The year 2019 presented itself with some highs and some lows for the area throughout the year. From successes to tragedies to controversies, here are the top two stories from each month.
Dangerous intersections to be redone
It was announced that two intersections within the county – one at Isanti and the other just outside Braham – would be redone by MnDOT in an attempt to make them safer. The one at the intersection of Highways 65 and 107 was completed in July, while the one at Highway 65 and Cajima Street has yet to start.
A familiar face joins the council
Former mayor Marlys Palmer was appointed to fill the Cambridge city council seat vacated when Jim Godfrey became mayor. Palmer was one of only two applicants for the position, the other being former council member Joe Morin.
Former businessman accused in cold-case murder
Following an unusual investigation that included obtaining DNA from a genetic website and a used napkin, former Isanti businessman Jerry Westrom was arrested for the murder of a woman back in 1993. Westrom is currently still awaiting trial in the case.
Gymnasts a perfect ten
The Bluejacket gymnastics team secured their tenth-straight section championship by defeating runner-up Anoka. A week later, senior MollyAnn Harvey became just the fourth Jacket to medal individually at state as she took fifth on bars.
Basketball teams successful
Not to be outdone, the Bluejacket girls basketball team surpassed all expectations and advanced to the Section 7AAAA championship game before falling to Forest Lake. A week later, the boys team was successful in claiming a section title and advanced to the state tournament.
County makes two controversial decisions
The month of March was a busy one for the Isanti County Commissioners. First, they voted to impose a one-half cent county-wide sales tax increase in order to fund road improvements. Next, they voted to increase the minimum purchasing age for all tobacco products from 18 to 21.
Changes in city of Isanti
In a string of actions that began with closed-door meetings in February and March, the Isanti council formally fired Police Chief Gene Hill. Previously, the council had suspended and demoted Hill based on an internal investigation stemming from his alleged inappropriate actions during a trial. The council would replace Hill with Travis Muyres in May.
Shortly after these actions, council member Ross Lorinser tendered his resignation from the council. He would be replaced by Jim Gordon in May.
Cambridge residents given a choice
In a change from a long-standing policy, the Cambridge city council approved allowing residents to choose between two garbage collection services. Beginning Jan. 1, 2020, residents could either contract with Waste Management or ACE.
Firefighter earns lifetime achievement award
Cambridge firefighter Son Duong was surprised at the Minnesota State Fire Department Association’s conference with the bestowing of the Lifetime Achievement Award.
In a surprising move, Cambridge-Isanti School District superintendent Dr. Ray Queener announced his resignation from his position to take another job outside the district, effective in August.
Jacket track and field shines
The Bluejacket track and field teams had an incredible season, with the girls team capturing the section team championship and the boys claiming the section runner-up trophy. The two teams combined to send the most athletes to the state meet in school history. At state, senior Char Morke culminated her stellar career by claiming the state pole vault championship.
Council rejects T21
Refusing to succumb to pressure from the county, along with the pleas of area health professionals, the Cambridge City Council voted 3-2 to not change the minimum purchasing age for tobacco products from 18 to 21. By doing so, the city created a “donut hole” within the county, which had approved the change in March.
Outhouse races reaches milestone
The Isanti Rodeo and Jubilee Days commenced with the 30th running of the famous Outhouse Races along Main Street.
Intersection redesign completed
The dangerous Highway 65/107 intersection’s redesign was completed, comprised of a “continuous green” concept that features a stoplight for traffic traveling north on Highway 65 and traffic making a left-hand turn off Highway 107 in order to go south on Highway 65. Traffic already traveling south on 65 is given a continuous green light.
New business raises eyebrows
The CBD Joint, a new business located in Isanti along Highway 65, opens amid controversy over the owner not contacting the city ahead of time and violating several city codes and ordinances, including the alleged selling of “adult” products. The business owner would sue the city regarding the legality of those ordinances; however, the two sides would reach a compromise before going to court.
District hires new superintendent
Following a brief search, the Cambridge-Isanti School Board approved the hiring on an interim basis Dr. Nate Rudolph as superintendent. Four months later, following another brief search, the board approved changing Rudolph’s status to that of permanent superintendent.
Former Mayor Palmer dies
Marlys Palmer, who was Cambridge’s first-ever female mayor, along with its longest-running mayor, died due to complications from a heart attack. At the time of her death, she was sitting as a member of the city council after being appointed to that position in January.
District tackles vaping problem
In response to the alarming increase in students getting caught using vaping products, the Cambridge-Isanti High School instituted a new program that gives offenders the choice of attending an anti-vaping class instead of being punished with a suspension.
Local teen featured for vaping-related health issues
The Star ran an extended feature regarding the rise in teens who vape. As part of that feature, 18-year-old Sebastian Swanson, along with his mother, told his story of being diagnosed with a baseball-sized lung lesion.
Boy’s birthday wish comes true
On a brighter note, 7-year-old Lincoln Fingal was featured for his birthday wish of riding to school in a squad car being granted. Cambridge Police Officer and School Resource Officer Jenni Caulk performed the honors for Lincoln.
Morin named to council
Out of a total of six applicants this time, the Cambridge City Council chose to appoint former council member Joe Morin to complete the one year remaining on Marlys Palmer’s term as a council member.
Students name new building
The Cambridge-Isanti School Board heeded the recommendations from Riverside Academy students in the naming of the new building that is under construction to house Riverside Academy, Moving Forward and Level IV special education classes. The board unanimously approved “Cambridge-Isanti Woodland Campus” as the name of the building, which is set to be completed this spring.
K9 officer retires
The Isanti County Commissioners held a retirement ceremony for Kojak, one of the county’s two K9 officers. Kojak will now spend his retirement as the family pet of officer Jonathan VenderVegt. At the same time, the county welcomed Kojak’s replacement, Maverick, who recently successfully completed his training.
County names new administrator
The county commissioners unanimously approved the hiring of Julia Lines as the new county administrator. Lines, who was the HR director for the Cambridge-Isanti School District, will take over her new position in early January.