ISD 196 approves its share of county property tax bills

The District 196 school board Monday approved a $95 million tax levy for property tax payers’ share of the school district’s budget. The levy will contribute to a property tax increase of about 13 percent in Dakota County. District property owners will pay an average of about $1,400 in school taxes this year, according to the school district. The levy is a fraction of the school district’s budget, about 60 percent of which comes from the state. The district plans to seek a higher level of funding from the state when the legislature convenes in 2019.

ISD 196 plans to cut 30 teachers, 2 nurses

      School District 196 administrators tested their pitch for budget cuts on parents last week, hosting a series of focus groups seeking comments about its plan to cut teachers and nurses from schools. The district is proposing to cut about $7 million of its $535 million budget.
      Using the euphemism “budget adjustments” rather than the term “budget cuts”, school administrators presented a proposal to cut about 30 teachers and two nurses from its rosters for the 2019-20 school year. The district would also take $2.3 million from the trust fund for retirees and increase student activity fees by 10 percent.
      District 196 administrators, many of whom are paid 2-4 times a teacher or nurse’s salary, would take few hits in the budget cutting proposal. The only cuts proposed at the administration level were to leave an unfilled position vacant and eliminate half an administrative position at a few schools, for a total cut of about $349,000. The school district’s clerical workers would take a larger hit, with 12 positions eliminated at a savings of about $465,000.     
      There was no mention of the district’s total budget during the presentation, which tops out at over a half billion dollars. The administration continued to blame “inadequate” state funding and special education mandates on the shortfall. The figures were presented to parents by the district’s new superintendent, Mary Kreger, who was selected by the school board without the usual search process and received a $41,000 bonus and retroactive pay raise this year.
      The district has identified $25 million in budget cuts,  but will only recommend $7 million for the 2019-20 school year. In its presentation to parents last week, the district warned it could be cutting more teachers, cutting transportation to require students to walk two miles to school, and restructuring high school schedules to six periods per day.
      There are no plans to cut janitorial workers, on the theory they are already stretched by the building, expansion, and renovation of schools throughout the district. Nor was there any mention of cutting the school district’s communication staff whose contribution to the presentation, according to comments made at a parent meeting, was to add a photo of a child to the slideshow shown to parents.
      Administrators also raised the possibility of seeking additional funding by requesting voters approve an additional property tax levy. Dakota County property owners were hit with a 13 percent tax increase this year. District 196’s strategy would put items –classroom and nurse staffing -- likely to be objectionable on the chopping block, making voters more likely to approve a tax levy. The district’s last levy referendum, approved by fewer than 10,000 voters at a special election in 2015, was phrased as a way to protect student safety by building security entrances at schools, although $6 million of that money was spent on a speculative land purchase.
      Two school board members who have been promoting their own additions to school curricula attended the presentation and popped in during parent discussion groups: Art Coulson, who has been promoting Native American education and programs, and Craig Angrimson, who has been advocating a shift from college preparatory classes to vocational education, which would require the district to purchase machinery and equipment and hire staff. Coulson’s daughter was hired as an elementary school teacher in the district following his election and spends much of the class year conducting lessons about the Ojibwe tribe.
      The timing of the presentation coincides with a projected $1.5 billion state budget surplus. As part of last week’s presentation, District 196 administrators urged parents to contact their state legislators to request more funding for schools.

Eagan woman facing meth charge

   An Eagan woman is facing a felony charge after police found about 36 grams of methamphetamine during a motor vehicle stop in Rosemount.
   Kristina Schultz, 27, of 3359 Coachman Road, Eagan, was charged with second-degree possession of a controlled substance, 25 or more grams, a felony punishable by up to 25 years in prison and a $500,000 fine, according to a Dakota County criminal complaint. She was being held at the Dakota County jail.
    Schultz was arrested shortly after 11:30 p.m. Dec. 10, according to court records. A Rosemount police officer stopped the car she was driving on 160th Street West near Shannon Parkway for a loud exhaust and illegal  window tint. During the traffic stop, police discovered Schultz’s license had been cancelled and there was an active warrant for her arrest.
   During an inventory search of Schultz’s car before it was towed, police allegedly found a backpack containing about 35.98 grams of a white crystalline substance that field-tested positive for methamphetamine.

Burnsville man charged with Eagan burglary

Michael Burnip
A Burnsville man is facing felony charges in connection with the Dec. 7 burglary of an Eagan home.
   Michael Burnip, 28, of 2525 Williams Dr. Apt. 231, Burnsville, has been charged with second-degree burglary and first-degree criminal damage to property, according to a Dakota County criminal complaint.
   Burnip was arrested after Eagan police spotted a car fitting the description of a vehicle “that was a known vehicle used by a burglary suspect” shortly before 6 p.m. Dec. 7 in the parking lot of a local business. Police stopped the suspicious car left the parking lot  and allegedly ran a red light at the intersection of Slater and Cliff roads, according to police.
   A police officer saw a safe in the back seat of the car and, during the traffic stop, police were informed of a residential burglary on Warrick Court in which a safe was stolen.
   Police obtained a search warrant and searched the car, according to court records. Using the combination provided by the burglary victim, police opened the safe and found a .40 caliber handgun with several magazines.
   Burnip was being held at the Dakota County jail.
Kristina Schultz

Court of Appeals reinstates case against Eagan man's digital contraband defense expert

   An Eagan man who went to jail for possession of child pornography can seek a restraining order against a member of his defense team in Minnesota court, the state’s highest court has ruled, reversing a Dakota County District Court decision.
   The Minnesota Court of Appeals reinstated a petition for a harassment restraining order filed by Joel Wells against Jeffrey Fischbach, a consultant who lives in California who was hired as part of his defense team when he was facing possession of child pornography charges. Wells pleaded guilty to federal child pornography charges in 2009, according to the court.
   Following Wells’ release from prison in 2015, he sued Fischbach seeking the return of $15,000 in professional fees and to resolve a dispute over the return of property, according to the court. Fischbach had been hired to assist with Wells’ defense in the criminal case as an expert in digital contraband.  Wells and Fischbach alternated filing lawsuits and seeking restraining orders against each other during what the Court of Appeals described as “a grudge.”
   In the latest round, Wells filed a petition for a harassment restraining order (HRO), against Fischbach in Dakota County District Court in June 2017. Wells claimed his former defense expert made false reports to two police departments, in addition to harassing telephone calls and emails, according to the court. Among the reports prompting the request for a restraining order was a 2016 call to Eagan police that resulted in a probation violation requiring Wells to be placed on GPS monitoring and not being allowed to use the internet in his home, according to the Court of Appeals.
   The court granted the request for a restraining order without a hearing, serving the order on Fischbach in California.  Fischbach, through an attorney, argued that the Minnesota court did not have jurisdiction over him in California. The district court ultimately agreed and dismissed the restraining order petition.
   The Court of Appeals reversed, in an unpublished opinion released Monday, Dec. 10, and remanded the case to the district court for further action. In its opinion, the Court of Appeals reasoned that a person does not actually have to set foot in Minnesota for a Minnesota court to have jurisdiction over the person. In this case, the court reasoned, the fact that Fischbach had filed his own lawsuit against Wells here and contacted police in Minnesota was enough to subject him to the jurisdiction of the Minnesota court.              

Thomson Reuters sharpens the hatchet;
12 percent of workers to be cut, offices to close

In a graphic shown to Thomson Reuters investors Dec. 4, the company showed plans for job cuts and office closings until 2020.
   As Eagan city officials prepared for a public hearing on the city’s share of a double-digit property tax increase Tuesday, Thomson Reuters, one of Eagan’s largest employers and the host of this year’s state of the city address, announced to investors it would be slashing 3,200 jobs, about 12 percent of its workforce.
   The company has not disclosed a specific number of job cuts in Eagan or what offices will be closed in the next year. The Eagan facility has been cutting jobs over the past several years, down from about 7,500 to an estimated 5,000. The company has already eliminated enough jobs that it closed off parking lots at its campus between Wescott and Yankee Doodle roads and has been advertising space for lease. Workers at the Eagan facility have been training overseas Thomson Reuters workers to do their jobs.
   TR’s rounds of job cuts has shifted the workforce at the Eagan site from a largely full-time staff with pensions and benefits to departments that rely on temporary workers. Many of the workers cut in the latest round at TR have been long-time employees with pensions. Many of the newer workers at the Eagan facility are workers from countries such as India brought in on H1B visas or temporary contractors who don’t receive health insurance, paid time off, or other company benefits.
   During a presentation to investors in Toronto Tuesday morning, the company said, in addition to cutting jobs, it will also continue cutting the number of its offices, from 185 at the end of this year, to 133 in 2020.
   The company told investors it has reduced its number of offices from 328 to 209 over the past four years and closed 216 data centers since 2012.
   The Eagan Thomson Reuters office was the site of Mayor Mike Maguire’s 2018 state of the city address. The mayor praised the company at the start of his speech, saying, “Thomson Reuters is Eagan’s largest employer and a pillar of our community.”
   The auditorium where the mayor gave his speech is now closed, with all its seating removed.

Man charged with felony after chase through Eagan

      A Saint Paul man is facing a felony charge after leading police from four towns on a high-speed chase through traffic during the middle of the afternoon Tuesday.
      Sharif Abdur-Rahman, 42, 942 Sherburn Ave. #3, St. Paul, was charged with felony fleeing a peace officer in a motor vehicle, according to a Dakota County criminal complaint. He was ordered held in Dakota County jail in lieu of $25,000 bail.
      The pursuit of the vehicle Abdur-Rahman was driving began shortly after 2 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 4, after Apple Valley police responded to a report of theft of ink cartridges from Office Max.  A second police officer responding to the store spotted a van fitting the description of the alleged shoplifter’s van and began to follow it, waiting till it passed an elementary school before trying to pull it over.
      The van, travelling at a time local roads are full of school buses and parents and children heading for school bus stops, allegedly refused to stop for the police officer after she turned on the cruiser’s lights and sirens. Apple Valley police alerted police in Eagan the speeding van was heading for the city up Galaxie Avenue. The fleeing van turned right from Galaxie onto Cliff Road and sped through the traffic lights. It was clocked by police at 82 miles per hour as it sped through the light near Thomas Center Road, according to a police radio broadcast.
      A police radio broadcast of the chase detailed police making split-second, tense decisions about whether to continue chasing the fleeing shoplifter as he sped across major roads through Apple Valley and Eagan, often driving in the wrong lane towards oncoming traffic. Police stopped traffic on major roads during the 20-minute pursuit, and tried to stop the speeding white van using stop sticks and tactical maneuvers designed to cause fleeing vehicles to crash.
      After speeding through lights on Cliff Road in Eagan, the fleeing van then turned right onto Pilot Knob Road. Travelling southbound, the van crossed into the northbound lane of traffic. The vehicle, according to a police broadcast, was driving 80 m.p.h. in the wrong direction on Pilot Knob Road. “Shut it down,” a police sergeant ordered the officers pursuing the van to stop pursuit.
      Miraculously, no innocent bystanders were hit by the speeding van, which continued to speed into Lakeville, avoiding stop sticks put out by police in an attempt to end the chase. A police officer spotted the van near Dodd Road and 185th Street in Lakeville.  Police stopped the van using a tactical maneuver and arrested Abdur-Rahman and a female passenger at gunpoint.
      The two were taken to the hospital after they told police they had ingested more than a gram of heroin.
Sharif Abdur-Rahman

CDA worker accused of theft promises return from Florida to answer to charges

EAGAN, MN – The attorney for a former Dakota County Community Development Agency (CDA) accused of stealing more than a quarter of a million dollars from the public housing agency said the accused man will voluntarily return to Minnesota to face the charges.
    The Dakota County District Court cancelled a nationwide arrest warrant and set bail at $50,000 for Vangyee Yang, 39, last known address of 5909 Main St. NE, Fridley. Yang, who, according to his attorney, moved to Florida, is charged with five counts of felony theft by swindle, according to court records.
   “Mr. Yang intends to return, voluntarily, to Minnesota to answer the allegations in the complaint,” his lawyer, Marsh Halberg, wrote the court. “The existence of a warrant for his arrest unnecessarily complicates his desire to return to Minnesota.”
   Yang’s lawyer told the court the accused man relocated to Florida with his family after his wife received a job offer. His next court date in Dakota County is scheduled for January.
   Police allege Yang, formerly an information technology worker at the CDA’s Eagan office, diverted more than $271,325 from the agency over two years. Yang was fired from the agency last June, according to a previous statement by the agency. Officials gave no explanation for the more than four-month delay in bringing charges against Yang. CDA officials did not respond to a request for comment.
   The charges against Yang were the latest in a series of reported frauds involving CDA funds. In late October, a 27-year-old woman was charged with theft after investigators discovered she had been receiving public welfare rental assistance from the CDA while she was allegedly driving a Maserati sports car and making a living selling heroin with her roommate.
   In the criminal complaint against Yang, investigators allege Yang used his position as a software system coordinator at the CDA to set up accounts and send checks to his home and other addresses. Yang was hired by the CDA in 2014 and promoted, within a year and a half, to the system coordinator position, which gave him access to CDA computer systems and authorization to set up accounts.
   In May 2018, the CDA discovered rental assistance checks had been sent to two property management companies for welfare recipients that were dead or no longer eligible. The checks sent to the property management companies were deposited into TCF small business bank accounts owned by Yang, according to the complaint.
   The CDA’s discovery of the missing funds occurred more than a year after the bulk of the money was diverted, according to information contained in the criminal complaint.

Eagan repeat offender gets concurrent sentence

    A repeat sex offender from Eagan is expected to be released from jail within about six months following his concurrent sentencing on a charge related to the molestation of a treatment center worker who passed out from medication while she was interviewing him.
   Matthew Dick, 43, of 4152 Raptor Road, Eagan, is expected to be released from jail in June 2019, according to Dakota County jail records. Dick was sentenced Dec. 4 to 361 days in jail, to be served concurrently with a previous sentence for molesting his 13-year-old stepdaughter, as part of a plea deal with the Ramsey County Attorney’s office, according to court records. The plea deal allows Dick to spend his incarceration in the Dakota County jail, where he can participate in work release programs, rather than a more restrictive state prison environment. The concurrent sentence essentially means Dick will serve no additional jail time for sexually assaulting a worker at the sex offender treatment center where he was interviewed after he was accused of sexual contact with a teenage relative.
   A felony charge of fourth-degree criminal sexual conduct with a helpless victim was reduced to a gross misdemeanor as part of the deal, according to court records. Dick admitted to sufficient facts to prosecute him under an Alford plea, according to the court. Dick could have faced a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison and a $20,000 fine for the felony.
   Dick was charged with felony fourth-degree criminal sexual conduct by the Ramsey County Attorney’s office following the September 2016 sexual assault of an intake worker at the Project Pathfinder sexual offender treatment program at 570 Asbury St. N., St. Paul, according to court records. Dick was in the process of being interviewed by a female employee at the center when she passed out, apparently because of medication she had been taking. She awoke to Dick standing behind her with his hands down her shirt, according to the criminal complaint.
   When she regained consciousness, the victim, according to the complaint, was “unsure what to do so she moved a little bit and Dick removed his hand from beneath her bra and left the room.” The victim’s coworkers called police and tried to keep Dick at the center until police arrived but, according to the complaint, Dick “became agitated and left.”  
   The plea deal resulted after Ramsey County prosecutors notified Dick it would seek to introduce as evidence—to show a pattern of behavior or motive for the crime—a recorded telephone call between Dick and his previous victim in which he described committing similar acts on his then 13-year-old stepdaughter. The telephone call was recorded as part of an Eagan police investigation into the sexual assault of his stepdaughter, according to court records.
   The prosecution argued that Dick “cannot control his impulses despite the fact that he is at an intake interview at a sexual assault treatment center.”
   Dick pleaded guilty in May 2018 to a felony charge of second-degree criminal sexual conduct in connection with the sexual abuse of his then 13-year-old stepdaughter in 2010, according to court records. In October, Dick was sentenced to serve 361 days in Dakota County jail, with a provision allowing work release, on that charge. Dakota County Court Judge Shawn Moynihan granted a downward departure, allowing less than the minimum requirement, in Dick’s sentence in part because the judge ruled Dick was “particularly amenable to sex offender treatment.”   
Matthew Dick