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Former, current state leaders receive awards

Former state Sen. Dan Sparks and state Rep. Jeanne Poppe were honored with the Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities’ Legacy Award on July 29 during the coalition’s summer conference in Alexandria. The Legacy Award is given upon retirement to legislators who had a particularly positive impact on Greater Minnesota cities during their legislative careers, according to a press release.

Dan Sparks

Sparks, a Democrat from Austin, served five terms in the Minnesota Senate from 2003 to January 2021. Throughout his nearly two decades in the Legislature, Sparks was a consistent supporter of the coalition and rural communities, the release stated. He authored or co-authored several pieces of legislation related to CGMC priorities such as local government aid, housing and economic development, successfully securing state funding for new and existing programs that have helped strengthen Greater Minnesota communities and businesses. He listened closely to city leaders and was always open and receptive to exploring creative solutions to the issues facing Greater Minnesota cities.

“Sen. Sparks was a go-to advocate for Greater Minnesota,” said Greg Zylka, mayor of Little Falls and president of the CGMC. “Whenever we asked him to sign on to legislation or help secure a hearing, he was always eager and willing to help. We’re grateful for his years of hard work and legislative service on behalf of his district and all rural communities.”

Poppe, a Democrat from Austin, served eight terms in the Minnesota House from 2005 to January 2021. Throughout her years in office, she was a strong supporter of local government aid, community and technical colleges and other key programs and institutions that strengthen Greater Minnesota cities. As chair of the House Agriculture Committee, she was particularly engaged in issues that impact farming and agribusiness, which is the lifeblood of many rural communities. In recent years, Poppe also authored legislation that aimed to provide additional state funding for clean water infrastructure grant and loan programs that help cities cover the costs of much-needed repairs and upgrades to their water and wastewater facilities.

Jeanne Poppe

“Rep. Poppe was extremely dedicated to improving and strengthening rural communities,” Zylka said. “She always listened to the needs her of constituents and worked hard to find solutions to the problems facing her district and all of Greater Minnesota. We are grateful for her years of service in the Legislature.”

Dornink receives CGMC Legislator of Distinction Award

District 27 State Sen. Gene Dornink was recognized by the Coalition of Greater Minnesota for his positive impact on environmental issues in Greater Minnesota.

Dornink, a Republican from Hayfield, is serving his first term in the Minnesota Senate.

The Legislator of Distinction Award is given to legislators who played key roles in advancing CGMC’s policy during the preceding legislative session, according to the release.

Gene Dornink

As a newly elected legislator, Dornink emerged as a leader in the push for additional state funding for municipal water facilities. This session, he was the chief Senate author of a bill to provide $100 million in state bonding funds to the Public Facilities Authority to support its wastewater and drinking water infrastructure grant and loan programs. As communities across the state brace for the need to perform expensive repairs and upgrades to their facilities, funding through state grants and loans is vital to ensuring that cities can continue to provide clean water without having to impose massive rate increases on local residents and businesses. Although the Legislature did not pass a bonding bill this year, Dornink’s advocacy helped set the stage for a strong investment in water infrastructure in 2022, the release stated.

“Despite being new to the Legislature, Sen. Dornink quickly recognized the importance of state support for wastewater and drinking water infrastructure,” Zylka said. “He has been very engaged with local leaders on this issue and is active in trying to help not just communities in his district, but communities all across the state.”