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Marilyn Hagerty, 85, gets Internet star treatment for Olive Garden review

UCare “gift” controversy; Burnsville payout fallout; Amy Senser wants trial moved; and more.

Well, the big-city snarks and haute-cuisine mavens are having their fun with Marilyn Hagerty, 85, of the Grand Forks Herald. Yes, Marilyn did go on a bit about the town’s marvelous new … Olive Garden. But what does it say that she’s a national Internet sensation? Her home paper writes: “[H]er Wednesday restaurant review of Olive Garden has gone viral. Since it was posted GrandForksHerald.com early Wednesday, her review received more than 290,000 views as of 7:30 a.m. today. … ‘I don’t get it,’ the 85-year-old said Thursday. ‘I’ve been doing this for 30 to 40 years. Why all of a sudden now’? Internet sharing is the reason. Popular websites such as Fark, Gawker and Boing Boing posted the story, setting off a barrage of comments via Twitter and Facebook. The website postings were because residents of more metropolitan areas found it amusing that a chain restaurant would be reviewed. In larger markets, newspaper reviews are reserved for exclusive, high-end eateries that offer fine dining. For instance, Fark’s summary of the story was this: ‘Residents of Grand Forks, N.D., are lining up for blocks to enjoy a one-of-a-kind European dining experience that finally puts the city on the culinary map with its unique brand of Tuscany refinery. It’s called The Olive Garden.’ But others have leaped to her defense, such as Jayvie Canono of Annapolis, Md., who wrote on his Twitter feed: ‘She singlehandedly makes me want to visit Grand Forks.’ ‘I find her tone awesome,’ he said in a telephone interview. ‘I don’t want to use the word ‘quaint,’ but it’s very earnest. ‘In the coastal United States, restaurant reviews try to be as uptight as possible. I hate it when they try to be so pretentious. You can never please food critics..’ “

At City Pages, for example, editor Kevin Hoffman called Marilyn. A sample of their conversation goes like this: “I take it there aren’t a ton of restaurants to review in Grand Forks so it must be difficult to find a new place to go each time?
Yeah, that’s exactly it. I had attended meetings of the national newspaper food editors for many years, and we had sessions on how to write restaurant reviews. And I got thinking, we don’t have one, but why couldn’t we? But if I did that, there are about three or four fine dining places, and then what would you do? So I decided that I would just write about all the restaurants, including McDonald’s, or wherever people eat. Sort of like a news story to have our readers in our area to know what they can expect, what they can find, how much it will cost when they’re visiting here. And the hometown people kind of like it, I mean they often tell me they do.
Oh, I bet. Now, when did you actually go to the Olive Garden?
When did I go to the Olive Garden? Two or three weeks ago.
Was there anything you left out of your review in terms of your experience there?
Um, how would I know? I put in what I put in. Yeah, you’re getting at the fact that I didn’t criticize it enough, I suppose, because that is what most people who want to be critical say. And I usually do put in pluses or minuses and say a few good things and bad things. Anyway, in the past when that has been criticized, I mean, what do you do? You keep going. The publisher came out to my desk one day and said, “Marilyn,  I like what you’re doing, because it gives a picture of what places to eat are like in Grand Forks.” And I’m a journalist, I’m not just someone sitting out in the country writing.
Have you been reading the reactions to your column online today?
I tell ya, I really don’t have time to sit and read what people think, because I have a deadline. I’m writing about a riverboat that we used to have here, and I met the pilot down in Florida, so I’m writing a story about this riverboat pilot for the Sunday paper, and I have to finish it today, so I don’t really have time to do that. I did see four or five messages when I opened my laptop this morning. One was kind of snotty, and the rest were very nice.
Everybody on the Internet today is sharing your column and really enjoying it.
I feel they’re being rather condescending, but it’s OK with me.”

Something tells me Marilyn wasn’t born yesterday. If she doesn’t get an invitation from Jay Leno …

That $30 million “gift” of UCare funds has Iowa Sen. Charles Grassley demanding more info from Minnesota bureaucrats. Jon Collins’ MPR story says: “The ranking member of the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee sent a letter to Gov. Mark Dayton Thursday asking why UCare, a Minnesota health plan company, repaid $30 million in Medicaid funds to the state as a ‘gift,’ rather than a reimbursement. In the letter, Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, said he’s concerned that the way the funds were returned was meant to avoid reimbursing money to the federal government. Grassley was referring to emails sent by Minnesota Department of Human Services Commissioner Lucinda Jesson in March 2011, in which she described how UCare should draft its press release about returning the Medicaid funds to the state. ‘In order to have a good chance of keeping all of this money, it must be characterized as a donation. If a refund, feds clearly get half,’ Jesson wrote in an email. A Dayton spokesperson said Jesson is representing the administration’s stance on the issue.”

In Jackie Crosby’s Strib story, there is this: “Jesson said she met with the federal government’s top Medicaid official for an already-scheduled meeting in Baltimore just days after receiving word that UCare would be making the payment. Jesson, a lawyer, said she told federal officials about the UCare payment and said her reading of the contract made it clear UCare wasn’t ‘obligated to pay us this money.’ ‘I said, ‘We think it’s legitimately a donation, but we understand you may look at it differently,’ Jesson said. ‘I understand this is a novel situation. People can have different interpretations, which is why I tried to be extraordinarily transparent with the head of Medicaid for United States government.’ “

At the PiPress, Christopher Snowbeck writes: “Health plans historically had been underpaid by the state for administering a separate health insurance program called General Assistance Medical Care, [UCare CEO Nancy] Feldman wrote. Those losses typically were offset by higher Medicaid payments, she said. So, when the General Assistance Medical Care program stopped using the health plans in 2010, the Medicaid rates ‘were not lowered to reflect the overpayment,’ according to the letter, which also was presented at the House hearing in February. ‘The $30 million represents what we consider to be excess 2010 operating margin for state public programs,’ Feldman wrote.”

The latest in that squirrely Burnsville school district payout story is this, from Christopher Magan at the PiPress: “Burnsville-Eagan-Savage school officials investigated complaints against Superintendent Randall Clegg but took no disciplinary action against him. In response to a request for information by the Pioneer Press under the Minnesota Data Practices Act, Ruth Dunn, Burnsville schools spokeswoman, wrote: ‘Complaints were made to the school district regarding Superintendent Randall Clegg. The status of the complaints is that an investigation was completed and no disciplinary action was taken.’ It is unknown who made the complaints or why. Under the data practices act, the state’s open-records law, the district is required to release details on a complaint or investigation only if it results in a disciplinary action. The district didn’t indicate when the complaints were made. Tania Z. Chance, the former human resources director who received a $254,814 payout to end her employment, reportedly filed complaints against Clegg with the Minnesota Human Rights Commission and the state Board of School Administrators. The existence of those complaints was made public last week when an unredacted version of Chance’s separation agreement was leaked to area news organizations. … Burnsville school officials have refused to discuss the reasons for Chance’s departure or to confirm the information contained in the unredacted separation agreement, citing privacy rules  under the data practices act. It is unknown if the complaints to the district regarding Clegg are in any way related to Chance’s separation agreement.”

To paraphrase Bob Uecker … “Juuuuuust a bit over the limit.” The Duluth News Tribune has the story of the guy who mistook a mobile home for the street: “Witnesses said [Dustin] Erichsen’s truck crossed Cypress Street, ran off the road, across the yard and hit the mobile home. The homeowners said the pickup missed their 8-year-old son’s bedroom by just 5 feet, and the boy was thrown to the floor by the impact. Officers were dispatched to the crash scene about 5:36 p.m. While on their way, officers received reports that Erichsen was being uncooperative and making threats. The first officer arrived at 5:47 p.m. to find two men restraining him. ‘The officer observed that the defendant had trouble standing, smelled an overwhelming smell of alcohol emanating from the defendant and the defendant admitted to having ‘two beers,’ [according to] the summons’ statement of probable cause and Erichsen admitted he was driving, saying that he slid on ice as he attempted to turn on Cypress Street, the summons said. Because of an injury, Erichsen was unable to perform field sobriety tests other than the preliminary breath tester, ‘which he failed with a result of .383,’ the summons said. Erichsen refused to take a more accurate blood-alcohol content test after his arrest.” So what do you figure the alcohol content of those “two beers” would have to be to hit 0.383?

Amy Senser is going to trial. Abby Simons in the Strib reports: “Citing a slew of online comments that say Amy Senser should ‘fry’ and ‘rot in hell,’ her attorney has requested that her upcoming criminal vehicular homicide trial be moved to Kandiyohi County. The motion was filed on the day Senser formally pleaded not guilty in Hennepin County District Court. District Judge Daniel Mabley denied Senser attorney Eric Nelson’s motion to dismiss the charges against her, reasoning that there is enough evidence against her for prosecutors to present to a jury. He ordered that plans for her trial to begin next month should remain in place. Senser will make her next court appearance April 16. Trial is scheduled for April 23 for two counts of felony criminal vehicular homicide.”

When you think “stirring up the pot of hate,” I’m sure you think of Barack Obama. No? Well, John Hinderaker does. At Power Line, he writes: “Millions of Americans voted for Barack Obama in the hope that he would be a trailblazer who would conduct the presidency in a new way. Well, he has: Obama has been the most divisive president in our modern history, unabashedly stirring up hate against not only his political enemies, but against private citizens who exercise their right to participate in our democracy. The most recent hatefest has been directed against Rush Limbaugh, and Obama has personally stirred the pot. … Barack Obama has been a terrible president in many ways, but perhaps his most poisonous legacy is his cynical fomenting of partisan hate to advance his own political interests. After three years, we have learned that ‘hope’ is not the word that we should associate with the Obama presidency.” John, it’s the weekend. Put on some soft music, place a warm towel on your forehead and enjoy a relaxing re-reading of “The Turner Diaries.”