Golden Valley year in review: transit, time capsules and license tabs

There were so many speakers at the Nov. 28 informal public hearing on the Bottineau transit project that they were asked to line up and wait their turn. The comments lasted for nearly two and a half hours. (Photo by Joseph Palmersheim – Sun Newspapers)
There were so many speakers at the Nov. 28 informal public hearing on the Bottineau transit project that they were asked to line up and wait their turn. The comments lasted for nearly two and a half hours. (Photo by Joseph Palmersheim – Sun Newspapers)

The Golden Valley City Council refused to support a local transitway alternative June 19. When a revised version of the same item came back for another vote in December, the outcome was as different as the weather outside the council chambers.

The council approved a revised resolution of support for the Bottineau Transitway Locally Preferred Alternative with a 3-2 vote during its Dec. 18 meeting. The vote (with Council Members Paula Pentel and DeDe Scanlon voting “no”) came after more than a month of discussion and debate in the wake of Hennepin County and the Metropolitan Council asking Golden Valley Mayor Shep Harris to reconsider the resolution.

When a revised resolution came back nearly six months to the day after being voted down, Council Member Joanie Clausen changed her vote.

“Last summer I voted against this,” Clausen said. “The ballgame has changed. There are passionate people on both sides. From my standpoint, I represent both these sides, and I will be voting for this tonight so we can answer the questions and make an informed decision.”

The “Locally Preferred Alternative” is the D-1 alignment, which begins in Brooklyn Park and ends in downtown Minneapolis, crossing through Golden Valley along the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad corridor adjacent to the Mary Hills Nature Area and Theodore Wirth Park.

The Hennepin County Transit Improvement Board granted $2.4 million Dec. 19 for early preliminary engineering once the locally preferred alternative route and mode are adopted into the Met Council’s Transportation Policy Plan. The funds were part of nearly $30 million committed to transit projects across the region.

When asked Dec. 19 what happens next, City Planner Joe Hogeboom said the Met Council would vote on whether or not to endorse the D-1 alignment.

Here are some of the other big stories that happened in Golden Valley this year:

telephoneThe Hennepin County Board of Commissioners voted, 7-0, Dec. 11 to authorize public safety dispatch services for Golden Valley beginning in late 2014 after completion of a new dispatch center in Plymouth. The acceptance stems from an April 2012 letter requesting service. County Commissioner Linda Higgins, who represents Golden Valley, brought the request for service before the county board.

Golden Valley Mayor Shep Harris brought up the item for a brief discussion several hours after the vote during a city council-manager meeting Dec. 11. Harris described the vote as good news-bad news (with emphasis on the good news, he later clarified): good news that the vote was 7-0, bad news that much remains to be worked out in terms of what will happen when and for how much.

“The question used to be, ‘Will Golden Valley be part of the system?’” Harris said. “The answer today is ‘yes.’”

The vote for Golden Valley 911 services came on the same day that the county board unanimously approved a construction contract for the $21.6-million dispatch facility. Stahl Construction will build the new 59,000-square foot facility on the Adult Corrections campus in Plymouth. It will accommodate all of the Hennepin County Sheriff’s communication units and support countywide dispatch abilities when finished.

According to Golden Valley City Manager Tom Burt, moving to county dispatch could save the city $177,000 per year. That sum is levied each year as part of the police operating budget, and paid to Edina in addition to $36,000 in state 911 funds.

“When people call 911, they just want a car to show up and a police officer to save them … they don’t care where they are calling,” Burt said. “People really wouldn’t notice a difference. It’s like when we went from St. Louis Park to Edina – no one noticed a difference. The biggest thing is money. It’s purely financially-motivated in a tough economic time.”

Golden Valley’s 911 services were provided by St. Louis Park for nearly 16 years until 2010. The city was able to draft a three-year contract with Edina to cover dispatch when a request for Hennepin County dispatch services was denied that year. Under the three-year joint 911-dispatching contract, Golden Valley pays Edina $14,845 a month for services.

The 2010 denial was based on a 2004 county resolution offering dispatching services to 10 cities, which stated that “if any of the ten cities chose not to participate, that city will not have the opportunity to be served at no cost for at least eight years.”

• The Golden Valley Department of Motor Vehicles reopened Aug. 1, after being closed for a year.

The Golden Valley DMV office, located inside Golden Valley City Hall, officially reopened 16 months after being closed abruptly by city officials after the arrest of then-employee Courtney Allyn Olson. Olson, a 35-year-old Maple Grove resident, was charged with three felonies, including swindle and theft, and two gross misdemeanor counts of misconduct of a public officer or employee.

Her employment with the city of Golden Valley was terminated March 31, 2011.

The next day, April 1, 2011, the DMV where she had worked was closed and the remaining employees were let go.

“We had to make sure we did our due diligence to address the issues that led to the problem,” said Susan Virnig, the city’s finance director.

Once the problems were addressed, the city council agreed to make reopening the DMV its top priority, and with the help of several state legislators, including Sen. Ann Rest, Rep. Ryan Winkler, Sen. Ron Latz, Rep. Lyndon Carlson and Rep. Sandra Peterson, they were able to get the job done.

City officials met with representatives from Gov. Mark Dayton’s office on April 3, and a letter granting permission to reopen the DMV arrived at the Golden Valley City Hall just five hours after the meeting. A grand reopening party was held.

“Our legislators went to bat for us. It was a textbook case of going to the Capitol and working with Senate staff and legislators to get an important task done for the people,” said Golden Valley Mayor Shep Harris. “I’m happy to say I recently renewed my own tabs here, and it took just five minutes; not the one-to-two hours people say it can take at other DMV offices.”

Golden Valley’s Motor Vehicle Licensing Department first opened for business in 1986. Records show 75,000 licenses, title transfers and tab renewals are processed by the Golden Valley location a year, raising more than $20 million a year for the state. Of that amount, the city receives about $170,000.

gavel• A level three sex offender moved to Minneapolis in November after spending a quiet eight months in Golden Valley.

Clarence Joseph Opheim, 63, was released in March from a secure treatment facility in St. Peter, and relocated to Damascus Way, a halfway house at 5730 Olson Memorial Highway, at the intersection of highways 100 and 55 in Golden Valley. Level three offenders, deemed the highest risk for re-offending, require broad public notification prior to release.

Golden Valley police had no contact with and received no calls about Opheim when he lived in the city. Police Chief Stacy Carlson said she did not know why Opheim left, and said those decisions were made by those in charge of his treatment program.

A community notification meeting about Opheim’s release was conducted March 5 in the auditorium at Perpich Center for the Arts, 6125 Olson Memorial Highway. More than 260 residents and representatives of the media attended.

Opheim, who is required to register as a predatory offender for life, was the first sexual predator court-ordered to be provisionally released from the Minnesota Sex Offender Program in many years.

He has a record of sexual conduct and contact with both male and female victims who knew him, and convictions dating back to 1969. Court documents detail Opheim’s 29 victims ages 8-17 in approximately 100 instances of sexual misconduct. He used manipulation, bribery, threats, physical force and a knife to gain compliance from his victims.

Opheim was last admitted to the Department of Corrections in February 1988 and was released in August 1992. A three-judge panel ordered him to be provisionally discharged to a halfway house. The court order included 32 conditions of supervision Opheim was required to follow, including wearing a GPS ankle bracelet, no cell phone, no computer use, and was subject to random drug and alcohol testing.

Dr. Sheila Brandt, a psychiatrist with the state, said in March that Damascus Way was chosen for Opheim’s relocation because it had a record of safe reintegration, experience with high-risk offenders and a good relationship with the police department and the community.

Kelley Esser, who has been working with Opheim for two years, said in March that he spent 1,500 hours in the community in St. Peter, all under supervision and all without incident.

Mike Freiberg
Mike Freiberg

• Former Golden Valley City Council Member Mike Freiberg is moving on to the state legislature. Freiberg garnered 15,053 (65 percent) of the 22,824 votes cast in the District 45B race, compared to Republican challenger Reid Johnson’s total of 7,740 votes (34 percent). There were 31 write-in votes (0.34 percent).

“The main issue I ran on was education,” Freiberg said. “I’ve found it shocking that the legislature would borrow money from schools to fix budget problems. We’ve had good representatives from District 45, but the legislature as a whole hasn’t had the right priorities for the past few years.”

More than 1,756 residents registered to vote on Election Day, and 12,151 out of 15,931 eligible voters went to the ballot box. When 1,909 absentee votes are added, the overall Golden Valley voter participation rate ended up at 88.2 percent.

Freiberg resigned from the council during its Dec. 18 meeting, and will be sworn in to state office in January.

President Obama speaking in Golden Valley. (Photo by Chris Dillmann)
President Obama speaking in Golden Valley. (Photo by Chris Dillmann)

• From the moment he shouted “Hello, Golden Valley!” into the microphone, President Barack Obama had the rapt attention of 1,700 people June 1 at Honeywell’s Golden Valley plant.

The President’s one-day trip to Minneapolis included a stop at Honeywell because Obama wanted to tout a new partnership between the military and the manufacturing community that he said will make it easier for businesses to hire veterans “who have learned skills our country needs.”

“Honeywell is a great example of a company that’s doing outstanding work,” Obama said.

Honeywell has hired 900 voters over the past year, and has 65 veterans employed at the company’s Golden Valley plant, Obama said. He said many returning military heroes have advanced skills but find that they can’t get jobs because they lack proper certification.

“Think about the skills they’ve acquired and the leadership they’ve learned in unbelievably dangerous, life and death situations,” Obama said. “You can’t get that stuff from a classroom. It’s exactly the kind of leadership and responsibility every business in the country should be competing to attract, the kind of American every company should want to hire.”

Ryan Sullivan, a Twin Cities native and Navy veteran who has worked for Honeywell since February, introduced Obama to the audience. The 34-year-old said he found a passion for being an electrician while he was in the Navy. The training and experience he received while he was in the Navy qualified him for a job at Honeywell, he said.

Obama’s 25-minute speech was not open to the public but was attended by Minnesota’s Congressional delegation, area state legislators, Gov. Mark Dayton, Golden Valley’s mayor and City Council members and other dignitaries, as well as scores of veterans and Honeywell employees.

The Golden Valley Police Department tallied up $5,500 in overtime costs on June 1, the day President Barack Obama came to town to speak at Honeywell.

Police Chief Stacy Carlson said 26 Golden Valley officers, five Community Service Officers and two reserve officers were on duty that day.

In addition, 42 officers from Minnetonka, Brooklyn Center, New Hope, Crystal, Robbinsdale, Plymouth, Champlin, Edina, Maple Grove, the Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office and the Minnesota State Patrol helped with security in Golden Valley, Carlson said.