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Meeker County voters get an early start
  • Updated

Election Day might not be for another few weeks, but more than 40 percent of registered voters in Meeker County have already received a ballot.

Meeker County Auditor Barb Loch said Friday that her office has mailed nearly 5,000 ballots so far, and more requests for absentee ballots are likely in the coming days. The 2016 General Election saw 12,388 Meeker County residents vote, while the county had 13,727 registered voters as of Friday.

Through Friday morning, the nearly 800 completed ballots had been returned to the Auditor’s Office. Those ballots are stored in a secure location until after the polls close on Election Day, Tuesday, Nov. 3.

Some of the high percentage of mailed ballots is due to an increase in the number of precincts that have moved to vote-by-mail. Darwin and Ellsworth townships joined eight other municipalities and townships who were voting by mail in 2016. Minnesota law allows cities and townships with fewer than 400 registered voters, located outside the seven-county metro area, to conduct vote-by-mail.

The 10 Meeker County precincts with vote-by-mail account for more than 2,700 registered voters, whose ballots were mailed to them by the Auditor’s Office the last week of September.

Loch said there might be – in fact, likely are – more potential voters in those vote-by-mail precincts, who were not registered to vote in the past election. Those residents can still vote by mail, but must request a ballot by contacting the Auditor’s Office.

Joining those 2,700-plus vote-by-mail voters are nearly 2,100 absentee voters. That number also is likely to increase, Loch said, as voters can request absentee ballots up to the day before Election Day – although a request that late would best be made in person at the courthouse, Loch said.

Voters can also visit the main floor of the courthouse to vote early in person. A polling station has been set up just outside the Auditor’s Office where voter’s can register and request their ballot, just as they can on Election Day.

Following is additional information regarding voting and poll locations.

VOTING BY MAIL

Ten Meeker County entities vote entirely by mail for both the primary and General Election, including Cedar Mills City, Cedar Mills Township, Cosmos City, Cosmos Township, Danielson Township, Darwin Township, Ellsworth Township, Forest City Township, Harvey Township and Kingston City.

All registered voters in these precincts received ballots automatically mailed to their registered address. Voters can verify their registration status, and follow the progress of their ballot, at www.mnvotes.org.

Voters in these vote-by-mail precincts who need to receive their ballot at a temporary address must request an absentee ballot application through one of the following methods: online at www.mnvotes.org, by calling the Meeker County Auditor’s Office at 320-693-5212, or by mail or in-person at the Meeker County Auditor’s Office, 325 N. Sibley Ave., Litchfield.

DROPPING OFF A BALLOT?

Vote-by-mail and absentee voters can return their ballot by mailing it, but they also can deliver the ballot in person to the Auditor’s Office at the Meeker County Courthouse.

The voter can deliver the ballot themselves, or have it delivered by a “designated agent,” who is limited to delivering three ballots and must present identification at the time of ballot delivery.

Ballots must be delivered to the Auditor’s Office, where a secure ballot box is available. Regular business hours are 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Special extended hours for mail ballot voting, in-person drop off, voter assist terminal, or absentee voting for non-registered voters will be 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 31, and 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday, Nov. 2.

POLLING PLACES

Acton Township – Grove City Community Center, 210 Atlantic Ave. W, Grove City

Cedar Mills City – Mail Ballot

Cedar Mills Township – Mail Ballot

Collinwood Township – Collinwood Town Hall, 21904 746th Ave., Dassel

Cosmos City – Mail Ballot

Cosmos Township – Mail Ballot

Danielson Township – Mail Ballot

Darwin Township – Mail Ballot

Dassel Township – Dassel Hisotrical Building, 901 First St. N., Dassel

Ellsworth Township – Mail Ballot

Forest City Township – Mail Ballot

Forest Prairie Township – Watkins City Hall, 110 Central Ave. S., Watkins

Greenleaf Township – Beckville Church/Greenleaf Town Hall, 20521 600th Ave, Litchfield

Harvey Township – Mail Ballot

Kingston City – Mail Ballot

Kingston Township – Kingston Community Center, 30840 722nd Ave., Dassel

Litchfield Township – Litchfield Fire Hall, 227 N. Ramsey Ave., Litchfield

Manannah Township – Manannah Town Hall social hall, 57211 351st St., Grove City

Swede Grove Township – Grove City Community Center, 210 Atlantic Ave. W., Grove City

Union Grove Township – Union Grove Town Hall, 35975 515 Ave., Paynesville


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Facilities eye reopening this month
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More public buildings that have been closed since the onslaught of the coronavirus pandemic could be opening soon in Litchfield.

City Administrator David Cziok told the City Council at its Oct. 5 meeting that both the G.A.R. Hall staff and the racquetball group at Litchfield Golf Club have submitted COVID-19 preparedness plans to him. Both facilities plan to reopen before the end of October, he said.

Mayor Keith Johnson asked whether the racquetball group had consulted Litchfield Golf Club Inc., which manages the clubhouse where the racquetball courts are located.

“My responsibility (is) in reviewing COVID requirements,” Cziok said. “I assume they will talk to Golf Club Inc.”

As others plan to open, however, Cziok told the City Council that it should not be “surprised when the doors here at City Hall are locked” because staffing has been affected by COVID-19.

“We continue to see impacts citywide and at City Hall,” Cziok said, explaining that child care and other aspects of life affect city staff members. “We want to make sure we’re allowing staff the opportunity to go home and take care of their family as well.”

As he and the administrative team considers those impacts, Cziok said, they have begun to look across the city organization to see “who we can steal to help us here at City Hall.” But moving staff members from another department to assist during City Hall personnel shortages impacts those other departments too.

And as fall arrives, with the first snowfall not far away, the administration must also consider the impact COVID-19 might have on the city’s normally efficient and effective street maintenance.

“The snowplowing effort ... if we’re full staff, should be business as usual,” Cziok said. “In a scenario when members are home sick or taking care of family, when we start to see (COVID-19 infection) cases like we have in the county ... there is the potential the snowplowing routine will take longer than the public is used to.”

Cziok assured the City Council that when faced with personnel shortages and service delays, “our first responsibility (is) to communicated that to the council.”


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County Board gives EDA flexibility for CARES Act funding
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More than 40 businesses and 17 nonprofit organizations have applied for more than $1.3 million in grants through the CARES Act program being administered by Meeker County EDA.

But more could benefit from assistance if the county were to loosen its restrictions on the CARES funding, according to County Board member Mike Housman. So, on his suggestion, during its Oct. 6 meeting the board approved a motion to allow the EDA discretion in determining fund distribution.

“We’ve been trying to be very diligent, trying to make sure that the awards that were given were awards that were needed, not handing out candy to folks that don’t need candy,” Housman said. “But what we are recognizing is that a lot of these businesses that have applied, they aren’t really, because of PPE (personal protective equipment) and other things, they’re not experiencing a huge loss through the end of July, but there’s August and September and the rest of the year where they’re going to continue to suffer.”

The EDA, which is serving as the fiscal agent for distributing the funds, has received 43 business applications requesting about $1.1 million in grants. Almost $280,000 of that amount has already been distributed to 22 applicants, County Administrator Paul Virnig said.

Meanwhile, the 17 nonprofits have requested $238,600 in funding, with eight of those applicants receiving nearly $72,000 so far.

Meeker County and its various cities and townships has a CARES Act funding total of almost $3 million, and about $2.2 million has been allocated for various projects, from government, businesses and nonprofits.

In a memo, Lisa Graphenteen, an EDA consultant, told the board that restaurants, salons and other businesses will continue to be “negatively impacted by Executive Orders,” and so asked that the original deadline of July 31 impact be extended.

Housman said that the goal is not to put any businesses in a better position than they were before the pandemic and executive orders, but to “make them whole.”

County Administrator Paul Virnig said Housman “hit the nail on the head” with his assessment.

“The tough times are really coming for some of the businesses that haven’t been able to get back to normal business, if you will,” Virnig said. “We are going to be seeing a lot worse in the future months, some tough times for some businesses.”

In his request for greater flexibility in the county’s CARES Act guidelines, Housman said not every business model fits neatly into the criteria for grants. In some cases, he said, owners might not paying themselves a salary, so their small business’ profit-and-loss statement doesn’t look like they’re hurting, but they have not money for groceries at home.

The EDA will “not go crazy,” with its decision making, Housman said, “but look at some alternate periods for financials maybe kick it out to the end of August or September and factor into other things we know they are dealing with now or know that are coming.”

Commissioner Beth Oberg, who offered the motion to give the EDA great discretion in grant decisions, said she thought it appropriate.

“Use all the discretion you need to make sure the money goes where it’s needed,” Oberg said.


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Grove City man faces attempted murder charge
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A Grove City man made his first court appearance Thursday to face second-degree attempted murder and first-degree assault charges following the shooting of a Litchfield man Oct. 4 in what law enforcement officials describe as a revenge plan.

Carl Henry Leaf, 18, appeared before Judge Stephanie Beckman in Meeker County District Court, where he was ordered held on $1.5 million unconditional or $1 million conditional bail.

Three other people charged in connection with the shooting also made their first court appearances, including Elizabeth Anne Smith, 18, of Litchfield; Jaden Carl Anthony Kramp, 18, of Litchfield; and Nicole Radke, 45, of Grove City.

Meeker County Attorney Brandi Schiefelbein sought Leaf’s bail terms because of the forethought that went into the shooting and the resulting life-threatening injuries suffered by the victim, according to a report in the West Central Tribune.

The 34-year-old man Leaf is charged with shooting is in a coma after being shot in the neck.

According to the criminal complaint, Leaf confessed to law enforcement officers that he was uspet when he learned the man had sold methamphetamine to a friend, Elizabeth Anne Smith, 18, of Litchfield, who also is charged in the incident.

Smith allegedly told her boyfriend and Leaf that she smoked methamphetamine with the shooting victim a week earlier. She also said that Leaf talked with her boyfriend about “taking care” of the victim while another man, 18-year-old Jaden Carl Anthony Kramp, was present.

In a confession to police Leaf said he wanted to stop the man from selling drugs to his friends, and he and Smith planned to buy drugs from the man to lure him to a location where Leaf could beat him up.

They met in a storm shelter outside the victim’s residence for the drug deal, according to Leaf’s alleged confession. When Leaf tried to kick the man, the man grabbed Leaf, who responded by shooting him.

Video footage from a security camera at the man’s residence shows Leaf, Smith and the man entering the storm shelter, them Leaf opens the door and flees, followed by the man running out holding his neck.

The complaint also states that Leaf’s driver’s license and wallet were found by the storm shelter.

Following the shooting, Smith told law enforcement, Leaf went to a neighbor’s residence where Kramp was and said, “It’s done.”

During a search of Leaf’s vehicle on Oct. 5, officers found 125 grams of marijuana, a baseball bat with nails sticking out of it, a BB pistol and casings of two .40-caliber bullets.

Leaf allegedly told officers that he used a .38 special revolver, which was later recovered from the residence of Nicole Radke, 45, of Grove City, who has also been charged in the case.

Radke has been charged with two gross misdemeanor drug offenses for methamphetamine allegedly found in her home during an Oct. 4. She is being held on $30,000 unconditional and $10,000 conditional bail.

Law enforcement officers executed a search warrant Oct. 6 at Radke’s home, during which they found a Rock Island Armory Model 206 black .38-caliber revolver and a pair of jeans belonging to Leaf in a bedroom closet. The complaint says that the gun had three fired rounds and one unfired round.

Smith faces a felony first-degree assault, liability for crimes of another, and a gross misdemeanor for failure to render aid for her alleged part in the shooting. Her bail was set at $750,000 unconditional or $500,000 conditional.

Kramp, who allegedly drove Leaf to Radke’s Grove City residence after the shooting, faces a felony charge of aiding an offender to avoid arrest.