Star Tribune, Sept. 22
Life after Ragnar will not be the same
The serious-minded readers of these pages and associated website may have mixed feelings about sports mascots. Indeed, with all of the complex issues facing us these days, who has time for such frivolity?
Well, we do — at least when the subject in question is our beloved Ragnar, the longtime Minnesota Vikings mascot who apparently has taken his last ride on his purple and gold chopper. The bearded Viking, known out of costume by the name Joe Juranitch, had served the team and its fans with aplomb since winning a tryout for the job in 1994. He could always be counted on to give his best effort, even when things weren't going well for his co-workers on the field.
Although details were sketchy, the Star Tribune's Michael Rand reported that Ragnar had asked for a raise from $1,500 a game to $20,000 per contest over the next 10 years. Even with all of the money sloshing around the National Football League these days, it's understandable that the Vikings were content to move along with Viktor, the cute but anonymous mascot who has shared the stage with Ragnar since 2007.
Although we have nothing against Viktor, Ragnar's throwback horned headgear and persona will be missed. He might not have been the face of the franchise, but he was one of its most endearing — and enduring — characters.
The Vikings plan to honor their newly retired mascot during a 2015 game. In the meantime, here's an enthusiastic "Skol, Ragnar!" for a job well done.
St. Cloud Times, Sept. 17
Pheasant action plan way too costly
Are efforts to revive the state's pheasant population worth millions of dollars in investment?
Gov. Mark Dayton seems to think it is a wise investment of state taxpayers' money.
We are skeptical.
Pheasants aren't on the endangered species list. Pheasant hunting is popular, but isn't a boon to the state economy like it is in South Dakota. A better pheasant population in Minnesota could keep more Minnesota hunters in the Gopher State rather than hunting South Dakota.
Recent Department of Natural Resources pheasant roadside counts have shown a 33 percent increase in the number of pheasants. But the 2015 pheasant index is 39 percent below the 10-year state average and 59 percent below the long-term average.
Using ideas from citizens suggested at a pheasant summit, Dayton recently outlined a proposal to help the pheasant population. The plan included:
— Enhance and protect habitat in areas at least 9 square miles large where at least 40 percent of the area can be permanently protected within four years.
— Increase the rate of enrollment and retention of private lands in short-term conservation programs and enrollment of permanent conservation easements.
— Accelerate acquisition of land to increase the amount of public land for hunting across the state's pheasant range.
— Improve roadside management to optimize pheasant habitat.
All of these ideas sound wonderful. However, no exact price tag was placed on the proposal, and acquiring land won't be cheap. Is this the best use of what could be tens of millions of dollars of public money?
Last session, the Legislature passed buffer legislation that establishes vegetation buffers along rivers, streams and ditches that will help filter out phosphorus, nitrogen and sediment. The DNR and private groups have applied for federal money and foundation grants for Walk-In areas and grassland habitat protection and management.
When lawmakers debated the increased buffer regulations, this board made the point that enforcement by counties is the most critical piece of that puzzle. If farmers plant fencepost to fencepost, these efforts will fail unless the rules are enforced.
There are three potential sources of funding for the pheasant plan. First, up to $40 million in capital bonding could be sought from the Legislature. Second, is Legacy Amendment money.
While the pheasant plan qualifies, is it the best use for possibly $100 million? What about money to restock walleye in Mille Lacs Lake? Wolf money? Buffalo money?
The pheasant "action plans" should be part of the state Agriculture Department's budget. Counties in the pheasant range should also contribute. The pheasant range includes 63 of 87 counties.
The Free Press of Mankato, Sept. 21
Urgency key to preventing worker injuries in St. Peter
Gov. Mark Dayton last week brought much needed attention and urgency to the problem of worker injuries at the Minnesota Security Hospital in St. Peter.
The governor convened a group of stakeholders and decision makers, including hospital union staff, lawmakers and administration executives in an effort to bring resolution to the problem of a growing number of worker injuries, mostly from assaults by patients.
Sen. Kathy Sheran, DFL-Mankato, and Rep. Tony Cornish, R-Good Thunder, attended the meeting and came away with the distinct impression the governor wanted the problem solved and was going to meet again in 60 to 90 days to see what progress has been made.
The problem seems clear: Workers are limited in the ways they are allowed to restrain violent patients who are aiming to injure staff.
The state drastically changed that protocol a few years ago in accordance with conditions of a lawsuit. Patients were only to be restrained after several people signed off on the action and all patients were treated the same, regardless of the reality that some are more violent than others.
That approach is clearly not working. Injuries to staff since that plan was implemented have skyrocketed. In 2014, there were 173 assaults at the facility. Through six months of this year, there were already 129, on pace for more than 250. The year before the new plan was implemented and when workers were able to use more restraints on patients, there were 78 assaults.
The protocol will apparently change under Dayton's direction. He demanded the situation be improved for workers and patients. That may involve having different approaches, depending on the nature of the patient and their propensity for violence. It may involve less restrictive "mobile restraints" that still restrain a violent patient in a way where they still have some mobility, but cannot violently wind up to kick or punch.
Union leader Tim Headlee said the plan may not be that difficult to implement if they focus on just the most violent 5 percent of the patients. Security staff, medical staff and legal staff were to meet to devise the strategy and the rules.
The state and security hospital staff need a policy that balances the risk of legal liability from violating the lawsuit settlement agreement and keeping workers safe. But worker safety should be paramount. Dayton has charged those involved to come up with a workable plan and he isn't accepting impasse as an answer.
All involved, including legislators who have oversight of some of the operations of Security Hospital and the policy that goes with that, should be motivated to come up with an answer to this serious problem.
Dayton provided the needed leadership. It's refreshing to see the chief executive officer of the state demand accountability.