Photo 1: The Truman Fire Department, along with numerous other entities, responded to the tornado aftermath in Granada. The streets in the north section of town were filled with downed trees and debris. Donations poured in from around the area. Thursday night the Truman Fire Department brought their DNR surplus generator and brought power to the school where food was served by McDonalds. Later, a relief kitchen was set up next to City Hall where residents were able to get a meal and water.
Photo 2: A board drilled through the side of the Lonnie Moe home revealed the tornado's strength.
BY KATE CROWLEY ROSENBERG
The National Weather Service has confirmed it was a tornado that swept through Granada last Thursday evening, September 20, 2018—one of five throughout southern Minnesota that devastated homes and other structures.
"Yeah, the landscape up north has really changed. No big trees anymore," Granada Mayor Darren Maday said as he continued to field calls for help regarding downed power lines and other dangers being revealed in the cleanup effort.
Maday said most of the damage was on the north end of town. His home was spared, but he lost two grain bins—one 50,000 bushel and one 100,000 bushel bin—as well as a fuel tank.
"The fuel tank... something punctured that. Travis Schuett (of Welcome Oil) is helping us work on that. He came and pumped it out. We had just filled it on Wednesday." Maday said. He estimated the loss at 150 gallons of fuel and up to $200,000 for the bins.
According to Maday, "People along Meagher Street received the most damage." Several houses suffered severe damage, one was swept clean from its foundation pad.
The school suffered some undetermined roof damage, and the scoreboard and bleachers at the school stadium were demolished, he said.
"They got a little roof damage. Patten Roofing came and fixed the leaks Thursday night the best they could. They're hopeful their classes will start on Tuesday," Maday said.
Sheriff Jeff Marquardt said the air handlers on top of the school roof were moved in the storm and one injury was reportedly caused by flying window glass. "I think they had a couple stitches. But they are doing well," he said.
Marquardt said that while Granada has a civil defense siren,
"It was not activated. The storm came up fast enough that it wasn't developed until it was on top of the town." There was no doppler indication of a funnel cloud at the Martin County Law Enforcement Center. The first reports to the National Weather Service came in at 5:38 p.m. in Ceylon. Damage in Welcome was reported at 5:44 p..m. The first report from Granada was logged at 5:50 p.m.; at 5:52 that report was corrected when video of the tornado was relayed second-hand by a storm chaser via Twitter.
There are no estimates on damage totals yet.
Marquardt said the Ceylon damage was limited. "It had numerous trees down, some building damage, and also there were a couple of roofs taken off."
"Fairmont had trees down and power outage," Marquardt continued. "It was tough on the crops also," Marquardt said. No other injuries were reported in the county.
Chad Truax supervises his crew as his son Jeremy Truax bull floats a new cement garage pad in Welcome.
BY KATE CROWLEY ROSENBERG
Chad Truax, 46, has worked in concrete construction most of his life. This spring, he decided it was time to start his own business—TCC, or Truax Concrete Construction—serving Truman and the surrounding area.
Since he was 18, Truax has been pouring, bull floating, troweling, stamping and edging concrete.
Truax was raised in Sheffield, IA near Mason City, and that's where he first learned his trade.His first job, which he kept for five years, was pouring concrete for a company in Iowa working throughout northern Iowa and southern Minnesota.
He and his wife, Patty, who works at BoeKett Lumber in Truman, moved to this area to be closer to Chad's parents who live in Lewisville.
Among his six children, two sons are working with him full time: Jeremy Truax, 22, and Skiler Hovenga, 27. Truax lists many area construction firms on his resume, including Tow's Construction, where he worked for twelve years. Other companies he has worked for include Diamond Contracting in St James and Hoffman Concrete of Mankato where he honed his craft pouring pads, walls and roads.
Last week, Truax poured, bull floated and power troweled the new floor for Wendell and Helen Rode in Welcome.
On the day of the Rode pour, Truax was coaching his son, Jeremy, as he bull floated the new garage pad; a task each job needs.
"It helps get all the ripples out. It doesn't have to be really perfect, because we're going to power trowel it. If it's a driveway, you don't want to have a lot of ripples in it."
The process includes several steps, and a skilled hand.
"First you weep skreed. Then we bull float it, next we will power trowel it and do all of our edges," Truax said. The power trowel is a machine—either propelled or riding —that goes back and forth to polish the surface "smooth like glass," Truax said.
In Rode's 700 square foot garage, Truax is going for a smoother finish, but not so slick that one would slip if is was wet.
Other surface treatments also are available.
"Stamping has been out there for awhile, now there's just a lot more different patterns available," Truax said. He recently did a stamped driveway for the Heyn family.
Other recent area jobs have included grain bin pads and basements.
Truax usually calls on Fairmont Martin County ReadyMix to send him concrete. Farther out of the area, Truax calls on Cemstone.
"Once you get out of their area, they usually like to go no more than an hour away. Otherwise your loads get too old."
When winter comes, some cement companies quit. Truax will keep working.
"There's frost busters out there you can use to help thaw out the ground, and there's blankets to where you can still keep the ground thawed and still pour if it's above temperatures."
Lloyd Mau's place by Truman is his next project. He will be putting an addition underneath part of his house this time. "We're going to pour new floors and new footings. That's going to be next week's project."
Truax plans to expand his business.
"We're going to try to get into some snow removal this year. I just bought a skid loader here about a month ago, and I've got other things that we're trying to get lined up so then we can have work through the winter," he said.
Currently, the TCC office is out of his home, but Truax is working on getting commercial zoning on another Truman property where he can build a new shop next year.
TCC can be reached at 507-236-9731 or his email: email@example.com.
A new purple jaguar logo adorns the center of the basketball court; striping on the walls with the vibrant school colors replaces the old blue band, and a hand-painted jaguar leaps from the wall near the stage as shown above—all work done by Nass.
BY KATE CROWLEY ROSENBERG
Mark Nass is the new art teacher in Truman, though he isn’t new to the school nor to art. Nass has retired as Truman High School's Principal/Administrator to become the part-time art educator.
His mark on the school is everywhere, but most recently on the gymnasium floor. A new purple jaguar logo adorns the center of the basketball court; striping on the walls with the vibrant school colors replaces the old blue band, and a hand-painted jaguar leaps from the wall near the stage as shown below.
Nass has multiple college degrees, including ones in two dimensional art, three dimensional art and art education. He also has a degree in business education and a minor in German—all from Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais, IL.
“I wanted to learn it all. I consider myself very fortunate that when I went to University, I had professors who were not only trained in the traditional arts, but were also trained in—and able to teach—arts you don’t
normally get: stained glass creation. Every school that I’ve been in so far I’ve started a stained glass class.”
During his college years, he studied in nearby Chicago at the Art Institute and paid his way through school doing portraits.
"I paid for my entire junior and senior year of college painting portraits of the seniors. I would take me... two to three days to finish a portrait. Basically, $300 a pop.” About 3/4 of the seniors’ parents would commission a portrait. “So that’s how I paid for school.”
The Art Institute of Chicago also taught him his dislike of modern art.
“I hate it. I hate it with a passion,” he said. “I don't mind a modern art work if I can see where there’s thought and effort and process that went into it. But when I see something... where somebody fills a couple of balloons with paint and throws them at a canvas and they burst open; what the heck did that take? I can get that out of a kindergartener.”
Nass spent time working for both the Walker Art Center and the Minneapolis Institute of the Arts. He was among 32 teachers chosen from across the state who worked for two years to digitize the entire collection of both museums, which was then posted to a museum website along with curriculum and lesson plans.
Nass has no set curriculum, though he has written one.
“The sad thing is, curriculum that is published is not a one-size-fits-all,” he said. “When I was back in Chatfield, I didn’t teach elementary art, but the elementary art teachers were really looking for ideas. We started looking at curriculum, and I’m finding curriculum that–like first grade, having them bring a potato and give them a paring knife—a sharp paring knife–cut the potato in half, carve into it and have some paint or ink and print with it. There is no way on God’s green earth I’m giving a knife like that to a first grader."
So Nass took the problem in hand and began to create a more sensible art curriculum for Minnesota.
"And so I got with the Perpich Center... and I got support through them and through the governor and I went ahead and wrote a curriculum for grades K-6. I wrote the entire curriculum in which I incorporated the elementary teachers little pet projects and added the other. .... It was complete with vocabulary and everything. It was published in books. I think it’s out of print."
But he will take his time with the Truman students who have not had Nass' level of art expertise to guide them in the past.
"They’re no where near close to level," he said. "It’s understandable. They haven’t had any training with it."
Nass expects to build those skills from the ground up.
“Expectation number one: come prepared to learn.” Nass wants students to engage in art and be prepared to try new things.
The curriculum for first grade and second grade art has more to do with building small motor skills and following directions than creating great art, Nass said. Third, fourth, fifth and sixth grades are getting used to some different materials, he said. “Probably without them even knowing it, what we’re learning—what we’re studying about—are the elements of art: line, texture, shape, repetition— all of those things. (We're) giving them a base knowledge.”
For high school first semester, Nass will teach a drawing class and a stained glass class.
Other students have the opportunity to learn painting, ceramics/pottery or take a section of studio art which is geared toward the artist who sells their goods; such as jewelry, metal smithing and silk screening. “That one I just kind of play by ear to see what the kids are up for, what skills they have, and where we can go with it.”
BY KATE CROWLEY ROSENBERG
As if it weren’t bad enough that Truman utility bills have gone through the roof this summer, residents are now learning that the recently increased utility rates aren’t being used to repair infrastructure as intended and promised, but instead have been used to increase the wages of Truman Public Utility employees—a move authorized by the Public Utilities Commission (PUC).
“Essentially, the city council feels they were lied to by the PUC,” said City Manager Bethanie Ekstrom on the issue that led to a special meeting of the Truman City Council on Monday, August 27, 2018.
“In 2016, we were presented this power point presentation, and it showed pictures and cost figures of repairs that needed to be done. And at that point, the council agreed to a rate increase under the condition that these repairs were going to be done,” said Ekstrom.
“In all reality, in 2016-2017, the wages were increased by $82,000, more than half of [the money brought in from] this rate increase that was supposed to be used for capital improvement that is now being used for these wages," Ekstrom said. "Now the PUC is in a position where these repairs need to be done—the essential ones being the water tower needs to be repainted and re-coated and the safety repairs done, as well as the filter — well, now they don’t have any money to do that. So, now they’re coming to the council because they can’t get funding and they want the city to pay for it. Well, to be frank, we are putting on the brakes.”
The Truman City Council was authorized to create a Utilities Commission (PUC) and appoint its three members under Minnesota Statute 412.321.
By statute, those members are in charge of the operations, personnel, rates, and relations and finances with the city of Truman.
Minnesota Statute 412.321 Subdivision 4 allows for the dissolution of the utilities by the City Council.
In January 2016, Gary Greenwald of GMA Powerlineman Consulting, LLC, pitched his consulting services to the PUC. He had recently retired from the Minnesota Municipal Utilities Association and offered his services to train Brandon Winch and Aaron Pavelko in lineman duties since a journeyman lineman had not been hired to replace Justin Anderson, who left to work elsewhere.
Greenwald later explained that obtaining state grants to make the repairs would not be possible. “...Until we get out water and sewer into the black, we aren’t eligible for any of these grants.”
While grants from the state are available to small towns, they are not available to ones operating in the red, such as those who are insolvent or not providing evidence of fiscal responsibility.
In the Dec. 2016, meeting the PUC also voted to approve the following hourly rates effective January 1, 2017:
Taylor Varpness, $30/hr; Brandon Winch, $30/hr; Aaron Pavelko, $23/hr; Josh Shoutz, $26/hr; and Judi Davis, $30/hr.
Both of those motions were made by TPU Commissioners Kathy Hendricksen and seconded by Alex Voyles.
At the December 19, 2017 PUC meeting, Voyles and Brad Nickerson (who had been on the commission since 1992, Wayne Wiederhoeft replaced him as a voting member) resigned, and wage increases of 2% were approved, resulting in the following hourly rates:
Taylor Varpness, $35.19 (which included a $1.50/hr increase for having completed a 10-week probation, the remaining $3.69 unaccounted); Brandon Winch, $30.60; Aaron Pavelko, $23.46; Josh Shoutz, $30.60; and Judi Davis, $30.60.
According to figures provided by the Truman City Council, the wage changes from 2015 to 2017 were:
Varpness, was not employed in 2015, but in 2016 earned $40,152.54 (increased 67% in 2017 to $60,268.50.)
B Winch, $31,307.63 (increased 125% to $70,455.)
A Pavelko, $9,622.33 (increased 419% in two years to $49,993.38.)
J Shoutz was not employed in 2015. In 2016, he earned $35,216.24 (increased 71% to $60,268.50)
J Davis, $48,908.84 (increased 27% in two years to $62,400.)
D Brummond, $567.38 (114% increase to $1,217.64.)
Brad Nickerson doesn't feel the TPU employees are overpaid.
"No, because it will cost more to train and replace them."
Nickerson spent more than two decades on the PUC board.
"Personnel was the biggest problem we had at the time. What are we going to do if they all quit?" The TPU electricians are now trained journeymen-linemen.
Nickerson said the cost of training has paid off in getting numerous projects taken care of, and through the ability to have immediate help, rather than needing to wait for mutual aid assistance from another city, when a transformer blows and a part of the city is without power.
Necessary or not, the TPUC failed to include projected pay increases in the rate increase as presented to the Truman City Council.
How did it Happen?
At the Special City Council meeting held on Aug. 27, 2018 Councilor Brandon Mosloski questioned the TPU accounting practices and asked if the new monies generated by the rate increase are being put into a separate capital fund, which would make them unavailable to be spent on anything else, such as wages. Davis stated that TPU currently does not have itemized accounting, therefore all monies go into a general operating fund.
At the Sept. 4, 2018 City Council meeting, Davis defended the accounting practice stating that to have put it in a separate account would have required a Special Ordinance from the City of Truman.
According to Councilor Jake Ebert, “In the first year of the 10-year-plan (presented by Greenwald and approved by the Council), $82,777.52 of repair monies have been used for wages, and repairs are not being done due to lack of funding.”
Hendricksen, who is also on the Truman City Council, has had a view from both sides—as pointed out by Ebert at the Aug. 27 meeting, and “Should have been aware of what was happening,” according to those minutes.
Pay equity has been a frequent topic at the PUC meetings. In November 2014, J Davis' wages were adjusted to include a $1/hr increase to meet the State Equity requirements retroactive to Oct. 1st of that year. In addition, a $.60/hr increase was approved for J Davis for the 2015 pay period. In addition, Marlene Breitbarth received a $1/hr increase, and Darlene Brummond received a $.75/hr increase.
The Truman PUC employees are members of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) AFL-CIO Local Union 160 out of St. Anthony Minnesota.
Mosloski stated that TPU cannot keep operating the way it has been and asked if eliminating the union or decreasing wages were options.
Dissolving the union is not a decision that can be made by anyone other than the PUC employees.
According to the 2016 US Census Bureau of Statistics, a survey of Truman resulted in a median income of $46,944.
What Does the PUC Really Need to Fix?
Current cost estimates for the available options from Nero Engineering are:
Urgent repairs are the exterior and interior coating of the water tower, safety improvements and filter repair or replacement at the water treatment plant; $500,000.
Replace the existing iron filter: $1,877,400 (which does not address the chloride issue.)
Centralized water softening: $2,945,900.
Connecting to Red Rock Water: $3,070,960 (which still may not meet chloride limits.)
Connect to City of Fairmont Water: $2,885,300 (which will address the chloride issue but is likely to have high user rates.)
Fixing the Accounting Problems
Greenwald retired in September of 2017. Since then, Taylor Varpness, Outside Operations Foreman is making the decisions, according to Davis.
Davis, who acts as office manager, said, "I do the accounting and we do have an auditor—Burkhardt and Burkhardt, Ltd. (same as the city)," Davis said.
"They go through our books. They're making sure we're in compliance."
But the auditors do not help make judgments on how the money should be spent.
"No," Davis agreed, "because they review it after it's spent."
Davis has a two-year degree in accounting from South Central Technical College.
As for setting up a separate account for capital expenditures, Davis said, "That would probably be something I could talk over with the auditor and see what the steps are for that. I've never done it personally."
Resolutions at this point are undecided, but discussions are ongoing, and there are likely to be more revelations.
“It was made clear by the council at Monday (special session on August 27) night’s meeting that another raise in utility rates is not an option," Ekstrom said. “In order to obtain funding, the PUC needs the city to apply for funding. Which in return could affect the city's bond rating.”
Nickerson said, "Maybe some repairs will have to wait until certain bonds are paid off."