Close the books on another 366, A look back at 2012

It is always a busy campaign season for the candidates vying for elected office, and 2012 brought extra work for party leaders, too.

Before the candidates cobbled together websites, organized campaign literature distribution and attended candidate forums, the state completed its complex process of slicing suburban cities into state house and senate districts. Bloomington became slightly less splintered than it has been for the past decade.

In February a state judicial panel released the new district maps that will divide the state into its 67 senate districts and 134 house districts beginning this year, in addition to reshaping the boundaries of the state’s eight U.S. congressional districts. Bloomington continues to be served by three state representatives, but only two senators.

As candidates jockeyed for party endorsements and, ultimately, Election Day votes, the Democratic-Farmer-Labor gained control of the Minnesota House of Representatives and Senate, and that result was reflected in Bloomington’s election results.

Two-term state Rep. Keith Downey, R-Edina, lost in his bid to move to the Minnesota Senate as the District 49 senator representing western Bloomington. He was defeated by Melissa Franzen, D-Edina.

Bloomington’s Senate District 50 senator will be Melissa Halvorson Wiklund, D-Bloomington, the Bloomington Board of Education chairwoman. She defeated Bloomington City Councilmember Vern Wilcox, R-Bloomington, for the senate seat covering the majority of Bloomington.

All three house district seats representing Bloomington were won by the DFL, as well.

The house district serving western Bloomington went to Paul Rosenthal, D-Edina, who defeated Terry Jacobson, R-Bloomington, in the House District 49B election.

House District 50A, which includes the smallest geographic portion of Bloomington, went to Rep. Linda Slocum, D-Richfield, who easily outdistanced two challengers, Republican Craig Marston and Independence Party candidate Joseph Koch. Slocum will serve her fourth term in the house.

Ann Lenczewski, D-Bloomington, will return to the house for her eighth term, serving as the House District 50B representative. She defeated Richard Bohnen, R-Bloomington, for a seat entirely within Bloomington.

Although the city’s council and school board seats weren’t up for grabs this year, the Hennepin County Board seat representing Bloomington was on the ballot, and it will be retained by Randy Johnson of Bloomington, who has served on the county board for more than 30 years.

Republican incumbent Erik Paulsen of Eden Prairie will continue to represent Bloomington in Washington, D.C., as he won re-election in the Third U.S. Congressional District race against Democratic challenger Brian Barnes of Edina.

From the reorganization of senate districts to the election of new candidates, the fallout of November’s election is incomplete, as the Bloomington Board of Education is scheduled to appoint a replacement for Wiklund Jan. 8.

Driver sentenced

A story that started on a dark October evening in 2010 came to a close in early 2012 when a Bloomington man convicted in the hit-and-run death of an 85-year-old Bloomington woman was sentenced to 90 days in the Hennepin County workhouse.

Mark Wayne Lindgren, 55, was sentenced Feb. 3 by Judge Daniel Mabley in Hennepin County District Court, in the death of Dorothy Hanson. Lindgren had been convicted in December 2011 of hit and run, resulting in death.

Lindgren was accused of hitting Dorothy Hanson as she was walking home after dinner with her husband, who was residing at Martin Luther Manor of Bloomington.

Lindgren’s conviction and sentence were based upon the proof in the case, according to Mabley. “There are certain suspicions about what caused you not to be attentive,” he told Lindgren. If Lindgren’s inattentiveness was the result of alcohol consumption, as was suggested during a victim-impact statement given by Hanson’s daughter, it remained unclear, Mabley explained.

“This was, in fact, an accident,” Mabley said. “An accident, not a homicide,” he added, noting accident reconstruction attributed fault to both parties.

Vise thrower sentenced

In September a 40-year-old Bloomington man convicted of throwing a vise that shattered the windshield of a vehicle and injured its driver was sentenced to six years in prison, ending a saga that began the previous winter.

Gerret Parks pleaded guilty Sept. 18 to throwing a metal vise that injured Jon Stacke, a National Guard sergeant from Savage, on Feb. 27. The incident was one of many similar incidents reported, primarily along Normandale Boulevard last winter.

Stacke and Staff Sgt. Jeremy Gettel of Bloomington were driving southbound on Normandale Boulevard at the time of the incident. Stacke was knocked unconscious, but Gettel was able to bring the car to a halt. The incident broke Stacke’s jaw and nine of his teeth.

Parks was initially arrested March 2 following an investigation by Bloomington police, but was released on bail. Hours after being freed he was arrested in western Wisconsin on suspicion of driving while impaired. He was charged in the vise incident March 6 and arrested two days later in New Prague.

Objects thrown at vehicles ranged from glass bottles and a box of baking soda to a metal pipe and one-half of a 15-pound hex dumbbell, according to the criminal complaint. Many of the incidents happened in February, with the first incident occurring in late December 2011.

A sealed gallon of water proved to be an important piece of evidence in identifying Parks as a suspect. The driver of a northbound vehicle on Normandale Boulevard reported that a one-gallon water jug struck his vehicle approximately 5:15 a.m. Jan. 18. The victim said that a southbound vehicle was passing him at the time of impact, according to the complaint.

The recovered Holiday Pantry water jug became an important piece of evidence, as an investigator surmised that the jug could have been purchased at a nearby gas station prior to the incident. Through financial transaction records and surveillance video police learned that Parks had been at the Holiday Stationstore at 8331 Normandale Blvd. 30 minutes prior to the incident. He had purchased a gallon of water, eggs and gasoline with a credit card in his mother’s name. Police were able to identify the customer in the surveillance video as Parks, according to the complaint.

Everyone loves a parade

September brings cooler nights and earlier sunsets, and it also brings the annual Heritage Days festival. In its third year the festival added what it had been missing most, a parade.

Heritage Days is a daylong civic celebration, modeled after the community festivals that can be found in cities small and large across Minnesota. From fun and games for all ages to a street dance at night, the annual festival provides a wide array of activities for participants.

The initial idea, however, was “envisioned as a parade that in future years would incorporate a festival,” according to founding organizer Tom Kendall of Bloomington.

Eyeing Lyndale Avenue as a central destination for a parade and festival, the problem in 2010 was that Lyndale Avenue was under construction near 98th Street, making a parade anywhere in the vicinity a logistical challenge. So instead the focus for year one became creating a community festival along Lyndale Avenue, saving the parade for the future. The future meant 2012. “In hindsight it worked out wonderfully,” Kendall said.

More than 100 unites were registered for the inaugural parade down 95th Street. Using a major off-freeway thoroughfare such as Lyndale Avenue was complicated, requiring county and state approvals since Lyndale is a bypass for Interstate 35W in the event of an accident, according to Kendall.

Instead organizers looked to 95th Street, seeing it as a low-density alternative that allows spectators on both sides of the street to have an up-close-and-personal view of the parade, Kendall said.

Under sunny skies, spectators lined up along both sides of 95th Street for a glimpse of the inaugural parade.

Mall turns 20

There was no parade to celebrate its 20 years, but Mall of America held a variety of events to commemorate its two decades on Bloomington’s east side.

Mall of America’s 20th birthday was Saturday, Aug. 11. The Bloomington mall opened with 333 stores in 1992, and was more than three years in the making.

Today there are 520 stores, including 60 that have been at the mall since opening day, according to Dan Jasper, public relations director for the mall.

It may not be a surprise that Burger King, Dairy Queen and several other dining establishments have withstood the test of time, but several specialty shops have maintained their niche through two decades while many other retail stores and fads have come and gone. Field of Dreams, which sells unique sports memorabilia, Minnesot-ah, which caters to those whose affection for the state extends beyond the mall, and Lego, the giant playground featuring modern versions of the longtime toy, were all there in 1992.

As distinct as it is, Mall of America is not unique. It was patterned after West Edmonton Mall in Alberta, Canada. The Ghermezian family, owners of both malls, had passed the site of the former Metropolitan Stadium in east Bloomington during a visit to Minnesota. What had once been a hub for professional sports was a giant, vacant lot that they soon turned their attention toward converting into what it is today, according to Jasper.

Originally the mall was built by the Ghermezian family’s development company, Triple Five Group, and two partners. About six years ago Triple Five became the sole owners of the property and have made numerous investments into the property, with an eye toward maintenance and future expansion. Expansion has been a long-discussed goal for the property, and one that is expected to begin taking shape soon, Jasper explained.

The ownership partners “have a clear vision of where they want it to go,” Jasper said.

Bridging founder honored

The 25th anniversary of Bloomington-based Bridging was preceded by another accolade for its founder.

Bridging, a furniture bank that provides furniture and household goods to families in need, was founded by Fran Heitzman in 1987.

Heitzman was working as a maintenance man at Pax Christi Catholic Church of Eden Prairie when a parishioner asked if the church could use an old crib in its nursery. The church had no use for it, but Heitzman took it anyway and promised, “I’ll find a home for it.”

What started as a mission to find a new home for a crib grew into a nonprofit organization that served its 60,000th family this year, according to Heitzman.

In April he received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Association of Area Agencies on Aging and MetLife Foundation in Washington, D.C.

In 2006 Heitzman won an Older Volunteers Enrich America Award from the association. In honor of the 10th anniversary of the awards, three previous winners in each of three categories – community champion, mentor and team spirit – were presented with the Lifetime Achievement Award.

Heitzman may collect the accolades for the work of Bridging, but he praises the work of thousands of volunteers that help deliver donated beds, pillows, dressers, lamps and dish sets to needy families. “This is not a one-man thing,” he said.

New home

Just as Bridging continues to meet the needs of families in the communities, Volunteers Enlisted to Assist People continues to answer numerous calls for help.

The volunteer-driven organization is known substantially as the food shelf serving Bloomington, Edina, Richfield and a portion of south Minneapolis. The increased demand for its food distribution service and a desire to increase the social service component of its operation are prompting the move to a new, one-story facility not far away from its longtime home off 98th Street, near Bloomington Civic Plaza.

Moving across Interstate 35W to a larger facility off Lyndale Avenue requires more than logistical planning, according to Alex Nee, the marketing coordinator for VEAP. The larger facility carries with it a price tag, one larger than what the organization will net from the sale of its present home, Nee explained.

The future home of VEAP is a former food service warehouse facility for the company that provides Minnesota Vikings food service and catering. That means the building has walk-in refrigerators and other amenities for food storage, but the building needs to be modified to meet VEAP’s needs.

The project is projected at more than $4 million, while the organization is expected to net $1.5 million from the sale of its current home, and some preliminary fundraising. Fundraising will continue as VEAP moves into its new home this coming year.

VEAP will have one-third more space to operate in its new home, and all on one level, unlike the cumbersome two-level home it occupies today, where food donations are warehoused in the lower level and hauled upstairs to the pantry.

The new facility is much bigger than VEAP needs for its day-to-day operations, however, and the move to 9600 Aldrich Avenue will provide space for Hennepin County’s Human Services and Public Health Department, which is leasing a portion of the building from VEAP, according to Nee.

No more courts?

As VEAP looked to expand, Hennepin County considered consolidating its courtroom operations.

In March the Hennepin County Board narrowly voted in favor of temporary weapons screening measures at the county’s Edina courtrooms, temporarily staving off a proposal to close the courtrooms.

The 4-3 vote by the board at its March 13 meeting resulted in the implementation of temporary weapons screening for the three outlying courtrooms in Hennepin County.

The board’s deliberation centered upon the urgency to implement temporary screening measures at the Brooklyn Center, Edina and Minnetonka courts. The majority – Jan Callison, Gail Dorfman, Jeff Johnson and Randy Johnson – wanted to move forward with security measures immediately, while the dissenters wanted direction as to long-term solutions before committing to expenditures for temporary measures.

The Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office provides security for 96 county courtrooms in eight facilities. More than 3,400 weapons, from pocketknives to firearms, were confiscated at the government center in 2011, according to Sheriff Rich Stanek.

There were 15 significant courthouse events at the suburban sites in 2011 that necessitated taking a person into custody, he added, noting that although some events may not appear to be significant, they may be for the person affected by the incident. “Weapons screening in all of our courthouses is needed,” he told the board.

Bloomington City Attorney Sandra Johnson told the board that if the Edina courtrooms are to be closed, it should be after a security study of suburban courts, allowing cities to plan and budget for the increased time and expenditures associated with moving court proceedings from Edina to downtown Minneapolis or one of the other suburban divisions.