Around Cook County
The city’s union employees have a new contract.
Grand Marais City Council approved the terms of a two-year deal at their April 9 meeting. Union members approved the contract the following morning.
Mayor Larry Carlson, who participated in the negotiation process, said he was confident the union would approve the tentative agreement councilors reviewed at their meeting. “We ultimately agreed to what they asked for at the last meeting,” he said.
The new contract is retroactive to the beginning of 2014 and remains in effect through the end of 2015. It grants the approximately 20 members of the local union a 1.5 percent pay increase each year and spells out some minor changes in employment policies.
Also, as in past years, council voted to award supervisors the same wage increase as that given to union members.
The resolution to set a public hearing concerning bonding for the Superior National Golf Course renovation project was put on hold at Tuesday’s Cook County Board of Commissioners meeting. The postponement, which will allow further discussion and consideration of alternative funding methods, is due in part to a letter from Commissioner Sue Hakes.
Hakes was unable to attend the meeting, but had submitted a letter to Jay Kieft, county administrator, expressing her reservations regarding the $2.2 million bonding proposal.
The proposal as now written obtains the funds through a tax abatement general obligation bond rather than through the originally stated revenue bond backed by projected golf course revenues. Hakes cites this as a significant change which entails the assumption of considerable risk by county taxpayers.
While it is acknowledged that the general obligation bond offers a lower interest rate and a considerable savings over the 20-year term of the bond, this is only possible because the county, rather than the bond holder, assumes the greater risk.
With a tax abatement general obligation bond as proposed, the debt would be secured by abated property taxes on 58 properties expected to benefit from planned improvements at the golf course. If future course revenues are not sufficient to make debt payments, the county, through the abated tax revenues, would be liable.
In her letter, Hakes proposed two alternatives for consideration – reduce the scope of the renovation project to avoid the need for bonding, or secure the bonding debt with the existing 2% lodging tax from Lutsen/Schroeder/Tofte townships.
Michael Drilling of Grand Marais pleaded guilty in federal court on April 17 to one count of securities fraud. The 47-year-old investment adviser was charged with defrauding 13 investors of nearly $6 million.
Drilling was a seasonal employee at Voyageur Canoe Outfitters the summers of 2012 and 2013 and lived at the Tip-of-the-Trail property he purchased at a county auction in June of last year.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Timothy Rank told WTIP that Drilling admitted to creating a scheme to defraud his investment advisory clients through his company, Financial Advisory Partners LLC. Drilling defrauded clients by stealing over $5.6 million of their investment funds between January 2010 and November 2013.
While the names of the defrauded investors are not public information, the plea agreement does state one such investor was from Minnesota. The rest apparently were located throughout the country.
Prior to establishing his own investment firm in May 2009, Drilling had worked in the field since 1995. The Star Tribune reports defense attorney Allan Caplan said Drilling, formerly of Prior Lake, spent the money on himself and lost it in investments and at casinos. Rank said some of Drilling's victims lost their life savings.
According to the plea agreement, Drilling agreed to forfeit all real and personal property derived from proceeds traceable to the frauds. This could include a property in Sedona, Arizona as well as the Tip-of-the-Trail property.
Sentencing will likely take place this summer after a full investigation. Drilling faces a maximum sentence of five years in prison, supervised release and up to $150,000 and restitution.
Governor Mark Dayton announced a new appointment to the Minnesota State Arts Board in mid-March. Jan Sivertson, owner of Sivertson Art Gallery in downtown Grand Marais and Siiviis at Canal Park in Duluth, has been appointed as an at-large member of that board.
It took a while to catch up with the busy gallery owner, artist and Grand Marais city councilor, who acknowledged that this is a big commitment—and an addition to her already busy life. However, Sivertson said, “There is a lot going on here in Cook County. We are a model arts community, but we haven’t had a voice. It’s important that we do.”
Sivertson said the great staff, such as Executive Director Sue Gens, and the other board members and artists make it easier. She said board meetings are in St. Paul in a “beautiful old building,” but when the weather is bad or her schedule too busy, she is able to attend via Internet.
There will be trips to the Capitol to update the legislature on what is happening in the arts community and meetings to review grant requests. Grant decisions, said Sivertson, are made easier by the panels of artists who sift through the grant applications, narrowing them to a manageable number for the Arts Board.
“They do all the real nitty-gritty work. We base our decisions on their recommendations,” said Sivertson.
Local musician Jessa Frost serves on one of the artists’ panels.
Sivertson said, “I would highly encourage artists to participate. We have wonderful artists in our region. They can definitely compete!”
Sivertson is also enjoying getting to know the other board members and was delighted to find a North Shore connection—board colleague Sheila Smith has a home in Schroeder.
Sivertson’s term runs until January 2018.
Congressman Rick Nolan is inviting all high school artists living in Minnesota’s 8th District to submit entries to the 2014 Congressional Art Competition.
Each spring, the Congressional Institute sponsors a nationwide high school visual art competition to recognize and encourage artistic talent in all 435 congressional districts. More than 650,000 high school students have participated since the onset in 1982. Said Nolan: “What a great way to support and encourage our talented young visual artists, as well as any student who was ever picked up a paintbrush, developed a photograph, or just had an inkling to create art.”
Ten pieces of art will be named “Best in District,” and one of those 10 will be selected as “Best in Show” to be displayed in the U.S. Capitol for one year, where thousands of visitors and public officials will view it every day. “Best in District” winners will be displayed in Nolan’s district offices for visitors and staff to enjoy them as well. The winning artist and a companion will receive a pair of tickets to fly from Minnesota to Washington for the unveiling.
Students interested in participating can visit nolan.house.gov/services/art-competition or call Congressman Nolan’s Duluth office at 218-464-5095. All participant paperwork and accompanying works of art must be submitted by May 19.
Residents on Colvill Township Road Number 1 (aka Kelly’s Hill) have requested that the county take over maintenance of the road, maintaining that the original road was funded by Colvill residents and in 1935 all assets owned by the township and taxation rights were turned over to Cook County. On Tuesday, April 8, 2014 they returned to the county board for a third time.
In a letter to the commissioners dated February 14, 2014, Jeff Wenz, president of Kellys Hill Road Maintenance Association (KHRMA), wrote, “To the best of our knowledge, there is no document of record that vacated or abandoned this road at a later date. Clearly, Cook County’s obligation and responsibility to maintain said road has been neglected for years.”
Local attorney Baiers Hereen, hired by the county to look into the matter, came before the board on April 8 and said, “The reason for the inquiry was to determine whether or not Kellys Hill Road was in fact a Cook County road. We did the research and looked at correspondence and came to the conclusion that Kellys Hill Road in fact, is not a county road. I did put together an opinion letter on that and gave it to the county attorney’s office,” said Hereen.
Commissioner Garry Gamble said the county wanted a legal opinion that could be defended if it was challenged in court. He added that although it appeared the county had no legal reason to help maintain the road, that doesn’t necessarily mean the county doesn’t have some responsibility to work with the county engineer to help alleviate some concerns.
To Hereen’s opinion, Wenz said, “In response. … I think we need some time to digest this opinion. Whether it’s legally defensible or truly a fact remains to be seen. I don’t know what we can say to this letter when we haven’t even had time to read it.”