Year in Review: A look at the top BC stories from 2012

Editor’s note: As I complete my first year, minus two months, and a list of the top stories from that time I have learned there are many ongoing issues and trends in Brooklyn Center. Some of the stories that have had new twists and turns started before my time with coverage by Community Editor Jonathan Young. Shingle Creek Crossing, formerly Brookdale Mall, is a popular topic as is the search for a new leader in Brooklyn Center School District 286.

Then there are stories that are not expected, sometimes arising from a tragedy or after the Election Day results come in.

But, as I said in my introductory column last March, I know days as a journalist are never the same. I look forward to learning more about the background of Brooklyn Center and uncovering new trends and topics readers are interested about.  Contact me as the New Year is underway at [email protected] or 763-424-7381.

–Katy Zillmer

Brooklyn Center Police Commander Tim Gannon detailed the arrest of Bret Struck’s ex-girlfriend during a press conference held with the victim’s family and Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman. (Photo by Katy Zillmer – Sun Newspapers

1. Brooklyn Center man killed by ex-girlfriend

Approaching the one-year anniversary of Bret Struck’s murder, his ex-girlfriend was sentenced to 40 years in prison for the crime. Rochelle Inselman, 39 of Eden Valley, shot Struck multiple times in his Brooklyn Center home on Feb. 12, 2012.

The lengthy investigation, led by the Brooklyn Center Police Department, showed that Inselman had been obsessed with Struck since their relationship ended in 2004.

Inselman arrested in April 2012 and investigators learned she was in the area near Struck’s home four times before Feb. 12 last year.

Inselman said she was at home in Eden Valley using her computer on Feb. 12, but investigators did not find any evidence to support the claim.

“In my years of law enforcement, I haven’t seen this type of stalking behavior to progress for so many years,” said Brooklyn Center Police Commander Tim Gannon, who led the murder investigation.

Struck’s family and investigators said the former couple did not have any direct contact since they broke up in 2004.

But Inselman hacked into his Facebook account and sent defamatory messages to Struck’s friends and family, while also using his Social Security number to open credit cards.

They learned of restraining orders and incidents of domestic abuse by Inselman toward her ex-husband and his new girlfriend. At one point several members of Struck’s family received a fake letter appearing to be from Inselman’s sister stating that she took her own life because of a child custody issue.

Inselman said in court last month that she drove in her car to Struck’s home, with a loaded 9mm handgun, sometime after it was dark outside on Feb. 12.

Struck was shot after the former couple started to argue. Inselman told her attorney during questioning in court that she intended to kill Struck.

Inselman was originally indicted for first-degree murder in the case, but her attorney and Hennepin County prosecutors agreed to a second-degree murder charge if she pleaded guilty to the crime.

Struck’s family prepared to make victim impact statements after the indictment hearing last month.

His mother, Iola Mae Struck, said they wanted to put all of the negative memories in the past.

Bret Struck
Bret Struck

They honored Bret as a family man who would do anything to help his loved ones and coworkers.

Struck, who grew up in Richfield as the youngest of seven siblings, was an avid Minnesota Vikings fan and liked to camp, read and cook. He had a dog, Bing, and was proud to be a homeowner.

Assistant Hennepin County Attorney Therese Galatowitsch, who prosecuted Inselman, read one victim impact statement on behalf of Bret Struck’s family during Inselman’s sentencing hearing on Dec. 11, 2012.

“We expected Bret would outlive us all,” Galatowitsch read. “Instead of planning Bret’s wedding, we planned his memorial. It impacts our daily life, work and school. We will suffer every day for the rest of our lives because of one evil act.”

2. All eyes on Shingle Creek Crossing

Construction at Shingle Creek Crossing. (Photo by Katy Zillmer - Sun Newspapers)
Construction at Shingle Creek Crossing. (Photo by Katy Zillmer – Sun Newspapers)

It’s not just the visibility of Shingle Creek Crossing (the former Brookdale Mall) from Highway 100 that draws attention from residents and people on their commute.

Shingle Creek Crossing is located at Highway 100 and Bass Lake Road and currently features a Wal-Mart with plans for four multi-tenant buildings, three “junior box” stores, such as Office Max, and six restaurants.

Wal-Mart opened in September and construction of LA Fitness, T-Mobile store and multi-tenant buildings are underway.

Kohl’s and Sears remain on the site as well as the empty Brookdale Mall food court building, which will be redeveloped. The rest of Brookdale Mall was demolished in August 2011.

Gatlin Development Co. is the developer on the project.

Plans for the site also include opening up Shingle Creek and access to regional trail systems to and from the businesses.

Wal-Mart, the anchor property of Shingle Creek Crossing, is expected to draw in other tenants.

In March 2011, the City Council established a TIF District to include the Shingle Creek Crossing site and prompt development. The district allows Gatlin to collect Tax Increment Financing Dollars from the city to offset the project costs, if they meet certain requirements and deadlines. A TIF district allows a developer to use the revenue from increased property taxes created by the increased value of the site as it is built out.

3. Brooklyn Center election: No wards, one new council member

About 79 percent of registered voters in Brooklyn Center went to the polls on Election Day. New voter registration was 24.4 percent.

In addition to the presidential, Senate and House of Representative decisions, voters had a choice to elect two city council members and about the make-up of the government in Brooklyn Center.

Incumbent Lin Myszkowski will serve a four-year term starting this month and new member Kris Lawrence-Anderson was elected over Renita Whicker.

Kay Lasman, a 16-year member on the city council, did not pursue another term in the election this year.

Myszkowski, 52, has served on the city council since January 2012 after winning a special election to complete Tim Roche’s term.

Lawrence-Anderson, 49, earned 4,860 votes to defeat Whicker, who had 3,513 votes. Myszkowski had 5,871 votes to retain her seat on the council for the next four years. Whicker, 57, serves on the city’s charter commission and will continue in that role, she said.

A new chair of the city’s housing commission will be appointed to replace Lawrence-Anderson.

The new councilmember was the only change in the local government approved by Brooklyn Center voters.

The charter commission proposed an amendment on the ballot that, if approved, would divide Brooklyn Center into four wards with an at-large mayor.

The majority of the commission wanted the voters to be able to decide about having one councilmember to represent their neighborhood, instead of four.

Opponents of the amendment said Brooklyn Center’s population, 30,104 as of the 2010 census, is too small for a ward system.

Supporters said it is a challenge for candidates to campaign throughout the whole city and that a ward system would mean more accountability by elected officials to their constituents.

More than 8,000 people voted against the ward system charter amendment, while nearly 3,000 voters supported the change.

The charter commission reconvenes in Brooklyn Center with meetings this month and could discuss the amendment again.

4. Superintendent search continues in District 286

Brooklyn Center School District is conducting an intensive search for a new superintendent to replace Keith Lester. Lester announced his retirement last summer but agreed to continue as the district’s leader part time until a replacement is hired.

The school board set a timeline to hire someone as soon as possible, but needed to revise criteria for the position and consider that applicants working in a school district typically have a contract through June 30 of each year.

The board completed interviews in October 2012 and November 2012, but did not find a candidate who met the criteria.

The Minnesota School Boards Association is assisting Brooklyn Center with the search, which is focused on finding a new superintendent with experience in an urban school district and establishing partnerships in the community.

Now the deadline for applications is Feb. 15, 2013 and interviews will be held again in March.

Priorities for the new superintendent, according to the board, should be closing the achievement gap and helping the district with its five-year plan to remove its Statutory Operating Debt.

The board is also negotiating the salary range for a new superintendent that will draw in qualified candidates and is appropriate for their experience and skills.

Two years ago, Lester’s full-time salary was $145,000.

Lester also agreed to take a pay cut, making 65 percent of his salary, to help stabilize the district’s funding.

If the board selects a finalist for the superintendent position after the interviews and site visits in March, the contract would be finalized in April. The timeline lists July 1, 2013, as the start date for the new superintendent.

Lester is a 1965 graduate of Brooklyn Center High School and announced his retirement after serving for seven years as superintendent. He spent a majority of his career as a teacher, staff developer and superintendent in the Mora Public School District and two years as a high school principal in Ogilvie.

5. Shingle Creek Towers lawsuit settles

Shingle Creek Towers. (Photo by Katy Zillmer - Sun Newspapers)
Shingle Creek Towers. (Photo by Katy Zillmer – Sun Newspapers)

A year-and-a-half since the Shingle Creek Towers building was in foreclosure and at risk of no longer being affordable housing a lawsuit to prevent the changes settled and a new owner bought the property.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development foreclosed on the building and held a sale in April 2011 for a new owner to come forward.

Shingle Creek Towers is affordable housing, with 122 apartments, subsidized by HUD since it was built in the 1970s.

The lawsuit started in April 2011 after tenant rights organizations learned the high bidder, Emmanuel Ku from New York City, on the property in a foreclosure auction came with a reputation as landlord of properties with code violations. Representatives of the organizations, HOME Line and the Housing Preservation Project, met with the Shingle Creek residents about their options.

As a result, they filed a lawsuit against HUD claiming it violated federal law by selling the property as a foreclosure without ensuring rent limits and tenant rights afforded in the past.

The settlement includes an agreement reached between HUD and the plaintiff’s attorney, Jack Cann of the Housing Preservation Project. Eric Hauge, a tenant organizer with HOME Line, worked with five residents who were plaintiffs in the case.

The agreement from the lawsuit established rent limits and the protection of tenant rights under the new ownership of AEON, a Minneapolis-based non-profit housing organization.

HUD held another foreclosure sale in November 2011 and accepted AEON’s bid of $1.

AEON will keep at least 36 units in the building under rent restrictions and any that are currently occupied. Rent in vacant units at the time of the settlement may increase by small increments after tenant notification and approval by the State Housing Finance Agency.

Tenants are now able to enforce their contract and not be evicted without reason. The agreement reached through the lawsuit stays in place at the building even if it is sold to a new owner.

HOME Line and the Housing Preservation Project will continue to monitor the progress at the building now that the problems are settled.

As a result of the lawsuit, Cann also established in the agreement that there will be a meeting on the national level about the processes of HUD when one of its properties is in foreclosure, he said.

6. Child development center opens at Academy

A child development center to serve teen parents in Brooklyn Center working to finish their high-school education opened in December 2012 after years of planning.

Vangie Schill is the Baby Steps assistant director and program coordinator. Baby Steps is a partnership between the Northwest Teen Parent Connection in Hennepin County and Brooklyn Center Community Schools. The process to offer a childcare center and parent resources in the same building as the academy started, in part, because of the teen parent rate in the Brooklyn Center area.

The space for the center, in Brooklyn Center Academy, had to be redeveloped to remove mold and within the Community Education budget.

Part of the remodeling was completed with funding from the Otto Bremer Foundation in St. Paul, which supports community programs.

The district was able to purchase components of the Baby’s Space childcare model within the budget. Brooklyn Center’s model meets the needs of children up to age 4 as well as a parent education component for students at the academy.

In addition to childcare, Baby Steps is a hub of onsite services for parenting and pregnant teens such as support groups and mental, dental and health care.

Teen parents will also have access to helping their child with literacy development and education for their own life skills such as developing a résumé and searching for jobs.

In addition to their education in math and reading, the parents will be taught about relationships with their children and each other and preparing for when their kids start school, Schill said.

When the students at the Brooklyn Center Academy who are teen parents finish their education, they will still have connections in the school district to help in the future.

“We’re looking more for successful families, not successful teens,” said Director of Early Childhood and Community Education Michelle Trelstad.

7. Northwest Family Services Center opens

After about 15 years in the making the Northwest Family Service Center had a grand opening Oct. 25.

The center will serve as a one-stop shop for services in the northwest suburbs. Technically located in Brooklyn Center, it’s on Brooklyn Boulevard across the border from Brooklyn Park.

The center is a partnership among Hennepin County, the Osseo School District and the nonprofit Community Emergency Assistance Program (CEAP).

Altogether the building is close to 100,000 square feet. The county and school district each have about 40,000 square feet, and CEAP has about 20,000.

The school district’s portion of the building houses the Adult Education Center, which has operated at the location since 2005, when the first section was built. That section was designed to accommodate an addition, which was completed this year.

For CEAP, moving into the new building marked a return to Brooklyn Center, where it began in 1970. It also gave the organization three times the space of its previous location in northwestern Brooklyn Park, where it served Brooklyn Center, Brooklyn Park and east Champlin. CEAP opened its offices at the service center Sept. 17.

The county offices opened Oct. 1.

The Northwest Family Service Center is the first of six regional hubs planned by the county’s the Human Services and Public Health department as part of an effort to offer services at community-based sites throughout the county instead of only at sites in downtown Minneapolis.

8. School levies fail

Voters in the Osseo School District narrowly rejected two proposed levies on the ballot Nov. 6.

One of the levies was a 5-year operating levy that would have provided $9 million per year. The other was a 10-year technology levy that would have raised $5 million per year.

The operating levy received 33,792 “yes” votes, or 49.9 percent and 33,908 “no” votes, or 50.1 percent. That’s a difference of 116 votes.

The technology levy garnered 32,470 votes in favor, or 48.3 percent, and 34,757 votes against, or 51.7 percent. The difference was 2,287 votes.

“It’s heartbreakingly close,” Supt. Kate Maguire said. “… Certainly I’m disappointed, and I’m disappointed because I know what it means. We’ve been here before. And I know the good results we’re getting for students in our community. … It’s going to be difficult to sustain that progress with fewer and fewer (staff members).”

Without the levies, the school district originally expected to cut about $14 million from the budget over the next two years. That includes $2 million of reductions to “align staffing with enrollment” that were projected to occur regardless of the election’s outcome.

Since the November vote the budget picture has improved slightly due to recent changes in two financial projections, and the district now expects to cut about $11 million.

The December 2012 enrollment analysis, on which revenue projections are based, confirmed that the district’s enrollment decline is slowing and actual enrollment is higher than projected. This results in about $1 million more revenue over the next two years than previously estimated.

In addition, the fiscal year 2012 audit completed in November confirmed the success of “aggressive cost containment strategies” applied last year. Continuing similar strategies should reduce previously estimated expenditures by about $2 million over the next two years.

In December, the school board directed administration to prepare four levels of reduction to provide flexibility in decision making:

• Level 1 — $3.1 million for the 2013-14 school year.

• Levels 2 and 3 — $1 million each that may be taken in 2013-14 or 2014-15.

• Level 4 — $6.1 million for the 2014-15 school year.

9. Man killed in officer-involved shooting

A memorial for Dontaylo Wright. (Photo by Katy Zillmer - Sun Newspapers)
A memorial for Dontaylo Wright. (Photo by Katy Zillmer – Sun Newspapers)

A 20-year-old Brooklyn Center man, Dontaylo Wright, was shot and killed by a police officer May 31. At least one resident living near 53rd Avenue and Emerson Avenue North in Brooklyn Center called 911 shortly after 8:30 p.m. to report Wright was carrying a rifle while walking down the street.

Brooklyn Center Police Chief Kevin Benner issued a statement that as Officer Kou Moua confronted Wright he was forced to shoot him. Wright died at the scene of multiple gun shot wounds.

Moua was the first to respond to the report that Wright was carrying the rifle.

Many residents of the neighborhood were outside before the shooting on May 31. Wright was seen carrying a rifle outside of the apartment building where he reportedly lived and witnesses said they heard yelling and gunshots in the street that evening.

Moua is currently on paid administrative leave while the sheriff’s office investigates the incident. He is four-year employee of the Brooklyn Center Police Department. He started his police career as a member of the Brooklyn Center multi-cultural cadet program.

Friends and family of Wright said he was a student at Brooklyn Center Academy who would have graduated in June 2012.

Brooklyn Center High School held its commencement ceremony June 7 and his sister Octavia Wright accepted Dontaylo’s diploma on his behalf.

The Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office continues to investigate the shooting.

10. Changes at Surly Brewing Co.

Surly Brewing Co. is planning a $20 million, 60,000 square-foot destination brewery for potential completion in 2014. The plans were announced in the beginning of 2011.

In October 2012, owner Omar Ansari submitted a pre-application to the city of Minneapolis for $2.5 million in grants to help fund the cleanup of a site in the southeast portion of the city to potentially develop a new brewery.

Surly Brewing Co. has been eyeing two sites in Minneapolis; one in Brooklyn Center, where the brewery is currently based, and another undisclosed location to build a new brewery with a restaurant, beer garden and potentially an event center.

The southeast Minneapolis location, in the Prospect Park neighborhood at Malcom Avenue and 5th Street Southeast, is close to the Central Corridor Light Rail and in an area where a number of developments are approved for construction or already in the works, said Tom Hauschild with TEGRA Group, which Surly hired to help with the site search.

Grant funding is available from the state of Minnesota, the Department of Employment and Economic Development and Hennepin County.

Hauschild said beer could be brewing at a new site, with approval of the grant funding, next year.

Before the progress this year, Surly Brewing Co. needed a change in the state law to have the ability to build a brewery where their product could also be sold.

The legislature approved a bill last spring to allow cities to provide taproom licenses to brewers producing 250,000 barrels of beer or less annually.

In October 2011, the Brooklyn Center City Council approved an ordinance last year that would allow the city to issue a taproom license for a facility such as the one Surly plans to build.

Plans for the existing brewery in Brooklyn Center as the new project proceeds are, “to be determined,” Hauschild said.
Community Editor Jonathan Young contributed to this report.