Sheriff's staff issue discussed further by Board

By Ed DuBois

Continuing a discussion this Tuesday, April 4 about a staff issue in the Sheriff's Office, the Wright County Board gave Sheriff Joe Hagerty about half of what he wanted, and the other half will be discussed further during a committee of the whole meeting on April 12.

The Board approved a reclassification of three positions regarding a restructuring of the sheriff's clerical staff.  Another part of the restructuring, the elimination of two supervisor positions, will be discussed on April 12.  The two supervisors would be welcome to apply for two non-supervisor positions, which do not pay as well as supervisor positions.

Sheriff Hagerty addressed the Board, stating, "Change is hard."  It can involve sleepless nights.  It is never easy, he said.

"Usually this is done through attrition," he explained.  "But I do not have that luxury in this case."

He added, "I worked with HR (Human Resources) to make sure we have (new) positions for the two supervisors."

He spoke about taking part in training for achieving better efficiency, and he said he is always looking for ways to streamline operations.

Hagerty also asked the Board to "allow me to run my office," adding, "I need to get going to keep peace in the office."

He said he was sorry to a pair of longtime employees who face a change they do not want.

"I want to keep them.  I have a way to do that," Hagerty concluded.

Commissioner Darek Vetsch, who expressed concerns about the restructuring last week, explained this week that his concerns are related to the process of bringing about the restructuring.

"It's not a pretty picture.  Morale matters," Vetsch stated.

He also suggested that some policies were not followed during the process.

Hagerty responded by saying he has an open door policy.  If anyone has a concern, "come and see me."

Commissioner Chris Husom spoke about other departments that have conducted reorganizations.  The difference this time is that positions are being eliminated.

"I don't want to lose employees," Husom said.

She called for sitting down and going over the roles of the department and the County Board in the process of conducting a reorganization.

Vetsch agreed and said the Sheriff's Office and County Board need to have a discussion and try to find some common ground.

Board Chair Charlie Borrell said the sheriff's reorganization involves some pay cuts, and that is a tough call.  But should the County Board step in?

"It is not our job to tie his hands," Borrell said.  "I think he has done everything right."

Vetch offered a motion to have a discussion in a different forum (outside a board meeting) to try to find some common ground.  Maybe a fruitful discussion could help draw up a plan that both the Sheriff's Office and the County Board could accept, he suggested.

Sunny Hesse, the county's human resources director, said she felt Commissioner Vetsch attacked her when he criticized the reorganization process.  She pointed out that only one question was submitted to her when all the commissioners were invited to send her questions.

Vetsch said he was not comfortable having a discussion in Hesse's office.  He expressed a preference in having a third party involved.

Hesse indicated she would have appreciated an opportunity to tell her side of the story to the commissioners.

Commissioner Mike Potter seconded the motion by Vetch, saying Vetsch is new to the County Board (newly elected last fall) and needs to get some questions answered.

Borrell pointed out that the sheriff has a new business manager starting Monday.  Without a board decision on the reorganization of the clerical staff, the new business director will be coming in with staff changes unsettled.

Both Borrell and Husom indicated they are torn between ironing out disagreements and allowing the sheriff to get on with his work.

Chief Deputy Todd Hoffman suggested that pending reclassifications are a separate issue from the two supervisors matter.  Husom then suggested amending Vetsch's motion to allow the reclassifications.  Vetch responded by withdrawing his motion and offering a new motion to allow the reclassifications.  The Board agreed, and the motion passed.

There was a tense moment when Sheriff Hagerty said he would not relinquish his authority to make staff decisions.  Vetsch said the county has an HR nightmare underway, and the sheriff is unwilling to compromise.

Hagerty responded by saying he is willing to talk it out.

Vetsch then offered a motion to set up a committee of the whole meeting on April 12 at 1 p.m.  The motion passed.

Borrell expressed hope for "working something out."

In other business:



Medical Examiner A. Quinn Strobl, M.D. presented her annual report.

In 2016, there were 557 total cases, which included 47 autopsies.  There were four motor vehicle fatalities and seventeen non-motor vehicle-related accidental deaths, which included four deaths involving substance abuse.  Eleven deaths in the 82-95 age range were due to complications after falls.

There were no homicides in 2016.  But sadly, there were 18 suicides, which is the highest number Strobl has seen here.  The age range was 11 to 82, and average age was 41.  Fourteen decedents were male.

Borrell commented on the sadness of losing a person's potential.  He said suicide is a permanent solution for what is often a temporary problem.

Strobl concluded with a report of 417 cremations approved in 2016.  She said that is the highest number she has seen here, and it matches a trend in other counties.



A 4-H member, Chloe Lilliston, who is a sophomore at Delano High School, presented a report about a national 4-H trip to Washington, D.C.

She said 4-H members conducted their own presidential election during the trip.  They also visited museums and heard speakers who discussed the media and the importance of staying informed.  They also visited monuments.

With the help of congressmen, they were able to enjoy seeing President Donald Trump's inauguration from some of the best possible positions.  Later, they enjoyed a ball and a cruise on the Potomac River.

They also witnessed the Women's March and saw that, even though their candidate did not win the U.S. Presidency, they were able to express their views in a non-violent way.



In other actions, the Board:

scheduled a Thursday, May 4 public hearing at 7 p.m. to discuss a proposal to establish a local option sales tax to help fund highway projects;

● canceled the Oct. 10 board meeting (The commissioners regularly cancel one meeting in each month with five Tuesdays.);

● welcomed new interim 4-H Program Coordinator Tina Holty;

● welcomed new telecom specialist Richard Rahe, who has 35 years of experience and was introduced by the county's IT director, Adam Tagarro;

● appointed Stan Vander Kooi and Scott Peterson to the Extension Committee;

● added a Security Committee to the advisory board/advisory committee list with the following membership: Commissioners Borrell and Husom, two judges, the county coordinator, the risk manager, the court administrator, and representatives from the Sheriff's Office, Court Services and the County Attorney's Office;

● approved a tentative agreement with IUOE, Local 49 for 2017-19, and authorized signatures on the labor agreement; and

● approved $257,301 in claims involving 188 transactions with 149 vendors.



City Council opposes proposed legislation limiting local control

By Doug Voerding

Several bills that would limit or remove local authority are making their way through both the Minnesota Senate and the House of Representatives.

The Buffalo City Council on Monday, April 3 passed a resolution opposing such legislation.

The council had reviewed information from the League of Minnesota Cities (LMC) that indicated that more than two dozen bills restricting local decision-making had been introduced in the 2017 legislature.  The LMC continues to support a rejection of any legislation that erodes local control.

City Planning and Development Coordinator Jennifer Nash told the council that three bills in particular could affect the city including right-of-way control, reverse referenda and some law enforcement rules and regulations.

Councilmember Steve Downer said, "Communication companies want to come in and use our infrastructure for their wires."

Downer, who works in the utility industry, also said, "It doesn't matter which party is in control, Republicans or Democrats.  These companies want to do anything they want.  It's good what the League is doing."



The council approved the hiring of Michael Matzek as the new golf course superintendent.

The assistant superintendent position was open after Anthony Oldfeather left in February, and the title was changed to superintendent to better fit the duties and job functions of the position as compared to golf industry standards.

Most recently, Matzek had been working at Pheasant Acres Golf Club in Corcoran and currently resides in Albertville.

Three candidates had been interviewed for the job, which currently has a pay scale of $21.61 to $25.06 an hour.



The 9th Biennial Baby Animal Fair will be Sunday, April 30 at the Buffalo Civic Center from noon to 4:00 p.m.  Admission to the event is a food shelf item or a cash donation to the Buffalo Food Shelf.

The day will be filled with numerous activities and welcomes families of all ages.

Nancy and Patrick Drigans, representing Heifer International, presented the council with a plaque honoring their support of the Baby Animal Fair for the past eight events.  The fair has been held every other year for now 18 years.

According to Nancy Drigans, Heifer International works to end world hunger by providing people around the world with animals, along with the training to manage the animals.  Recipients then pass on the offspring of the animals to others in their country.

More than 200 local volunteers help with the Baby Animal Fair, and over the years, the Buffalo event has raised more than $114,000.

"The gift of animals," said Nancy Drigans, "does really change lives and does give hope."



The council acknowledged several donations.

Donations to Flora of Buffalo included: $500 from Pebble Ridge Cottage Townhomes, $100 from Steve and Lisa Downer, $150 from Joe Steffel, and $100 from Mark and Patty Pokorney.  So far, a total of $4,295 has been received for the 2017 program that supports the flower plantings in several large planters, city gardens and the hanging baskets on city light poles.  Donations continue to be accepted as the program's goal is $10,000 in donations.

Donations to the Bison Fishing Forever program included $5,000 from the Buffalo American Legion and $400 from Buffalo United Methodist Church.  To date, a total of $31,425 has been received from donors.  Buffalo Fishing Forever is seeking to raise $45,000 for a pontoon boat and boat lift, and another $15,000 for additional equipment.



In other action, the council:

● approved for indoor fireworks sales at Cub Foods and outdoor fireworks sales by TNT Fireworks at Walmart after inspection and site review by Fire Chief John Harnois.  The council then directed city staff to handle all future licenses for fireworks sales in the city.

● learned that the Buffalo Health Foundation will be selling chances on a 1969 Chevelle.  The chances will be $100 each, with 600 tickets being sold.

● announced the Home and Garden Show at the Buffalo Civic Center on April 7 and 8.

● announced that the compost site is now open.  Hours at the site are Mondays, 10 - 8; Wednesdays, 10 - 6; Fridays, 10 - 6; and Saturday 8 - 4.  Cleanup days will be April 28 and 29.

● called for a public hearing on April 17 regarding four properties that have delinquent utility accounts.



Foster care providers needed in county; orientation April 11

By Ed DuBois

A surge of need for foster care providers last year has resulted in a shortage of providers this year in Wright County.

People who are interested in learning more about becoming a provider are being welcomed to orientation meetings.  The next meeting is taking place on Tuesday, April 11 in the community room at the Wright County Law Enforcement Center from 6:30-9 p.m., said Marisa Ferguson, child foster care licensor with Wright County Health & Human Services.

Foster care providers offer safety, stability, love, and kindness to children who might not have that experience in their current settings.

"The journey to healing is pretty rewarding," Ferguson said in regard to serving as a foster care provider.

The county presently has about 37 non-related foster care providers, and roughly 37-40 relatives providing foster care.  The number of non-related providers is a bit low.  The county has had up around 40 in the past, Ferguson said.

Homes with open beds that can accept a wide range of ages are needed.

"No one can take teen boys right now.  Without beds, we need to send teen boys to the Lino Lakes juvenile facility (East Central Regional Juvenile Detention Center), and we would rather not do that because it can be even more traumatizing for teens who have been abused or neglected," Ferguson said.

She was asked how many teens have been sent to Lino Lakes.

"We haven't had to yet," she replied.

The surge of need for foster care providers began last year after a law was passed to give counties the ability to look at past history and get more information about children and their families.  This allowed more children to be placed in foster care with more frequency.  The law was passed after a boy died due to abuse, Ferguson explained.

The surge followed passage of the law.  A drug use increase also contributed to the need for more foster care, Ferguson said.

Those who are interested in learning more about becoming foster care providers can find more information on the county's website,  You can also find an application to become a certified foster care provider.



Crash in Buffalo results in death of Marvin Sikkila

Marvin Sikkila

A crash in Buffalo involving an elderly local resident and a student driver last Friday evening, March 31 resulted in the death of Marvin Sikkila, 81, of Buffalo.

Around 8 p.m., both vehicles were westbound on Highway 55 near Calder Ave. NE (in vicinity of Kwik Trip and Menards) when a GMC Acadia driven by a 15-year-old girl from Delano changed lanes and struck Sikkila's vehicle, a Ford Escort, according to the State Patrol.  Sikkila's vehicle went off the road to the right and rolled, coming to rest on its wheels.

Sikkila died later at the North Memorial Medical Center in Robbinsdale, according to the Hennepin County Medical Examiner.  The occupants of the Acadia, the young driver, an adult passenger and two teenage passengers, were not injured.

A retired carpenter, Sikkila enjoyed many hobbies, including activities at the Buffalo Gun Club.  He was also an American Legion member and a pilot.

Survivors include his children, Michael Sikkila of Annandale, Jodi Braun of Wadena and Mark Sikkila of Annandale.

A memorial service for Sikkila is taking place this Saturday, April 8, 10 a.m., with visitation an hour prior, at the Buffalo Presbyterian Church, with Pastor Sara Vanderpan officiating.  Arrangements were made by the Peterson Chapel of Buffalo.  (See obituary elsewhere in this week's issue of the Journal-Press for more information.)



Home & Garden Show April 7-8 in the Buffalo Civic Center

A kickoff to Buffalo Days is taking place as the current Buffalo royalty and royalty candidates will be at the Home and Garden Show on Saturday, April 8 selling Buffalo Days buttons.  This year, the committee asked the Buffalo Art Guild for some renderings of button designs and chose the design of Jim Eckberg.  The buttons are $3 each and are numbered for a chance to win cash prizes being announced after the Buffalo Days week is over.  You will soon start to see button boards at various businesses around town.  "It is one small way to help defray the cost of such a great event each summer," said Buffalo Area Chamber of Commerce President Sue Olmscheid.  (Photo courtesy of Chamber)

Get some ideas for the house and for the garden at the annual spring event that brings together a multitude of the local businesses and services all in one place.

The 2017 KRWC Home & Garden Show is taking place on Friday and Saturday, April 7 and 8 in the Buffalo Civic Center.

The Home & Garden Show hours are 3-8 p.m. Friday and 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday.

The Friday broadcast stage schedule at the Home & Garden Show includes an Open Mic/Area Authors segment from 3:30-5 p.m. and live remote broadcasts from 5-7:30 p.m.  The Saturday schedule includes: SpeedTalk from 10-11 a.m., Inside Bluegrass from 11 a.m. to noon, It's a Wonderful Life on the Ranch with the Sansevere family from noon to 1 p.m., and Garden Trivia from 1-2:30 p.m.

Wright County Master Gardeners are offering chances to win prizes.

Please bring a donation for the food shelf.

The event features local businesses and organizations, and about 80 booths displaying goods and services for your home and garden needs.



Cast announced for BCT show 'Hot Flashes'

Getting ready for BCT's April show, "Hot Flashes," are cast members (from left): MariBeth Schulke, Peg Janisch, Michelle Thompson, and Kay Wilson.  (Photo courtesy of BCT)

Buffalo Community Theater is excited to announce the cast of their next production, "Hot Flashes."

Peg Janisch of Delano, MariBeth Schulke of Maple Lake, Michelle Thompson of Big Lake, and Kay Wilson of South Haven are already hard at work on this unique, original comedy.

Delighting audiences of all genders throughout the United States and abroad, "Hot Flashes" is a hilarious collection of sketches about the unique challenges and comical adventures of menopause.  The material ranges from funny and insightful, wildly hilarious and poignant to broadly comic and poetic.  It breaks new ground in presenting issues about meno-pause and aging, which were once taboo, and also provide the fun of well-crafted scenes full of heart and humor.

Michelle Schwantes is directing this production, which will take the stage in the Discovery Center Auditorium April 21-23 and 28-30.  For more information and tickets to "Hot Flashes," log on to  The production is recommended for ages 13 and up.

"This organization is made possible by the voters of Minnesota through a grant from the Central Minnesota Arts Board, thanks to a legislative appropriation from the arts and cultural heritage fund."


click to see

feature photos

Smoke more dangerous today

Firefighters now better protected to prevent cancer from the release of carcinogens

By Ed DuBois

Serving as a firefighter involves facing danger from severe heat and possible accidents and collapsing structures.  However, the materials found in modern structures and vehicles have increased the danger.  When plastics and glues burn, they release carcinogens, and that's why the cancer rate among firefighters has been higher than the general public.

The good news is that protection is available, and many fire departments have acquired equipment and gear that shield firefighters and keeps them safe.

A key piece of equipment in fire halls these days is called an extractor.  The Maple Lake fire chief recently referred to it as "a washing machine on steroids," according to the Maple Lake Messenger.  Grant funds helped the Maple Lake Fire Department purchase an extractor recently.


Removes smoke and soot

The Buffalo Fire Department has been using an extractor, a Uni Mat 27, about 15 years.  Buffalo Fire Chief John Harnois said the firefighters' gear (their coats and pants) gets washed in the extractor any time they get smoke and soot on them.

"You need to get it off right away," he stated.

An ordinary washing machine would not do.

"Washing the coats and pants would be hard on a regular washing machine," Harnois said.  "You would destroy a regular washing machine."

Firefighting gear is tough.  Built to last, a coat and pants set costs about $2,500.  Even so, they eventually wear out, or lose their protective qualities.  Harnois said they should be replaced every ten years.  Meanwhile, the industry continuously improves the gear.


Helmets and boots also washed

The extractor can handle one and a half coat and pants sets per wash (for example, two coats and one pair of pants or two pair of pants and one coat).  After being washed, they are air-dried.  The open locker spaces where the gear is stored near the fire trucks has air vents in the floor.  Air is blown up from beneath the gear, and the blower is on a timer.

Harnois mentioned the firefighters' boots and helmets are hand-washed with soap and water.

All the gear is regularly checked to make sure they are clean, and the firefighters are regularly reminded about the importance of keeping the gear clean.

"We just had a meeting two weeks ago when we made the decision to buy higher quality hoods," Harnois said.  We conduct reviews to help remind everyone about cleaning the gear."

He mentioned the Montrose Fire Department obtained an extractor in the recent past.


Hood Blocks particles

The hoods he talked about are worn under the helmet and mask, and they cover the firefighter's head, neck and shoulders.  They are made with thickly woven material that prevents particles from making contact with the skin.  Forty new hoods were recently ordered.  Hoods made by Honeywell were considered, but the decision was made to go with Fire-Dex H41 Interceptor Hoods with DuPont Nomex Nano Flex material.  The Fire-Dex hoods cost more, but they reportedly do a better job of blocking potentially carcinogenic particulates and other harmful contaminants.  Harnois said the Fire-Dex hoods also appear to fit better under the helmet and mask.

Harnois commented that even after a fire is put out, the firefighters are told to keep the SBA (self-contained breathing apparatus) on during salvage activities to protect against smoke and particles in the air.


New extractor

The Buffalo Fire Department does not have an extractor at the downtown fire station.  Gear stored there needs to be taken to the extractor at the Centennial Fire Station along County Rd. 134.  Harnois said a new extractor would be purchased for a new downtown fire station when it is constructed.

When you think about fire department equipment, you might immediately picture a new fire truck in your mind, such as the latest 2,500-gallon tender (tanker) in the Centennial Fire Station.  But when you consider the toxic contaminants being released in fires these days, the extractor, the hoods, helmets, SBAs, coats, pants, and boots are probably even more important.  They protect the firefighters and can save their lives.