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Veteran Strib reporter Oakes succumbs to depression

Franken plans crisis-teams legislation; no shortage of ideas for Macy’s space; Vikes-Packers game sets arrest “record”; solar power; and more.

It was very brave of the family of veteran Strib reporter Larry Oakes to acknowledge that his death was a suicide, after years of fighting depression. Adam Belz of the paper says: “Larry Oakes, a veteran Star Tribune reporter whose work shone brightest when he was writing about people, especially his fellow northern Minnesotans, died Friday night in Duluth. He was 52. Oakes committed suicide, his family said Saturday. … Oakes’ son, Mike, of Duluth said his father had been taking anti-depression medicine for at least five years and had been hospitalized Wednesday after telling his children that he was having suicidal thoughts. He returned home from the hospital Friday and made plans to go to his daughter’s house for dinner. Instead he drove to Hawk Ridge, on the northeast edge of Duluth, hiked about a mile into the woods and shot himself. ‘His depression got the better of him in the last week, and I don’t think he was able to handle the weight of the world or whatever he felt,’ said Mike Oakes, a journalist at KDAL in Duluth. ‘It just became too much to bear.’ ” Our condolences to his family.

Rupa Chenoy of MPR has a story saying: “U.S. Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., met with mental health advocates, state officials and members of law enforcement on Saturday to discuss better ways to help people with mental illness stay out of the criminal justice system. The meeting, at the St. Paul offices of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, was organized by Franken, who plans to introduce a bill that will expand funding for crisis intervention teams, mental health courts and law enforcement training. He co-wrote the bill with Rep. Richard Nugent, R-Fla. … Hennepin County Sheriff Rich Stanek, who attended the meeting, said mental illness is an issue in the criminal justice system that has long gone unaddressed. ‘Our jails have become that place in which those with mental illness wait,’ Stanek said. ‘It’s an endless cycle.’ ”

There are no bad ideas. Well, actually, there are … Frederick Melo of the PiPress looks at what might fill the hole Macy’s will leave in downtown St. Paul: “St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman foresees some form of entertainment option moving into the 362,000-square-foot space and has cast doubt on the likelihood the site would appeal to Target or another major discounter, which mostly have focused on suburban shopping locations surrounded by free parking. The mayor believes specialty shops thrive downtown. Matt Kramer, president of the St. Paul Area Chamber of Commerce, foresees the wrecking ball. ‘It’s just not attractive. It’s five giant floors with an escalator in the middle,’ he said.” I dare anyone to say, “Galtier redux.”

No, really. This time it’ll be all “jobs, jobs, jobs.” Mary Spicuzza of the Wisconsin State Journal reports on her interview with Gov. Scott Walker: “[He] vows that none of the legislation he supports this session will prompt massive protests like those that rocked the state Capitol soon after he became governor in 2011 and unveiled a plan to all but end collective bargaining for most public workers. ‘We’re not going to do things that are going to bring 80,000 or 100,000 people into the Capitol,’ Walker told the State Journal in a recent interview. ‘It’s just not going to happen again.’ … He’ll be keeping an eye on his re-election prospects in a bitterly divided state where he was the first governor to face a recall — and became the first governor in U.S. history to survive one — while seeking to build his credentials as a national conservative hero who is frequently mentioned as a potential presidential contender. ‘The things that he has done in the first two years have certainly established his reputation among conservatives, and I don’t think that’s likely to be undermined. But it does raise questions about how he will break new ground on a conservative agenda,’ said Charles Franklin, a UW-Madison political science professor. ‘I think it is a bit of a balancing act to preserve his position as a leading conservative nationally while not provoking a backlash here in the state.’ ”

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The GleanThe Vikings-Packers game scored one “most” of the season. The AP reports: “Green Bay police arrested 21 people at the Packers NFC wildcard playoff game against the Minnesota Vikings at Lambeau Field. WLUK-TV reported Sunday, Jan. 7, that the arrest total was the highest for the season. Of those arrested, eight were for unlawful conduct, three for unlawful conduct and trespassing, and three for unlawful conduct and resisting, the station said. Two were arrested for unlawful conduct and battery. Three other people were arrested for underage drinking. One person was arrested for disorderly conduct and resisting. Another person was arrested for drug possession.”

The juice is flowing in Slayton. Says the Strib’s Dave Shaffer: “The largest solar-electric generator in Minnesota has flipped on the switch — the latest sign of a banner year for solar installations. Renewable power developer Ecos Energy said 7,040 solar panels outside of Slayton, Minn., began producing power Friday after being connected to Xcel Energy’s distribution system. The solar array is the largest in the state, with 2 megawatts of output, the equivalent of the power used by 250 homes. The project has 32 rows of solar panels covering an area the size of 7 1/2 football fields on what once was a cornfield.”

Kind of an Erin Brockovich moment in Woodbury. Maura Lerner of the Strib says: “Three years ago, Barbara Peterson walked out of Woodwinds Hospital in Woodbury with more than 200 pages of confidential patient files.
On that much, everyone agrees. Now those files are at the heart of a federal lawsuit, in which Peterson accuses the hospital of trying to cover up evidence of medical misconduct. Peterson, who was a patient advocate at Woodwinds, claims that she was ordered to destroy notes and e-mails about incidents that could damage the hospital’s reputation — including an allegation that a doctor was drunk while delivering a baby. She says she took the documents home to protect them.”

The stunner late Friday that police had a “person of interest” in the killing of Cold Spring policer officer Tom Decker brings more … . Kelly Smith of the Strib says: “The local man who hanged himself after becoming a ”person of interest” in the shotgun killing of officer Thomas Decker had faced imminent arrest on the night of Decker’s shooting. According to court records, Eric J. Thomes, 31, a regular patron of Winners Bar near where Decker was shot, had failed to appear in court in connection with a drunken-driving charge and a judge had ordered that he be taken into custody. … investigators continue to say they have not ruled out other suspects, including Larson, the part-time Winners bartender who was arrested in his apartment above the bar within hours of Decker’s killing. On Saturday, Larson’s attorney, Joe Friedberg, said he had no comment about the developments. A conclusion in the case could still be a ways off, BCA officials said last week. A resolution is much anticipated not just by the families of those involved, but the community.”

Sometimes you have to wonder how they make these decisions … At City Pages, Olivia LaVecchia says: “Last month, Minneapolis topped a full five categories in Travel and Leisure’s annual survey of 35 cities across the country. Now, the magazine is handing us a more exotic honor: one of the 13 best places to travel in 2013. The roundup isn’t just for domestic trips, like Lonely Planet’s recent list, but for visits anywhere in the world. Nilou Motamed, the magazine’s features editor, stopped by the Today Show … to discuss the list, and tell the two surprised hosts why Minneapolis is the only U.S. destination to make the cut. …  ‘Minneapolis is having a moment,’ Motamed concludes, before adding a questionable, ‘You heard it here first.’ Both hosts agree, with one exclaiming, ‘The people are so nice there,’ and the other qualifying his endorsement with an original, ‘just don’t go at the height of winter.’ “