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MINNESOTA NEWS ROUNDUP: Sen. Franken calls for VA Secretary's resignation

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WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Two Minnesota Democrats have added their voices to the cries for the resignation of the Secretary of the U.S. Veterans Administration, following an interim report that shows serious concerns at a V-A medical center in Phoenix.  Representative Tim Walz is the highest ranking enlisted soldier to ever serve in Congress, and says the findings in the VA Inspector General's interim report are inexcusable and unacceptable - and while he calls Secretary Eric Shinseki one of the most honorable and loyal men he has ever met, ultimately the buck stops with the Secretary and he believes it would be best if Shinseki stepped down.  U.S. Sen. Al Franken echoed that sentiment, saying that the report is so troubling that the Department of Veterans Affairs needs new leadership, because, "Clearly there is a systemic problem that this leadership has not been addressing."

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Target shareholders should get rid of seven of the retailer's 10 board members at next month's shareholders meeting, recommends a proxy advisor.  The Star Tribune reports Institutional Shareholder Services concludes those seven board members who sit on two key committees didn't protect Target against a massive data breach.  The report says risk assessment is part of their tasks.

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The former Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis vicar general believes Archbishop John Nienstedt needs to resign.  Reverend Peter Laird made the suggestion twice according to a deposition that was released yesterday.  Laird gave the deposition in May 2013 concerning the clergy sex abuse scandal in the Twin Cities.  He said his own resignation in October was to show victims and others that the church understands the scandal and that the leadership in the archdiocese is accountable for it.

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A Minneapolis seventh-grade teacher is expected to be charged soon for allegedly soliciting a minor for sex.  St. Paul police arrested 23-year-old Joel Fowler of St. Louis Park early Tuesday morning near Cherokee Heights Park, and announced his arrest yesterday.  The Minneapolis School District has put Fowler on leave following his arrest.  The teacher allegedly communicated with a St. Paul officer under the belief the cop was a minor.

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Thousands of Republican faithful from all over Minnesota are converging on Rochester for their party's state convention which opens tomorrow (Fri am).  Friday's main order of business will be choosing a candidate for U-S Senate.  There are four main contenders:  Jim Abeler, Chris Dahlberg, Mike McFadden and Julianne Ortman.  Ortman, a state senator from Chanhassen, led by a wide margin in a straw poll at February's precinct caucuses.  McFadden, a businessman, took second place in that poll.  Republicans choose their candidate for governor on Saturday. 

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 Two fires are burning in northern Minnesota in what has been a mostly uneventful quiet spring fire season  Jean Goad of the Minnesota Interagency Fire Center says one fire burned about 60 acres just south of Cass Lake, but has stopped growing and bulldozers have it contained.  Water-dropping aircraft and ground crews battled a 40-acre fire near Big Falls yesterday (Wed) but that fire is also controlled.  Crews also successfully put out a 22-acre fire near Ball Club Lake in Itasca County. 

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 Advocates for the homeless and low-income Minnesotans are celebrating the 100-million dollars in bonding money that state lawmakers approved for housing.  Leigh Rosenberg of the Minnesota Housing Partnership says some of those funds will provide supportive housing for the homeless...another piece will preserve good, affordable housing that the state currently has...and some of the money will help in communities that have been heavily impacted by foreclosures.  Bonding dollars will be awarded on a competitive basis by the Minnesota Housing Finance Agency.  Rosenberg says there's a tremendous need for affordable housing and this investment will make an impact for families who need homes.  

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Officials say a new law that creates stricter recycling standards for state agencies will increase recycling in the state.  North Mankato Representative Clark Johnson authored the bill, which he says started out as an attempt to update old language.  Metro area state agencies will need to hit a 75-percent recycling target, with a 60-percent goal in the rest of the state.  Also, for the first time, commercial buildings in the metropolitan area that generate more than four yards of waste a week would be required to offer recycling containers.

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A northern Minnesota teenager has been arrested and accused of setting a fire that burned more than 70 acres in Cass County yesterday (Wed).  Sheriff's investigators say as many as five homes were evacuated, but none of them burned and nobody was hurt.  The wild fire was considered contained at about 5 p.m.

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 Officials with the Canadian Pacific Railroad say it appears vandalism involving a section of rails near Eyota was done with the intention of causing a derailment. CP security officials notified the Olmsted County Sheriff's Department that a total of 17 spikes and connecting plates were missing from rails covering between 10 - 15 yards.  CP investigators say it does not appear the steel spikes and plates were taken for scrap purposes and they suspect they were removed in an effort to cause rail cars to come off the tracks.    CP says the vandalism occurred sometime between May 10 and Monday.

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 A 34-year-old Fresno, California woman has been charged in a Minneapolis federal courtroom with interfering with a Delta Airlines flight crew and assaulting a fellow passenger.  In February, Brandi Poulsen was traveling from Baltimore to Salt Lake City when prosecutors say she made threats against the lives of crew members, and assaulted one crew member and a passenger, causing the unscheduled landing of the plane at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport.  The maximum penalty for Interference with a Flight Crew is 20 years in prison.

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A 30-year-old Little Falls man pleaded guilty to federal charges of conspiring to distribute methamphetamine. James Benson admitted that he had been working with others to distribute meth, after a search of his home during a surveillance operation by the F-B-I uncovered about 60 grams of the drug in Benson's garage.  Because Benson was convicted in Meeker County of a separate felony drug offense in 2005, he faces a mandatory minimum sentence of 20 years in prison. His sentencing hearing has not yet been scheduled.

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The Twin Cities have lost the top spot as the fittest in the nation to Washington DC.  Still, Minneapolis/St. Paul came in at number two in the annual 2014 Annual Fitness Index, which shows the cities have good personal health behaviors, a low instance of chronic health problems, an abundance of recreational opportunities, and it's easy to walk nearly anywhere.  The one place the study cites a need for improvement is implementing a state requirement for physical education in schools.  The Twin Cities had held the number one spot for the previous three years.

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Minneapolis continues to have the best park system in the country according to the Trust for Public Land's third annual ParkScore index.  Minneapolis has earned a perfect "5-park bench" rating for two straight years thanks to strong scores in the three areas judged.  ParkScore ratings are based on park access, park size and services and investment.  New York City, Boston, Portland and San Francisco rounded out the top five.

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A Rochester man has been sentenced to 3 years in prison for a robbery case - involving a case of beer.  Police say 40-year-old William Schick walked into a restaurant through the back door last November, grabbed a case of beer, and walked back out.  When an employee who saw it happen confronted Schick in the parking lot prosecutors say the would-be thief pulled out a knife - and when the employee backed off Schick dropped the beer and ran. He was caught a short while later.  He recently pleaded guilty to a felony assault charge.  A more serious robbery charge was dropped as part of a plea deal.

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