Mike Longaecker is a regional/enterprise reporter for RiverTown Multimedia. His coverage includes St. Croix County government, higher education and state politics in Wisconsin.
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For those who grieved a loss, Tom O'Connell was the solemn, respectful presence directing funeral services. For others, he was the guy lifting spirits with a joke in social settings. And for others still, O'Connell was the public servant who devoted his time to the Hudson Police and Fire Commission and St. Croix County Board. John Knutson said those different aspects, rolled into one, made a community pillar of O'Connell. "He was one of the patriarchs of Hudson," Knutson said of O'Connell, who died March 2 at the age of 91.
UW-River Falls would receive planning dollars needed for a new science building under Gov. Tony Evers’ capital budget, which supporters called an encouraging first step. The university sought $4.25 million in planning funds in the 2019-21 biennium for the for the $111 million building, which would house the biology, chemistry, physics and psychology departments on the grounds where Hagestad Hall currently stands.
Wisconsin's pathway to becoming a certified nursing assistant would face one less obstacle under a measure St. Croix County Board members sent to state officials. The board on Tuesday, March 5, passed a resolution reducing the number of training hours needed to qualify to be a certified nursing assistant (CNA) from 120 hours to 75. Wisconsin requires the higher number, though the federal minimum is 75 hours. The Wisconsin Director of Nursing Council, which backs a statewide measure, said the state is experiencing a staffing shortage that has reached crisis levels.
Wisconsinites are already using medical marijuana — just without the government's blessing. Sen. Patty Schachtner said it's not uncommon for end-of-life patients in her western Wisconsin district to have medical marijuana in their system. She said she witnesses it through her job as St. Croix County's medical examiner. "We know that we have medical marijuana here already because of access to Minnesota," the District 10 Democrat said.
Carley Buetow worries about the future of farming. The UW-River Falls student comes from a medium-sized family dairy farm — the same kind that's facing struggles all over the Upper Midwest, thanks to a decline in milk prices. The problem has forced many farms into bankruptcy and foreclosure. "That hit really close to home for me," the Cologne, Minn., resident said. But Buetow fears the message isn't reaching much of the general public.
Outrage over a River Falls prep sports controversy took on bipartisan backing last week. Lawmakers from both parties authored a letter to to the Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association (WIAA), which raised the ire of River Falls High School football supporters in proposing to move the Wildcats to a football-only conference comprised largely of La Crosse-area schools.
An issue that municipal officials in St. Croix County say is putting the squeeze on local coffers is being targeted by the Tony Evers administration. The Democratic governor earlier this month said he would include a measure to close the so-called "dark-store loophole" in Wisconsin. A 2008 Wisconsin Supreme Court ruling allows retailers to have open stores assessed at the rate of a vacant store, allowing them to pay lower property taxes.
Dr. Robert Bailey III blazed a trail in the 1950s when he became the first black professor at UW-River Falls. Even now, more than 25 years since his death, the former sociology professor will break new ground. He will become the first African American person to have his name grace an office at UWRF. What houses the university's international study programs will in 2020 be renamed the Dr. Robert B. Bailey III Office of International Education.
A rural Somerset man was appointed to a St. Croix County Board post that was vacated after its former occupant became a judge. On a split vote Tuesday, Feb. 5, County Board members chose Jim Endle to be the next supervisor for District 2. The seat was vacated last month by Scott Nordstrand after he was appointed by former Gov. Scott Walker to serve out the remainder of former St. Croix County Circut Court Judge Eric Lundell's term. Endle will complete the remainder of Nordstrand's two-year term, which began in 2018.
St. Croix County is turning to lawmakers for help in solving a widening problem that officials say is draining local coffers and hamstringing law enforcement departments tasked with handling mental health crises. Because fewer beds are available in western Wisconsin hospitals, police and St. Croix County Sheriff's Office deputies who transport people for emergency mental health detentions often trek from St. Croix County to a secure mental hospital in Winnebago County.