News in the Neighborhood


Food Giveaway

A free food distribution event took place on Wednesday, Oct. 28, for Le Sueur County residents at the county fairgrounds in Le Center for those in need or newly struggling to make ends meet due to the COVID-19 crisis. A total of 700 families received boxes that included, but were not limited to, apples, potatoes, onions, cantaloupe, yogurt cups, mozzarella loaves, butter, sour cream, little smokies, chicken meatballs, liquid eggs, and a gallon of milk. The food boxes were distributed safely by the Le Sueur County Emergency Management and Public Health/SHIP through a drive-up model, starting at 4 p.m., with cars arriving and lining up at 1:30 p.m. No registration, paperwork, names, or addresses were necessary; only basic demographic information was asked. The Le Sueur Food Shelf will host another free food giveaway on Nov. 18 in Le Sueur for county residents.


A Deer in School

A deer broke into a kindergarten classroom at St. Wenceslaus School in New Prague on Thursday afternoon, Nov. 5. It was a teachers’ conference day, so no students or teachers were in the room when the deer broke through the window. High school students were raking leaves outside the building when they saw three deer come down an alley; one of the deer came toward the students and then broke through the window to the room. The deer was locked inside the classroom until a New Prague Police Officer could lead it out of the building where it ran free.


Ducking Loneliness

For 21 years, Beth Matthews has been unofficially known around her neighborhood, an apartment building off Harrison Street in Shakopee, as the “duck lady.” She owns two Pekin ducks - domestic ducks with white feathers and orange beaks and legs commonly recognized as the mascots in the Aflac commercials and Disney’s Donald Duck - named Bandy, age 6, and Honeybell, age 4.  “They’re my COVID companions,” Matthews said of her ducks. Though they’re domesticated, they still can’t roam Matthews’s apartment freely without old towels and blankets laid out on the floor to catch their droppings. Normally, they stay inside their large pen that spans across her living room, but occasionally, she’ll let them out of their pen to play in other areas of the apartment, so long as she has old blankets on the floor, and, of course, they bathe in her tub with their toy rubber duckies. Matthews said because of COVID-19, she hasn’t been able to safely thrift shop for old sheets, blankets and towels to use for bedding for the ducks. Because they use the bathroom on top of the linens, she typically throws them away after they’ve been used. “Instead of bringing old towels and sheets to Goodwill, if people want to donate towards ducky bedding, I’d be thrilled,” Matthews said.


Light Up Waconia

Since current gathering restrictions do not allow for the traditional community tree lighting ceremony, a committee of representatives from the Waconia Chamber of Commerce, City of Waconia, fire department, and other community members have come up with a plan to kick off the holiday season in a warm and spirited way, called Light Up Waconia. Late Friday afternoon, Nov. 27, the Waconia Fire Dept. will be escorting Santa Claus throughout the city. Families are encouraged to turn on their holiday lights that evening as Santa passes by. The idea is to light up Waconia and build the spirit of the season. Since Santa will not be able to go up and down every street, his route will be publicized along with the approximate time he will be visiting different neighborhoods so children and families can come out to see him at a safe social distance. Later that evening, Santa will be featured live on the Waconia Events Facebook page, where he will count down and light up Waconia’s City Square Park with new dazzling snowflake lights on display to help illuminate the park.


Santa’s Birds

A new season is upon us, and with winter comes a new set of birds. For a local author, these birds are more than just a symbol of the season. In her family, the birds were also friends of Santa, informing him of the good deeds of children before the holidays. In her book, “Santa’s Birds,” Cathleen Williams uses an old family story to both educate and inspire children around Carver County. The story of “Santa’s Birds” started more as a folk tale in Williams’s childhood home. As a way to discipline her children, Williams’s mother would point to the dark-eyed juncos outside and tell them the birds were assigned to keep an eye on them for Santa. If they did anything naughty, they would fly to Santa and tell him. When Williams decided to make the story into a children’s book, she contacted Lila Greenwood, a friend and watercolor artist, to create the illustrations and also used still photos of birds around Carver County so that children could identify the real-world birds they saw every day. All in all, juncos serve the purpose of Santa very well during this time since they show up at the start of winter and hang around until spring when they fly south again.


School District to Cut Millions

Shakopee voters said no to the $9 million operating levy referendum for the 2021-22 school year, according to unofficial results released early Nov. 4, showing 54% of voters cast their ballots against the proposed $9 million phased-in property tax levy, and 46% voted for it. In the case of a failed referendum, $5.4 million in cuts were approved by the Shakopee School Board earlier this year. The levy request came in the wake of a long-discussed $2.5 million budget deficit for the 2021-22 school year that, if left alone, would snowball until the district’s fund balance is $26 million in the hole by 2024. Since the levy has failed, cuts are needed to bridge the gap. That’s in addition to the $2 million in cuts the district will already make the next two years, which will include the SHS assistant principal, seven digital learning and instructional coaches, 10 paraprofessionals, and a reduction of spending on Learning, Teaching and Equity. The $5.4 million in cuts will include the elimination of 48 full-time-equivalent teaching positions, the fifth grade band, and middle school athletics, along with several more full-time-equivalent positions ranging from custodial staff to paraprofessionals to high school counselors. The decision is a huge disappointment to the district, which maintained that state education funding has not kept pace with inflation or mandates. Contributing factors to the failed levy include the financial stress among many families from the pandemic, the presidential election, and leftover distrust from the dilemma surrounding former Supt. Rod Thompson, who served prison time for embezzling tens of thousands of dollars from the district.


Voter Fraud?

Democrat Joe Biden’s wins in Midwestern states including Minnesota were fueled by huge turnout from urban counties — suspiciously huge, according to off-base musings from some supporters of President Donald Trump. The gist of the complaints: Total turnout in places such as Hennepin County was more than 90 percent of registered voters. Critics say those numbers seem implausibly high and imply that some sort of fraud is a more likely explanation. However, these critiques are off base for two reasons. First, they don’t provide any context. It can seem implausible that Hennepin County had 755,604 votes in 2020 — 90.4 percent of its 835,446 registered voters, but that’s not unique. Hennepin County’s turnout as a share of registered voters was 90.2 percent in 2016 and 92.1 percent in 2008. Nor is this something that happens only in DFL strongholds. Wright County gave Trump 61.9 percent of the vote this year; it had 82,405 votes, or 94.3 percent of its 87,361 registered voters. Sherburne County had 92 percent turnout and gave Trump 65.1 percent of the vote; Morrison County was Trump’s best county in the state at 75.8 percent, and it had 93.5 percent turnout. Second, dividing total votes by registered voters isn’t the best way to calculate voter turnout in Minnesota — because Minnesota, like some other states, allows voters to register to vote on Election Day. The registered voter figures are accurate as of 7 a.m. on Election Day but don’t count anyone who register later in the day, and these same-day registrations can be significant. Wright County, for example, had 87,361 voters registered at 7 a.m., but another 7,091 registered same day — an 8.1 percent increase. Same-day voter registration stats aren’t available for Hennepin County in 2020, but in 2016 it had 76,638 same-day registrations, a 10.1 percent increase. If you divide total votes by the number of voters who were registered at the end of Election Day, instead of the beginning, you get figures closer to 80 percent than 90 percent. A more accurate way to calculate voter turnout in a state with same-day registration doesn’t look at voter registration at all. Instead, it divides total voters by the count of the population that’s eligible to vote. For example, Minnesota as a state had 3,264,926 votes in the 2020 election. That’s 91 percent of the 3,589,751 voters who were registered at 7 a.m. But experts estimate that Minnesota has 3,876,752 million eligible voters, people who could have walked into the polls, registered and cast a ballot. As a percent of eligible voters, Minnesota’s turnout is currently 79.28 — a modern record, ahead of 78.77 percent in 2004. Minnesota’s voter turnout figures in 2020 were indeed very high — either best in the nation or just behind Maine. But this high voter turnout wasn’t implausible or indicative of mass fraud by one political party. Turnout was already high before 2020, in both Democratic and Republican counties, and it went up in both.

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