The Top 10 stories in Faribault County in 2015
No. 1: Blue Earth’s ‘Jane Doe’ identified Our choice for the top story in Faribault County for 2015 was the identification of an unnamed body that had been buried in the Riverside Cemetery in Blue Earth for 35 years.
Known only as Jane Doe, she was identified in March as Michelle Yvette Busha, of Bay City, Texas. She was just 18 years old at the time she was murdered near Blue Earth in May of 1980.
Her body had been exhumed from its grave on Aug. 14 of 2014 for the purpose of using several new DNA testing techniques to try and find out her identity.
The announcement of Jane Doe’s true identity was made by the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension at a press conference in Minneapolis.
Faribault County Sheriff Mike Gormley told the press that this was not a case of “who done it,” but rather a case of “who is it.”
An on-duty Minnesota State Highway patrolman, Robert Leroy Nelson, confessed to killing the girl who had been hitchhiking on Interstate I-90, and dumping her body in a drainage ditch between the Blue Earth and Frost exits.
Nelson’s confession came nine years after the body had been found. He is currently in prison in Texas for this and other crimes.
In April, members of Busha’s family came to Blue Earth to claim her remains and take them home to Texas for burial there.
No. 2: Winnebago Elementary School closed, Genesis Academy opens In February, the Register had a story about the Blue Earth Area School Board discussing closing the Winnebago Elementary School due to budget concerns. There was another story about it in the March 9 issue, followed by a story on March 16 about Winnebago residents being upset about the closing.
After another story about a public forum held in Winnebago, and one more with the BEA board’s reasons for closure, the April 20 issue reported the board voted 5-1 to close the school. That was followed with a story on May 18 that the BEA District would be leasing the building to the Southern Plains Educational Cooperative.
Almost immediated the Register was reporting that a group in Winnebago was planning on starting a private, Christian school.
On June 1 it was announced it would be called Genesis Classical Academy, and on July 13 we reported a headmaster, Renee Doyle, had been hired.
The Sept. 14 issue of the Register reported the school was open and operating.
No. 3: Downtown Blue Earth Main Street project stirs controversy Although the two-block reconstruction project on Blue Earth’s Main Street will not happen until this summer, it dominated the pages of the Register for much of 2015.
At first, the stories mainly had to do with the proposed parking alignment for the project.
While the city had applied to the state for a variance to allow them to keep diagonal parking on both sides of the street and surprisingly received it possible plans included parallel parking on either one side or both sides.
The county engineer said he would not sign off on a plan that had diagonal parking on both sides, saying it was dangerous and opened the county up to a potential lawsuit.
Downtown business owners protested, saying they needed diagonal parking on both sides for customer convenience.
Eventually, both the city and the county agreed to put in diagonal on both sides of the street, narrowing up the width of the sidewalks.
Next, the city’s street committee recommended some ‘streetscape’ designs for the project, including bumpouts, but the council spent several meetings debating the issue until finally passing it recently.
No. 4: New faces at the helm of local organizations, businesses In January, there was the surprising news of two local administrators resigning their posts.
Linsey Preuss left the Faribault County Development Corporation (FCDC) as executive director and Jeff Lang left United Hospital District as their CEO.
That was followed in February with news that county engineer John McDonald was also leaving his position.
FCDC first had Bill Deblon as their interim director, before hiring Tim Clawson as executive director in June.
UHD had Dr. Dan Ellis as their interim CEO before hiring Richard Ash as the new administrator, also in June.
Faribault County’s new county engineer, Mark Daly, was hired in March.
There were several other changes in personnel in the county, as well. Luke Weinandt started as assistant Veterans Service Officer and Graham Berg-Moberg as assistant county attorney.
And, Beth Moss was hired as assistant director at FCDC.
The year ended with the surprise resignations in December of county assessor Lynn Krachner and Dr. Jerry Jensen as superintendent at United South Central Schools, effective in June.
No. 5: County plans courthouse remodeling A story in early May revealed the County Board making plans for a $4.4 million ‘extreme makeover’ remodeling project at the courthouse and other buildings owned by the county.
There are renovations planned for the main courthouse and the courthouse annex, as well as the former jail/sheriff’s office.
Some of the renovations involve security measures, such as security card locks, cameras, secure windows and more. Other improvements are more cosmetic and involve carpet, paint, etc.
A portion of the former jail/sheriff’s office is being remodeled to be the new county attorney’s office.
The county has also agreed to lease space in the south area of the Ag Center on Highway 169 from the Blue Earth Economic Development Authority (which now owns the Ag Center).
Plans are for the license bureau, extension office and Veterans Services Officer office to move to the Ag Center, out of their current spaces in the courthouse annex.
It is expected that Human Services, already located in the annex, will also move into the space being vacated by the offices moving out.
No. 6: New industrial park opens with Kibble Equipment The fact that Blue Earth was building a new industrial park on the north side of Interstate 90 was our No. 2 story in 2014.
Now the good news is that the project is completed and is open, complete with its first tenant, Kibble Equipment, Inc. (KEI).
In June the Register featured a big story about KEI being all moved into the new park and open for business there.
Their official grand opening and ribbon cutting at their new $2 million facility was held in August.
Then in October, the Register reported that the Blue Earth EDA had decided to change the name of the new industrial park from the North Business Park to the Golden Spike Business Park.
The name reflects the location of the park being close to the middle of the U.S. point on I-90 where a golden spike ceremony had been held when the freeway was completed.
No. 7: County buildings have changes of ownership There were at least three significant changes in ownership of buildings in Faribault County last year.
However, none of the three has resulted in full operation at this time.
In January, the Register broke the story that the former Elmore Academy facility had been sold for the second time in an online auction. This time it was to a corporation in the Twin Cities area.
In April we reported that the new owners planned on turning the former school into an assisted living facility. However, it has not yet opened up, as the year came to a close.
In February the Register reported that the former Singleteary Foods Solutions plant in Wells had been sold by Pioneer Bank to a new company called Wells Food Processing LLC.
The company has spent the year remodeling the facility and hopes to be in full operation soon.
The third change in ownership was not a sale, but rather a gift.
After closing the Elmore branch of its bank system in April, Pioneer Bank donated the building to the Jesus Food organization in June.
The group has plans to use it for storage of food and have space for packing their food packs for shipping around the world.
No. 8: County has demolition issues with buildings Old and abandoned and hazardous buildings in Faribault County are causing concerns.
Several buildings were torn down in the county in 2015, including one in Blue Earth, Elmore, Winnebago and Wells including the former United South Central Schools structure, which was torn down at a cost of over $472,000.
The county has been sharing the expense of the demos, but has been concerned when costs have sky-rocketed.
The county paid half of the $147,000 cost of demolition for a building on Winnebago’s Main Street.
But, when the amount for tearing down the old Frank Bros. Elevator in Wells came in at twice the estimate, the board balked. The County Board and Wells City Council have been trying to negotiate a settlement ever since.
With many, many more old buildings in the county, the board is also trying to develop a plan, and a budget, to handle the costs.
No. 9: USC student expulsion case continued in 2015 It was our No. 6 story on our 2014 Top Ten list, and we sure did not expect it to be on the list in 2015 but it is.
This was a story that brought state and even national media attention to Faribault County and USC Schools.
The USC School Board unanimously voted to expel student Alyssa Drescher for the remainder of the school year in 2014 when a three-inch knife had been found in her locker.
Drescher, a junior at USC at the time, said the knife was brought to school accidently.
She and her parents had appealed her expulsion to the Minnesota Department of Education but they had ruled with the School Board. So they next appealed it to the Minnesota Appeals Court.
This past year, in July, the Register reported that the Appeals Court had ruled in favor of Drescher and had overturned the USC School Board decision to expel her, and had cleared her record.
However, another story in the Aug. 24 issue of the Register, the USC School Board voted to appeal to the Minnesota Supreme Court to review the decision of the Court of Appeals.
No. 10: Blue Earth City Council deals with transgender restroom issue It all started in July with an incident at the Blue Earth Municipal Swimming Pool.
A citizen had complained about a transgender person using the locker rooms at the pool. The person, Kylie Palm who previously had gone by the name of Kyle was asked to use the family restroom and agreed to do so.
That incident, however, led to Blue Earth city administrator Timothy Ibisch and city attorney David Frundt to develop a policy for use of public restrooms.
The City Council failed at first to adopt the policy after the public raised its concerns at a Sept. 8 council meeting and a motion to adopt it failed to get a second.
However, the policy was passed at a later meeting.
It specifically states that all gender-specific signage at city-owned single user restrooms will be removed.
That means the two restrooms located on the outside walls of the swimming pool, currently with a men’s sign on one and a women’s sign on the other, will become just ‘gender neutral.’ So will the two restrooms at the City Hall.
It also states that city employees will address citizens by their preferred names, not their legal names.