by Logan Gruber
A crowd of about 30 residents gathered for a “Meet and Greet” on Tuesday afternoon in the common room of the Russell Arms Apartments, at 315 Division St. in Sauk Rapids, a senior housing community owned and operated by Brutger Equities.
The “Meet and Greet,” organized by Russell Arms resident Kim Pettman and manager Eileen Tollefson, featured officials from both city and county government, including the following: Pete Eckhoff, director of public works for Sauk Rapids; Perry Beise, Sauk Rapids police chief; Tura Eye, Benton County income-maintenance-eligibility specialist; Ruth Roufs, Benton County social worker; Robert Cornelius, Benton County human services director; Spencer Buerkle, Benton County District 4 commissioner; Troy Heck, Benton County sheriff; and Stacy Morse, district director for Sixth District Congressman Tom Emmer.
“[Pettman] set the whole thing up,” Tollefson said. “The residents and I really appreciate her putting in the effort.”
Most of the audience were residents of the apartment building. The panel of city and county figures each introduced themselves and told what they do to the audience before fielding a few questions and concerns. Following the questions, the panel met with people on an individual basis to tackle more personal questions. Treats and drinks were supplied by the apartment management. The whole affair lasted about an hour.
A few residents were concerned about flickering streetlights and asked about it during the panel Q&A.
“Those can be reported on the city website, or you can call me at the city office,” Eckhoff said. “The lights are owned by Xcel Energy, but if you report them to us we will let Xcel know.”
“Lights can be affected by the changing temperatures, so officers drive around in the fall to see which lights are out,” Beise added.
One resident, during the panel Q&A, asked Beise if there was a curfew in town, referring to older residents being out at night.
“I think the curfew is cutoff at about 16 years old,” Beise said, amid some chuckles in the crowd.
Another resident, Todd Ledin, was concerned about the pedestrian crossing buttons not working. Ledin gets around in a motorized wheelchair. Eckhoff said he had recently had his crew replace a few pedestrian crossing buttons, but he would have them check into the ones mentioned.
Later, during the breakout conversations, Ledin told the Newsleader he had talked with Beise and Eckhoff about snow removal.
“It’s difficult to move around if there is snow or ice on the sidewalk or approach,” Ledin said. “A lot of the issue has to do with private businesses not keeping their section clean . . . I’ve been stuck in front of a business before.”
“I don’t want special treatment,” Ledin continued, “I just want to be accommodated . . . everybody would benefit from cleaner sidewalks.”
Ledin said the city would talk to some people about the issue, and said he believes they will follow through.
Resident Carol Erikson thought the whole event was well worth her time.
“We had some good speakers. I thought they all gave freely of themselves to the people here,” Erikson said.
“If we get invited, we’d certainly do it again,” Buerkle said, referring to the county participants.
Sheriff Heck said anytime he can get in front of people and answer questions, it’s a good thing.
“Not everyone understands all of the services available to them,” Cornelius said. “Anytime we get a chance to clarify services to the community, we will take it . . . we’re located in Foley and with this large population in Sauk Rapids, sometimes it’s ‘out of sight, out of mind.'”
Roufs said as a social worker she is part of panels like these occasionally and she thinks they are wonderful. The others present from the county hadn’t been part of a panel like this many times before.
Pettman thought of the idea of a “Meet and Greet” for the people at Russell Arms after being part of a job circle, wherein a person states what skills they have and what type of work they are looking for and other people in the circle offer connections or ideas on where to apply for work. At the event on Tuesday, people could come with problems and issues, and city and county officials could either help or at least point them in the right direction.
This is the first such panel Pettman has organized. She is currently starting a non-profit to help link people to resources in the community.
“People and churches and communities used to help each other a lot, but they stepped back in recent years . . . And government was left to provide support to people,” Pettman said. “Everybody has to step it up a little bit, to help each other out.”
Pettman moved to Sauk Rapids this summer but has lived in the area since 2013.
“I think Sauk Rapids is a great town,” she said.