City of Duluth gets $285,000 grant to assist Georgia-Pacific workers | Duluth News Tribune | Duluth, Minnesota

The city of Duluth is receiving a $285,000 state grant to assist former employees of the Georgia-Pacific hardboard plant that closed earlier this year.

The closure of the plant left 141 employees out of work.

The grant, from the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development, will help the city serve up to 80 skilled workers who are too young to retire, a city news release said. It will provide for additional training that workers may need to return to the work force.

The grant is effective immediately and will run through the end of 2013, with the possibility of an extension.

The city is hosting a news conference later today to discuss the grant.

Former Georgia-Pacific employees interested in assistance should contact the Duluth Workforce Development Center at (218) 302-8400, or visit the office at 402 W. First St.

via City of Duluth gets $285,000 grant to assist Georgia-Pacific workers | Duluth News Tribune | Duluth, Minnesota.

Judge dismisses child porn case against Minnesota college football coach | Duluth News Tribune | Duluth, Minnesota

Defense attorney Jim Fleming (center) is flanked by Todd Hoffner and Hoffner’s wife, Melodee, as he makes a statement Wednesday, Oct. 31, 2012, after Hoffner’s court testimony in Mankato, Minn., on child pornography charges. Hoffner, the suspended football coach at Minnesota State University-Mankato who is accused of making pornographic videos of his children, told a judge that the images merely show a skit his children came up with while in the bathtub and asked him to record. (John Cross / Mankato Free Press)

MINNEAPOLIS — A Minnesota judge has dismissed child pornography charges against a college football head coach accused of making pornographic videos of his children.

Blue Earth County District Court Judge Krista Jass ruled Friday that the case against Todd Hoffner is dismissed for lack of probable cause.

Hoffner is the head coach at Minnesota State University-Mankato. He was charged in August with two felonies. Prosecutors said he made videos of his children performing suggestive acts while naked.

Hoffner and his wife insisted all along that the videos were not inappropriate, and were merely images of children acting silly and dancing after taking a bath.

A search of Hoffner’s home found no evidence of child porn, and social workers found no evidence of abuse.

via Judge dismisses child porn case against Minnesota college football coach | Duluth News Tribune | Duluth, Minnesota.

San Bernardino expects ‘death’ if bankruptcy protection lost – Redlands Daily Facts

Special Section: San Bernardino
SAN BERNARDINO – In a city where nearly every important decision divides officials into two camps, one goal has the passionate support of nearly every policy-maker: Get the court to approve bankruptcy protection.

As the City Council considered a cuts-filled budget plan, the need to satisfy bankruptcy court loomed over the discussions of how to bridge a budget gap generally pegged at $45.8million.

And since the council passed it Monday, the City Attorney’s Office and others have worked nearly nonstop to incorporate the plan into a filing due today at the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Riverside – arguing, essentially, that San Bernardino deserves to be in bankruptcy court.

Judge Meredith Jury is expected to rule on part of that issue on Dec. 21.

So what’s at stake?

The survival of the city, according to both Mayor Pat Morris and City Attorney James F. Penman.

“We’re talking about the national fiscal cliff,” Morris said. “We’re in free fall over our own fiscal cliff, and the only net we have at the bottom of our own fiscal cliff is Chapter 9. Without it – that’s death.”

The city’s liabilities go far beyond its assets, and it’s unable to pay its bills, Penman said.

Only the legal protection afforded by being in bankruptcy court stops those owed money from taking it out

of the city’s bank accounts – leaving far too little to pay employees – and seizing leased items, including vehicles and dispatch equipment for the police and fire departments, Penman said.

“Copiers, fax machines, all those things necessary for running the office, most of our city vehicles – we don’t own them. Most of them are leased,” Penman said. “That would take several weeks to accomplish. Before that, they’ll get writs to attack the city’s bank accounts, and that’ll finish us.”

None of the few California cities to file for bankruptcy have been found ineligible, but that’s hardly a guarantee, Morris said.

Of the two larger cities to file in recent years, Vallejo spent months and millions of dollars before convincing a judge that it qualified for bankruptcy protection, and Stockton is also battling employee unions who say it shouldn’t qualify.

Two creditors have filed what Jury called serious challenges to San Bernardino’s eligibility. The city will respond in the document due today.

Its largest creditor, the California Public Employee Retirement System – which San Bernardino owes $143 million – seemed to accept that the city is in some financial distress in its objection filed Oct. 24.

“The city appears to be operating postpetition at a substantial deficit and has so far been unable to produce a budget that covers its ongoing operating expenses, let alone allows it to pay any prepetition claims,” wrote CalPERS attorneys Michael Gearin and Michael Lubic.

But they say in the same document that it’s impossible to determine whether the city meets the bankruptcy eligibility requirements because it hadn’t provided reliable financial information or – until Monday – a plan for how it would adjust its debts.

And a day after the council passed its pendency plan, setting out projected spending during the bankruptcy proceedings, CalPERS’ attorneys asked Jury to lift a stay that prevents them from suing the city in bankruptcy court for pension payments San Bernardino hasn’t made and doesn’t plan to until next fiscal year.

That indicates CalPERS doesn’t quite understand the depth of the city’s crisis, Penman said.

CalPERS spokeswoman Amy Norris declined to speculate on what would happen if the city was found ineligible for bankruptcy.

In addition to basic requirements like being a municipality such as a city, Chapter 9 bankruptcy requires being insolvent – “unable to pay its debts as they come due” – and having a plan to adjust debts.

Unlike in other cities, only one of San Bernardino’s employee unions – San Bernardino Public Employees Association, representing middle managers – is fighting the bankruptcy filing.

Union leaders did not return repeated phone calls or emails asking for comment but their Oct. 24 court objection to the filing suggests they believe the city has options other than bankruptcy.

“The city’s attempt to exclusively impair obligations owed to the public sector, its failure to come to the bargaining table and its refusal to take part in the AB 506 (pre-bankruptcy negotiation) process reveals the nature and purpose of the petition: to scapegoat public employees for its political, organizational and financial failure,” wrote attorneys Dennis Hayes and Christopher Conti on behalf of the union.

They point to suggestions made by consultant Management Partners in 2007 and repeated warnings of pending bankruptcy that weren’t acted upon as evidence of bad faith. Current city officials disagree on what could have been done about those suggestions, but generally agree no such changes could save the city now.

When the council was first presented with documents arguing there was little choice but to declare bankruptcy, that July 10 vote drew a “no” from Councilmen Chas Kelley and Fred Shorett and an abstention from Councilman John Valdivia.

Valdivia has since said he “has no reason to doubt” the picture other officials paint, and Shorett has changed his mind.

“I voted against it the first night because I didn’t think we could get into bankruptcy, because I didn’t think this council was capable of making the tough decisions that needed to be made – and they almost weren’t,” he said, referring to Monday’s 5-2 vote for the pendency plan. “But we made it.”

Shorett said he didn’t know what the “untracked territory” of being rejected by bankruptcy court could bring, but hoped it didn’t come to that.

Kelley, who reiterated his opposition to bankruptcy when he joined Valdivia in voting against the pendency plan, did not return calls Thursday.

But a two-thirds supermajority of the council seems to accept what needs to be done, said Penman.

“There are a lot of things we’re not going to like,” Penman said. “But the question is: Is it worse to dissolve and have the county take over?”

County officials haven’t taken any steps to prepare for the county seat potentially disincorporating, although they have given themselves the option of fighting the city’s stay and suing the city over $1.5 million in unpaid landfill tipping fees, said county spokesman David Wert.

“The fact of the matter is the county has an obligation to its taxpayers to pursue any debts that are owed to the county,” Wert said. “The county is certainly not in the business of propping up anybody.”

No California city has disincorporated in recent decades, and none has been close to San Bernardino’s size, said Karen Rollings-McDonald, executive director of the Local Agency Formation Commission for San Bernardino County, which is responsible for areas of the county becoming cities or vice versa.

“I’ve never heard of a city of 200,000 disincorporating,” Rolling-McDonald said. “To me, it’s almost mind-boggling how you would unravel that.”

She said the agency had looked up disincorporation statutes because of San Bernardino’s situation.

“It’s a horrendous undertaking,” she said. “It would be epic.”


San Bernardino expects ‘death’ if bankruptcy protection lost – Redlands Daily Facts.

Video

Saint Paul police brutality

Before a St. Paul police officer began kicking a man lying on the ground in an arrest captured on video, the officer knew these things:

— The suspect had been combative with police in the past.

— A crowd had gathered, and he was worried, asking for police backup.

— The suspect was not following his commands.

Faced with these facts, a prosecutor said Thursday, Nov. 29, there was “insufficient proof beyond a reasonable doubt” that officer Jesse Zilge “used unreasonable force” to arrest Eric Hightower, 30, in August.

The Olmsted County attorney’s office, reviewing the case to avoid a conflict of interest for their Ramsey County counterparts, declined to file felony assault charges against Zilge and another St. Paul officer, Matthew Gorans. Gorans had sprayed Hightower with Mace while the suspect was in a squad car, the county attorney’s office said.

A St. Paul police internal affairs investigation continues, as does an FBI investigation for possible civil rights violations.

St. Paul NAACP President Jeff Martin said he was disappointed but not surprised by the decision.

“I’m sure they put a different lens on it when they look at what an officer does instead of an average citizen,” he said. “It’s disappointing that we want to give cops more leeway to handle stressful situations when that’s what we pay them to do.

“Thank God, we don’t have this as an everyday occurrence. But when officers do act inappropriately, we seem to go over and above to try to explain it away, to say we can’t expect them to be perfect in these high-stress situations.”

St. Paul Police Federation President Dave Titus said the decision shows that the officers “acted in good faith and according to their training.”

“Good cops were in a dangerous situation with a known dangerous individual and dozens of potentially hostile onlookers,” Titus said in a statement. “The video taken by the suspect’s associate does not tell the whole story of the officers’ perceptions of the entire situation — which includes their knowledge of the violent tendencies of the suspect and their interactions with the large threatening crowd, the strong possibility of a gun based on his prior threats to his ex-girlfriend, and the refusal of the suspect to obey their commands.”

An Olmsted County attorney’s office press release gave the following information:

Zilge responded to a report Aug. 28 that Hightower threatened to kill his ex-girlfriend, Kara Drew. Zilge knew that police took a report three days earlier that Hightower had damaged the woman’s property. He also knew that in June, when another officer arrested Hightower, the man “had become physically combative.”

Zilge found Hightower with two other men on a street and called for assistance. As Hightower began to walk away, Zilge got out of his car and told him he was under arrest. Hightower refused repeated orders to get on the ground.

Zilge sprayed Hightower twice with Mace and unholstered his Taser, though he did not use it. Hightower finally got on the ground but refused to lie on his stomach.

As Hightower yelled at Zilge and a crowd formed, the officer called for backup.

As another officer arrived, Zilge kicked Hightower in his chest as he moved in to handcuff him. Zilge and another officer lifted Hightower to his feet. Hightower then turned “his upper body quickly toward officer Zilge in what the two officers characterized as an effort to head-butt officer Zilge,” the news release said. “The two officers act quickly and take Hightower toward a nearby squad car and force his upper body onto the hood of the squad car.”

As Hightower resisted attempts by two officers to get him in the squad car, Gorans crawled across the back seat and pulled his upper body into the vehicle. That’s when Gorans sprayed him with Mace.

Officers then got Hightower completely into the squad car.

“Great physical effort was being used without success to get Hightower into the squad car and the officer decided to use Mace to achieve compliance by Hightower,” the release said.

Hightower was treated at a hospital emergency room several times over several days, complaining of chest and ear pain.

“Medical personnel suspect that Hightower had a punctured ear drum, but the medical reports are inconsistent in that diagnosis,” the release said.

No bruises, broken bones or other injuries were reported.

Minnesota law allows arresting officers to use “reasonable force,” the release said. “(T)he standard is whether a reasonable officer would have used the degree of force used under the same circumstances.

Officers are “required to quickly(,) in sometimes fluid and stressful situation(s,) … determine what level of force is appropriate. The law is designed to prevent after-the-fact second guessing about the actions of officers on the streets who may have to make the decision to act quickly.”

A friend of Hightower’s posted a recording of the incident to YouTube a day after the arrest. St. Paul Police Chief Thomas Smith launched an internal affairs investigation that day. He put Zilge and Gorans on paid administrative leave. The two officers returned to work effective Sept. 13, but not to patrol assignments.

Police spokesman Howie Padilla said Thursday that a decision hasn’t been made about whether the case would be forwarded to a city attorney to consider misdemeanor charges.

“As the chief has said since the very beginning, he wants things to be handled in a very deliberate, very thorough fashion,” Padilla said. “The decision of the next steps for this case will be handled in that same tone.”

Prosecutors charged Hightower with aggravated stalking, terroristic threats and fourth-degree criminal damage to property in the case that prompted his arrest. He has pleaded not guilty.

Hightower was sentenced Nov. 21 in a Sept. 24 case in which Drew was also the victim. He was convicted of two felonies, domestic abuse and violating a no-contact order. He was sentenced to 18 months in prison, stayed for five years.

He also received 53 days in the Ramsey County workhouse, which he’d already served, and was put on supervised probation for five years.

Minnesota police officer shot, killed while on duty; suspect in custody | Duluth News Tribune | Duluth, Minnesota

COLD SPRING, Minn. — A Cold Spring police officer was shot and killed late Thursday when he was trying to do a welfare check, Stearns County Chief Deputy Bruce Bechtold said during an early morning news conference today.

The shooting and the subsequent hunt for the suspect shut down much of downtown Cold Spring, a community of about 3,000 people about 15 miles southwest of St. Cloud, late Thursday. The suspect was arrested, but his identity was not released by authorities at this time.

Bechtold would not release the name of the officer who was killed at this time.

It’s believed the suspect lived above a bar, Winners’, and that the shooting took place behind the bar, Bechtold said.

Police responded to the scene about 11 p.m. Thursday. A police perimeter was set up around much of downtown during the search for the suspect, and a helicopter hovered overhead.

The Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension lab is processing the scene, Bechtold said.

Multiple police agencies were called to help with the investigation.

via Minnesota police officer shot, killed while on duty; suspect in custody | Duluth News Tribune | Duluth, Minnesota.

Deal reached to shore up Minnesota police and firefighter pension fund – TwinCities.com

A coalition of law enforcement and firefighter representatives and Minnesota’s largest pension plan have agreed on a strategy to shore up the financially troubled police and fire pension fund.

The proposal, which needs legislative approval, includes increases in employee and employer contributions and a change that would make it financially less attractive to retire before age 55.

Mary Vanek, executive director of the Public Employees Retirement Association (PERA), said this solution should get the police and fire fund “back on track” to be fully funded by the legally mandated deadline of 2038.

As of fiscal year 2011, contributions covered about 83 percent of what’s needed to pay benefits and administrative expenses and to pay off debt. Preliminary 2012 information from PERA indicates the deficiency has grown worse.

“We solved everything, but it’s painful,” Vanek said. “It’s particularly painful for members who like to retire early.”

The PERA board will consider the proposal Dec. 13. If it is approved, Vanek would work with lawmakers to draft legislation for the next session that starts in January.

The proposal includes:

— Increasing contributions from members during their working years from 9.6 percent of salary to 10.8 percent.

— Increasing contributions from employers from 14.4 percent of salary to 16.2 percent.

— Keeping retiree cost-of-living increases at 1 percent until the plan is 90 percent funded.

— Delaying the first cost-of-living increases for new retirees for three years.

— Increasing vesting requirements and capping initial retirement benefits at 99 percent of average for new hires starting July 1, 2014.

The contribution increases would be phased in over two years; the early retirement changes over five years.

Chris Parsons, secretary of the International Association of Fire Fighters Local 21, representing about 420 rank-and-file St. Paul firefighters, said his group’s members are willing to make changes because they want to ensure they have a pension in the future.

“We work 30 years in a very dangerous profession, a very physically rigorous profession where a lot of people are injured; we’re asked to put our lives on the line,” Parsons said. “And in return we’ve been able to negotiate a good, solid pension.”

Parsons said the recommendation that will hit members hardest is the 1.2 percent contribution increase from their paychecks. He noted this comes after a 3 percent contribution increase over the past five years and at a time when most have not received raises.

Dennis Flaherty, executive director of the Minnesota Police and Peace Officers Association (MPPOA), said the consensus during the coalition’s discussion was that “everybody’s going to need to take a haircut” in order to fix the fund’s financial problems.

He said the roughly 7,500 members of his organization who are part of PERA’s police and fire fund likely will find the early retirement changes the toughest to swallow.

“The opportunity to retire early is something that’s seen as a necessary benefit, and it’s one that we’ve enjoyed over a number of decades,” Flaherty said. “However, the reality is that we’re all living longer. The cost of the benefit has increased, so the employee is expected to pay more if they want to access the benefit.”

Police officers and firefighters do not participate in Social Security, and Flaherty noted that, for many, their pension will be their “sole source of retirement.”

“We have to make sure it’s solid and poised for the future,” Flaherty said.

Vanek said early retirements have been particularly problematic for the fund because even though early retirees get a reduced benefit, the reduction is not enough to cover the actual costs for that person’s pension. PERA estimates that benefits would need to be reduced by 8 percent for each year someone retires before age 55 to reach a point where the fund isn’t losing money by someone retiring early.

Under the proposal, benefits will be reduced by 5 percent — still not enough to cover all the costs but significantly better than the current levels, Vanek said. Current levels are a 1.2 percent per year reduction for those hired before June 30, 2007 and a 2.4 percent reduction for those hired after that.

The current early retirement rules were put in place in the early 1990s, Vanek said, when the police and fire fund was more than 100 percent funded.

In 2011, the police and fire fund paid $342 million in benefits to about 7,800 people, and there are about 10,000 members currently employed.

The state Legislature approved changes to nearly all of the state’s public pensions, including police and fire, in 2010. The changes varied from plan to plan, but most included reductions in retiree cost-of-living increases. Police and fire were among several that also had contribution increases.

Key leaders at the Legislature could not be reached for comment Thursday.

PERA is building a calculation tool for its website that would allow members to estimate the impact of the early retirement change on their benefits.

via Deal reached to shore up Minnesota police and firefighter pension fund – TwinCities.com.

Hennepin County: IT employee accused of stealing $93K in computer equipment from court system – TwinCities.com

A Hennepin County District Court employee allegedly stole nearly $100,000 worth of computer equipment from work, according to charges issued by Hennepin County prosecutors.

Saleem Abdul Ghani, 42, of Maple Grove was charged with four felony theft counts for allegedly stealing 112 computer components worth more than $93,000 — including a laptop, printer, software, memory devices, servers, keyboards, switches and telephones.

Ghani was an IT employee for the court system. The thefts were discovered when the system conducted an inventory of assets.

via Hennepin County: IT employee accused of stealing $93K in computer equipment from court system – TwinCities.com.

Transferred Minneapolis cops lose suit | StarTribune.com

A Hennepin County district judge Thursday dismissed a lawsuit by two prominent Minneapolis police officers who claimed they were unjustly transferred by former Chief Tim Dolan at the urging of incoming Chief Janeé Harteau.

Lt. Andy Smith and Sgt. Patrick King had alleged their 2011 transfer out of the department’s Violent Offender Task Force was in retaliation for their 2007 investigation into corruption within the department.

But Hennepin District Judge Philip Carruthers ruled the two men failed to prove retaliation. Nor could they be considered whistleblowers, because investigating corruption was part of their assigned responsibility, the judge ruled.

The court decision was a significant victory for Harteau, who is expected to be confirmed as chief by the City Council on Friday and sworn in at a ceremony on Tuesday. She testified during the civil trial, defending her decision to transfer the officers because they had lost the confidence of federal prosecutors.

“I’m pleased with the court’s decision, and I had complete confidence in the city’s position,” Harteau said in a statement Thursday. “While this was a complicated case, I had faith that the courts would sift through all the facts and make the right ruling.”

Patrick Burns, attorney for King and Smith, said he disagreed with Carruthers’ decision but respected it. “We are weighing our appeal options,” he said.

Burns had asked the city for a payout of $1.5 million in the suit, much of it for the large amounts of overtime the two officers would no longer receive in their new assignments and $500,000 for damage to their reputation. Under Carruthers’ decision, the two will get nothing.

Even as he rejected their claims, the judge praised Smith and King as “exemplary police officers.”

Smith and King had been asked by Dolan to probe corruption involving police officers in the department and they testified they were subjected to abuse by other officers. That included the hanging of a giant toy rat in their office.

As a result of the probe, former Minneapolis officer Mike Roberts went to federal prison for a year for public corruption and tax evasion.

Afterward, Dolan provided Smith and King with a letter stating that their work could result in retaliation.

But Carruthers wrote that “If anyone was in a position to not retaliate and protect (Smith and King) it was Chief Dolan,” yet it was Dolan who made the decision to transfer the officers.

Dolan testified that he was approached by Harteau and Deputy Chief Scott Gerlicher. They told him federal prosecutors no longer trusted Smith and King and would not collaborate with the two men, who were working on a joint police-FBI task force.

Dolan was also given a memorandum, prepared by Gerlicher, laying out alleged wrongdoings by the two officers including concerns about large amounts of overtime they had incurred.

Dolan ordered the two officers relieved of duty, then reinstated them several hours later and transferred them.

At the trial, Harteau distanced herself from Gerlicher’s memo, agreeing with Burns, under cross examination, that some of the claims were “innuendo.”

But Carruthers said Gerlicher, who oversaw the department budget, had a right to be concerned about overtime, and the officers had not proved Gerlicher had motive to retaliate.

Still, Carruthers said, he believed that Smith and King “are outstanding officers who had not committed violations of police policy and had done nothing illegal or dishonest. The court believes that relieving them of duty was unfair and undeserved as acknowledged in retrospect by Dolan.”

via Transferred Minneapolis cops lose suit | StarTribune.com.