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Brady Carrigan lost his final season with the Owatonna clay target team due to the MSHSL’s decision to cancel all spring activities, but his competitive career isn’t over as recently committed to Upper Iowa University and will join the Peacocks’ Shotgun Sports team. (Photo courtesy of Mike Oldenburg)

Fireworks still a go, fundraising for 2021 a question mark


While most all of the summer fairs and festivals around Owatonna have canceled for 2020, John Havelka with the Early Edition Rotary Club swears that canceling the city’s Independence Day fireworks was never an option.

“I did not once ever entertain that thought,” Havelka said. “I love summertime and the Fourth is probably my favorite holiday, so there was no way we were going to stop these fireworks — we had to find a way to have them.”

Luckily for Owatonna area residents, the setup of the fireworks show – named ‘Patriot Skies’ – is already in the prime location to promote social distancing. With the fireworks themselves being shot off inside the grandstand of the Steele County Fairgrounds, Havelka said that there is ample room for people to park their cars and enjoy the show throughout the south side of town.

“That’s the beauty of the fireworks,” Havelka said. “There is so much space to go hang out with your family by finding a spot in the grass or being in your cars and keeping that social distance.”

A selection of food vendors that typically come to the Steele County Free Fair will also be set up in front of the grandstand.

Though Havelka admits that it will hard not to have his typical Independence Day barbecue with a large group of friends, the Early Edition Rotary Club wanted to make sure that safe social distancing would be practiced for the fireworks show amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.

In order to keep the public safe, the grandstand will not be open for seating. “You have to social distance and be smart about it, but we also want you to enjoy it,” Havelka said. “We want to celebrate America, get together with family and close friends, and practice what is recommended for your safety.”

While Havelka is excited that the 2020 fireworks show will go on as planned, he said that there is a real sense of worry when it comes to next year’s show. Each year, the Early Edition Rotary Club hosts a handful of events — such as its famous summer corn feed — to pay for the following year’s fireworks display. Because of the uncertainty around COVID-19, as well as the impact it has had on the finances of both local businesses and individuals, Havelka is concerned about being able to raise its usual funds.

“We raise about $20,000 every year, and of course we would like to raise even more, but fundraising this year is going to be challenging,” Havelka said. “We were able to get our meat raffles in before everything shut down, but we had to cancel our wine and beer tasting even that could have brought in about $2,000. And the different clubs and organizations that have pull tabs, like the VFW, usually give us about $1,000, and I don’t know if they will be able to do that this year.”

While Havelka said they are hoping to reschedule the wine and beer tasting even for later this fall, as well as plan some other potential fundraisers, he said that even the corn feed is up in the air at this time. It typically takes place each August at the Eagles, but it’s impossible to know what restrictions on gatherings may be two months from now.

“Unless something was to happen, we are planning on still having the corn feed right before Labor Day,” Havelka said. “Luckily we do a lot of take outs that day, but we will still have to figure out the social distancing part of being in the building.”

For now, Fareway Grocery in Owatonna is currently doing a “roundup” event for the 2021 fireworks display, and Havelka said the Early Edition Rotary Club is in the talks to have another fundraiser through a collaborative effort with Mineral Springs Brewery.

“The fireworks aren’t free,” Havelka said. “It all comes from people being generous, so if you want to celebrate our Independence Day then somebody has to pay for them.”

The Early Edition Rotary Club has sponsed the fireworks show in Owatonna for the last two decades.

Police accountability bills stall in Minnesota Legislature

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — A special session of the Minnesota Legislature appeared to be in a stalemate Friday with both parties deeply divided on how far lawmakers should go toward remaking policing in the state where George Floyd was killed.

The Democratic-controlled House early Friday passed an extensive package of police accountability measures wrapped into one bill. It includes elements of five more modest policing bills that the Republican-controlled Senate passed earlier in the week but would make bigger changes than what Senate Republicans have said they’ll accept.

As lawmakers huddled behind closed doors, or met on the floors to pass less-contentious legislation, around 400 demonstrators held a Juneteenth rally outside the Capitol, where they chanted Floyd’s name and called for lawmakers to pass the House bill.

GOP Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, of East Gull Lake, repeatedly has said that Friday was his deadline for adjournment, and that lawmakers should focus on proposals both parties can support. But Democratic leaders from both chambers urged him at a news conference to allow more time so that both sides could seek compromises on policing and other thorny issues. He postponed indefinitely his own news conference set for Friday afternoon.

“We have to do something on police accountability and reform,” Democratic House Speaker Melissa Hortman, of Brooklyn Park, told reporters. “The tragic murder of George Floyd on May 25th changed the entire legislative agenda. There is no way for us to look away from this injustice, and to not do the work that thousands of Minnesotans and millions of people around the world are demanding that governments take up.”

Democratic Gov, Tim Walz on Thursday challenged lawmakers to put the House bill on his desk in time to sign on Juneteenth, a holiday that has long commemorated the emancipation of enslaved Blacks but turned this year into one of protest against police brutality and racism following the killing of Floyd, an African American who died after a white Minneapolis police officer pressed a knee into his neck for several minutes.

“Today as people across the state and nation recognize and observe Juneteenth, Senate Republicans are sending a loud message by choosing to pack up and leave before we’ve finished the work that Minnesotans are expecting us to do,” Democratic Senate Minority Leader Susan Kent, of Woodbury, told reporters. “Black, Indigenous and people of color have spent years fighting for justice. We can spend a little more than a week doing the same.”

Walz, who has called for making Juneteenth a state holiday, spoke Friday with musician Pharrell Williams, who tweeted that he’s asking every governor to make it a paid holiday for state employees, and that he spoke with a number of governors Friday. “Thank you for fighting for this issue. #Juneteenth is an important part of our history, and it should be recognized and remembered by our entire state each year,” Walz wrote as he retweeted Williams’ thanks.

The two parties also remained divided on the main unfinished business of the 2020 regular session, a public construction borrowing package known as a bonding bill, which could potentially include money for rebuilding neighborhoods in Minneapolis and St. Paul where businesses were damaged and destroyed in the unrest that followed Floyd’s killing. Other unresolved issues included a potential tax break that could benefit businesses seeking to rebuild, and how to allocate federal coronavirus relief money to local governments from the $2.1 billion the state received under the CARES Act.

If there is no agreement on the big issues, lawmakers are likely to get another chance in mid-July. Assuming Walz intends to issue another 30-day extension of the emergency powers he’s been using to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, he’s legally required to call another special session for July 12 to let lawmakers object. That’s why he called this special session. House Democrats blocked a Senate GOP attempt last week to remove the governor’s emergency authority.

This spring, children of essential workers sit in a gym at Banfield Elementary in Austin, Minn. The gym was repurposed so students enrolled in the school’s child care program could work on activities and engage in distance learning while implementing social distancing. (Photo courtesy of Austin Public Schools)

Owatonna man reflects on guilty pleas in Calif. fire that killed his dad

Less than two years ago, Roman Digby, of Owatonna, was desperately seeking answers.

As the horrendous wildfire — known as Camp Fire — roared through the town of Paradise, California, Digby had been unable to reach his father, John Digby, who lived in a mobile home park within the city. For almost an entire week, Digby had no idea what had happened to his father, getting only static with every phone call he attempted to make to the local authorities.

On Nov. 14, six days after last talking to his father, Digby got confirmation that his dad had died inside him home as a result of Camp Fire. John Digby was 78.

Fast-forward 19 months: Digby got a bit of closure after Pacific Gas & Electric, a utilities company in northern California, pleaded guilty Tuesday to 84 counts of involuntary manslaughter and one felony count of unlawfully starting the fire that killed 85 and destroyed nearly 19,000 buildings.

“The CEO pleaded guilty with each individual name that was read,” said Digby who has been glued to the livestream of the court proceedings all week. “When the judge read my dad’s name, that was really hard to hear.”

While Digby said it felt a bit cathartic to hear the PG&E CEO Bill Johnson plead guilty to causing his father’s death, he added that it ripped open wounds in ways that he wasn’t expecting.

“When I heard his name in the courtroom, it brought it all back pretty quickly,” Digby said, recalling the days following his father’s death. “It was strange and hard to hear that, because I really realized for the first time that I lost my dad because of this company. It was like a second wave of realization of what had happened.”

According to a grand jury report released Tuesday, the utility company repeatedly ignored warnings about its aging power lines and faulty maintenance and failed to follow state regulations. A year-long investigation spearheaded by Butte County District Attorney Michael Ramsey determined that outdated power lines sparked the 2018 fire.

“$13,” Digby said. “That’s how much it would have cost for them to replace the piece of equipment that started it all. I could have paid for that.”

Digby said that the investigation into Camp Fire showed that over a course of 50 years PG&E ignored the visible wear on the piece of equipment that ignited the fire, finding that it was clearly in the company’s culture to cut costs wherever possible.

“I’m angry, but it’s hard for me to be angry at a company,” Digby said. “There is any number of people who individually are to blame over the years who worked in this culture of cutting costs and negligence — and that starts from the top. It falls on upper management, but none of the upper management there now were there when the fire happened.”

“The CEO at the time left the company with a $9 million bonus,” Digby said. “But they couldn’t replace a $13 piece that killed all these people and my dad.”

Though Digby didn’t submit an impact statement to the court, he listened to the statements of other family members who lost loved ones as a result of the Camp Fire. He said that a lot of people were extremely angry, recalling one woman saying that she hopes the CEO “burns in hell.” Though Digby admits that the entire situation is infuriating, he said that he doesn’t want to hold on to the anger.

“I think they all have every right to be as angry as they are, but one reason why I think I’m able to control my anger is that my dad was a very level-headed, easy going person,” Digby said. “I find strength in thinking that he wouldn’t want me to be extremely angry — he would want me to move on with my life.”

Digby said he believes the words Johnson, the company CEO, spoke during the court proceedings: that no words or actions could ever replace the people lost in the fire, but that PG&E will commit to improving safety and making necessary repairs.

“They felt genuine,” Digby said of the CEO’s words. “At least I feel that the CEO probably believes what he is saying; now it’s just a matter of if they actually take that action. I’ll be monitoring them, that’s for sure.”

Moving forward, Digby said that he will receive part of the victims settlement coming from the $3.5-million fine given PG&E. He also hopes to make a trip to Paradise in 2021 to pay respects at the site of his father’s home.

“I hope [the other families] will try to find the good things in life again,” Digby said. “Going forward I know it’s hard with all that we’ve gone through, but I just hope that we can all find happiness in our lives.”