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The Regional Report: Pierz voters to consider referendum again, Motley police chief facing complaint

AITKIN

• A program providing free community meals in Aitkin will be featured in a PBS television show, the Aitkin Independent Age reported. A camera crew filmed and conducted interviews at the First Lutheran Church in Aitkin, where 80-100 people gather Mondays and Thursdays for the free meal. First organized by community members 18 years ago, a Twin Cities-based organization partnered on the project in 2016. Loaves & Fishes is the largest "open to the public" meal program in the state.

• An Aitkin man who suffered the loss of both hands and feet following a snowmobile crash gave back to the students who raised money for his family, the Aitkin Independent Age reported. Instead of accepting money raised by Aitkin High School students as part of a lift-a-thon, Brian Kokesh established a scholarship fund. The fund will be directed toward students with a parent or grandparent who served in the military. Kokesh, an Iraq War veteran, suffered severe frostbite when he collapsed after walking more than 1 mile from the site of the crash, where he hit water in a ditch.

AITKIN COUNTY

• All-terrain vehicle riders have more places to ride in Aitkin County following a county board vote, the Aitkin Independent Age reported. Commissioners approved an ordinance permitting Class 1 ATVs to travel on county gravel roads. The parameters of the ordinance mirror state riding standards, allowing riders to travel up to 30 mph. They must ride on the extreme right-hand side of the gravel roads, and can do so beginning at age 12 while in possession of an ATV safety certificate and while accompanied by an adult.

• Time-sensitive alerts issued by the sheriff's office can now be delivered to Aitkin County residents' phones, the Aitkin Independent Age reported. Aitkin County Sheriff Scott Turner reported the county now uses a system called Everbridge, which allows users to customize notifications. Notifications can include warnings about fires, evacuations, lockdowns, downed power lines, road closures, lost people, natural disasters, abductions, water system problems or bomb threats. The alters can be targeted to residents based on geography.

CROSBY

The chairman of the Cuyuna Range Hospital District will remain in the post, the Crosby-Ironton Courier reported. Richard Schiller was re-elected to the position. Also elected to leadership roles were Roger Twigg, vice chair; Earl Bedard, secretary; and Lori Burgstaler, treasurer.

• In a pointed opinion piece printed in the Crosby-Ironton Courier, Lt. Kevin Randolph excoriated the Ironton-based publication Newshopper for its coverage of Crosby City Council meetings and other matters in the city.

"The Newshopper coverage of these (council) meetings are at best misleading, and at worst, blatant lies," Randolph wrote. "The Newshopper has been publicly reprimanded repeatedly by the council and the city attorney for printing false statements in the paper, yet in consistently refuses to retract the errors.

"The inflammatory coverage of major criminal investigations and various confidential personnel issues handled by the city have been extremely detrimental to the morale of Crosby."

FIFTY LAKES

• A 7 a.m. Jan. 27 special meeting of the Fifty Lakes City Council sought to settle accusations against one of its municipal bar employees, the Echo Journal reported. Disciplinary action against an employee is typically grounds for a closed meeting, although Sunni Johnson requested it be open to the public.

Fellow bartender Mike Potter accused Johnson of stealing chicken wings from the Fifty Lakes Bar and Bottle Shop. Video footage and testimony from both employees was part of the evidence presented in front of almost 40 residents at the early-morning weekend meeting.

"I was going to let it go, but she (Johnson) accused me of theft (of tips). It was false," Potter said, according to the Echo.

Johnson maintained she did not steal wings, and told the council Potter was retaliating against her over a previous conflict. She said she often brought food from home to share with a co-worker, and believed the boxes might have contained her leftovers. The security video showed Johnson carrying to-go boxes, but it was unclear what was inside the containers. The council voted to give Johnson a written warning.

IRONTON

• After initially opting not to reappoint City Attorney Joe Langel last month, the Ironton City Council changed course and reinstalled the lawyer to his post, the Crosby-Ironton Courier reported. Concerns over potential conflicts of interest—with Langel also representing the cities of Brainerd, Crosby and Deerwood—were apparently assuaged by Langel's assurances he would recuse himself should a matter arise between any of the cities.

• The impact of a grant from the state's Small Cities Development Program showed a number of rehabilitation projects took place in the city of Ironton, the Crosby-Ironton Courier reported. With grant funds, a total of 17 single-family homes and five commercial properties were enhanced in 2015.

LITTLE FALLS

• Hitting the links at the municipal golf course in Little Falls is about to become spendier, the Morrison County Record reported. The city council unanimously approved rate increases for the course, which brings it more in line with other area courses, city administrator Jon Rademacher said.

In July, the Record reported the Little Falls Country Club was an area of concern for the city's budget, with beverage sales down and a lot of inventory remaining in the pro shop.

MILLE LACS COUNTY

• Want to see the Vietnam Memorial Moving Wall? Head to Mille Lacs County this summer. The Mille Lacs County Messenger reported the half-size replica will visit the county fairgrounds July 4-6. The monument has toured the country for more than 30 years.

MOTLEY

• A complaint made against Motley Police Chief Ron Smith was the subject of two closed meetings of the Motley City Council, the Staples World reported. The meetings, closed to the public as permitted by statute due to consideration of discipline against an employee, took place Jan. 5 and Jan. 16. Details on the complaint have been withheld, and the World reported the city declined to answer whether Smith was working at this time, or if he was on paid leave.

ONAMIA

• Traditional suspension is no longer one of the disciplinary actions students in the Onamia School District will be assigned, the Mille Lacs Messenger reported. Beginning Jan. 23, the district implemented an alternative suspension program, aimed at addressing student issues with a more holistic approach. In lieu of sending students home for three to five days, the program will remove students from the classroom into a room staffed by teachers, who will provide tutoring. The last part of the day will group students with social workers, assisting with emotion control and anger management.

PIERZ

• Voters in the Pierz School District will be asked once again to consider approving an increase in their property taxes to support construction and improvements to the schools, the Morrison County Record reported. The school board unanimously approved a special election for April 10 after paring down its request from $18.45 million to $9.995 million. A May 2017 bonding request failed in the district by a wide margin, with 1,012 votes against and 628 votes in favor.

The new ballot question eliminates the construction of a new auditorium at the high school, but includes the remaining capital improvements proposed as part of the original referendum. Should voters approve the request, the district would use pursue classroom construction and parking lot improvements at the elementary school, and would construct a band room and improve the kitchen and cafeteria at the high school.

STAPLES

• The Staples-Motley School Board is seeking a new member, the Staples World reported. Board member Dave Hoemberg resigned his seat, the term for which was set to expire January 2019. The board discussed its procedures for appointing a community member to fill Hoemberg's seat, approving plans aim for a new member by the board's March meeting. As of Thursday, two people had submitted applications prior to Monday's deadline.

• The next steps toward construction of a new apartment complex in Staples were completed by public officials, the Staples World reported. The Staples Economic Development Authority approved purchasing land for a 38-unit building, and the Staples City Council approved a tax abatement plan for the property. The World previously reported SEDA board member Chris Etzler said he recognized a need for the apartments, as many people work in the community but do not have access to this kind of housing.

-- Compiled by Chelsey Perkins, community editor. Perkins may be reached at 218-855-5874 or chelsey.perkins@brainerddispatch.com. Follow her on Twitter @DispatchChelsey or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/dispatchchelsey.

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