Residents question sale of fire stations

   The Eagan City Council approved rezoning of two decommissioned city fire stations Nov. 6 as some residents continued to question the process for selling city fire stations no longer in use.
   At a meeting on Oct. 24, the Advisory Planning Commission approved four motions to change zoning of the city’s former Fire Stations 1 and 5 from public facilities to limited business or office use. The commission was divided on the vote with one member, Bruce Goff, voting against approval of the rezoning after several residents and neighbors of the former fire stations spoke out against the rezoning and questioning the city’s process for selling off public assets.
     In June, the city posted requests for proposals for two of Eagan’s fire stations. The fire station previously known as Fire Station #1--the city’s oldest fire station, on Rahn Road--and Fire Station #5 on Galaxie Road, with a deadline of July 31.
     The original Fire Station #1, at 3940 Rahn Road, built in 1963 is the city’s first fire station. The station is located in a fairly commercial area not far from Cedar Grove Parkway and the outlet mall. It contains asbestos with an estimated removal cost of $8,000. Unsatisfied with the response to the original request for proposals, the city put the fire station out for new bids.
     Fire Station #5, at 4701 Galaxie Ave., was built less than 30 years ago, in 1988. The station is near a residential area and surrounded by trees. There was concern about removing those trees if the site is redeveloped.
   One long-time Eagan resident who spoke at the planning commission public hearing said he had submitted a proposal the city use one of the fire stations as a public assembly/entertainment space. His proposal was rejected without explanation by the city. He questioned why the city’s process for disposing of its unused fire stations was not more transparent. The city has not yet released for public view any of the proposals for the two fire stations put up for sale. The city rejected all proposals submitted for one fire station and has opened a new round of bidding.
     At the Planning Commission hearing, residents expressed concerns about what would replace the vacated fire stations and whether trees shielding Fire Station 5 from neighbors would be removed. The commission replied that a new owner of property could remove the trees if they wanted, subject to the city’s tree ordinance.
  Residents questioned what some see as a lack of transparency in recent city decisions. When the city recently sold a fire administration building for use as an arts center, neighbors of the building turned out in force at public meeting, most opposed to the issuance of a permit. Some residents have voiced criticism about the city’s price for the property, about $468,000.
   City officials have not disclosed the price for the two fire stations recently for sale, although information in city budget documents indicated a price of about $450,000.
  At the Planning Commission hearing, one resident questioned why the city was rezoning the properties before their sale and why the city was selling the properties, rather than converting them to another public use.  He cited his research into other communities and said it is rare for communities to sell such property.
   “I think all the citizens of Eagan deserve to know about it,” he said.
One day you're starring in Halloween, the next you're laying in a dumpster. Hundreds of local residents lined up at the Eagan Community Center Saturday, Nov. 4, for the traditional post-holiday pumpkin recycling. The decaying jack-o-lanterns went to the compost bin. A local crafter collected the stems for use in art projects.

Angrimson upsets Huusko; Coulson, Roseen keep school board seats

     In a display of union influence in local politics, three union-supported candidates won seats on the District 196 school board, ousting a Lakeville attorney who is a veteran incumbent on the board.
     Craig Angrimson, 62, who identified himself as a tradesman during a political forum before the election, defeated incumbent school board member Gary Huusko 2200 votes to 1530, according to the Minnesota Secretary of State’s office.
     The two school board incumbents running for re-election, Mike Roseen and Art Coulson, kept their seats with votes from about 35 percent of the registered voters in the district. Coulson, the father of an elementary school teacher in the district touted as supportive of minority causes, received 2779 votes. Roseen received 2708 votes.
     The votes were divided among a field of eight candidates, the three incumbents and five challengers. One challenger, Apple Valley resident Rebecca Gierok, received 1513 votes, just slightly fewer than the incumbent Huusko. Gierok urged sought more representation of female candidates and parents on the school board.
     The two Eagan candidates received more than 1,000 votes each. Challenger Dan O’Neil, who served on the Rochester school board for six years, received 1126 votes. Bianca Ward Virnig received 1003 votes. In the end, those candidates who said more parents should be on the school board lost. Those candidates supported by the teachers’ union won.
     The three elected school board candidates were endorsed by the Dakota County teachers’ union, an affiliate of the National Education Association, a powerful, and wealthy, lobbying group headquartered in Washington, D.C. Among the benefits provided by the NEA is legal representation for local unions and teachers accused of crimes. The group is also opposed to charter schools.
     The election results means the school district will head into its final budget preparations with newly elected pro-union candidates. Huusko, an employment lawyer, remains on the board until his term expires in January. The district has delayed work on its final budget until after the election, with a budget committee meeting scheduled for Nov. 8.
     A preliminary budget released early this year forecast deficit spending in the school district and large raises for teachers and staff. In addition, the bus drivers’ union is also seeking better benefits, including paid time off.

Girl seriously injured on Duckwood Drive coming home from park

   A 13-year-old girl suffered a traumatic head and other injuries when she was struck by a vehicle Saturday, Nov. 4 crossing Duckwood Drive, according to people familiar with the event.
   The crash occurred at about 3 p.m. as the girl was riding her scooter home from the park.
   Eagan police said the matter is still under investigation.

ECC staff recognized as lifesavers

   The Eagan City Council Nov. 6 formally recognized an off-duty Eagan firefighter and Eagan Community Center staff for saving the life of a person who collapsed while using a treadmill at the center on May 12.
   "When a medical event like that happens in a public place it truly takes a team effort," Eagan Community Center Manager Marshall Grange said, acknowledging the help of his staff. "We're fortunate it turned out well." 

Alleged fake cashier charged with retail store swindle

Eagan Fire Chief Mike Scott presents Community Center manager Marshall Grange with recognition of his and his staff's lifesaving efforts.
     Four women are facing felony theft charges in connection with a late-night scam at an Eagan retail store.
     According to criminal complaints, the three women are accused of theft by swindle after they loaded thousands of dollars onto pre-paid debit cards, used them to purchase merchandise, then requested cash back from the transactions.
     One of the women, identified by police as Shafonuna Fay Johnson, 21, of 2838 Texas Ave. S., St. Louis Park, walked into the front entrance of the store shortly before midnight on July 17 and headed for the employee area. After finding an employee uniform and ID, Johnson, a former Wal-Mart employee, put on the uniform and reported for work. She told store employees she was a transfer employee and that her code for the cash register did not work.
     Posing as a cashier, Johnson is accused of then handling transactions for three women suspected as accomplices, according to court records. Each “customer” would allegedly load thousands of dollars onto debit cards, use them to purchase merchandise and request cash back from the transactions.
     Eagan Police questioned Johnson after police in Red Wing told them she was under arrest in that city for committing the same offense, court records said.
     Shafonuna Johnson and her three alleged accomplices: Jaquillah Johnson, 25, of 942 Wescott Trail #104, Eagan; Lacora Gooden, 33, of 14488 Garden View Drive, Apple Valley; and Noemi Del Carmen Torres, 33, of 14249 Hayes Road, Apple Valley; were charged with theft by swindle over $5,000 in connection with the Eagan scheme, according to court records.
     Shafonuna Johnson was also charged with a lesser felony count of theft by swindle under $5,000 by Lakeville Police in connection with a separate theft from a Lakeville store a month earlier than the Eagan crime.
     In that case, Johnson is accused of entering the store, claiming to be a new employee, and asking a worker at the store for a uniform and cashier code.
     Once Johnson had access to the register, police allege, two alleged accomplices approached the check-out lane posing as customers. Johnson is then accused of loading $500 onto two prepaid debit cards. The accomplices handed her more than $1,000 cash for the debit cards and merchandise, but Johnson did not place it in the register, investigators allege.
     After another attempted transaction was declined, according to court records, Johnson left the store and got into a car with the accomplices.
     The accused are scheduled to appear in court January 8. 
Eagan High School announced Nov. 8 seven students signed National Letters of Intent for college athletics. From left: Emily Tran - Saint Edwards University - Volleyball; Natalie Windels - University of Minnesota - Track & Field; Ally Murphy - North Dakota State University - Volleyball; McKenna Melville - University of Central Florida - Volleyball; Taylor Anderson - University of Minnesota Duluth - Hockey; Andrew Chvatal - Marquette University - Lacrosse; and Sara McNicoll - Embry Riddle University - Lacrosse.

School board calls special election-eve meeting to spend nearly $7 million

     The District 196 school board called a sudden special meeting Nov. 6 to discuss the award of nearly seven million dollars’ worth of construction contracts at a meeting, that, unlike regularly scheduled school board meetings, was not televised and, thus, will not be available for public view.
     The school board is scheduled to meet next week, on Nov. 13. At its last scheduled meeting, on Oct. 23, the board was preparing for a hiatus until then. The board noted it would not reconvene until after Nov. 7 elections and, therefore, endorsed the slate of incumbent school board members.
     In addition to the three incumbent board members, five challengers are running for the three at-large school board seats. Calling a special meeting on the night before election allows the incumbent board members to approve the construction contracts before any possible upheaval to the board. Even if new board members are elected, they would not take office until January.
     The construction contracts, for improvements at Rosemount High School and Cedar Park Elementary, stem from a November 2015 bond referendum approved by voters. Few of the contracts recommended for award at the special Nov. 6 meeting were for local contractors. The district received 72 bids for 21 contracts, according to its construction supervisor. The recommendations for contract awards included a $227,097 roofing contract award to a Minneapolis company, a $1.1 million masonry contract award to a Coon Rapids company, a $213,000 steel supply contract to a North Dakota company, and an $801,000 plumbing contract to a Red Wing company.
     The total of the contracts for the two schools was more than $6.8 million.