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News from the week of May 17, 2006



Splash! Aquatic Center ready for first swimmers since summer of 2003

If all goes as expected, swimming will return to the Tracy Aquatic Center this week.

A training class for this year’s aquatic center staff is scheduled to begin Wednesday, May 17. The swimmers will be the first in the aquatic center since the facility closed in August of 2003.

The aquatic center is scheduled to re-open to the public Wednesday, May 31, at 2 p.m. The first early morning swim will begin Thursday, June 1, at 6:30 a.m., followed by a senior swim at 8 a.m..

Swimming lessons begin Monday, June 12. Starting dates for morning and evening water aerobics classes will be announced at a later date.

Season passes and swimming-lesson registrations can be purchased at the Tracy City Office until May 31. After that date, all pool business will be moved to the aquatic center.

The Tracy Aquatic Center, which opened in July of 2003, was closed throughout 2004 and 2005. A $1.2 million repair project that involved the installation of a new pool liner was recently completed.


Crossroads College honors Homer Dobson

By Seth Schmidt

Crossroads College in Rochester has honored a retired Tracy pastor.

College officials dedicated Homer Dobson Hall on May 5.

“Homer has been a longtime supporter of the college and our mission,” said Michael Benson, Crossroads College president. “Our board of trustees felt it was fitting to honor him in this way.” Benson said that Dobson’s support for the college goes back “many years.”

Pastor Dobson, who retired as the pastor at the Tracy Church of Christ in 2001, said he felt honored by the college, but added that he preferred to keep a low profile.

“It was against my wishes, but I guess they had already painted the sign,” he said.

Homer Dobson Hall is one of six, three-story duplexes recently completed at the Rochester college. Each unit contains two, six-person apartments. A new student center was also dedicated. North Star Modular Homes of Tracy and Marshall built the student housing, as well as a portion of the student center.

Crossroads College also recognized the General Benevolence Association of the Church of Christ in Minnesota. The association is listed with the name “Homer Dobson Hall.” Dobson serves as president of the General Benevolence Association, which was formed in 1957. The Benevolence Association built the Christian Manor Nursing Home in Tracy in 1966.

Money obtained from the sale of the Christian Manor in 1990, Dobson said, has been used for to help support benevolent work in the Tracy area, Church of Christ missions, and Crossroads College. “Upwards of $200,000” has been given to support Crossroads College, Dobson said.

Crossroads College also named buildings in honor of Earl Grice, longtime professor at the college; and David Hoff, a college supporter from Cottonwood.

• • •

Crossroads College (formerly Minnesota Bible College) is a four-year, co-educational Christian College in Rochester with about 130 full-time students. Founded in 1913 in Minneapolis, the college moved to its current location in 1971. According to the college’s web site, Crossroads College “serves Christ and His church through academic excellence in a Christ-centered education, by developing Christian leaders who impact the world for Christ, and by providing resources that strengthen churches and enrich the community.”

Pastor Homer and Betty Dobson came to Tracy in 1948. Pastor Dobson served the Tracy Church of Christ congregation for 53 years until his retirement. He continues to preach at the Church of Christ Church in Lamberton.

The Tracy minister was administrator of the Christian Manor for 24 years and served on the Tracy Ambulance Service for 21 years. The Tracy Chamber of Commerce honored Dobson with its “Outstanding Citizen” and “Boss of the Year” awards. He has served on the Tracy Airport Commission since the 1950s.

Dobson says he plans to celebrate his 80th birthday on May 27 by driving his 1931 Model A Ford to the Tracy Airport and take off in his 1946 model airplane.


Council okays pool legal payments

By Seth Schmidt

A divided Tracy City Council decided to drop questions about aquatic center litigation expenses Monday.

On a 5-2 vote, the council authorized a $10,776 payment to James E. Kerr & Associates. Council members Bill Chukuske, Russ Stobb, Tim Byrne, Charlie Snyder and Ferrazzano voted in favor of the payment, with Jan Arvizu and Sandi Rettmer dissenting.

The vote reversed an April 27 council action, when the council agreed to withhold paying the $10,776 until resolving 56 questions about Kerr legal services billings from August to December of 2005.

The council’s legal services committee questioned a portion of $27,770 worth of aquatic center related invoices from August through December of 2005. The $10,776 that the council voted to withhold represented the amount owed to Kerr for legal services in January, February, and March of this year. The council did not dispute the January through March billings, but withheld payment because of questions about the 2005 legal services invoices that had already been paid.

Kerr adamantly defended the 2005 billings with a written response to each of the committee’s questions. Kerr’s responses were given to city officials on May 5. The special May 15 meeting was called to discuss Kerr’s responses and the committee’s questions.

Prior to the start of the Monday meeting, a written statement compiled by Arvizu, City Administrator Audrey Koopman and two other city staff members responded to Kerr’s May 5 answers. The statement expressed agreement with the attorney on 21 of the 56 questions. Kerr told council members that he wished to verbally present his responses on all 56 points.

Kerr and the council had discussed less than a dozen of the points when, after an hour’s discussion, Chukuske asked: “What are we trying to accomplish?” Chukuske said that he felt it would be fruitless to continue with a point-by-by discussion of 56 questions, because in the end, the council would not be able to successfully contest the invoices. Chukuske said that if the city didn’t pay the $10,776 that had been withheld from January through March billings, the city would face the possibility of a lawsuit.

Stating that it was “best to move forward,” Chukuske offered the motion to pay the withheld legal services invoices. Chukuske’s motion passed on a 5-2 vote.


“Enormous’ legal expenses

Arvizu said that she had questioned the August through December litigation bills because of “the enormous” legal costs that the City of Tracy had incurred in its Aquatic Center-related litigation.

A May 3 report from Koopman listed the city’s aquatic center litigation expenses through March, 2006, as totaling $537,369. Off this amount, $215,044 had been paid to or been billed by James E. Kerr & Associates . Another $322,324 has been paid or billed by the Minneapolis firm law firm of Coleman Hull & van Vliet, which the city had hired for its aquatic center litigation. (The council also retained Kerr’s firm to serve as a “co-counsel” with Coleman on the litigation). The hourly fee for Coleman’s work has been $250 an hour. Legal services performed by John Markert, an attorney with Coleman’s firm, has been billed to the city at $155 an hour. The fee for Kerr & Associates legal services has been $125 an hour for work in office and $150 out of office. Effective Jan. 1, 2006, the Kerr hourly rates were increased to $135 an hour for in-office and $160 an hour for out-of-office service.

The city’s costs, Arvizu contends, have been driven up with two firms representing the city. At times, according to Arvizu, the two firms duplicated work. Arvizu also stated that she felt that the city’s legal costs were increased further when Kerr got involved in helping oversee pool repair construction.

Arvizu, in statements to the council, contended that Kerr had, without council direction, gotten involved construction management tasks that the city had hired two engineering firms to perform. She also questioned whether legal costs could have been decreased if Kerr had worked less out of his office and if it would have been more efficient to eliminate some “working lunches” that Kerr had billed the city for.

Kerr denied that the law firms duplicated efforts. All of his aquatic center work, he told council members, was related to preparing the city’s case for litigation, not overseeing construction. In both written and verbal statements to the council, Kerr said that his work with engineers was crucial to the city’s successful litigation, because the city had to prove that the aquatic center repairs were “justified and reasonable.” The Tracy attorney, who has done legal work for the city since 1973, said he saw it as part of his responsibilities to be the “local eyes and ears” for Coleman’s firm, his co-counsel in the case.

“I firmly believe in all these services to the City of Tracy, I have acted in the City’s best interests to the best of my ability. I take great pride in my work to date…” Kerr wrote to council members.


In retrospect…

Arvizu said Monday that the council must shoulder part of the responsibility for the differing views on Kerr’s role in the litigation and in working with the engineers. The council, dating back to when Coleman’s firm was hired for the litigation, she said had been “vague” in defining how the “co-counsel” legal responsibilities were to be carried out. City leaders, she indicated, hadn’t said anything initially about Kerr’s close working relationships with engineers Brian Pashina of Wiss Janey, Elstner Associates and Jody Dahms of Gremmer & Associates.

But Arvizu said that she and Chukuske had expressed concerns about rising litigation expenses at a closed April 2005 meeting.

Sandy Rettmer said that it seemed as if Kerr became the city’s contact person for the engineers during the aquatic center’s repair process, rather than the city administrator or the public works director.

Kerr cited the occasion when he was called about getting pool liner materials through customs in New York (the materials were imported from Italy) as an example of when legal expertise was needed for working with engineers and the pool repairs.

Public Works Director Rick Robinson said that he kept a daily log of pool construction activities. Both he and Pool Administrator Shorty Engel took photos of pool progress. Robinson also noted that he was called too the site on five occasions when suspicious objects were found on the construction site.


Legal cost reimbursements

The City of Tracy will recover part of its aquatic center litigation attorney fees through insurance coverage from the League of Minnesota Cities. The City will receive reimbursement for 20% of all aquatic center legal fees incurred from May 2, 2003, until March 24, 2005. After March 24, 2005, the City will receive 22.5% reimbursement for legal fees billed out of Coleman’s office.

In addition to attorney fees, the city has also incurred $323,076 in litigation-related “expert fees” and $18,661 in “miscellaneous” litigation costs.


$1.2 million settlement

The City of Tracy received just over $1.2 million in January to settle most of its aquatic center claims. Tracy is continuing to pursue $556,000 in damages, plus attorney fees, in a lawsuit against the United Fire and Casualty


The $1.8 million aquatic center opened in July of 2002, but has been closed since August of 2003. The City pursued the pool litigation after problems with the pool’s 2001-02 construction and design surfaced in 2003. An extensive $1.2 million repair of the aquatic center was completed recently and the pool is scheduled to re-open to the public on May 31.


Council drops Kerr from remaining litigation case

In an effort to limit future legal expenses, Tracy City Council members voted Monday to have only one law firm represent the city in its remaining aquatic center litigation case.

On a 4-3 vote, the council decided to have the Minneapolis law firm of Coleman Hull & van Vliet represent the city in its lawsuit against United Fire & Casualty. Until now, both Coleman’s firm and James Kerr & Associates of Tracy have represented the city.

Jan Arvizu, Bill Chukuske, Russ Stobb and Mayor Steve Ferrazzano voted for the motion. Charlie Snyder, Sandi Rettmer, and Tim Byrne voted “no.”

The city is seeking $556,000, plus reimbursement of attorney fees, from United Fire & Casualty. The company was an insurer for USAquatics, the business that designed the aquatic center and oversaw construction in 2001-02.

Arvizu, who introduced the motion to have only Coleman’s firm represent the city, said that she felt it would be more “efficient” to have the city represented by a single law firm.

The council vote took place after hearing a report from City Administrator Audrey Koopman, who had been instructed to talk to Coleman about his opinion on what Kerr’s departure would have on the United Fire & Casualty case.

Coleman, Koopman wrote in a memo, said that there would be “very little impact, if any” impact on the lawsuit if Kerr left the case. On the other hand, Koopman said, Coleman had said that he would hate to see Kerr’s departure from the case, that he had enjoyed a very good working relationship with Kerr, and that the Tracy had been a “crusader for the city’s case.”

Coleman, Koopman said, expressed confidence that Tracy would receive some type of settlement, and that he would like to see a mediation session arranged soon.

Kerr told council members that he would like to stay on the case, and said that he would be willing to continue to serve if Coleman requested his help and the council gave prior approval.


Strong month boosts hospital-clinic margin

Outpatient revenues dwarf inpatient billings

Operations at the Sioux Valley Tracy Medical Center are showing a positive bottom line.

Eleven months into its 2005-06 fiscal year, combined hospital and clinic operations are showing a year-to-date profit of $143,149. Adding non-operating income, hospital and clinic operations increase to show a $259,549 margin.

The margins are based upon total revenues of $7,661,494.

A busy month of March boosted the bottom line. A March financial report shows a margin of $133,151 on net operating revenues of $869,984. The March revenues exceeded projected revenues by 44%.

“March was extremely positive for us and a credit to all of our teams for their dedication to the customers to make these financials very good,” Chief Executive Officer Rick Nordahl, wrote in his April administrative report to hospital advisory board members. “We strive to be at or below market pricing and above expectations on the service level.”

Demand for outpatient services fueled the strong month. Outpatient revenues for March totaled $658,210, more than five times the inpatient revenues of $140,787.

The financial report shows that losses in medical clinic operations cut into profits in hospital operations. Year-to-date profits from hospital operations total $390,571, but operating losses at the clinic total $247,421.


English, math teachers hired

By Valerie Scherbart Quist

Two more teachers have been hired to round out the staff at Tracy Area High School next fall.

The District 417 school board approved last week a contract for Ryan Kruse to teach math at Tracy Area High School. Kruse was also approved as 9th grade football coach, and it was noted that he would likely be taking on other coaching assignments as well. Kruse will replace Teresa Timmerman.

Also hired was Lynn Carlson, who will teach English at the high school. Carlson is replacing David Sogge, who is retiring at the end of the school year.

High school Principal Chad Anderson told the board a good field of candidates was interviewed for both positions, but that it was felt these two would best fit the district’s needs. Interviews have also begun for the ESL position at the high school.

Anderson also presented the board with a final fall schedule. He was pleased with how the scheduling went with the new eight-period day.

“It came together well,” he said.

Anderson said all the offered electives have solid numbers in them. Some of the required courses now have four smaller sections instead of three. College, AP, and conceptual classes have all been added.


Graduation is scheduled for Sunday, May 28 at 2 p.m. at the Tracy Area High School football field. Five seniors will make a final vote the day of graduation to determine whether the ceremony will be held indoors or outdoors. Members of the junior class will help set up the morning of graduation.

Superintendent David Marlette told the board he believes they should re-examine the policy in recent years of allowing the classes to hold graduation outdoors. Principal Anderson agreed, noting that there are several risks involved. While there haven’t been any disasters to date, there is always the possibility that rain and wind could put a damper on the ceremony. It also makes set-up more difficult, because it cannot be done until the morning of graduation.

The board agreed that graduation will continue as planned this year, and they will decide at a later date about next year’s ceremony.

Testing complete

Principal Anderson and elementary Principal Scott Loeslie reported that Minnesota Comprehensive Assessments have been completed at both schools. Both reported on motivational tactics that were used, and felt the students had worked very hard.

Anderson said students in the high school were finishing their NWEA tests last week.

Kindergarten round-up

Principal Loeslie reported that kindergarten round-up was held, and that student numbers were expected to be up from this year’s kindergarten class. An estimated 38-42 students are expected to be in kindergarten in the fall.

In the past, Loeslie said, the class has been split into three sections when there were 45 students. He said a class could not be added until the numbers were firmer.

Math curriculum

Loeslie reported that a math curriculum had been chosen for the elementary from Houghton Mifflin. Total cost of the curriculum is $19,299, which does not include shipping. Loeslie said that while this curriculum still uses textbooks, he still hopes to work toward an online curriculum in the future.

Integration collaborative

Superintendent Marlette notified the board that integration director Jenny Xiong had resigned, and that the position would be advertised.

In June, the collaborative will be having a workshop for all seven schools on working with diverse students. Staff will be reimbursed through the collaborative for attending the workshop.

Title programs

The board approved the designation of Loeslie as Title Programs Director for the 2006-2007 school year. The board also approved that the Improving Quality Instruction Title II funds be designated for class size reduction in the 2006-2007 school year.

Spanish trip

The board approved the Spanish trip to Spain for March 21-April 4. Shorty Engel will once again be accompanying the students.

Wellness policy

The board held its first reading of the new wellness policy required by the Minnesota Department of Education. The policy will be approved at the board’s June meeting.

Certified staff rehired

The board approved rehiring and offering contracts to all present district certified staff for the 2007 fiscal year.

Shaw resigns

The board accepted, with thanks, the resignation of Kenny Shaw as district bus driver, effective June 1.