City boosts spending on Vikings ads

EAGAN, MN – The Eagan Convention and Visitors Bureau presented the city council with a 19 percent, $200,000, increase in spending for 2019.
   Most of the bureau’s $1.2 million budget, which will spend all of a projected $1.18 million in room taxes, will be spent on advertising and marketing, primarily for the Minnesota Vikings, according to a budget released on the city’s website. The 2019 visitors bureau budget is higher than the amount the city recently approved for firefighting equipment, which the city borrowed money to buy.
  The visitors bureau budget includes $444,750 for advertising expenses, an increase of more than 20 percent from 2018. The next highest expense in the budget is personnel, with $343,000 budgeted for salaries and health insurance, a 3.8 percent increase from 2018.  The budget also includes a 50 percent increases for a non-detailed category labeled promotion -- from $100,000 in 2018 to $150,000 -- and legal expenses, to $1,500.
  Much of the budget, according to comments made at a recent meeting on the issue, will be used to promote Vikings training camp and Viking Lakes, a luxury apartment and office development being built by billionaire New Jersey real estate developer and Vikings owner Zygi Wilf. Wilf’s 2017 net worth was reported to be $5.3 billion.
   To protect franchise territories, National Football League rules restrict the reach of where football team franchises, such as the Vikings can advertise. There are no such restrictions on the city’s advertising on behalf of the Vikings. Under the guise of promoting tourism to Eagan, the city can advertise the Vikings facility far beyond the territorial restrictions imposed by the NFL.
   According to statements made by the bureau’s director to city council, the bureau has been advertising and entertaining far beyond the city, seeking to attract visitors from Canada and Iceland.
   Despite a massive effort to promote Vikings training camp when it moved to Eagan in 2018, there appeared to be little growth in the rate of rentals of Eagan’s hotel room rentals last August. The bureau’s director described it to city councilors as “a modest uptick,” but did not present specific data. The director made no mention of another sporting event that came to Eagan at the same time, a women’s professional bowling tournament, which brought visitors and media from across the country, or corporate visitors.
   City council members did not question the bureau about increased city expenses and crime related to Eagan’s hotels, which have been the site of criminal activity necessitating police and paramedic response. A recent criminal investigation discovered a Detroit woman captured for identity theft at a local retailer had flown into Minneapolis and stayed at an Eagan hotel. In another case, a Vikings player was arrested for a domestic assault occurring at a hotel near the Vikings facility.  
After committing to what the director of Eagan's Convention and Visitors Bureau called "a very aggressive partnership" with the Minnesota Vikings, the bureau's website was revamped to feature the Vikings facility as the primary reason to visit the city.

Three charged in series of gunpoint robberies

    Two men and a 17-year-old are facing felony charges after being captured by police following a series of armed robberies in Eagan, Apple Valley, and Burnsville.
   The men were captured after they rammed a car believed to have been carjacked at gunpoint in Minneapolis Oct. 9 into an Apple Valley police cruiser, injuring a police officer.
   Daiquawn Burrell-Smith, 21, of 1559 Germain Landing, St. Paul; and Jared Washington, 27, of 3419 Bryant Ave. No, Minneapolis, were charged with nearly a dozen felony counts in connection with a string of gunpoint robberies and an attempted robbery on Oct. 10, according to criminal complaints. The Dakota County Attorney’s office will seek to charge a third suspect, identified only as a 17-year-old, as an adult. The third suspect’s name was not released because he is a minor.
   Criminal complaints released Friday detail a series of robberies, and one attempt --thwarted by the intended target’s locked car doors and her pounding her car’s horn – in which armed gunmen surrounded victims and took iPhones and cash. The tracker on an iPhone stolen from one of the victims led police to the suspects in an Apple Valley parking lot. Police tried to corner the suspects, who rammed into a police cruiser head-on in an apparent attempt to flee, according to court records.
   “This was a series of violent crimes which terrorized four separate victims,” Dakota County Attorney James Backstrom said. “We are thankful that none of these victims were physically injured and that the police were able to make these arrests as quickly as they did.”
   The juvenile, from Minneapolis, was charged with a weapons violation, in addition to the robbery and assault charges, for being a minor in possession of a firearm. Prosecutors allege a loaded handgun fell from his waistband during his arrest. Police found three more handguns in the car used by the suspects. Two of those guns had been reported stolen from Nashville, where Washington previously lived.
   Investigators believe the first of the robberies occurred in Apple Valley shortly before 5 p.m. Oct. 10. The victim was sitting in his car near an unnamed retail store when two men approached the victim’s car. One robber opened the driver’s side door and put a handgun to the victim’s ribs. A second man entered the passenger side and held a handgun to the victim’s shoulder. One of the robbers took the victim’s iPhone, keys and wallet before the two robbers fled in a white car. The robbery was filmed by surveillance cameras, according to court records.
   The second robbery occurred in Eagan about an hour later, according to a criminal complaint. Eagan police were called to the scene of an armed robbery at Palisade Way and Cochrane Ave., a residential area near Blackhawk Road. The victim was walking toward Cochrane Ave. when the suspects’ car, which had been parked at the side of the road with hazard lights on, pulled up along side the victim. Two men approached the victim. One of the robbers pressed a gun into the victim’s abdomen and told him to “give me everything you have,” according to court records. The robbers pushed the victim to the ground, stole a backpack and the victim’s iPhone and wallet. The robbers then fled in a white car.
   Less than a half hour later, Burnsville Police were called to the scene of a robbery attempt on Portland Avenue South. The victim was waiting in her car when she was approached by two men who attempted to “yank on the car door handles” on both sides of her car. One of the suspects tapped on the driver’s side window with the barrel of a gun and told her to “get out or I’m going to kill you.” The victim instead sounded banged on the car horn and the suspect’s fled in the white car.
   Less than 15 minutes later, Apple Valley police were called to a report of an armed burglary on Freedom Lane. The victim had been followed home by a white car. When the victim pulled into his garage, two men entered the garage with handguns. One man held a gun to the victim’s head while the other held a gun to his stomach. The robbers took his cell phone and keys before a third man entered the garage and demanded the suspects return the victim’s property, according to the criminal complaint.
   Within 20 minutes of that robbery, police had found the suspects’ car using a tracking device on the second victim’s iPhone. Police attempted to corner the car in a parking lot. Instead of stopping, police said, Washington, the suspected driver of the car, sped in the wrong direction for traffic towards a marked police cruiser. The suspect’s car struck the cruiser head on, injuring a police officer.
   The 17-year-old then got out of the suspect car, laid on the ground and began to crawl forward, according to a criminal complaint. While he was crawling forward, police allege, a loaded handgun, with a round in the chamber and a magazine with four additional rounds of ammunition, fell from his waistband onto the ground.
   Police searched all three suspects at the scene and allegedly found property stolen from the first two victims. Police searched the car and found three more guns, two of which had been reported stolen from Nashville on Sept. 22.
   Washington and Burrell-Smith were being held at the Dakota County jail.
Robbery suspect Jared Washington
Daiquawn Burrell-Smith

School board member urges parents to change race to increase federal government funding

District 196 school board member Art Coulson
    A District 196 school board member has urged parents to change their child’s race classification on school enrollment forms to so schools can qualify for more federal funding.
   School board member Art Coulson, whose daughter teaches elementary school in the district, accused the federal government of trying to “erase Indian people,” and urged parents to reclassify their children’s racial designations so the district can qualify for more federal funding. Coulson made his remarks during a discussion of student demographics during a recent school board meeting. School officials claimed federal race classifications, which include a multi-race classification, make it difficult to track student demographics.
   “The way that the feds are counting American Indian students is causing some problems," Coulson said, "so I would urge American Indian parents to go to your school and see how your kid is listed, because if you’ve got any other race in addition to American Indian, they’re not counted for Title funding anymore and that funding and that funding really helps pay for our American Indian education program and a lot of other enrichment programs for the American Indian kids.”
   “This has really been a particularly bad problem and it’s just another in a long line of steps the federal government’s taken to erase Indian people,” Coulson said.

School board divides over calendar

   In a rare display of division among the District 196 school board, members split over elimination of a traditional four-day weekend in October. After a 6-1 vote at the school board's meeting this week, one of the major travel weekends for many families with children in school, the four-day mid-October holiday known as MEA weekend, will come to an end in 2020.
   School board member Mike Roseen raised concerns about the elimination of the four-day weekend and suggested more study on the issue. Some teachers and coaches rely on the long weekend to schedule projects, practices, and other activities, according to discussion at Monday night's board meeting.
   The district has scheduled school for the October Thursday and Friday typically reserved for the Minnesota Educator Academy, a union-sponsored professional development conference, from the 2020-21 school calendar, indicating the district is not confident the union conference will continue. “The administration conferred with [the Dakota County teachers’ union] DCUE representatives and agreed the district should schedule school on these days due to uncertainty about the future of the MEA conference.”
   The MEA, meanwhile, includes the date of Oct. 15 for the 2020 conference. The conference sponsor, however, notes on its website that the conference has been cut back to one day, a Thursday, and will be restricted to dues-paying members. The U.S. Supreme Court decided last June that public employees could not be compelled to pay union dues.
   “Education Minnesota would love to be able to continue to provide this free service to the public,” said Education Minnesota President Denise Specht, on the MEA website. “Unfortunately, anti-union forces are trying to financially destabilize labor unions through court cases and legislation.”

District 196 school enrollments increase slightly

   Despite a recent warning that increased school enrollments might lead to budget crisis, official school enrollment figures released this week show relatively steady enrollment at District 196 schools.
   The October 1 figures, the date by which official school enrollments are calculated, showed enrollments at most District 196 schools remained about the same or declined slightly in 2018. The largest increase was at East Lake elementary school. Even with a double-digit increase at that school, total elementary school enrollment across the district increased only slightly, by 27 students, or less than one-quarter of a percent.
   The total number of students enrolled in the district this year is 28,871, an increase of 227 students, or about .79 percent from last year.
   Enrollment at most of the district’s elementary schools, 11 out of 19, decreased in 2018, according to the district’s comparison figures. The number of students attending District 196’s newest elementary school, Lakeview’s East Lake Elementary, which opened last year, increased by almost 16.5 percent.  This year’s East Lake enrollment of 631 students is still about twelve percent below that school’s capacity of 710 students.
   Enrollment also declined at three of the district’s six middle schools. Enrollment at the high school level, which includes adult basic education, increased by four students, from 8,525 students in 2017 to 8,529 students this October, according to the school district. Enrollment at Eagan High School declined by 52 students, more than 2.5 percent of last year’s enrollment.
   At a meeting last month, the District 196 school board discussed the potential for rising enrollments to cause budget problems. School board members said they would not likely increase class sizes and would, therefore, likely need to hire more staff in the case of rising enrollments. The school board also recently made a $6 million speculative land purchase on the grounds it might soon need to build a new elementary school in Rosemount.
   Enrollment at Rosemount elementary school increased by 26 students this year, but still remained under the school’s capacity, according to district enrollment figures. Enrollment at Rosemount’s other elementary school, Shannon Park, declined by 11 students, or nearly two percent. The decrease brought Shannon Park to less than 90 percent of the school’s capacity.