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Incumbent Commissioner Jake Gillen, of Rice County’s District 1, is hoping to fend off two challengers in the Aug. 11 primary and move on to the November election. Early voting runs through Aug. 10. (Parker Johnson on Unsplash)

A CANVAS OF HIS OWN: Northfield artist draws, paints at Memorial Park on a daily basis

Standing alone with his canvas while painting on a warm July morning Northfielder Andrew Wykes saw the stark greenery in front of him.

While others might see Memorial Park’s trees and grass as an unspectacular, typical component of the area near Northfield Memorial Pool, the artist sees the layout as indicative of the uniqueness of life on Earth.

Wykes, 60, a longtime art professor at Hamline University in St. Paul, has been coming to the park daily for five years now, to draw — no matter the weather. In the summer, he spends three to four hours per day painting the landscape he sees. His outside work is somewhat limited in the winter due to the cold, but he still comes every day for a limited time. While paintings can take up to a week to complete, drawings are done in as little as a few hours.

“It seems crazy, but I only live a block away and we have a dog, and I take the dog for a walk,” he said. “So I thought, ‘Since I have to take this dog for a walk, I might as well start doing drawings,’ so that’s how it became a drawing every day, and I then started doing paintings. The dog’s too old now to come with me, so I just continue to keep coming here, because it’s local and it’s nearby, and it’s got a lot of variety in this park. There’s always something here to paint.”

A British background

Wykes, who has lived in Northfield for 22 years, grew up in Great Britain. A lifelong artist, he traveled to the U.S. to obtain a master’s degree in painting from American University in Washington, D.C.

“I went to grad school … so i could end up teaching at universities,” he said. “I guess it panned out.”

While in Europe 30 years ago, Wykes met his wife, Margaret Kiley, now-director of Nerstrand Charter School, who was studying abroad at the time.

Extraordinary consistency

Wykes has shown his work at Groveland Gallery in Minneapolis and galleries in New York City, London and Dublin.

Most of his paintings and drawings are landscaped. Although he admits the area near Memorial Pool isn’t as scenic as hilly landscapes prominent in Britain or Ireland, the spot still provides him with inspiration.

“I love the space,” he said. “It’s like looking at the space between objects and the forms of trees.”

People sometimes see Wykes painting as they travel through Memorial Park to and from the pool. Although most walk by without seeming to take much interest, that was not the case July 17, when Northfielder Mary Jane Lapinski walked by with her granddaughter, Anni Jokela.

“We’re so glad that you are here,” Lapinski said, pointing out his work to her granddaughter.

“I have seen him in the past, and when I see him, it always makes me happy, because someone is taking the time and seeing the beauty of creation. And, looking at his photos, it just makes me wish I could do the same. It makes me want to try.”

Although Wykes, an award-winning artist, doesn’t draw nor paint for the pay or the praise he receives, he doesn’t deny there are some benefits his work brings.

“You get to know some people,” he said. “A couple of people have actually bought pieces from me over the years, because they know the park, and they walk here with their dogs and they see me painting.”

To Wykes, art is lacking in U.S. society and is constantly underfunded and underappreciated. However, he believes opportunities are there if artists look hard enough. Personally, he has received Minnesota State Arts Board grants and been featured by PBS with other artists.

“It’s a real passion, it’s always been,” he said of drawing and painting. “Probably since the age of 7 I’ve always painted. But I always assumed everyone did, and then I realized they didn’t.

“It’s a way of connecting with things, that’s all,” he added. “It’s a way of slowing down and really looking at just connecting a bit. It’s what I do well.”

Haider promoted to deputy police chief

Northfield Sgt. of Investigations P.T. Haider has been serving the community since 2006.

Haider, who has been promoted a few times since then, will assume the deputy police chief role Aug. 1 after current Deputy Chief of Police Mark Elliott becomes chief upon Monte Nelson’s retirement.

City Administrator Ben Martig announced Haider, 42, had accepted an offer to become the next deputy chief July 21 in a letter to city staff.

Haider was the only applicant for the internally posted position and was interviewed by a panel of nine law enforcement and community representatives, including Martig, July 16.

“We had anticipated that we would have had others, but we knew he was a strong candidate and revised our process in consideration of his sole application,” Martig said.

“I am so excited about the future of the Police Department with incoming Chief Elliott and Deputy Chief Haider leading the department,” he added. “Both of these promotions are obviously very important for the future of the Police Department.”

Although the chief position is tasked slightly more with community outreach and communicating with other city directors and the council, the deputy chief still handles more of the internal, day-to-day operations: supervising sergeants and administrative staff. Still, the deputy chief handles some of the same tasks. One of the more challenging aspects of the deputy chief position is delegating responsibilities and separating duties while staying updated on what others are doing.

Haider joined the Police Department in 2006 as a patrol officer. A St. Olaf graduate, he initially pursued a career in elementary education before deciding to enter law enforcement. Law enforcement runs deep in his family: Haider’s brother has been a police officer, and his father was a longtime Ramsey County Sheriff’s Office deputy.

Haider said his top goal in his new role will be to make sure quality officers are hired and that Police Department employees and the entire community are treated well to ensure a continued positive relationship.

“I’m excited for the opportunity and for the challenge,” Haider said. “Our department’s in a great spot.”

Haider was promoted to sergeant in 2014, and has served as the sergeant of the department’s investigative division for the last four years.

To the retiring chief, Haider is passionate about the job and the community he serves.

Nelson has noticed that community commitment in difficult situations. As an example, he cited difficult missing persons cases Haider has worked where family members have stayed in contact with him and showed their appreciation by trying to give him gifts for his work, a request he had to deny per Police Department policy.

Nelson said Haider’s local experience and Elliott’s outside law enforcement background will be a good mix.

“Mark (Elliott) and P.T., they’re going to do a good job, and their skill sets will compliment each other,” Nelson said.

“They’ll be a good combination of chief and deputy chief.”

Puzzle Book

Puzzle Book

Gov. Tim Walz orders statewide mask mandate

Northfielders and those across the state are now required to wear masks to combat COVID-19.

Unanimous Northfield City Council action to implement a citywide mask mandate came July 21. The following day, Gov. Tim Walz ordered a statewide mask mandate for stores and indoor gathering places to slow the spread of COVID-19.

According to the Star Tribune, the rule applies to most indoor spaces outside people’s homes, and to outdoor spaces where workers cannot maintain social distancing. However, there are exceptions. Diners need to wear masks when walking around restaurants but not when eating at tables. Office workers don’t need to when socially distancing. Children under 2 are exempt.

According to the Minnesota Department of Health, although enforcement is not the goal of the mandate, Minnesotans who fail to comply could receive a petty misdemeanor citation and a fine of up to $100.

A primary goal of the mandate is to prevent hospitals from being overrun and ensuring an adequate supply of protective equipment, and to minimize the potential risk of further adverse economic impacts continued shutdowns could pose for local businesses and employees. State officials have said scientific evidence is increasing that cloth face coverings are essential to combating COVID-19.

In introducing the motion Tuesday night, Councilor Suzie Nakasian called the measure “a very important step to take,” and suggested people approach complying as a way to protect each other.

Locally, the Northfield Area Chamber of Commerce and Tourism is distributing free government-issued masks from 1 to 4 p.m. Thursday in the Neuger Communications parking lot on Division Street.

“The Chamber has been and will continue to be committed to our community,” President Lisa Peterson said in an email. “We have supported our businesses throughout the pandemic in various ways. This is another value we can share with them.”

Hospital, college leaders express support

Officials from Carleton and St. Olaf colleges and Northfield Hospital & Clinics wrote letters of support for the city-wide mandate prior to the July 21 meeting.

“As we continue to fight this virus and the related pandemic, we have very few tools at our disposal,” NH+C President and CEO Steve Underdahl wrote. “Distancing, mask wearing and hygiene are the best public health steps we can take. Even though Minnesota is doing better than some other states at the moment, the potential to lose ground again is a real threat.”

Echoing statements he made at a hospital board meeting last month, Underdahl said wearing masks is now considered part of a political, cultural and ideological battle but is still a public health tool that will work if universal compliance occurs.

“Sadly, voluntary compliance seems to have hit a plateau at this point,” he said. “Consequently, an ordinance is a logical step for the good of all our citizens.”

Carleton President Steve Poskanzer and St. Olaf President David Anderson noted their institutions require faculty, staff, students and visitors to wear a face covering while in the presence of others, within indoor public spaces and outside public spaces when physical distancing of 6 feet or more isn’t maintained.

COVID-19 is a disease that is seen as being primarily spread by respiratory droplets. The novel virus has a disproportionate impact on the elderly and those with underlying health conditions.

As of Friday, Minnesota has had 48,761 confirmed cases, 760 newly reported cases and four deaths from Monday to Tuesday.

Statewide, Minnesota has seen 1,588 deaths. Rice County has had 919 reported cases and nine deaths from Thursday to Friday.

Fellow Councilor Erica Zweifel said she appreciated the broader impact the city-wide measure would have on the community.

“This is about public health and public safety protecting all of us until we have a vaccine,” she said.

Fellow Councilor Jessica Peterson White, owner of Content Bookstore, said the city-wide mask mandate was part of a necessary strategy to control the spread of COVID-19 to end the pandemic.

Mayor Rhonda Pownell said the tipping point on how the pandemic will progress in Northfield is likely to come with the introduction of a significant number of students into the city as college begins next month. She said that looming start makes it even more important to normalize mask-wearing to prevent the spread, adding that doing so would ease the pandemic and improve the economy. She said in turn, drug overdoses, mental health problems, failure to pay rent payments and other adverse situations would be reduced.

Local departments, legislators express support for police reform

Police reform advocates and law enforcement groups alike are cautiously welcoming a package of bipartisan reforms as a positive step toward improved police-community relations.

The agreement on police reform was finally reached last week between the DFL, led by Gov. Tim Walz, and Republicans, who control the Senate. It passed before the end of the special session, marking a rare bipartisan triumph at the capitol.

The discussion around police reform was triggered by the late May death of George Floyd. Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin has since been charged with second- and third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter in the case, and his three fellow officers on the scene stand charged with aiding and abetting murder.

In the wake of Floyd’s death, new questions resurfaced about police practices, especially those of the Minneapolis Police Department. In particular, critics raised questions about use of force policies and how use-of-force and other complaints are handled by departments.

Last month, Walz and the legislature’s POCI (People of Color and Indigenous) caucus proposed nearly two dozen reforms. About half enjoyed bipartisan support, but agreement between Republicans and DFLers over the package fell apart at the last minute. With Walz seeking to extend his Peacetime Emergency Declaration, he was forced to call yet another special session this month. With a month of additional negotiations under their belts, all sides were finally able to reach an agreement they felt comfortable with.

Because local departments are given significant latitude to implement their own policies, the effect of the new bill could vary from department to department. It includes a ban on chokeholds and warrior-style training and provides for additional training and resources for officers.

It also creates a duty to intervene when officers see a colleague acting inappropriately, includes measures designed to improve transparency and accountability in cases of alleged misconduct, and encourages departments to incentivize officers to live in the communities they patrol.

Legislators on both sides of the aisle emphasized that the legislation is just a start. The bill’s lead sponsor in the House, DFL Rep. Carlos Mariani, of St. Paul, said that he believed the bill passed by the House in the previous session was much stronger.

Sen. Jeff Hayden, DFL-Minneapolis, who sits alongside Mariani in the POCI caucus, said that one of the bill’s most significant weaknesses is that it doesn’t do nearly enough to hold bad actors accountable. He expressed hope that future legislation could rectify the issue.

Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-Nisswa, left the door open to changes. However, he emphasized that further legislation should be tackled in a regular session, to give ample time for legislators to hear from all sides in committee.

Abolish the police?

Though DFLers say they never proposed it, left-wing calls to “abolish police” became a political flashpoint at the capitol and elsewhere. Senate Republicans vowed to oppose any legislation that would defund or abolish police, as supported by members of the Minneapolis City Council.

Rice County Sheriff Troy Dunn, who serves as president of the Minnesota Sheriffs Association, said that while training and measures to ensure department accountability are important, he’s deeply concerned about what abolishing police” could mean for public safety.

“I think a majority of our citizens want law enforcement, respect law enforcement, we listen to them, they listen to us and we’re there for one another,” he said. “It scares me to think of agencies being totally defunded.”

Rep. Jeff Brand, DFL-St. Peter, has taken a more cautious position on police reform than some of his DFL colleagues. Last month, Brand voted against some of the measures proposed by the POCI caucus, and he’s made his opposition to “abolishing the police” clear.

A former St. Peter City Councilor, Brand said that in his experience, local police officers consistently handle themselves responsibly and work to maintain good community relations. He said he’s concerned over reports he’s heard of declining officer morale due to anti-law enforcement messages.

Still, Brand said that he supported most of the recommendations in Attorney General Keith Ellison’s task force on police reform and was pleased to see them included in the final bill. Given that Floyd’s death occurred in Minnesota, Brand said it was crucial that legislators find a way to pass something.

“All of the eyes of the world were on us, and we’ve done something,” he said. “It’s obviously a compromise … but it’s going to make a difference.”

Still, some of the training included in the bill might be harder for some departments to implement than others. Nicollet County Sheriff David Lange said that while his department conforms by the new policies in many areas, changes are needed in others.

“We’ll have to do some work to abide by (the new policies),” he said. “It comes down to time and money.”

In 2017, Minnesota legislators passed a bill requiring all officers to take at least 16 hours of comprehensive de-escalation training. Thanks to a federal grant received by the Rice County Chemical and Mental Health Coalition, Rice County law enforcement have been able to take the much more comprehensive 40-hour training. Among the issues addressed in the course were military reintegration, officer mental health, suicide awareness, cultural sensitivity and youth mental health issues. The goal is to have every law enforcement officer in Rice County take the training before the grant expires.

In addition to mandating additional training on cultural bias and crisis intervention, the new law also requires officers to receive autism awareness training. Dunn specifically cited that provision as particularly welcome and overdue.

Local effects

Faribault Police Chief Andy Bohlen, who recently implemented changes to his department’s use of force policies, described the legislation as a “good compromise.” He said that reforms were needed and still may be needed in some areas, citing the officer arbitration process.

“I think a lot of the reforms that they passed were not surprising,” he said. “I think departments understand that some things needed to be revised and changed.”

Northfield Police Chief Monte Nelson, who retires Friday, also said that he wasn’t particularly surprised by any of the measures passed in St. Paul. Nelson said that he understands the urgency behind calls for reform in the wake of Floyd’s death. At the same time, Nelson hopes legislators would be careful not to pass bills that create new mandates without addressing the issue effectively. He also urged legislators to take a holistic approach that looks beyond simply law enforcement.

Nelson said he was reasonably pleased with the legislation and glad to see agreement between law enforcement groups and police reform advocates. He said that the bill was well timed, as his department is in the middle of a policy rewrite.

“I was glad they came together and managed to get something passed, because then we’ll be able to look at the changes and include them in our new policies,” he said. “If they waited another six months, we’d have had our policies written by then.”

Other departments are moving quickly to bring their policies in line with the new mandates. Minnesota Sheriffs Association President Bill Hutton said that he’s on the phone on a daily basis with law enforcement officials across the state.

Hutton said that he appreciated the opportunity to provide feedback on the bill on behalf of law enforcement officials across the state. He said the new legislation will mark just the beginning of an ongoing conversation between law enforcement agencies and those they serve.

“People are looking for change, and sheriffs need to listen,” he said.