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Morris in 2009: What Happened Around Here?, Part II

April 2009

• Stevens County began seeking out alternatives to its planned building project that do not include construction of a jail.

The county Board of Commissioners passed a resolution requesting that its project consultants, Klein McCarthy Architects and project manager Contegrity Group, prepare plans and cost estimates for two alternatives to the current $15 million plan, which includes construction of a jail and law enforcement center and renovation of the courthouse.

The options requested in the resolution call for costs and plans for a project that includes the courthouse renovation and construction of a new law enforcement center but excludes the jail.

• The University of Minnesota, Morris is suffering severe economic problems, as are the U of M system, the state, country and the world.

But that doesn't portend the possible closure of the Morris campus, U of M President Bob Bruininks said during a visit to Morris.

"It's more challenging and difficult in a smaller community, where the number of college-age students is declining, to sustain a campus and quality education," Bruininks said. "UMM is facing challenges, but it has a lot of distinct advantages. It's a high-quality campus and a great value, and as education costs rise, increasingly people will be looking for the best relationship between quality and value."

• Two Morris men were indicted in federal court on charges of filing false tax returns, conspiracy and attempting to defraud the Internal Revenue Service.

Joseph Edward Riley, 62, Morris, was charged with one count of conspiracy to defraud the IRS and two counts of filing a false tax return. Riley's brother, John Thomas Riley, 60, Morris, was charged with one count of conspiracy, one count of procuring a false tax return and one count of filing a false tax return.

The charges contend that the Rileys conspired to evade tax payments, and that they awarded bonuses and bought property with money not reported to revenue officials.

• Ground was broken on the West Central Research and Outreach Center's new 5,260 square foot expansion project.

Jerry Wright, the center's interim director, also got to announce that a new 220-seat theatre-style meeting and seminar space would be named the AgCountry Auditorium thanks to a gift from the Fargo-based financial services company.

The $3.3 million renovation project, which was initiated nine years ago, could be completed by mid-December and will be a demonstration, research and education model for existing WCROC programs and renewable energy and green building technology.

• The University of Minnesota, Morris announced it would lay off eight staffers and reorganize or eliminate some classes in an attempt to comply with system-wide budget cuts.

UMM Chancellor Jacquie Johnson said that the cuts were difficult but she reiterated U of M President Bob Bruininks' statement, made in Morris earlier this month, that no U campuses would be closed as the state's land-grant university wrestles with an expected $20 million reduction in state funding.

All U of M campuses were ordered to make the same percentage reductions, which equal between $1.6 million and $2.6 million at UMM, she said.

• A Donnelly man who was facing charges for cocaine distribution in Stevens County District Court was among 26 people under federal indictment after authorities cracked a cocaine pipeline between Texas and Minnesota.

Refugio (Kookie) Hernandez Muniz, 51, was charged in March with first-degree felony sale of 10 grams or more of cocaine within a 90-day period. Muniz was facing penalties of 30 years in prison and/or a fine of $1 million.

But Stevens County Attorney Charles Glasrud said that he dropped charges against Muniz after receiving word of the federal indictment against him.

Muniz was arrested locally on Feb. 4.

• A former Morris priest facing prison for possessing pornographic images of children on computers had his sentences stayed and told the court "It was difficult to tell those secrets I kept so long."

John Lloyd Caskey, 54, will serve about a month in jail, be placed on probation for five years and must adhere to several conditions as part of his sentencing before Judge Peter Hoff in Stevens County District Court.

The former Assumption Church priest was charged with 20 counts of possessing child pornography in Stevens County District Court in early 2008. In August 2008, he pled guilty to the first three counts and admitted possessing the images of minors.

May 2009

• Morris-area health and safety officials are keeping abreast of the H1N1 flu outbreak through state and national agencies and remain vigilant for possible symptoms among the local population.

Minnesota has reported one confirmed case of the virus and another potential case is being investigated.

Symptoms of the H1N1 flu virus are much the same as a seasonal flu: fever, lethargy, lack of appetite and coughing. Some people also have reported runny nose, sore throat, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea.

•Morris Area School District Counselor Tammy Roth was selected as the Multilevel School Counselor of the Year at the Minnesota School Counselors Association's Recognition Gala on May 4.

•University of Minnesota, Morris student Kateri Bird and Hilda Ladner, director of the Multi-Ethnic Student Program and assistant to the chancellor for Equity and Diversity, are recipients of this year's César E. Chávez Awards. The awards were presented during a campus ceremony last month.

Recipients are nominated by Morris campus students for their outstanding leadership and contribution to the Latino community, communities of Color and for their support of Worker's Rights.

They are also recognized for personifying the values of service to others, sacrifice, a preference to help the neediest, determination, non-violence, tolerance, respect for life, celebrating community, knowledge and innovation, embodied by the late legendary labor and civil rights leader, César Chávez.

•Morris' Valu Chrysler car dealership was not among the 789 Chrysler retail outlets the company is proposing to close as part of its bankruptcy reorganization.

Valu Ford Chrysler Dodge Jeep owner Tom Krusemark said the dealership was not on a list of closures Chrysler submitted as part of court papers filed in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in New York.

•Author and outdoorsman Will Weaver spoke to the University of Minnesota, Morris' 2009 graduating class.

Weaver delivered the Graduation Address address during the Commencement ceremony at which almost 300 UMM graduates received diplomas on a clear but windy afternoon on the campus Mall.

•Both of Morris' General Motors dealerships will remain in operation, their owners said Monday.

Heartland Motor Company and Morris Auto Plaza did not receive notification from GM that the dealerships were among those that will not have agreements renewed when current deals expire in October 2010.

GM sent letters to 1,100 dealerships nationwide stating that agreements with them would not be renewed.

•The Morris Area School Board voted to reduce three teaching positions and eliminate another two part-time spots to help erase a projected budget deficit.

The week before, the board voted during a special meeting on a plan to erase a projected $132,000 budget shortfall for the 2009-2010 school year.

But in June, funding changes made by the state Legislature and Gov. Tim Pawlenty allowed the three Morris Area teachers who had their positions cut to be reinstated, and the district school board also approved a full-time elementary teaching position to handle projected increased enrollment.

•The Stevens County Board of Commissioners voted to sell bonds that were to be used to finance jail-related expenses in the county's $15 million building and renovation project.

The vote to move ahead with the sale came a week after the commissioners voted to advertise for bids on the project.

The board earlier this year voted to postpone the $9.5 million bond sale and the bidding process while a citizens and county board advisory committee spent 10 weeks researching the project.

•The Morris Area boys won the Section 6A Track and Field Meet and qualified for the state meet in 10 events.

The Tigers finished with 114 points at Minnesota State University--Moorhead. Pequot Lakes took second with 83 and Frazee was third with 66.

First-place relay teams and the top two individuals in each event advance to the state tournament at Hamline University.

Morris Area's Rachel Moser won the pole vault at the Section 6A meet.

Moser's personal record of 10 feet, six inches earned her a first-place finish and an opportunity to compete at the state meet.

•Seventy six Morris Area high school graduates received diplomas during commencement exercises.

Senior class president Christine Schneider gave the student welcome. She noted that each of the graduates has changed throughout high school, but that gave them much to remember.

Class salutatorian Bess Boever advised her peers to give back to society as part of her speech.

Class valedictorian Kelsey Amundson urged her classmates to acknowledge their accomplishments and continue to work hard.

June 2009

The Stevens County Board of Commissioners voted unanimously to pursue a building and renovation project that does not include immediate construction of a 20-cell jail.

The controversial project now will include a substantial remodeling of the 53-year-old courthouse and construction of a new law enforcement center. The jail was the cause of uproar in the community, especially in the last six months.

Two commissioners who originally approved of including the jail in the project, stated that personal attacks played a role in their decision to drop the jail portion of the project.

•Morris Area's Rachel Moser took second place in the pole vault, while the Tiger boys captured six sixth-place medals and a fifth-place overall finish at the Class A Minnesota State Track and Field Championships.

•A new Stevens County building project could still be underway this year, and at least two commissioners stated that they don't foresee any changes to the optional plan the board adopted.

The county board met with architects and a project manager to discuss details for the new project.

A week before, the commissioners voted unanimously to pursue a building and renovation project that does not include immediate construction of a 20-cell jail.

•The annual L.T.D. Memorial Tour was June 27.

The motorcycle ride was founded to honor the memories of three members of the Army National Guard's 1st Battalion, 151st Field Artillery, 34th Infantry, who lost their lives in Baghdad in 2005. An estimated 600 bikers participated in the event.

•Linda K. Hennen will serve as Minnesota State Executive Director for the Farm Service Agency at the USDA.

Hennen has more than 30 years of experience working with the Farm Service Agency, including 15 years of management experience. She served as District Director in Minnesota from 2000-2007, where she had oversight for farm program operations and management decisions for 10 southeastern counties.

Prior to that position, Hennen worked in the Minnesota FSA office in a variety of roles where she gained expertise on the state's agricultural issues. She has many years of direct experience with regional producers and grew up farming in Minnesota. Hennen continues to be a part-owner of a family farm in Stevens County.