Suzy Rook departs the Northfield News. No replacement announced

Northfield NewsThe Northfield News announced this week that Associate Editor Suzy Rook has been made regional managing editor of the St. Peter Herald, Le Center Leader, Le Sueur News-Herald and the Waseca County News. Her last day, according to this tweet, was yesterday.

The paper’s announcement made no mention of her replacement so I’m assuming this is a cost-cutting move.  Rook had acquired a great deal of institutional knowledge of Northfield in her years here, especially City Hall.  Despite my occasional criticisms, I think we’re going to miss her reporting.

Who will replace her as the beat reporter on Northfield City Hall? Managing editor Jerry Smith?

WTF! Northfield Planning commissioners behaving badly?

City-of-Northfield-MNNfld News reporter Suzy Rook posted an opinion piece on Thursday titled Northfield Planning commissioners behaving badly.

Two different sources tell me that two Planning Commission members are, well, behaving badly. One, it seems, took it on him or herself to remove signs they felt were illegally placed. Come to find out, the signs were completely legal and placed in the right-of-way by city workers… The second commissioner cranked things up a few dozens notches, apparently dislodging a bench cemented into a Division Street sidewalk and moving to another location down the street.

Members of the City of Northfield Planning Commission-Zoning Board of Appeals (PC-ZBA):

  • Thomas Bisel
  • James Herreid
  • Alice Thomas
  • Steve Rholl
  • Richard Schulte
  • Jay Jasnoch
  • Joey Robison

Um, anyone know what is going on?

Update May 25: I found the wandering bench.

Division St. bench

Props to the Northfield News for the Fire Relief Association ethics story

Northfield NewsSaturday’s Northfield News carried a front page story titled Concerns arise over Fire Department expenses; Northfield officials fear funding is going toward non-firefighting expenses.  (The headline used for the online version: Ethical questions arise over Northfield Fire Relief Association expenses.)

Griff Wigley with May 12, 2012 edition of Northfield NewsI’ve done four fire department/association-related blog posts since January (here, here, here, and here) as well as a three more on attorney David Hvistendahl (here, here, and here) who’s representing the fire and rescue squad associations. It’s a complex and constantly evolving issue.

So it’s really helpful to have a someone else, in this case, Northfield News reporter Suzy Rook, digging into the story, too.   And for the first time, the paper cited Locally Grown (twice) in a story:

Fire Department officials, including Fire Chief Gerry Franek, did not respond to several requests from the News for association financial records or comment. Assistant Fire Chief Tom Nelson at an April 24 City Council meeting said documents posted on the blog Locally Grown are 2010 and 2011 relief association check registers. But those registers don’t clearly state how and where monies were spent, and are likely a listing of transactions from several accounts compiled into a single document…

The association had a net revenue of $14,263 in 2011, according to a Gambling Control Board report to the Legislature. Of that, $4,110 was used for what’s termed lawful purpose expenditures. In 2010, its net receipts were $17,730. Of that, $8,354 was used for lawful expenditures. Figures provided to the state Gambling Control Board don’t match the association’s 2010 tax return, a document Assistant Fire Chief Tom Nelson says he provided Locally Grown. According to that document, the association lost $2,209 in 2010.

I appreciate that. Follow Suzy Rook on Twitter @rooksuzy.

Northfield News story on firefighters’ pension is misleading

Northfield Assistant Fire Chief Tom Nelson; Griff Wigley March 13 Nfld News:  Northfield’s firefighter wages, pensions among highest in state DSC08083 Northfield Assistant Fire Chief Tom Nelson; Griff Wigley
Northfield Assistant Fire Chief Tom Nelson stopped by my corner office at GBM yesterday. We mostly argued, hence the scowls in the left photo. (Feel free to sort through the 180+ comments to my blog post to find my criticisms of the Northfield Fire Department. More to come?)

But one thing we did agree on (hence the smiles in the right photo) was that the two versions of the Northfield News stories about the firefighters’ pension contained some misleading information. In the March 6 version, Northfield firefighters: paid or volunteers?, reporter Suzy Rook wrote:

According to a state auditor’s report for 2009, the city’s firefighters, who also serve the Northfield Rural Fire District, have $7,500 apiece placed in the fund annually;

In the sidebar:

$7,500 — Northfield’s annual pension contribution per firefighter

After the March 6 story appeared, Tom’s email to me and Suzy included this:

Northfield Fire Relief is presently at $7500/yr of service.  This is not to be confused with “The City pays each member $7500/year” as was stated in the Northfield News e-edition last week.  The impact on the annual budget is only the Municipal Contribution amount.  For this year, the impact is slightly more than $900/fire fighter.

Likewise, in the comment thread attached to the March 6 story, firefighter Aramis Wells argued with her about this issue.  But to no avail, as this week’s March 13 version, Northfield’s firefighter wages, pensions among highest in state, contained the same text and sidebar.

My take

Individual firefighter pension obligations DO NOT cost the City of Northfield/taxpayers $7,500/year, as the Northfield News’ stories indicate.

Rather, if they stay on the job for 20 years or more (and past the age of 50), the pension fund pays them $7,500 per year of service. Big difference.

The amount in the fund fluctuates with the stock market and so the City’s annual contribution to the fund fluctuates.  Back in 2008, the City contributed nearly $100,000 to the fund. In 2009 it was half that. This year, Tom says it’ll be about $29,000.

I think the City of Northfield and we citizens get a good deal with this arrangement because the pension encourages firefighters to stay on the job.  Lack of turnover is generally a good thing when it comes to firefighting and I think we’re better served by having so many firefighters with so many years of experience.

But we need not worry too much that the current turmoil with the City and the Northfield Fire Department will cause many firefighters to quit.  Fire Chief Gerry Franek’s attorney David Hvistendahl, Northfield Area Rural Fire District administrator Jerry Anderson and others are wrong to, um, fan these flames.

Why?

The firefighters get a good deal, too. If they stick with it for 20 years, they get a decent lump sum payout of $150,000. A few are going get twice that as they been on the job for nearly 40 years. Plus, they have an interesting and challenging part-time job in which they get to make a real difference in people’s lives, contribute measurably in the community’s quality of life, and earn our respect for doing so. Not many $21/hr part-time jobs offer all this.

I’m glad the Northfield News did the story because it has helped raise awareness of the issue.  But I think they owe it to the firefighters and to the citizens to run a correction.

What’s your reaction to the four new ‘Don’t Feed the Wildlife’ signs on the Sesqui Plaza?

'Don't Feed the Wildlife' signs on the Sesqui Plaza DSC07918
A month ago, I attended a Parks and Rec board meeting when the issue of geese droppings was discussed. I wrote:

There was also discussion about the pros and cons of an ordinance that would prohibit the feeding of ducks and geese, as that’s seen as a contributing factor to the problem on the Sesqui Plaza. In the meantime, the City will place some “Don’t feed the wildlife” signs there.

The signs are now up. Four of them. Some people aren’t happy. Nfld News’ Suzy Rook published an online column yesterday on the issue: Please don’t feed the animals:

Suzy RookA few people, I’ve heard, aren’t happy with the signs the city posted along the Cannon River asking downtown visitors not to feed the wildlife. But there are good reasons for the request, said city Streets and Parks Supervisor T.J. Heinricy…

While the signs, he said, are getting the point across, he’s gotten complaints from those who want to bring their children to the river to feed the ducks and geese. And while Heinricy understands how much fun it can be for a kids to interact with wildlife, he’s asking that we all do our part to keep Northfield tidy and safe: Don’t feed the animals. We’ll all be better off for it.

Northfield News’ use of Linden St photo for Plum St article implies that the trees have already been cut down. Not.

Print version of the story: Talk comes too late for trees Online version of the story: Talk comes too late for trees5-21-plum-street-trees

This weekend, the Northfield News used a photo of the trees cut down on N. Linden St. to illustrate its Talk comes too late for trees story about the N. Plum St. trees, despite the fact that the trees on N. Plum have not yet been cut down. The photo was used for both the print and online versions of the story.

It’s not an insignificant issue, as the residents of N. Plum St. are still pleading (at last Tuesday’s Council meeting and online, e.g. here and here) with city officials to halt plans to cut down the trees, evidently scheduled to begin on Monday.

Although the text of the article doesn’t mention whether or not the trees have already been cut down, the accompanying tag line of the photo in the print version reads:

The widening of Plum Street cost residents decades-old trees.

The past tense of the verb ‘cost’ indicates to the reader that the widening and the cutting have already been done.

The print version of the story has the photo byline "News photo by Suzanne Rook." The file name/URL of the photo is 5-21-plum-street-trees.jpg

The online version of the story indicates that it was submitted by Managing Editor Jerry Smith on Friday night at 10:30:

Submitted by Jerry Smith on Fri, 05/20/2011 – 22:30

Also, the information provided in this paragraph is puzzling:

City maps show 12 trees will be removed during construction. Two are ash trees, which are susceptible to emerald ash borer, an invasive species known to be in Ramsey County. Another 24 ash trees may also be removed, while the survival of 132 trees is construction dependent.

The Plum St. tree map on page 8 of the city’s slide presentation on the project shows at least 29 trees marked with an X which the legend says means ‘Remove.’ Page 9 says:

31 trees are currently noted for removal with 32’ street width;
6 Trees could potentially be left with 30’ street width

I’m not implying that the Northfield New has any hidden agenda on this issue. But it’s difficult to see how the use of the photo and the accompany tag line could be just a simple mistake or oversight.

Goliath vs. David: Northfield News bullies AOL’s Northfield Patch

David vs. GoliathI noticed last week that the Northfield News editorial, Your voice could help save the post office, didn’t mention the fact that Northfield Patch had launched an online petition a couple days earlier, Save the Northfield Post Office! Sign the Online Petition

No surprise there. The Northfield News won’t link to needy area non-profit organizations in their stories (see this week’s story on the Community Action Center’s Food Shelf as an example), let alone their media competitors or any area bloggers.

But yesterday the Northfield News behaved very badly by putting up their own Save the Northfield Post Office Online Petition, linking to it from their Facebook Wall, and using nearly the exact wording of Patch’s petition.  The minor wording changes:

Patch: We, as Northfield residents, stand strongly opposed to the consideration of the United States Postal Service (USPS) to close the downtown Northfield Post Office.

News: As Northfield residents, we stand strongly opposed to the consideration of the United States Postal Service (USPS) to close the downtown Northfield Post Office.

And:

Patch: The downtown post office has been at its current location since 1936 and has become as much a symbol of Northfield as anything else in our community. 

News: The downtown post office has sat majestically overlooking the Cannon River at its current location since 1936 and is considered a symbol of Northfield as much as anything else in our community.

Everything else is word-for-word the same.

Renee Huckle MittelstaedtI don’t know if this plagiarism but it’s a shitty thing for Northfield News Publisher/Editor Sam Gett, Managing Editor Jerry Smith, and Associate Editor Suzy (Suzanne) Rook to do.

It’s this type of bullying behavior that makes me root for Goliath (media giant AOL is the owner of Patch) against David (Michigan-based Huckle Media LLC is the owner of the Northfield News and 16 other hometown newspapers).

If you know know former Northfielder Renee Huckle Mittelstaedt, now president and co-owner of Huckle Media LLC, consider contacting her about this.  No, Huckle Media doesn’t have a website (aarrgghh!) but Renee can be reached via her LinkedIn account and her Facebook account.

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