the golf cart could provide additional motivation to help Arik in his recovery. Arik’s recovery journey included 16 months of rehabilitation as well as in-person physical, speech and occupational therapy. In August, Matson took a break from in-person therapies and Megan observed great strides in his progress since.

“He’s found motivation inside of himself that time and time again we had been searching for,” said Megan Matson. “It was a struggle every day in therapy. I think he feels it’s on him now and not on others to hold himself accountable.”

With a golf cart to ride, Matson will also have an easier time traveling long distances for family vacations. Megan said they’re considering purchasing a trailer so they can take the golf cart on family vacations. Matson also plans to drive the golf cart on Halloween with his two daughters. Their oldest daughter is dressing up as a police officer and their youngest is going as a surgeon.

For Bartlett, the experience has motivated her to keep giving. Currently, Bartlett gives away Miss America scholarship funds through her Love for Giving nonprofit, but now wants to make the nonprofit a 501©(3) organization so that people can donate to support more gifts like the customized golf cart.

Dollar General opens for business in Le Sueur
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Carson Hughes / By CARSON HUGHES carson.hughes@apgsomn.com 

Dollar General set up shop in the new Tiller + Main Mall in Le Sueur. The store’s opening on Saturday marked the first time Le Sueur residents could purchase from a local general store in years. (Carson Hughes/southernminn.com)

Customers packed the Le Sueur mall parking lot over the weekend to pick groceries, pet supplies, household items, beauty products and more off the store shelves of Le Sueur’s newest business.

At 1 p.m. Saturday Oct. 16, Dollar General officially opened their new location at 202 Valley Green Square in Le Sueur. Dollar General is one of the nation’s fastest growing retailers and has 17,000 stores nationwide.

The discount retailer is one of several businesses moving into the Tiller + Main mall and residential complex currently under construction. Dollar General is still hiring and will employ approximately 6-10 employees, depending on the shop’s individual needs.

“Our customers are at the center of all that we do, and meeting customers’ needs is Dollar General’s top priority when choosing store locations,” said Dollar General Public Relations Manager Kate Ellison. “In selecting store sites, we take a number of factors into consideration, carefully evaluating each potential new store location to ensure we can continue to meet our customers’ price, value and selection needs. We further strive to provide convenience for customers who may not have affordable nearby retail options.”

The opening of a new general store was well received by members of the Le Sueur community after going years without local options to purchase household items.

“It’s been 8-10 years since we had a variety store like this,” said local resident Kay Sherratt. “It’s great to have it back in town, and I’ll definitely support it, especially over the winter months.”

Name-brand and private brand merchandise, such as foods, health and beauty products, home cleaning supplies, housewares, stationery, seasonal items and basic clothing are sold at Dollar General stores, including goods from Clorox, Procter & Gamble, Kimberly-Clark, Unilever, Kellogg’s, General Mills, Nabisco, Hanes, PepsiCo and Coca-Cola.

Le Sueur is one of many small communities chosen by Dollar General for expansion. The chain boasts that 75% of its dollar stores serve communities under 20,000 people, including in surrounding towns like Le Center, Montgomery and St. Peter.

Due to their many rural locations, major dollar store chains like Dollar General and Dollar Tree have become one of the few, and even sole source, of national suppliers. A 2017 Morning Consult poll found that national dollar chains have especially favorable ratings in rural communities; more than six in 10 rural residents said Dollar General, Dollar Tree and Family Dollar have positive impacts on their communities.

Positive community perceptions of national dollar stores have been linked to their discounted prices, potential to increase employment opportunities and the local tax base, as well their emphasis on focusing charitable contributions within their communities. For example, Dollar General’s Literacy Foundation awards grants to nonprofit organizations, schools and libraries within a 15-mile radius of their stores to support adult, family, summer and youth literacy programs.

The store opening is part of a significant renovation downtown for the city of Le Sueur.

“We moved here about five years ago, and [the city] needs development, and they’re finally doing it,” said local resident Blake Kreissler.

Pumpkin Pickup

The first ever pumpkin pickup by the Le Sueur County Sheriff’s Office and Sheriff’s Youth Project was a great success. (Carson Hughes/southernminn.com)

Le Sueur Council expands penalties aimed at building code violations
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Habitual violators of the city of Le Sueur’s building code could be on the hook for as much as $1,000 under a new ordinance adopted by the City Council.

On Monday, the Le Sueur City Council voted to expand its administrative fine ordinance to general building code violations. Prior to the new ordinance, administrative fines were limited to issues with rental housing licensing.

First time offenders will be hit $75 for the initial violation, doubling each time a property owner fails to correct it. The second offense gouges violators for $150, a third offense costs $300, a fourth offense is priced at $600, and each offense from the fifth violation and beyond would charge the property owner $1,000. Failing to pay the fine will result in a 10% late fee added on.

The ordinance allows the city to charge a fine for a violation each day it exists. In reality, the city would charge for a continuing violation every 10 or 11 days, said City Administrator Jasper Kruggel, because the city has a 10 day deadline to pay an administrative fine.

An offense could be especially costly if the property owner is ticketed for a zoning violation as well. An owner can be charged for breaking multiple codes at once.

Kruggel estimated very few property owners would be impacted by the changes. The intent of the ordinance inot to generate revenue, he added, but to encourage conformance to city code.

“We just want people to be compliant with the local law and the city code. I would say 99.9% of people that live in the community abide by those, so it’s really a very small percentage of people,” said Kruggel. “This is just a way to hopefully incentivize people to follow the law and the building code.”

Establishing this process would also strengthen Le Sueur’s case in the event a dispute between the city and an offender landed in court, said Kruggel. The ordinance would allow the city detail their code enforcement process before a judge.

Before administering a fine, a code compliance officer would notify the property owner in-person or through the mail with an administrative notice detailing the alleged code violation, a description of the city code being infringed, and a corrective action the property owner must take.

The notice may also give the property owner a time limit of no more than 20 days to address the violation. If the violation cannot be corrected in 20 days, the property owner may request an extension for up to 30 days. In case of a public health and safety concern, the compliance officer may demand an immediate fix.

If the offender has violated the building code in the last 12 months however, the city would not be required to send a no compliance letter.

To appeal the citation, an alleged offender may contest the fine in a hearing, but must notify the city of their appeal within 10 days of receiving the penalty. An independent hearing officer would be appointed by the city to preside over the hearing and deliver judgement.

In a new addition to the ordinance, the independent hearing officer would be selected from a pool of attorneys and compensated at a rate set by the city administrator that is acceptable to the City Council.

“We’ll likely have two to three of those individuals that are on call for if there is an appeal process. If one can’t make it, hopefully the other can make it.”

If the property owner fails to pay the penalty, the city could collect through an assessment on the property, issuing new citations, initiating criminal proceedings or taking any other enforcement action permitted by law.

TCU begins superintendent search after Seifert’s resignation
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The Tri-City United School District is searching for a new Superintendent following Lonnie Seifert’s resignation on Sept. 27. Seifert began his tenure at the district office July 1, 2020. (File Photo)

On Monday, the Tri-City United School District contracted the Minnesota School Board Association to begin the search for a new Superintendent.

Current Superintendent Lonnie Seifert announced his retirement Sept. 27 and will exit the district June 30, 2022. Seifert has led the Tri-City United School District for 15 months and started his tenure July 1, 2020.

The Tri-City United School Board hired Seifert on a majority vote in April of last year to fill the shoes of seven-year Superintendent Teri Preisler.

“I reached the Rule of 90 almost two years ago and have decided it is time to retire,” said Seifert. “This will allow me to spend more time with my family and not have to be on call 24/7 year round. It has nothing to do with TCU as I have thoroughly enjoyed working with the staff, families, and the communities. This is strictly a personal decision to retire after 36 years in education.”

Before joining the TCU School District, Seifert served as the superintendent of Gibbon-Fairfax-Winthrop School District. In his 36 years in education, Seifert has also worked as an assistant principal and later principal for New Prague High School, the activities director and dean of students for ROCORI High School in Cold Springs and the activities director and dean of students for Montgomery-Lonsdale Schools before the district consolidated with Le Center.

At the Sept. 13 TCU School Board meeting, the board held a closed door session evaluating the superintendent’s performance a week before his resignation.

In the School Board’s contract with MSBA, the nonprofit corporation will meet with the district to establish a search timeline and discuss hiring criteria. MSBA also agrees to hold an information question and answer session with school staff and community members on the search process.

Input from district stakeholders would be collected through an online qualifications and quantitative data survey.

MSBA will screen the applicant pool against the School Board’s hiring criteria and vet qualifying candidates in a round of pre-interviews. The board will receive candidate recommendations from MSBA and select a group of finalists for interviews. The final candidates may enter two rounds of interviews conducted by the School Board before a final selection.