OWATONNA — The commons area of the Owatonna Middle School was filled with tension and drama Monday evening as U.S. Rep. Jim Hagedorn hosted a town hall meeting for residents of Steele County as part of his town hall tour that is taking place throughout his 21-county district.
Steele County residents were given priority to ask question that had been submitted before the town hall began, making it through 14 questions and a handful of follow-ups. Brad Meier, the president and CEO of the Owatonna Area Chamber of Commerce and Tourism, was the moderator for the event.
“I may not always vote the way you want me to, but I vote the way I promised to,” Hagedorn told the audience as he provided updates on the happenings in Washington, D.C., since he first took office in January.
Before the floor was opened to questions, Hagedorn shared what he considered to be his main priorities while serving Congress. These priorities included creating a legal, merit-based system of immigration; preventing the country from becoming a socialist state; fixing the health care system and making it more “patient-centered”; reinstating the work-for-welfare program; becoming completely U.S. energy dependent; expanding trades and opening markets; defending the basic constitutional rights of life, arms, and religious freedom; and preserving and maintaining the quality of life found in southern Minnesota that he said is centered around agriculture, superior medical care, and small businesses.
While the Republican congressman had plenty of people in the audience who supported and applauded some of his remarks, there was a fair amount of those in attendance that disagreed with Hagedorn and displayed clear disapproval of how he is spending his time in office. Notably, members of Steele County Indivisible who were in attendance showed clear consternation when Hagedorn’s recent constituent ban targeting the group was called into question.
On July 15, Hagedorn penned a letter to the Indivisible Group of St. Peter, Greater Mankato and the First District that — after 20 in-person meetings at his Mankato district office and an alleged confession from an Indivisible leader that the group had been visiting the office to keep staff from attending to other work — his staff would longer be available to meet with the group.
About halfway through the question period is when the congressman was asked what criteria he uses when choosing who to exclude from meeting with him, directly referencing his letter to Indivisible. Hagedorn reiterated that his staff has held 20 meetings with the group in Mankato since he had taken office discussing different concerns of what he calls the “far leftist” members. Examples of issues discussed that he offered to the audience included gun control, climate change, and impeaching President Donald Trump.
“I’m happy to hear it. I hear it from people every day. I’m not afraid of talking about the issues and finding out what people think,” Hagedorn said. “But when you’ve had 20 times in our office and the Indivisible national website says to try to go in and spend as much time with these members of Congress that you can so that they can’t go out and do things on the issues — no, you’ve had 20 tries. That’s good. Our district office is not a political office. Our district office isn’t there to talk about issues, per say. We’ll take your comments and concerns, but our district office is there to serve the people of the First District and to help them with problems they have with government.”
Members of Indivisible in the crowd disagreed with Hagedorn stating that he had listened to group or responded to their questions. One member began heckling the congressman, making mockery noises as he spoke and called Hagedorn a “silver-spoon, son of a rich farmer” who spent his entire life on the East Coast. Another audience member, who did not identify whether or not she was a member of Indivisible, asked a follow-up question on how Hagedorn’s constituents are supposed to ask him questions. Hagedorn instructed her to do what everyone else does — call or write a letter.
“My job is to go do the work, my job is to get out in the community as best as possible,” Hagedorn said. “For a long time your group was upset with me because I wasn’t holding town halls. I had been in office like six minutes and you were mad that I hadn’t held a town hall. So we’re going to do 21 — one in each county — and I think that’s pretty good. I suspect we will do more town halls than anyone else in Minnesota by the time it’s done.”
When met with voices from the crowd saying that Hagedorn isn’t listening to the people, he asked if not accepting their view is the same as not listening.
Health and medicine
Hagedorn received a few audience questions centered around health and medical care, including access to affordable health care, support for Medicare, and pharmaceutical companies getting subsidized for television ads.
“Timely and quality medical care is what we have to have for everyone,” Hagedorn said. “I don’t think Obamacare is working. Minnesota, I don’t believe, needed Obamacare. We had over 90% participation with health insurance cards and they pool from people with pre-existing medical needs before Obamacare.”
Hagedorn stated that the Affordable Care Act “disrupted the apple cart” causing premiums to dramatically rise and deductibles being so high that the insurance is rendered useless for many people. He said that he doesn’t believe the federal government should be telling Minnesota how to regulate its health care.
“I’m for patient-centered medical care,” Hagedorn said. “I think we should do things that make sense. Let people shop for care at the basic levels with pre-tax dollars. Nobody should have to pay the federal government taxes on the money they need for medical care.”
“If health care is a right — which some of you believe but I don’t necessarily buy into — what right does the government have to tax you for what you need to go procure?” Hagedorn continued.
The congressman added that opening the market for competitive rates would drastically help people find insurance that they can afford and that makes sense for them. He added that he believes in creating a “high risk pool” for people with pre-existing medical needs for either the insurance companies or government to pay for once a certain limit is hit, allowing everyone to get high-quality and timely care without everyone having to pay for it through high premiums.
“We are the envy of the world,” Hagedorn said in terms of medical care. “The rest of the world piggybacks off of us because of all the things we’ve created here that they utilize usually at a discounted price, including our prescription drugs.”
In terms of Medicare, Hagedorn said that he believes that Obamacare has under-minded the system and in turn has prevented people from getting the care they deserve without supplemental insurance.
“My concern is the concept of Medicare for all,” Hagedorn said. “If you think it is under-funded now and you’re getting cuts, wait until everybody can get it. Wait until they give it to people who aren’t even residents of the United States, which is what the Democratic presidential candidates said.”
With prescription drugs, Hagedorn said that the most important thing is that the medicine is made in the United States. From there, he believes that the companies should sell the medication at a rate that they can sustain throughout all markets so that a $2 pill in the U.S. isn’t sold for “$.25 in India.”
Several questions and comments regarding immigration and refugees were brought up during the town hall, specifically when to expect a fix to a broken immigration system. Hagedorn stated that he supports the initiatives set forth by President Trump, adding that he believes they date back to the term of President Ronald Reagan.
“The system is broken. Everybody knows that. We’ve agreed on that for many years,” Hagedorn said. “What’s happening now is that it’s completely overwhelmed and many of our laws are being used against us.”
Hagedorn said that the most important measure that needs to be taken in terms of immigration is securing the broader, including implementing a wall. He said that people need to be going through check points legally.
“Then we need laws on the books to where if people are coming here that they need to be doing it through a legal process — and if they don’t a judge therefore says they’re deported, then we need to let ICE do its job,” Hagedorn said. “ICE’s job is to go out and find the people that the law enforcement and federal judges have said, ‘You do not have a legal right to be in the United States. You need to go back to your home country.’”
Hagedorn said that there also needs to be a biometric system for people who have come into the United States on temporary visas and never left. He stated that it needs to be changed so that overstaying a visa is against the law, noting that other countries fine and detain a person for the same offense.
“On 9/11, we had 19 people who changed our country forever. A few of them had overstayed visas,” Hagedorn said. “Maybe if we had a better system in place we would have found out what was going on and stopped it.”
The congressman added that things such as birth-right citizenship weren’t the intent of the founding fathers. He said that we should want people here for the right reasons who will assimilate.
“We are the most generous country in the world in terms of immigration,” Hagedorn said in reference to accepting refugees. Hagedorn stated that the destabilization in places such as Yemen and Libya was caused by President Barack Obama and that Trump was “dealt a bad hand” because of it. He also said that he does not believe the one million refugees that were accepted into the country during Obama’s presidency were properly vetted and that he stands by Trump as he tries to ratify that.
Throughout the town hall, Hagedorn repeatedly asserted his support for Trump. He stated that he believes that “Trump’s heart is in the right place” when it comes to his trade war with China, noting that China is the toughest player who is trying to hit Trump’s biggest supporters: farmers in rural areas.
The congressman brought up efforts to impeach Trump multiple times, though the topic was never brought up by the questions asked the public. Hagedorn reiterated that he will never vote in support of Trump’s impeachment.
When asked about his opinion on the Mueller report — the report that covers the investigation into Russian interference with the 2016 Presidential Election — Hagedorn stated that after reading through the report with his staff that he believes Trump when he says there was no collusion.
“We are always under attack,” Hagedorn said about Russia trying to interfere with the election. “We are the beacon of freedom. We are the greatest country on Earth and the envy of the rest of the world.”
The town hall tour began in June in Martin County and is slated to continue into 2020, hosting at least one town hall in each county across Minnesota’s First Congressional District. Hagedorn sits on the agriculture and small business committees in the House of Representatives.
MEDFORD — Medford has moved quickly to hire a new business manager, as the school board approved Jarred Anderson for that position during Monday’s meeting.
Anderson, whose first official day will be Aug. 1, “has experience as a business manager,” and “experience is one thing we were really looking for,” said Mark Ristau, Medford’s superintendent. Anderson, who also farms with his family, currently works as the business manager for the Glenville-Emmons school district.
Anderson replaces Andrew Adams, who announced his resignation, effective June 30, earlier this summer. Adams was hired in May 2018 to replace Lylia Iverson, who was with the district for decades before retiring last summer.
In other developments Monday, Kevin Babcock, Medford’s high school principal, briefed the board on possibilities for a new digital sign display. The board ultimately tabled the discussion to gather more information, as well as decide where exactly to place such a sign — on the top of the hill next to the school building, near the veterans memorial, at the Interstate 35 exit, or somewhere else.
After reaching out to nine companies, Babcock recommended Signs Plus, which would provide a faux brick sign roughly seven feet tall and eight feet wide for $32,000. That price also includes parts for five years, lifetime support and software updates, a 10-year parts availability guarantee, and the ability to control the sign remotely from anywhere.
The next-lowest bid was more than $40,000, he said. “If you ask me, the price from Signs Plus is amazing.”
“We discussed (this) four or five years ago, and it was very expensive,” but “we probably need some sort of exterior advertising,” Ristau said. “We really don’t have anything.”
Prices for LED signs like this have “gotten considerably cheaper,” said John Anhorn, a member of the school board. “It’s gotten to be half of what it was five years ago.”
The board tabled the discussion Monday, but the possibility of installing a digital sign, which would be similar to the one in front of Owatonna High School, next summer makes sense, Ristau said. The district plans a major parking lot renovation in the summer of 2020, as well.
Ristau also provided an enrollment update Monday, and while numbers in July are “soft,” the district’s current enrollment stands at 923, juxtaposed with 896 at this time last year.
“Oct. 1 is when we can say, ‘This is who we are,’” but, even acknowledging the fluidity of summer figures, ultimately “I do anticipate us to be up versus last year,” he said. “We have done a lot of open enrollment forms in the last week or so.”
Also Monday, the board approved the district’s Long-Term Facilities Maintenance plan.
Minnesota school districts applying for long-term facilities maintenance revenue must annually complete the application for Long-Term Facilities Maintenance Revenue and submit it to the Minnesota Department of Education. To qualify for Long-Term Maintenance Revenue, school districts must have a 10-year plan adopted by the school board and approved by the commissioner of education.
Districts approve a 10-year-plan annually, so “it’s fairly fluid,” Ristau said. Districts often “move money around from year to year if you have a big project on the horizon,” which Medford did to complete their HVAC replacement project in the summer of 2017 and will do again to fund the parking lot reconfiguration next summer.
OWATONNA — An Inver Grove man faces murder and manslaughter charges in Steele County related to the drug-overdose death of a man whose body was discovered in a vehicle parked in an Owatonna convenience store parking lot earlier this month.
Robert James Matras, 47, was charged with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter for allegedly causing the death of Jesse Robert Frohwein, 24, of Austin. Matras is believed to have supplied the drugs — methamphetamine — that led to Frohwein’s death. Frohwein’s body was discovered in the parking lot of the Kwik Trip on 46th Street NW, near Cabela’s on July 10.
According to the criminal complaint, Matras got a ride to his girlfriend’s house in Apple Valley from Frohwein — described by Matras as “a kid he met in jail.” Matras told police that on the way to Apple Valley, Frohwein ingested a “parachute” of meth that from “stuff he [Matras] had lying around” in his home.
According to the National Institutes of Health, “parachuting” is a “technique of drug delivery where medications or illicit drugs are ingested by wrapping the drug of choice in a covering, when then will dissolve or unravel in the gastrointestinal tract, thereby releasing the drug for absorption.” The practice also may involve “packaging of a higher than usual dose of a drug in attempts to attain a sustained-release effect as the ‘parachute’ dissolves or unravels.”
Matras used a piece of tissue paper he found on the floor to make the parachute, the complaint said, and thought “he put a good amount [of the methamphetamine] in the parachute.”
In an interview with investigators, Matras said that when they were traveling to Austin, Frohwein began “sweating really bad,” leading Matras, who was driving at the time, to stop at a rest area and get Frohwein some water. As they continued driving, Frohwein began “flipping out” and started “jerking” and “kicking the windshield,” Matras told police.
When they arrived at the Kwik Trip in Owatonna, Frohwein asked Matras not to leave him, but Matras said he was “going to bail” because he didn’t want to get in trouble for driving with a canceled license,” according to the complaint.
Matras got a ride from another person at the convenience store who he described as a “nice kid he didn’t know” and left the area. According to the complaint, “Matras said he could still hear Frohwein when he got a ride from Kwik Trip in Owatonna. Frohwein was honking the horn as they drove away.”
Only when Matras was in Austin, where he was arrested, did he say he was worried about Frohwein and suggested that someone call 911 to see if Frohwein was OK, the complaint says.
A third party, not named in the complaint, contacted 911 and “reported that she heard from a friend of a friend that there was someone in a car overdosing” at the 46th Street Kwik Trip in Owatonna.
Police arrived shortly before 7 a.m. and found Frohwein’s car improperly parked with a broken windshield.
“The passenger side front window looked like it had been kicked and shattered from inside the car,” the complaint says.
Inside the car was a man, later identified as Frohwein, lying half in the driver’s seat and half in the passenger seat of the car. An officer attempted to find a pulse but could not find one. When Mayo ambulance personnel arrived at the scene, they confirmed that the man was dead.
In Steele County District Court on Tuesday morning Judge Joseph Buetel said the seriousness of the crimes that Matras is accused of, coupled with both an increased flight risk and Matras’ own “long history of crime” and public safety issues that “the court has to take into consideration,” prompted the judge to hold Matras on $500,000 without conditions or $200,000 with conditions.
If convicted of the charges, Matras faces up to 25 years in prison and a $40,000 fine on the third-degree murder charge and up to 10 years in prison and $20,000 on the manslaughter charge.