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After 20 months of negotiations, Willmar teachers rally for ‘fair and equitable’ contract

ALSO: A chihuahua thief in La Crosse; FEMA to visit St. Clair; Worthington wants a movie theater; and more.

Working without a contract since June 2015, Willmar teachers are getting antsy about the prospects for a real contract. About 70 teachers rallied Monday and then attended the Willmar School Board meeting, according to Linda Vanderwerf of the West Central Tribune. The two sides have not met since September, and while the teachers union made a request a month ago to resume negotiations, the school board met in closed session Nov. 3 and again Monday to discuss strategy. The trouble appears to be the $1 million difference in salary demands. “Board and union representatives have been negotiating since April 2015,” Vanderwerf writes. “The old contract expired June 30, 2015, more than 16 months ago. The two sides have met more than a dozen times and participated in two sessions with a state mediator.”

Winter may be coming but this woman has a head start on being cold-blooded. Chris Hubbuch related this tale from La Crosse in the Winona Daily News: According to police reports, on Oct. 26 a woman named Paris entered a home and asked a man if she could take a service dog, Tootsie the chihuahua, to show her friends. The man said the dog wasn’t his and when he looked again, the dog and woman were gone. Later, a woman reported to police she was attacked by a woman carrying a chihuahua, and even later, a man reported two women kicked in his door and stole cash, lottery tickets, bedding and home decor. Police arrested Makayla Anderson, 23, later that night when she got into a fight, then linked her to the string of abuses. Animal control officers recovered Tootsie a day later and returned her to her owner, who said the chihuahua alerts her when she’s about to suffer a seizure.

On Wednesday FEMA officials will be in St. Clair in Blue Earth County to determine the cost of repairing damage from severe flooding in September. Tim Krohn of the Mankato Free Press reports that the city’s sewage treatment plant incurred about $750,000 in damage from the Sept. 22 storm that dumped 6 inches of rain on the town of 862. If FEMA agrees on cleanup plans, the federal government will pay for 75 percent of the cost. The city is on the hook for the remaining amount, but officials hope the state will pay the remainder. Gov. Mark Dayton requested the disaster declaration from President Barack Obama after the storm caused more than $8 million in public damages and more than $10 million in damage to private landowners.

Sewage treatment and roads are great, but your town isn’t really on the map until it has a movie theater. On Monday, the Worthington City Council OKed a plan for an investment group to buy some land and build a four-screen movie theater. Karl Evers-Hillstrom of the Worthington Daily Globe writes that the city had to approve overflow parking at the Worthington Event Center to get the theater around city bylaws. If all goes well, the theater should open in about a year.

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Veterans in Clay and Becker counties have a new option if they run afoul of the law. Robin Huebner of the Fargo Forum reports that a new specialty court, Veterans Treatment Court, offers veterans greater access to mental health or drug treatment, supervised probation and less time behind bars than in the traditional court system. The court takes in veterans who have been charged with gross-misdemeanor and felony crimes. It does not accept those who have committed serious violent crimes. 

More than 100 gravesites were damaged at Graceland Cemetery in Albert Lea over the weekend. Sam Wilmes of the Albert Lea Tribune writes that “some of the 106 gravesites damaged dated back to 1892, 1895, 1898 and 1920, said cemetery board President Brad Wedge. … ‘The cemetery has not done anything to anybody. I don’t understand why. Why’?”

The Willmar Police Department is ready to upgrade to the second generation of dashcams and bodycams. Shelby Lindrud of the West Central Tribune writes that the Willmar City Council has approved $13,000 for a server and software to update the dashcams and buy bodycams. The money, which is not in the police budget, will come from DUI/narcotics forfeitures, according to Willmar Police Chief Jim Felt. The force’s 10 prowlers use the video systems, Felt said, and the plan is to outfit cameras for each of the force’s 32 officers.

The Department of Natural Resources has found zebra mussels in Franklin Lake in Otter Tail County. The Forum News Service reports that DNR officials found five adult zebra mussels. The agency will search the lake again next spring and consider treatment options. “Zebra mussels are non-native species that can compete with native species for food and habitat, cut the feet of swimmers, reduce the performance of boat motors, and cause expensive damage to water intake pipes,” the article says. “Less than 2 percent of Minnesota’s 11,842 lakes are listed as infested with zebra mussels.”

Sixteen rail cars derailed Friday about a half mile south of Ellendale. The Albert Lea Tribune reports that removing the cars will take until mid-December because each car has to be split into sections, according to a Union Pacific Railroad spokesperson. No cause for the derailment has been announced. One of the cars leaked liquid petroleum and required an evacuation in a one-mile radius Friday; the evacuation was rescinded later that day. The 146-car train was reportedly hauling mixed freight from South St. Paul to North Platte, Nebraska.

A portion of Highway 14 between Nicollet and North Mankato that had been closed since July reopened Friday with a ribbon-cutting at a roundabout at Highway 111. Deanna B. Narveson of the Mankato Free Press reports that the $20 million project forced drivers to take lengthy detours around the construction, which was delayed due to lengthy periods of heavy rain. “We had 66 inches of rain, and only three or four stretches of 10 days or so where it didn’t rain on us. The project has been a challenge,” said Brian Mathiowetz of Mathiowetz Construction Co. The construction added two lanes to more than six miles of highway, plus the roundabout. “We’re not going to be Highway 14’s deadliest mile any longer,” Nicollet Mayor Fred Froehlich said.