It was the Memorial Day remembrance that almost didn’t happen.
But Litchfield’s traditional parade and remembrance Memorial Day program at Litchfield Cemetery did happen Monday, and both drew a crowd that seemed grateful to have the events and appreciative of the effort to organize them.
When Litchfield High School band director David Ceasar originally checked on the Memorial Day schedule, he was told there would be no parade or program this year, due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
But Ceasar did not want a repeat of 2020, when Memorial Day observances were cancelled because of the pandemic.
“Dave said the band was going to march,” City Council member Darlene Kotelnicki said, so various leaders reconsidered the plan to cancel. And within hours, the decision to go ahead with parade and program — even if cut back slightly from usual size — was made.
Third Street and Swift Avenue — the parade route — both seemed to have crowds similar to a normal year, while the crowd at Litchfield Cemetery seemed smaller than usual, though still large.
The G.A.R. Hall even had its traditional Memorial Day picnic following the program.
The cemetery program included speeches by Litchfield Mayor Keith Johnson and state Rep. Dean Urdahl.
In his remarks, Urdahl encouraged those in the crowd to remember the sacrifices and the course set for the country more than a century ago.
“...(T)here was another greatest generation that held our flags, that struggled mightily for great goals that saved this country, that gaze with great dignity as they watch over us from the walls of the G.A.R. Hall. Through their unspoken lips comes the question: How stands the Union we struggled to save? How stands the Union?
“We must rise above the current problems that confront us, so that future generations may answer, ‘Our Union stands strong and free.’”
— Brent Schacherer
Meeker in Motion, a countywide leadership program, is accepting applications for its nine-month program designed to inspire participants to learn and grow as a leader and build connections with other leaders in the county.
In its second season, Meeker in Motion is open to people who live or work in Meeker County and are interested in broadening their network, learning about Meeker County communities, and growing their professional and leadership skills.
Each of the nine sessions will include participating in professional leadership classes taught by University of Minnesota Extension leadership and civic engagement educators, as well visiting some local businesses and community sites.
“The program provides participants with new tools and skills to increase their effectiveness in their own business, organization and community, while also offering opportunities to learn about area businesses, local and county history, local and county government, health care, arts, education, agriculture, natural resources, and much more,” said Judy Hulterstrum, director of The Chamber serving the Meeker County Area.
Meeker in Motion began in 2019 as an initiative by a group of citizens from across Meeker County, who saw value in cultivating leadership in communities across Meeker County.
“Being involved with Meeker in Motion brought many ‘ah-hah’ moments during the leadership trainings and many, ‘I never knew that…’ moments when touring businesses in Meeker County,” said Marcia Provencher of Litchfield, who participated in the inaugural 2019-2020 Meeker in Motion program. “It was an inspiring experience.”
The 2020 program was postponed during the pandemic. However, based on demand by people interested in participating, the Meeker in Motion steering committee was eager to restart the program this year, Hulterstrum said.
“Our inaugural Meeker in Motion leadership training program was a success, and we are excited to bring this educational and engaging program back to Meeker County,” she said. “The nine-session leadership program brings community leaders together to understand the dynamics of the county's communities, make connections with area leaders, and expand leadership skills through training with the University of Minnesota Extension.”
Meeker in Motion participants will meet for nine sessions from September 2021 through May 2022.
Each session will take place from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. on the third Tuesday of each month in a different Meeker County community:
Leadership education topics will include: Understanding Your Personal Leadership Style; Group Dynamics: Building and Leading Committees that Work; Leading with your Strengths; Bridging Generational Trends; Navigating and Leading Through Conflict; and Visionary Leadership and Action.
Attending all nine training sessions is mandatory. Tuition for the program is $450. The cost includes the UMN Extension leadership training and lunch at each of the nine sessions. Partial tuition assistance is available for qualifying participants.
Participation in the 2021-2022 Meeker in Motion program is limited to 24 people, and the deadline to apply is Aug. 1. A committee will review applications and notify all applicants by Aug. 9.
Legislative leaders and Gov. Tim Walz found common ground on a budget.
And even though no budget was finalized before the Minnesota Legislature adjourned May 17, word of an agreement between DFL and Republican leadership was good news to state Rep. Dean Urdahl, R-Acton Township.
Gov. Tim Walz and the top two Senate and House leaders announced May 17 they had agreed on broad spending targets for the state’s next two-year budget. But lawmakers have many details to hammer out before a special session can be called to approve budget later this month.
The legislative leaders said the governor would call a special session no later than June 14. Walz is required by law to reconvene lawmakers by that date as a condition for extending the emergency powers he has used to respond to the coronavirus pandemic.
“Certainly, it’s good news,” Rep. Dean Urdahl, R-Acton Township, said of the budget agreement. Yet, he said, the fact that so much work still must be done left him unfulfilled and somewhat concerned about the process that will be used to nail down the details of the budget.
The final day of the session left Urdahl to borrow from poet T.S. Elliott, saying, “This is the way the session ends, not with a bang, but a whimper.”
Much of the budget details will be negotiated without a lot of input from the majority of legislators.
“A lot of this now isn’t as transparently done as it would have been otherwise,” he said. “In some instances, just a few people will be putting this together.”
Urdahl said an agreement but no actual passage of budget bills could be blamed in part on the fact that legislators knew they would be called back in to special session to consider the governor’s emergency powers on June 14. Knowing they would be back again in a few weeks anyway created a lack of urgency to get final deals done, he said.
“It’s like having your final exam delayed and you know it’s delayed, so why study?” said Urdahl, a former middle school social studies teacher.
Rep. Glenn Gruenhagen, R-Glencoe, agreed with Urdahl’s concern over the lack of transparency, not just over budget details but the entire legislative session.
“COVID has resulted in committees meeting by Zoom, including limited seating for floor session,” Gruenhagen wrote in an email in response to questions. “This has been frustrating, especially since it has been very difficult for the public to participate in the legislative session.”
Gruenhagen also was much more strident on who should shoulder the blame for the Legislature not getting its work done by end of session.
“The primary disagreement between parties that lead to special sessions is that for every problem, the DFL wants to expand government and raise taxes when Minnesota is already one of the highest taxed states in the nation,” he said. While the state has a projected surplus of $4.2 billion, “the governor and DFL still want to raise taxes approximately another $1.6 billion on an economy already struggling to recover from COVID.”
The task of resolving their differences was harder this year than in 2019 because lawmakers mostly met remotely due to the pandemic and had fewer chances for one-on-one deal-making.
“But you have three people who basically respect each other and are able to work well together despite huge ideological rifts between them,” said Hortman, of Brooklyn Park.
WORK STILL TO BE DONE
The spending agreement — which appears to be around $52 billion but is still a “work in progress,” according to state Management and Budget Commissioner Jim Schowalter — features no new taxes, tax relief for those hardest hit by the pandemic, and spending increases for public schools, the three leaders said.
“It really is a win-win-win budget,” Hortman said.
That feat — increasing spending while providing limited tax relief — was made possible by some $2.8 billion in federal COVID relief money headed to Minnesota, as well as a wider economy that, despite pockets being hammered by the pandemic, is growing, swelling state tax coffers. In fact, there’s so much money that the agreement was able to spread out increased spending on education through 2025, and still leave a chunk of those federal funds unspent as a hedge against the future.
Deciding how to spend the federal funds was one of the main complications in the budget negotiations, the leaders said. The state didn’t get federal guidance on how it can spend that money until last week.
Under the agreement, Walz will control $500 million of that sum to spend on vaccinations, testing and other COVID-related services, while the Legislature will get a say in how the rest is spent.
WHAT ABOUT OTHER BILLS?
The agreement, which all three trumpeted as a bipartisan success in a state with divided government in an era of polarization, says nothing about policies. “I think of this as a numbers-only agreement,” Hortman said.
She said it will be up to a House-Senate conference committee negotiating the public safety budget bill to find common ground and decide which police accountability proposals passed by the House will make it into the final version.
Senate Republicans had resisted the policing package passed by the House, saying they wanted to focus on the budget and allow time to implement a policing bill that passed last summer following the May 2020 death of George Floyd, a Black Minneapolis man who died in police custody. The new package was spearheaded by the legislative People of Color and Indigenous Caucus, which had hoped to build on the momentum of the murder conviction last month of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin in Floyd’s death.
“Depending on who you’re talking to, we’re either way apart or close,” said Gazelka of East Gull Lake. “Because there are some things that we think we can do, but again, some people would want a lot more, some people want less.”
Hortman said she also hopes — but is uncertain — that a public works construction bill, often referred to as a “bonding bill,” could be agreed upon by June.
In addition, Walz said he and lawmakers would continue trying to negotiate an agreement to phase out the moratorium on evicting renters that he imposed on landlords during the pandemic. That moratorium is scheduled to end when his emergency powers expire, and state leaders want to prevent an avalanche of evictions.
GOP TOUTS NO NEW TAXES
Republicans successfully resisted calls by Walz and Democratic lawmakers for income tax increases on the wealthy and some other taxes to provide continuing funding for education, saying there was no need for a tax increase when the state was facing a $1.6 billion surplus and had $2.8 billion in federal coronavirus aid coming.
“Promise kept,” Gazelka said of the Republicans’ no-new-taxes pledge.
One of the sticking points in the negotiations was whether the state should fully exempt federal Paycheck Protection Program loans and unemployment insurance benefits from state taxes or impose caps to capture some of that revenue from better-off companies.
Gazelka scored a partial victory by exempting PPP funds from state taxes, which Democrats agreed to as part of a plan to also waive the state tax on up to $10,200 in unemployment benefits. It was Democrats who first sought to marry the two.
May 17 was the state tax filing deadline, and filers were required to file their taxes as if the agreement doesn’t exist (because it’s not law yet). It remains unclear whether those eligible will have to re-file their taxes or state revenue officials will be able to automatically send out refunds.
Minnesota’s latest push to get more residents vaccinated against COVID-19 lets recipients choose a prize.
The rewards are better than the sticker or lollipop most kids get after a shot.
Fishing licenses, a state parks pass, admission to different attractions, even a $25 Visa gift card are being offered as incentives for the first 100,000 residents to get vaccinated between now and the end of June.
The "Your Shot to Summer” campaign is the latest effort to get 70% of Minnesotans 16 or older vaccinated by July 1. The campaign mirrors those in other states that have offered beers, gift cards, even a shot at $1 million to those who get vaccinated.
“Summer is here, vaccines are working, and we are still going full steam ahead finding ways to keep our communities safe,” Gov. Tim Walz said in a statement announcing the incentive program.
“We’ve had great success in our state so far with more than 2.5 million Minnesotans fully vaccinated, and we want to build on that success and get the broad community protection needed for everyone to have the fun, safe summer they want,” Walz’s statement said.
To be eligible for an incentive residents 12 or older must get their first dose of vaccine between May 27 and June 30. To indicate which prize you prefer register at mn.gov/covid19/summer. For more information on where to get vaccinated visit vaccineconnector.mn.gov/ or call 833-431-2053.
Since the campaign began in December, Minnesota has administered more than 5.2 million doses of vaccine and 2.8 million have received at least one dose of vaccine.
Nearly 64% of residents 16 or older have gotten at least their first dose of vaccine.
The shots have proved highly effective. Minnesota’s breakthrough rate, which measures how many vaccinated people later test positive for COVID-19, has been below one-tenth of a percent.
Minnesota’s latest new cases drove the total number of infections to 600,408. The death toll is 7,403 with 4,424 fatalities in long-term care.