Meeker Faces Up to 85 Years, $1.25M in Fines for Drugs, Murder: Meeker, Williams Charged in Death of Mariah Miller
BY NIKKI MEYER
Troy Meeker of Truman, age 51, is facing up to 85 years in prison and more than $1.25 million in fines. Meeker, along with Dominic Tercel Williams of Welcome, age 26, has been charged in relation to the August 2018 overdose death of Mariah Lynn Miller, age 24.
On Tuesday, October 16 Meeker was charged with 1st degree drugs with intent to sell and 3rd degree possession - over 10 grams after officers raided his antiques shop in Truman, finding approximately 18 grams of methamphetamine.
According to a Complaint filed by the Truman Police Department, on August 19, 2018 at approximately 9:31 a.m., law enforcement officers were dispatched to a residence on West Ciro Street, in Truman, belonging to Meeker. Meeker reported a deceased female, Miller, who Meeker stated had been staying at his residence on and off since August 9.
Meeker stated Miller borrowed his vehicle on Friday the 17th, returned the morning of the 18th and was “acting weird.” Meeker stated Miller was known to take opioids and methamphetamine, and that he believed she was under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
Meeker stated he left his home at 5:00 or 6:00 p.m. on the evening of the 18th. Miller was lying on the floor, and he handed her a sheet to cover up.
Meeker arrived home around 4:00 a.m. on Saturday morning and went to bed. When he woke up in the morning, around 9:00 a.m., he discovered Miller was deceased.
When officers entered Meeker’s residence, an area in the basement of the Bullseye Antiques building, owned by Meeker, they found that the area showed signs of being recently cleaned. Drug paraphernalia was found, though none used.
On August 20, Minnesota River Valley Drug Task Force (MRVDTF) interviewed Dominic Williams. Williams, age 26, stated he gave Meeker a ride to Fairmont on Saturday the 18th. At the time Meeker told Williams that Miller was sick. Williams dropped Meeker off at the home of another undisclosed witness that evening. Williams said that later that night Meeker told him over the phone that Miller had died.
On August 21, agents spoke with the witness at the home Meeker had visited on Saturday after Williams dropped him off. The witness said that Meeker told her Miller was dead and he would need to dispose of her body.
Williams later indicated to the witness that he had removed all drugs from Meeker’s residence. He also stated that he and Meeker had discussed how to dispose of Miller’s body. Williams denied cleaning up anything for Meeker in a conversation with law enforcement.
On August 30 Meeker stated to the witness that he knew by 2:00 p.m. on the 18th that Miller was overdosing. He also said held Miller as she died and told Miller she was dying and that there was nothing he could do for her.
Another witness stated that Williams and Meeker were both using methamphetamine on the night of Saturday, August 18th. The witness stated that Williams instructed her to drive his vehicle to elsewhere in the county, and that later Williams and Meeker met her there. Williams told the witness that Miller had died and that they had cleaned the area and moved Miller’s body.
Another witness indicated she had a conversation with Meeker in the presence of his mother, Darla Meeker. During that conversation Meeker stated, "I killed that girl."
Authorities obtained an August 22 Facebook Messenger conversation between Meeker and his mother, in which Troy Meeker stated, "They'll arrest me for 3rd degree murder..." His mother responded with, "who cares she's just one more ****"
Meeker was known to have exchanged drugs for sexual relations.
The autopsy performed on Miller did reveal methamphetamine in her blood and a final anatomic diagnosis including methamphetamine toxicity.
Meeker was initially charged with murder in the 3rd degree and manslaughter in the 2nd degree.
Williams was charged with aiding an offender in murder in the 3rd degree and aiding an offender in manslaughter.
Then, according to an October 16 statement of probable cause, while in custody, Meeker made two phone calls to his mother, Darla Meeker. In one of the phone calls, Darla Meeker explains she had allowed two people into his antiques shop, where Miller was found. Meeker became upset and told his mother they were drug dealers and not to let anyone else in the shop. Darla stated the two people found his "toys" and brought it over to the neighbors. Meeker then told her, "There is still an ounce of f***ing dope in the place... If the cops go in with a dog they will find it in ten seconds."
The MRVDTF obtained and executed a search warrant for the building on October 12. Located on the premises were:
- Baggie containing white crystal substance
- Glass methamphetamine pipe with residue
- Container with crystal residue inside
- Canister with crystal residue inside
All of the items field tested positive for methamphetamine. Also located on the premises were various drug paraphernalia items.
Meeker has a criminal history of a felony drug sales conviction from 2011 and a felony controlled substance conviction in 2012. He also has pending drug possession/sales of methamphetamine charges in Blue Earth County from 2017.
Meeker has also admitted to selling/possessing methamphetamine at his store on Ciro St. as recently as August 2018.
Meeker appeared before the Honorable Michael Trushenski in a Martin County courtroom on October 15, 2018 for a Rule 8 Hearing regarding the charges concerning Miller's death. Williams appeared on Tuesday. Meeker will appear for a Rule 8 hearing regarding the drug charges on October 23.
If convicted on both the murder and manslaughter counts, Meeker could face up to 35 years in prison and $30,000 in fines. The two drug charges could bring an additional sentence of up to 50 years and $1.25 million in fines.
Williams could face up to 17 and a half years in prison and $30,000 in fines.
BY NIKKI MEYER
I took a trip to Granada recently. It was windy outside, and as I sat in my vehicle with the window down, the occasional sound of creaking, clanging metal could be heard—pieces of a destroyed garage wall banging against itself. The sound of life changed in a matter of moments.
I actually didn’t go to Granada for the purpose of inspecting the damage, but heading south into town on 260th Avenue revealed broken branches and naked stumps where trees once stood, and I was quickly reminded that the town had been hit by weather. Much of the mess had already been cleaned up, yet houses and outbuildings still showed signs of the high winds that swept through town. Nearly two weeks after the event, the damage, however, seemed almost minimal considering a twister had touched down. That was, until I turned onto Meagher Street.
On the south side of East Meagher Street, part of the fence surrounding the elementary playground lay in a twisted pile, orange caution tape strung around it. On the north side, a somewhat mangled boat and trailer sat in the yard of a house whose garage was missing pieces of fascia and had a crumpled downspout dangling off the visible west side. Photos online revealed the boat and trailer had been upended into the yard, against the house. Behind the house, in the football field, were damaged bleachers and a scoreboard that no longer sat on its posts. Even that damage, however, seemed minor compared to the neighbor to the east.
313 E. Meagher Street is missing. Nothing remains but a cement foundation, small front porch, and a railing where presumably steps went into the house from the garage. That, and an American flag that now stands watch over the remnants of the porch are all that indicate where the home once stood.
“That house is gone,” said John Balcom, who owns a rental house further east, on Sparks Drive. “Nobody knows where. I found a piece of it in my yard. They found the roof over at the fertilizer plant.” An entire home. Obliterated. “Thankfully she wasn’t home when it happened.”
A mailbox bearing the names Gary and Mary Shumski sits a few houses further east. Google Maps shows large, green trees surrounding the house and its neighbor. A few large bare trunks are all that remain of them. The family clearly has a sense of humor however, having taken the liberty of painting a large face and “Go Vikings” on the house’s boarded up windows.
“We’re trying to keep positive through this process,” owner Mary Shumski said with a laugh. “We are lucky. Very lucky. Timing was on our side.”
Shumski recounted the day the twister hit. “I was on the phone with a girlfriend and I was coming into Granada and I looked to the west and said, ‘Oh, we’re going to get some rain. Let’s hang up—I want to beat the rain home.’” Shumski said she barreled through town to get to her garage. She didn’t make it.
“When I got to my driveway the tornado hit.” Shumski’s driveway isn’t short. “I went and went and parked in front of my little garage, and then the back window of my vehicle blew out.” She stated she knew immediately it was a tornado. “When the window blew out, I felt relief. There must have been a lot of pressure on the vehicle and I didn’t realize it.”
Despite the explosion of glass, Shumski was able to safely get out of her vehicle and lie down. “It made my realize how fast your mind thinks,” she said of the few moments she spent on the ground. “My mind said ‘Cottonwood tree’ and my body said ‘Run.’” The family took down 13 mature trees in the wake of the funnel, one of which surely would have crushed her if she hadn’t moved.
Shumski survived the storm unharmed, though her house did not. “I used to try to explain what windows blew out and now I just say we have two left.” Still, she feels nothing but fortunate. “Had I been five second slower I would have been in front of the home that disappeared.”
Gary and Mary are now staying in a hotel while they wade through the insurance process. “When we left our residence to go to a hotel, the only thing I was concerned about was our pictures and our children’s memorabilia. Everything else can be replaced.”
On the West side of Meagher, another resident, Lori Pohlman, also faced a harrowing experience. The top of her house was ripped off, almost as though a jagged saw blade ran right across the roof line. Only the chimney and a small portion over an enclosed porch remain. Outside, a fence gate stands open in the yard, no longer attached to anything but the pole holding it up. The corn in the field behind it lies bent to the ground.
“She was home when it happened,” said Shumski. “I ran into her that night.” Amazingly, Pohlman sustained no serious injuries.
Other residents in town have taken the same view as the Shumski’s, trying to find the positives—or at least some humor—in the gloomy situation. One has a sign reading, “Made U Look,” with a face on it, and another states “Don’t Blame Trump,” perhaps a nod to those throwing shade on the president for Hurricane Florence.
The damage is extensive and the insurance process long; families will be displaced for a while. Balcom stated his renter had to move; he had worked to get her aid from the Red Cross, but the house will take some time to repair. Dan and Sheila Denton and their family are in the same situation. “We are lucky to be renting Dan’s mom’s house in Fairmont,” said Sheila. She expects it will be six to eight months before they are able to move back home.
Sheila’s husband sustained probably the worst injuries in town when their front window exploded into the house. “He ended up with about a two inch hematoma on his arm,” said Sheila, “and then he had several lacerations on his chest and on his stomach.” Dan received seven stitches as a result of the incident. He was facing the front of the home, warning his wife about a tree coming down on the house, headed straight for where she was standing in the entryway. The Dentons also lost part of the roof on the back of their home.
“You know, you walk outside and have that initial shock of, ‘Oh my gosh, it’s like a war zone out here,’” said Denton. “But then you find that all the people are accounted for and all the animals are accounted for and everyone is ok.”
It is in times of crisis that the value of living in a small town truly shines. Shumski said that after the storm, “[The community] rallied. They really rallied. It’s amazing how people are just so willing to help.” Shumski, herself a retired EMT, went out and walked her neighborhood as soon as the storm had passed, making sure no neighbors were in need of immediate assistance. Her husband made it home shortly after the storm, and friends weren’t far behind. “Many people showed up with rakes and chainsaws. Food. Water. Ice. Things just appeared. It was just so humbling.”
Denton, an emergency medical responder (EMR), also began going door to door as soon as her daughter—Truman City Administrator Bethanie Ekstrom— and son-in-law arrived and were able to take Dan to the ER. “And then Josh Kitzerow, from Truman, called me and said, ‘What do you need?’” Truman Fire and EMS was dispatched to help scout the town, with the extent of the damage and injuries unknown.
“The outpour was awesome,” said Denton. “We all live in small communities and you know people by their faces, but to call them by names and stuff—some of them you can’t.” Being on a first name basis wasn’t a requirement to give or receive help. “Nobody had to call anybody and say, ‘Hey can you come help?’ We had so much help. So many hands. Trees. Yards. The food. This is why we live where we live.”
Granada mayor Darren Maday—who lost several grain bins next to the train tracks in the middle of town—echoed Shumski’s and Denton’s sentiments. “Nobody has come forward saying they need any extra assistance. I think for the most part everybody is doing alright.” The town—bolstered by the assistance of many other local communities, and the Red Cross—is hanging together. “We’re pretty lucky.”
Even after the clean up phase has passed and life has gone back to the new normal, residents are still looking out for one another. Jill Mathiason posted on Facebook recently: Jeff was out combining in a field 3.5 miles northeast of Granada yesterday. He came across enough siding, shingles, and insulation to build a small outhouse! All from homes damaged in Thursday’s tornado. To all our friends and neighbors who sustained damage: I’m so sorry! He also found this cute little banner. If it’s yours, or you know who it belonged to in Granada, we’d love to give it back to you! (The banner reads: Welcome. May you Live well, Laugh often, Love much.)
The town may never be quite the same, but the community remains the same: strong and united.
“We’re alive. We’re here to tell about it,” Denton stated. Shumski agreed. “Life is for the living and we are alive.”
BY KATE CROWLEY ROSENBERG
Bidding for the 160-acre parcel donated by Roger W. Jones of Sperryville, VA to Truman was congenial, according to City Clerk Monte Rohman. Seven bidders were involved in early action at the auction hosted by Wingert Realty at the Truman Community Building on Friday, September 21. Two bidders ruled the action, and the final winner was Sanders Farms of Truman.
The parcel of 151 tillable acres located five miles east of Truman in Nashville township included a nine acre building site and eventually sold for $9,406 per acre, Rohman said. The total sale was just over $1.5M. It had been evaluated at $1.2M.
Rohman said the windfall opens up an opportunity for Truman to develop a new suburb on the east side of town.
"We need some new lots," Rohman said. The $400,000 infrastructure costs, including sewer, water and streets, would allow for the development of about a dozen new homes. In turn, the sale of those lots would repay most of that initial investment made possible by the Jones sale within ten years, Rohman said. He hopes the infrastructure will be in place within a year.
Other options for the Jones windfall are still on the table, Rohman said, though there has been some discussion about help ing to fund the new deck for the city pool.
"I think that remains for the Council to decide. So, at this point we just need to discuss that further," said Mayor Lynn Brownlee.
The Truman City Council agreed on Monday night to hold a work session next week to look at other projects and opportunities that may ultimately benefit directly from the Jones donation.
"We are eternally grateful for this huge gift and we all appreciate it, as does the City of Truman," Brownlee said.
According to Brownlee, Jones was a 1953 graduate of Truman High School. Brownlee said Jones approached her some time ago about making a donation to the city.
"He called me two or three years ago and was asking what kind of things, projects that Truman might have," Brownlee said. "I had no idea at the time what he was talking about. So I had mentioned that we were wanting to replace the slide down at the swimming pool, and he kind of chuckled at that. He went on to tell me what kind of donation he was considering. It was far more than what we would need for a slide."
The auction was very well managed by Wingert Realty, Brownlee and Rohman both commented. "They've been working on it for some time. That's who Roger wanted us to work with," Brownlee said.
Jones first purchased the property in the 1980s with a partner, whom he bought out in the 1990s. He made his fortune in investments and an East Coast ski resort, Brownlee said, but still returns each summer to conduct an ornithological tagging project on the American Kestrels in Martin County.
"He bands kestrels. He has all these little houses where kestrels nest, and so then he comes back every year and bands them and tracks them."
The kestrel houses are in the Truman area.
"He's made investments and he had a ski resort out east and he's just done very well in life. He's retired at this point."
Jones' father, Casey, was the long-time manager for Truman Farmers Elevator, Rohman said. His mother was Evelyn Jones.
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."
DNR Naturalist Scott Kudelka shows volunteers including Malie Meyer and Carter Gieseke how to tag a Monarch butterfly at Perch Lake County Park in August 2018.
Photo 1: Captain Chad Worthley's wife, Betsy, attaches the Command Shore Pin to her husband's uniform at a ceremony held on base at the Point Mugu Naval Air Base in Ventura County, California. The hardware on his chest includes a bronze star, Meritorious Service Medals, Joint Service Achievement Medals, two standard naval defense ribbons, and his rifle and pistol expert medal. (Submitted photo)
Photo 2: Captain Chad Worthley of Truman, second from right, was installed as Commander of NAVSOC at a Change of Command ceremony at Point Mugu, California. (Submitted photo)
BY KATE CROWLEY ROSENBERG
Truman High School graduate Captain Chad Worthley has been installed as Commander of the Naval Satellite Operations Center (NAVSOC) in California. Worthley, one of four sons of Kieth Worthley of Truman, is a highly decorated 23-year Navy veteran of multiple campaigns.
"It is a major command leadership tour, where I am in charge of all Navy satellite operations and roughly $5 Billion in equipment and facilities," Capt. Worthley said.
"Basically, we command and control all 14 of the Naval satellites," he said. "We do all of the operations for all of the control—all the updates. We have three ground sites across the planet with antennas that we communicate through these satellites for. They are basically all communications satellites for providing communication across the entire globe."
Those satellites are used for communications for the US Military, according to Capt. Worthley. "Probably our biggest user of these satellites is the US Army," he said, "but we control the actual satellites. So if they need to move one—say a war heats up somewhere else... we might move a couple over. That'll take a month or two months to do, because we have to do certain burns on them and let them drift over there."
The NAVSOC runs 40 to 50 operations per day, each lasting from a few seconds to several hours, the commander said. "It might be uploading an ephemerous table for other nearby satellites—the data files for what's close to them. Even some strange things like sun and earth and moon tables. We have to use the sun and moon data so the satellite doesn't get fooled. For instance, if the sun is behind the earth and the earth looks like it has a little bulge coming out of it when its actually the sun and the satellite—some of them are 25 years plus years old—can get fooled by that and think the earth is a little bit bigger than it is and end up pointing in the wrong direction."
Capt. Worthley has had numerous commands, and has the hardware on his dress uniform to prove it.
"You have a lot of weight hanging off that left shoulder," said Kieth to his son during a joint phone interview with the Tribune. "One of those looks suspiciously like a Bronze Star."
"I got that from my tour in Afghanistan," the captain answered.
"Most of the top row would be from leadership stuff, other than the bronze star which is basically for leadership role in a combat operations." Captain Worthley said.
"The next one is what's called a Defense Meritorious Service Medal," he said. "I actually have two of those. They are the equivalent of bronze star but not in combat operations. I got both from the NRO—leading teams at the National Reconnaissance Office. And those start with the word Defense because they're a joint tour meaning they cross all services and components. That was working with the Airforce, CIA. It's a cross. It's outside of Navy.
"The next one is the same thing. It's called a Meritorious Service medal—it gets rid of the word defense in front because it's just in your own service," Capt. Worthley said. "That was for me working down at the Pacific Fleet and everything I did down there for them in Hawaii. That was all Navy specific.
"And then the next (row of medals) would be all the Air medals I've got," he said. Captain Worthley spent his first 12 years with the Navy as a pilot flying the F/A-18 Hornet deploying on aircraft carriers. "One has a number three on it and each number signifies 20 aerial combat operations."
"The other ones are as you grow up in rank, there is an equivalent reward. Each step, of the way Navy Commendation medal, there's a few of those, a joint service achievement medal from deploying down to Pensacola during the Katrina hurricane episode. I was basically flying airplanes and helicopters going in—picking people up off of rooftops."
The next row of medals is what the captain described as unit medals which are given out to all members present during a mission whether they directly participated or not.
"One was kind of unique. I was on the Abraham Lincoln when a plane went down off the coast of California back in '99 or 2000. It's actually a Coast Guard ribbon, because the carrier went over there and was used as a platform for all the helicopters going to and from trying to get survivors," he said. "I happened to be on the ship."
He also has a couple of Standard Defense Service ribbons. Both from the Kuwait and Afghan campaigns. He actively participated in the Afghanistan campaigns, but was in the US Naval Academy in Annapolis, MD during the Kuwait campaign.
Worthley served as a Captain with the US Navy Pacific Fleet Headquarters from 2015 until this year. He spent three years with the Operations Integration Office, was Commanding Officer of the Provincial Reconstruction Team in Paktika Province, Afghanistan, and two and a half years as EUCOM and AFRICOM Branch Chief with the SPAWAR Space Field Activity. He received both his Bachelors and Masters degrees in Computer Science, the latter from the University of Baltimore.
"I think he was officer material the day he was born," said Kieth Worthley, who explained that Chad used to pay his brothers Wayne, Todd and Marc, to do his chores so he could go fishing. Marc spent six years in the Navy and is now in the Naval Reserve. Todd, also a veteran of the Navy and a current hard line telephone electronics professional, learned his electronics skills in the Navy. Wayne did not serve. "He went to the Peace Corps," Kieth said.
"Mom and Dad raised us right," said Capt. Worthley, who noticed it most when he entered the military.
"I've lived in about 11 different places and a lot of different walks of life... The people, the morals, the values of southern Minnesota... Their views on things closely aligns with what the Navy wants."
Capt. Worthley said there are three things he can certainly attribute to his Truman upbringing:
"First: A correctly oriented moral compass (generally speaking, the community is made up of great people. Their morals and values match that of what is expected of people in public service/military/etc.) I knew right and wrong from a very early age; there were no gray areas when it came to doing the right thing. This made for a very seamless transition into my Naval Officer career.
"Second: Hard work. Obviously we were expected to do a lot of work around the farm while growing up. Academically, the Naval Academy was a large leap from THS, but the work ethic was instilled in me.
"Third: Family/mentors. Obviously my parents were great role models, but in the extended sense of ‘family’ I had plenty of other supporting actors being from a small, close-knit community. Teachers/coaches (because they all knew you…), church support, Scouts, relatives/grandparents (pretty much all of mine lived within an hour drive…) I thought this was all ‘normal’ growing up, but after living in 11 different places now, I see that I was extremely blessed to have all of this…..certainly not everyone does."
Kieth credits the Truman High School superintendent his older sons had for their strength of character.
"Dr. Newkirk was a really an influence on them—a good influence. I've always thought the shaping of what they went on to do—their dedication to things—a lot of that came from him," Kieth said.
Kieth also believes the Navy gave his sons a great education; one he and his late wife Karen (Stump) couldn't afford at the time.
The next Worthley generation is worth following, as well.
Capt. Worthley has four children; his oldest son Tyler is pursuing aerospace engineering at MIT beginning this month. "Yeah, he's pretty sharp."
Those kind of apples never fall far from the tree.
Capt. Worthley's tour is expected to extend to mid 2021. After that, he hopes to take perhaps one more tour before retiring from the Navy.
"Why quit when you are still enjoying what you do?" Capt. Worthley said.