Year in Review: Newsmakers of 2012

Published 12:00 pm Thursday, December 27, 2012

House District 27A candidate Shannon Savick, a DFLer from Wells, hugs supporter Rose Anderson of Albert Lea after Savick defeated freshman legislator Rich Murray, a Republican from Albert Lea. -- Tim Engstrom/Albert Lea Tribune

Editor’s note: The Tribune’s news staff selected six people who made news frequently in the past year.


Shannon Savick

Shannon Savick

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When the former mayor of Wells announced in June she would seek the seat held by incumbent Rich Murray, it seemed like the DFL Party had put forth an unknown candidate. Not too many people in Albert Lea knew Shannon Savick, let alone people in other parts of District 27A, such as Blooming Prairie, Hayfield and Glenville. How would she win over the district?

Savick initially planned to run for the Legislature in District 24B against Republican Tony Cornish before the districts were redrawn in 2011.

She could be seen and heard at debates, including a crucial one at Freeborn-Mower Cooperative Services. She spoke at a rally in Albert Lea that drew big DFL names, such as Sen. Al Franken, Rep. Tim Walz and newspaper columnist Jim Klobuchar, father of Sen. Amy Klobuchar. She was at another Albert Lea rally featuring Gov. Mark Dayton.

She was in the newspaper in letters to the editor and columns.

On Nov. 6, with some help from voter backlash upset with Republicans for the school shift and for the state government shutdown, Savick defeated Murray by more than 600 votes.


Roger Bakken

Roger Bakken

This Albert Lea man was in the news through the year in his role leading the Albert Lea post of the American Legion in a new direction.

In 2011, it was discovered by the Post 56 board that $12,500 in taxes were owed to the state for unemployment tax. Furthermore, the post owed $120,000 in back taxes and late fees to the federal government dating back to 2008.

After the commander resigned amid concerns of personal liability related to the debt Post 56 found itself drowning in, Bakken was voted in as the new commander in January and began changing the club’s structure to better manage finances and operations.

In February, the club kicked off a campaign to raise $85,000, a campaign that is still going. It so far has raised $36,837. The money is safeguarded through the Albert Lea-Freeborn County Chamber Foundation.

Bakken in January appointed board members to oversee inventory, product costs and profitability of the club, rather than leaving the oversight to the manager. The club hired the accounting firm of Hammer, Dieser & Mangskau to audit finances.

Arnie Mulso, the adjutant for the American Legion Post 56 for the past four years, stepped down in June. Bakken appointed Bernie Priebe to fill the role.

Post 56 struck a deal with the IRS in November. It owed the IRS $84,878 in unpaid payroll taxes, as of Nov. 6. The deal requires the club to pay $1,000 per month to the IRS until it is paid off, with the payments due on the 20th of each month.

Bakken said the club and its outside accounting firm were able to forge a payment plan with the IRS because the club has taken steps to be more fiscally responsible and to have more oversight of spending.


Steven Jahnke

Steven Jahnke

The city’s director of public works sure had a busy year. He was in the news most notably for the planned reconstruction of Broadway in downtown Albert Lea, but he also made news for his role in plans for the north end of Bridge Avenue.

During the summer, Jahnke’s crew set up orange cones downtown at Broadway and Clark Street and Broadway and William Street and sought feedback from residents on what were termed “bumpouts.” These cones represented where the sidewalk would stick out into the intersection, shortening the crossing for pedestrians, when the city reconstructed Broadway.

Many people instead of seeing the bumpouts as just one facet of a downtown reconstruction that included sewer and water utilities beneath the street, saw just the bumpouts as a singular project. The term streetscape also was used by city officials, and that, too, muddied the picture as people began to think the city only planned to alter the surface of Broadway, to include the bumpouts.

Jahnke forged on and over time got the message out that the work was part of a larger project that must be done every 75 years or so. The bumpouts are part of a larger proposed $4 million reconstruction of Broadway Avenue from Main Street north to Fountain Lake Park.

In November, engineers modified plans, proposing bumpouts that are more broad and sweeping in their curves, rather than a design that appeared to have them jut out more directly into the street.

Jahnke was part of a joint city-county committee that drew up recommendations for the north end of Bridge Avenue in light of Kwik Trip planning a store and Hy-Vee Gas planning an expansion.

He saw Freeborn County commissioners go against the committee’s safety recommendations in approving 3-2 a turn lane off Bridge Avenue for the new Kwik Trip. And he was there answering questions from City Council leaders when the city in December was considering whether to vacate an easement for a frontage road in front of the proposed Kwik Trip.


Brett Behnke

Brett Behnke

For the first few months of 2012, the administrator of the Shell Rock River Watershed District was in the news for lobbying the state Legislature to award $7.5 million in bonding dollars toward a $15 million project to dredge Fountain Lake. The project got its own hearing in March. Still, the funding didn’t make the final bill.

In August, he was in the news again, when the Shell Rock River Watershed District moved its offices from two locations in the Freeborn County Courthouse to one spot at 214 W. Main St., the former home of the Hill, Larson, Walth & Benda accounting firm. The move will save about $10,000 a year in rent.

The biggest news came in September.

Shell Rock River Watershed District officials purchased a 2010 IMS 7012 HP 51-foot Versi dredge for $340,000, along with pumps, piping and other equipment for an additional $435,000 during an auction at Ritchie Bros. in Owatonna. The district board of managers authorized the purchase at an emergency meeting Sept. 21.

After years of asking the state to share the cost of dredging local lakes, the district went out and got its own. The earliest, however, that any dredging would be done is 2014. And it still needs additional funding and proper permitting. The dredge is housed at the Freeborn County Fairgrounds.


Julie Johnson

Julie Johnson

In October 2011, six people applied for a vacant spot on the Albert Lea school board. Julie Johnson, vice president at Clarks Grove State Bank, was one of them. The school board didn’t select her.

So in August of this year, she filed for election to the board. Voters would have to choose three candidates out of six people in the race for three available four-year seats.

Johnson said she is passionate about education and now that her children are older she’ll have more time to devote to the board.

Before Johnson began her banking career she worked for seven years at Riverland Community College and for almost four years as the director of human resources for Austin Public Schools.

A main aspect of her campaign was employee morale in the Albert Lea School District, citing concerns about resignations. She said to have successful learners the district has to have happy employees.

On Election Day, incumbents Linda Laurie and Bill Leland both won re-election, and Johnson earned her place on the board. She had defeated the person the board appointed the year prior.

Leland received the most votes at more than 25 percent, with Johnson following with almost 20 percent of votes. Laurie had 19.46 percent of votes.


Carlie Wagner

Carlie Wagner

The sophomore-turned-junior from New Richland-Hartland-Ellendale-Geneva High School made the sports pages almost the whole year. She started off in January the focus of a feature about her and her two little sisters, twins Maddie and Marnie. Carlie Wagner had scored her 1,000th career point Dec. 29, 2011, in a 26-point rout of ninth-ranked St. Peter. Many times, her name appeared in stories in January and February with the girls’ basketball notching wins with lopsided scores, such as a 78-34 walloping of Maple River.

The Panthers finished the season 26-0, including 16-0 in the Gopher Conference, and had an average margin of victory of 30.2 points. The team won its fourth consecutive Gopher championship.

The team fought through opponents to reach the section final, where it faced St. Peter again. They won 59-54, with guard Wagner posting 25 points, but with about 7 minutes left in the first half they were ahead by 23 points. St. Peter clawed its way back to make the game close at the end.

With the win, Wagner became the school’s all-time leading scorer in boys’ and girls’ basketball, passing the previous mark of 1,578 points. It’s a record she continues to escalate this season.

Wagner led the team to a 75-45 blowout of the defending state champion Braham Bombers at state in the Class 2A quarterfinals. Wagner was held to 21 points in a semifinal loss to Sauk Center.

Wagner scored a state tournament record 48 points March 17 as the NRHEG girls’ basketball team beat Pequot Lakes 71-61 in the Class 2A third-place game.

She was named to the Associated Press All-State Girls’ Basketball First Team. She also scored a state tournament record 112 points over three games.

In track and field, Wagner set a record in the high jump May 15 at 5 feet 6 inches. The record was not only reset for the school, but also for the conference.

On June 2 at a track meet in Mankato, Wagner qualified for state in the high jump with a distance of 5 feet 5 inches and also qualified in the 200-meter dash with a time of 26.80 seconds. She ended up winning the state title in the high jump, reaching 5 feet 6 inches again.

Wagner said she never imagined winning. She figured she would place third or fourth, with a slim chance at getting second.

On Aug. 28, she was in the paper again, scoring the last point to win a volleyball match for the Panthers over the Albert Lea Tigers. By December, basketball season was back. NRHEG, ranked No. 2 in the state, beat the No. 3 team, Bethlehem Academy, by 17 points on Dec. 14. It looks like the Panthers were putting together another run at a perfect season.