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Minnesota gets D- for government transparency

Plus: some Minnesota schools skip on subs; two train derailments in Wisconsin; snow on the horizon; and more.

MinnPost photo by Briana Bierschbach

We’re not No. 1 this time. The Center for Public Integrity takes one of its periodic looks state government transparency, and finds Minnesota wantingSays writer Katie G. Nelson, in describing the chaotic last moments of the 2015 session: “Though brief, those two minutes of the 2015 session provided an illuminating public window into the inner workings of the Legislature; procedures that include last-minute deal making, closed-door negotiations and convoluted ethics protocols. Some journalists and government watchdogs say that chaotic moment was representative of a systematic failure of transparency in state government — a “perfect storm of little problems” said Jeremy Schroeder, executive director of Common Cause Minnesota, an advocacy group. Those cumulative failures earned Minnesota a grade of D-, ranking it 28th in the State Integrity Investigation, a data-driven assessment of state government accountability and transparency conducted by the Center for Public Integrity and Global Integrity.”

I think we can all see the logical extension of this one. In the Strib, Erin Adler reports: “Will Kaeding’s teacher was absent, so the Chanhassen sophomore went to one of his school’s common spaces, cracked open his laptop and started working on his online assignment — no substitute teacher in sight. Chanhassen High, along with Farmington High, are among the first schools in the state to try letting students learn on their own rather than hiring substitutes to fill in for teachers. Administrators tout the change as ‘flexible learning,’ an educational approach that teaches students responsibility — and saves districts tens of thousands of dollars a year.”

It’ll never happen here. The AP story says: “Crews are working to clear a freight train derailment in western Wisconsin that spilled thousands of gallons of ethanol. … The train derailed Saturday about two miles north of Alma, a town along the Mississippi River. Some of the 25 derailed cars were empty auto racks and tanker cars. BNSF says railroad crews stopped the leaks from five tanker cars and placed containment booms along the shoreline. One tanker released an estimated 18,000 gallons of ethanol, and the other four released an estimated 5 to 500 gallons each.”

Or like this. Another AP story says, “A Canadian Pacific Railway train carrying crude oil derailed Sunday and prompted some evacuations in Wisconsin, the second day in a row a freight train derailed in the state. The eastbound CP train derailed about 2 p.m. in Watertown, in the southeastern part of the state. The railroad said at least 10 cars derailed, and some were leaking.”

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In a spill of a different kind in Wisconsin, Todd Richmond of the AP says: “Wisconsin Republicans early Saturday pushed through a pair of bills to loosen campaign finance law and end the state’s nonpartisan elections board after hours of late-night debate in the state Senate. The Assembly is to convene Nov. 16 for final votes. Approval would send them to Gov. Scott Walker. No Democrats voted for the proposals, which Republican backers argue are needed to bring the state’s campaign finance law in line with recent court opinions and fix what they say is a failed experiment of a nonpartisan elections board consisting of six retired judges. Opponents argue the bills weaken oversight of ethics laws, while making it easier for third-party interest groups to influence campaigns without the public knowing who is spending on the races.” Who doesn’t see the wisdom of totally partisan election boards?

Snow in a week and a half? Says Paul Huttner at MPR, “The Euro and US models are still having a hard time pinpointing the track and temperature profile of next week’s inbound Midwest storm system. The notion of a deepening storm is gaining strength. The truth about storms 5 days out? The precise storm track and temperature profile in the lowest mile of the atmosphere (precip types) are still uncertain within the limits of the science of meteorology. With that disclosure, the latest GFS and Euro trends spin up a strong storm favoring a southeast track toward Chicago. Peer out into the murky crystal weather ball even further and we might see a mirage that could be the first real significant snowfall of the season for some part of Minnesota. Here’s the GFS notion of a potential snow maker crossing Minnesota around November 18-19.”

The trial will begin in December. Says Chao Xiong in the Strib, “A Minnesota man charged with fatally stabbing a fellow angler along the St. Croix River last spring will appear in court Monday in preparation for his December trial. Levi Acre-Kendall, of Cambridge, who turned 20 on Nov. 3, is accused of killing Peter S. Kelly, 34, on April 14 after the two men’s fishing parties argued across the river in Interstate Park. … Polk County District Attorney Dan Steffen filed a motion in October to bar evidence comparing Acre-Kendall’s physicality to Kelly’s, character evidence about Kelly ‘other than … for truthfulness,’ and ‘any evidence relating to the victim’s history with wrestling or mixed martial arts as this was unknown to the defendant at the time of the stabbing.’” Is the jury allowed to be told the victim is deceased?

When you wonder how some farmers stay in business, Tom Meersman of the Strib explains, “Tens of thousands of Minnesota corn and soybean farmers are receiving nearly $600 million in checks or deposits to their bank accounts this week, part of a new safety-net payment program set in motion by the 2014 farm bill. The payments compensate many but not all crop farmers for low grain prices and yields in 2014 and range up to nearly $100 per acre, depending the type of crop and where it was grown.”

Ninety two more views of you and your alleged driving skills. The KMSP-TV story says, “Minnesota drivers throughout the state this winter will benefit from the addition of 92 cameras in different locations displaying real-time photos of road conditions, MnDOT announced this weekend.  The Road Weather Information Stations or RWIS are located along state roads and interstates.… ‘Various weather data is also available with the photos.’ The camera locations are in addition to the more than 800 traffic cameras already displayed on MnDOT’s 511 system at”

Perhaps they’d prefer a refinery? in the Rochester Post-Bulletin, Hannah Yang writes, “For nearly 40 years, when Kathy Blanchard looked out her kitchen window of her home she would see a beautiful view. But now, she shares land with what she sees as a new and noisy neighbor: Pleasant Valley Wind Farm project. Blanchard lives with her husband, Dan, just outside Sargeant Township in Mower County. Years ago, the two bought the 10-acre property for its scenic landscape. However, they say that the wind turbines and ongoing construction on the wind farm project has disrupted their lives.”

Mike Zimmer isn’t the only one with a low opinion of St. Louis Rams coach Jeff Fisher. Sports Illustrated has an item saying, “NBC analyst Rodney Harrison had some harsh words for St. Louis Rams coach Jeff Fisher on Sunday. Harrison was discussing the injury to Minnesota Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater when he criticized Fisher. Harrison said when he sustained a serious knee injury in 2006, he saw Fisher ‘smiling and laughing’ on the sideline. Harrison described the hit on Bridgewater, which appeared to knock him unconscious, as typical of a Fisher-coached team.”

Start keeping score. The Morris Sun Tribune says, “A Detroit Lakes man was accidentally shot on Saturday in a hunting accident near Holloway. The Swift County Sheriff’s office reports that at approximately 12:15p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 7, Robert Schlieman, age 36 of Detroit Lakes, was accidentally shot while deer hunting in Swift County, north of Holloway, Minnesota. A deer ran in between other hunters that Schlieman was hunting with, when one of the hunters thought that the deer was far enough away and started shooting at it.”