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Ouch! Former Blandin exec rips rosy view of St. Paul’s troubles

Rolling Hills rehab; hotels join fight against underage prostitution; another flu death; ICE searches farms; tribe to buy 2 St. Paul hotels; and more.

A former president of the Blandin Foundation gets real with St. Paul’s civic leaders. Says Paul Olson in a Strib commentary: “Be wary of a mayor, City Council member or Chamber of Commerce president who puts lipstick on a pig to avoid the hard realities facing the city of St. Paul. To call the closing of the downtown Macy’s store an ‘opportunity’ amounts to deception, especially in light of the long downward trajectory of businesses exiting the capital city. Citizens should demand that elected officials speak the truth — and they should be able to expect local newspapers to examine the veracity of officials’ statements, especially on the editorial page. … The Department of Revenue estimates that the city has $8 billion worth of tax-exempt real estate. So, for example, Travelers pays $2.8 million in property taxes; the University of St. Thomas pays nothing, yet requires police and fire protection in order to buy insurance. On the sidelines sit the philanthropic foundations of St. Paul: Bush, McKnight, Northwest (the Hill family), Bremer, Wilder and the St. Paul Foundation. Not to be accusatory, but what are they doing to advance the very community that gave birth to their endowments, which are greater than $3 billion? There has not been a burst of civic activity since former Wilder Foundation President Len Wilkening, through force of personality and love of his community, gave birth to Energy Park.” I gotta wonder if Olson offered this to the PiPress?

Speaking of gummint money … Frederick Melo of the PiPress notes: “Boosted by a loan and tax credits from the city of St. Paul, Lutheran Social Services’ first affordable housing project in the city will be a top-to-bottom rehab of the Rolling Hills apartment development on the East Side. The challenge will be completing the $14.4 million project without dislocating the current occupants, many of them recent refugees from Burma.”

Authorities are trying to get hotel workers up to speed in stopping underage prostitution. At MPR, Sasha Aslainian writes: “Hotel employees received training from law enforcement Tuesday to spot possible cases of juvenile sex trafficking. Hospitality employees will be on the look-out for signs such as guests without luggage, rooms paid for in cash and young girls with significantly older males. Last year, hotel workers in Ramsey County and Minnetonka underwent similar training to help spot suspicious activity and report it to law enforcement. Authorities said hotels and motels are often where underage girls are sold for sex. … According to the Minneapolis police, all but one of the child sex trafficking cases charged in Minneapolis in 2012 involved the use of hotels, and those hotels helped provide evidence for conviction.”

This stuff is nasty … . Pamela Miller of the Strib reports: “A 14-year-old girl from St. Louis Park died of influenza on Tuesday afternoon, the second otherwise healthy teenager to fall victim to the disease in Minnesota in 10 days. In response, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Health again urged flu shots for all Minnesotans, stressing that while they are not a surefire guarantee against the disease, which has killed five people and hospitalized at least 600 in the state since October, they offer the best defense. … Kris Ehresmann of the state Health Department confirmed Tuesday evening that a girl of that age died of influenza Type A and said that even if she received a flu shot, as some media reports have said — something Ehresmann could not immediately confirm — ‘the vaccine is not 100 percent effective, so sadly, it is possible to have a situation in which someone vaccinated develops influenza.’ “

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One the state’s better tech companies has been bought up by a California outfit. Patrick Kennedy of the Strib says: “Minnesota Thermal Science (MTS), an award-winning developer of ‘Golden Hour’ thermal-insulated containers, has been acquired by Pelican Products Inc. of Torrance, Calif. The containers, used by the U.S. military, can safely store and transport blood in extreme weather conditions. The term ‘Golden Hour’ refers to the first hour after a serious injury when most trauma deaths occur. …  When the Star Tribune last wrote about privately held MTS in November 2009, the company had 30 employees and 2008 revenue of $1.7 million and had begun developing products for commercial markets. The company was on track to record 2009 revenues of $5 million. MTS currently has 35 employees and has been growing revenue 50 percent per year over the past five years. Pelican Products has 1,250 employees and a global reach.”

The Glean How you want ’em? Over easy? Poached? The AP says: “Dozens of federal homeland security agents searched Sparboe Farms in Litchfield on Tuesday as part of what authorities called a ‘larger criminal investigation,’ but details about the nature of the operation were not disclosed. No criminal arrests were made, but 10 people were picked up on an administrative charge that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement often uses to detain possible illegal immigrants. ICE spokesman Shawn Neudauer said he could not provide details because the investigation is ongoing. Neudauer said that as of midday Tuesday, two of those arrested had been released, but the rest were still in custody and their cases were being reviewed in light of the wider investigation. Sparboe Farms spokesman Chuck Sanger said in a statement that the company complies with immigration laws and takes them seriously.”

Who fears an ethics board? The AP is saying: “A Minnesota ethics board is crafting recommendations for expanded economic disclosure requirements for lawmakers amid concern that the current reporting system is too weak to catch conflicts of interest. The Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board authorized the agency’s staff Tuesday, Jan. 8, to draft proposed changes to existing disclosure laws. The recommendations are due by early February. If endorsed, they will head to the Legislature. … Some board members called the law ‘deficient,’ while others said requiring too much disclosure will discourage qualified people from running.” For god’s sake, what will we become if the public finds out who the politicians are really representing?

Apparently some cops are still struggling to accept that everything these days is on tape. Emily Gurnon of the PiPress writes: “Andrew Henderson watched as Ramsey County sheriff’s deputies frisked a bloody-faced man outside his Little Canada apartment building. Paramedics then loaded the man, a stranger to Henderson, into an ambulance. Henderson, 28, took out his small handheld video camera and began recording. It’s something he does regularly with law enforcement. But what happened next was different. The deputy, Jacqueline Muellner, approached him and snatched the camera from his hand, Henderson said. ‘We’ll just take this for evidence,’ Muellner said. … ‘I wish the police around the country would get the memo on these situations,’ said Jane Kirtley, professor of media ethics and media law at the University of Minnesota. ‘Somebody needs to explain to them that under U.S. law, making video recordings of something that’s happening in public is legal.’ The courts have been ‘pretty clear’ on the issue, Kirtley said. “Law enforcement has no expectation of privacy when they are carrying out public duties in a public place.”

Somebody’s got the money … Conrad Wilson and Tim Nelson of MPR say: “The Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe announced plans today to purchase two hotels in downtown St. Paul, a deal that would give the bands ownership of nearly half of the capital city’s downtown hotel rooms. Band leaders say the move is not about expanding the tribe’s gambling business, but rather the beginning of a national business plan aimed at diversifying. The band plans to purchase its first hotel outside of the state by the end of the year. The Mille Lacs band isn’t yet identifying the properties it’s negotiating for, but several sources with knowledge of the deal told MPR News that the band plans to purchase the Crowne Plaza and the DoubleTree hotels in St. Paul for an undisclosed amount.” That move may spur more mention of putting a casino in the old Macy’s.