Leader of Hawaii tourism agency ousted from job

HONOLULU (AP) — The Hawaii Tourism Authority board fired the agency’s president and CEO George Szigeti.

The board decided “to go in a new direction,” authority Chairman Rick Fried said.

“One of the major reasons that we are doing this is the difficulty in the current political climate and the difficulty in keeping our budget through the Senate,” Fried said. “There also was some concern from some of the stakeholders in the broader tourism industry — although some were fine with him — about his institutional knowledge of tourism.”

The agency’s board agreed to pay Szigeti six months of pay after he leaves the job on Oct. 31.

The severance payment was outlined in Szigeti’s contract, which was to run through 2020. His annual salary is nearly $300,000.

The decision was “mutual,” Szigeti told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser.

Visitors to the state increased by 7 percent to 804,135 people last month compared with the prior May, according to numbers released Thursday by the agency. Spending increased by 11 percent to $1.4 billion.

The state Legislature cut $13 million from the authority’s budget last month. Other authority executives have resigned in recent months, and Gov. David Ige withdrew his nomination to appoint Fried to the role.

The authority’s administrative committee intends to start talks this week on finding a new agency leader, Fried said. They plan to form a selection committee that will include board members and stakeholders.

Federal agency sues Hawaii health insurance provider

HONOLULU (AP) — A federal civil rights agency has filed a lawsuit against one of Hawaii’s largest health insurance providers, claiming it discriminated against a group of disabled workers.

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission claims the Hawaii Medical Service Association denied occasional leave for medical treatment to employees with disabilities without offering other options — violating the federal Americans with Disabilities Act.

The provider changed its policy in late 2013, forcing employees to work without the accommodations or to resign, according to the suit filed Thursday in federal court.

“HMSA complies fully with the Americans with Disabilities Act and its requirement for reasonable accommodation for employees covered by the ADA,” said Elisa Yadao, senior vice president for HMSA.

The provider did not have further comment as it has not yet been served the suit Thursday, Yadao said in the statement.

Marline Reyes, who worked as a customer relations representative in the provider’s Hilo call center, was previously given up to four days off per month for medical appointments. When the new policy went into effect in early 2014, it caused Reyes “immense stress and anxiety,” according to the suit.

Reyes “felt she could no longer attend all the required medical appointments without repercussions,” the suit said.

The lawsuit seeks back pay and other damages for Reyes and other workers named in the suit.

“Blanket employment policies that negatively affect a group of individuals can be discriminatory,” said Glory Gervacio Saure, the commission’s director at the Honolulu office. “Employers should routinely audit their policies and practices to make sure they are not unlawfully discriminating against their employees.”

Hawaii gets federal disaster assistance for individuals affected by April floods

HONOLULU (AP) — President Donald Trump’s administration has approved federal disaster assistance for individuals affected by flooding on two Hawaii islands in April.

People on Kauai and Oahu may apply for grants to cover damage to their homes, for disaster unemployment insurance and other benefits. The most a homeowner could receive for a destroyed home is $34,000.

The administration initially rejected Hawaii’s application for assistance but then approved it after the state appealed.

Gov. David Ige said Wednesday Hawaii revised its application after identifying more people affected.

People may apply for help by calling the Federal Emergency Management Agency, going online or visiting a disaster recovery center. Centers will be set up in Honolulu and on Kauai.

Married couple killed in hit-and-run in Eagan; man arrested

EAGAN, Minn. (AP) — A married couple out for an evening walk were struck and killed by a hit-and-run driver in Eagan.
Authorities say a 36-year-old man was arrested early Friday.
The crash happened Thursday night, near a strip mall. Authorities arrived to find the 74-year-old man and 57-year-old woman in the parking lot. Both were pronounced dead at a hospital.
Deputy Chief Roger New tells the Star Tribune the man and woman lived nearby and walked the mall daily.
Their names were not released.
Police say the suspect’s vehicle was found less than a mile away an hour later. The man was arrested in Apple Valley, about six miles away, several hours after the crash.
Information from: Star Tribune, http://www.startribune.com

Enbridge: On track to put new Line 3 into service next year

By STEVE KARNOWSKI, Associated Press
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Fresh off approval by Minnesota regulators, officials with Enbridge Energy said Friday they’re on track to finish construction and put the company’s disputed Line 3 replacement crude oil pipeline into service in the second half of next year, assuming all goes well for them.
The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission on Thursday determined the project is necessary and approved the Canadian company’s preferred route across northern Minnesota, with modifications and conditions that Enbridge considers minor.
In an interview with The Associated Press, Guy Jarvis, president of Enbridge’s Liquids Pipelines division, said the approval is “not the end of the process, it’s the ramping up of a lot of other work.”
Jarvis said that work includes securing at least 29 state, local and federal permits. That process and further proceedings before the Public Utilities Commission could take until October, he said. Once those hurdles are cleared, he said, the company could start work in November to get mobilized for “significant construction” to begin early in 2019.
Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton said those permit approvals “are by no means assured” and that state agencies will hold the company to “Minnesota’s highest standards” for protecting its environment, natural resources and cultural heritage.
“We know we have a high bar to meet in terms of these remaining permits,” Jarvis said.
Line 3 runs from Alberta across North Dakota and Minnesota to Enbridge’s terminal in Superior, Wisconsin. The replacement would use part of the same route in Minnesota before taking a more southerly path.
Enbridge convinced the commission that replacing the 1960s-era pipeline, which is increasingly prone to corrosion and cracking, is necessary for safety and to ensure reliable deliveries of sufficient crude oil to Midwest refineries. But Native American and environmental activists say the Canadian tar sands oil it will carry will accelerate climate change. They also say it risks spills in fragile areas, including waters where the Ojibwe harvest wild rice, which is central to their culture.
Jarvis acknowledged that emotions are running high on both sides, noting that many Minnesota residents support the project. He said the company plans to continue working with communities along the route to try to show them that the line will be a benefit, not a burden.
“We are willing to continue to engage people who have opposing views,” he said.
After the commission issues its formal written order in the next few weeks, opponents can then file their appeals with that agency and, if the commission stands by its decision, with the Minnesota Court of Appeals.
Opponents held a news conference Friday on the approved route where the pipeline would cross the Minnesota-Wisconsin border on its way to Superior, within sight of equipment they said Enbridge has already stockpiled in preparation for construction in Minnesota.
“We will stop this in the regulatory process, we will stop this in the legal process and we will stop this with our bodies,” Winona LaDuke, founder of Honor the Earth, said, according to video of the event. “This is Minnesota’s Standing Rock.”
LaDuke was referring to protests that drew thousands of people to the Standing Rock reservation in neighboring North Dakota in 2016 and 2017 to rally against the Dakota Access pipeline, resulting in sometimes violent skirmishes with law enforcement and more than 700 arrests.
“This is where it stops for us,” she said. “We’re not letting the pipeline get any further.”

Duluth resists taking back officer with history of force

By YOUSSEF RDDAD, Associated Press
Officials in the northeastern Minnesota city of Duluth said Friday they want to block a police officer with a history excessive force complaints from returning to his job after releasing body camera video showed him dragging a handcuffed man “like a dog” through the city skyway system last year.
Duluth Police Chief Mike Tusken said last year’s incident wasn’t the first time officer Adam Huot had been disciplined of excessive force. Video released Friday of the May 2017 incident shows Huot dragging a handcuffed man about 90 feet through a hallway, causing the man to hit his head on a steel door frame. Tusken and other city official said they plan to ask the courts to reverse an arbiter’s decision to reinstate Houle.
“The behavior in which you saw here does not represent the best of us,” Tusken said. “When you betray public trust we cannot in this day and age of law enforcement tolerate that behavior.”
The video begins with officers responding to two men laying in a stairway. It shows two officers handcuffing one man and leading him down a hallway where he falls to the ground before saying: “I ain’t going to make it easy for you guys.”
Huot grabbed the man’s arms, which were cuffed behind his back, and began dragging him through the hallway as a third officer — whose body camera captured the incident — instructed his trainee to help pick up the man.
According to the arbitration report, the man suspected of trespassing told investigators “they dragged me like a dog.”
The man, who is Native American, wasn’t seriously hurt, and he wasn’t charged for trespassing.
Huot, who’s been with the department since 2008, also was not charged, but he was fired after an investigation. An arbitrator ruled last week that Huot could return to his job, despite finding his use of force was unreasonable. Huot has prior excessive force complaints before, including a 2014 incident in which he punched a person in the head, resulting in a one-day suspension and progressive discipline.
The Duluth Police Union said in a statement Friday that Huot’s actions were inappropriate but didn’t justify his firing.
“Officer Huot has accepted responsibility for his actions and is eager to return to the Department,” the statement said, adding that Huot apologized to the man, his colleagues and Duluth citizens.
Duluth Mayor Emily Larson called the incident “completely unacceptable,” in statement Friday. “We will continue to do everything in our power to sustain this termination by pursuing all appropriate legal remedies,” she said.
Follow Youssef Rddad on Twitter at: http://www.twitter.com/youssefrddad

Plan to save algae-plagued lake draws contrasting opinions

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — A Minnesota Department of Natural Resources plan to save an algae-plagued lake near St. Cloud has drawn both optimism and opposition.
The agency plans to drop Little Rock Lake’s level by 3 feet (0.91 meters) over three days on Aug. 1, Minnesota Public Radio News reported.
The gates of the Sartell dam will be opened downstream on the Mississippi River. Volunteers will plant native plants in the hundreds of feet of mud beds that will be uncovered in the shallower parts of the lake once levels drop.
The plants will help the lake’s health because they keep the shoreline from eroding, said Eric Altena, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources’ fisheries manager in Little Falls.
Altena said he expects to see significant improvement to the lake’s water quality. He estimates that the lake’s transparency will increase by at least 50 percent.
Supporters of the drawdown said farmers in the watershed have made strides in controlling pollution.
But resident Bill Davison and others near the lake would’ve preferred a different option. Davison said river residents felt shutout of the drawdown decision. He said a better approach might have been to build a temporary coffer dam to pump water out of the lake, which would have kept the water level the same.
“There were better long-term solutions,” Davison said.
Resident Mike Nies said he’s also skeptical that the agency’s plan will make a lasting difference.
“It’s going to absorb the stuff that’s deposited there,” Nies said. “But it’s not going to do anything for the continuing runoff, the nitrates.”
The department will raise the water back to normal levels after six weeks.
Information from: Minnesota Public Radio News, http://www.mprnews.org

8, including state senator, arrested at immigration protest

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Eight protesters, including a Minnesota state senator, were arrested after demonstrating against a company they say is profiting off of migrant detention centers.
Minneapolis Democratic Sen. Patricia Torres Ray was among about 100 protesters who demonstrated in front of General Dynamics’ office in Bloomington on Friday.
The demonstrators say the company has ties to centers that hold migrant children separated from their families. The company says in a statement that it provides support services such as case coordination, and has no role in separating families or operating detention facilities.
Some of the protesters locked themselves in cages. Police say they ordered people to leave before making arrests for trespassing.
Torres Ray is among Democrats running to replace U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison, who is running for attorney general.

Another motorcycle maker considers moving output overseas

SPIRIT LAKE, Iowa (AP) — A Minnesota-based company said on Friday that it is considering moving production of some motorcycles out of the country because of European tariffs, just days after Harley-Davidson announced a similar move
A spokeswoman for Polaris Industries acknowledged that the company could move some production of its Indian Motorcycles from northwest Iowa to Poland.
“Nothing is definitive,” Polaris spokeswoman Jess Rogers said. “We’re looking at a range of mitigation plans.”
Harley-Davidson announced Monday that it was moving production of motorcycles sold in Europe from U.S. factories to facilities overseas because of retaliatory tariffs.
President Donald Trump had used the iconic American motorcycle maker as an example of a U.S. business harmed by trade barriers in other countries before imposing steep tariffs on European steel and aluminum. The European Union responded with measures that hit around $3.25 billion (€2.79 billion) worth of American-made products, including on American-made motorcycles.
Harley-Davidson said the new tariffs would add about $2,200 per average motorcycle exported from the U.S. to the EU.
Since its announced moved, Harley-Davidson has endured harsh criticism from the president, who has said in a tweet that any shift in production by the company “will be the beginning of the end.” He added: “The Aura will be gone and they will be taxed like never before!”
That criticism is no doubt on the minds of Polaris executives as they seek ways to mitigate the effects of the tariffs.
In its first quarter earnings released in April, Polaris projected around $15 million in additional costs in 2018. Rogers said the latest tariffs would raise costs further, declining to estimate by how much.
“But we’re definitely seeing an increase in costs,” she said.
Polaris employs around 650 people at its Iowa plant in Spirit Lake.
This story has been corrected to show that Polaris’ first quarter earnings were released in April, not earlier this month.

Minneapolis cops involved in shooting had prior awards

By AMY FORLITI, Associated Press
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — The two officers involved in the fatal shooting of a black man in Minneapolis both served in the military and have been recognized numerous times for their work as police officers, according to redacted personnel files released Friday by the Minneapolis Police Department.
Officers Ryan Kelly and Justin Schmidt are on paid administrative leave after Saturday’s shooting death of Thurman Blevins Jr., 31. Authorities said both officers fired their weapons after chasing Blevins into an alley. Investigators have said Kelly and Ryan were responding to at least one report of a man firing a handgun, and that a gun was recovered at the scene. But some witnesses said Blevins was carrying a bottle or a cup.
Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey previously said the body camera video would be released “in the near future.”
According to the personnel files released Friday, Schmidt joined the department in 2014 after serving in the Air Force from 2001 to 2013. He also worked at Gander Mountain, where he said on his resume that he managed the firing range and gave use-of-force training to civilians and law enforcement. Schmidt’s background also includes volunteer work as a tutor and mentor for Somali children at a south Minneapolis nonprofit.
Schmidt was selected as 5th Precinct Officer of the Month twice, and nominated several times. Schmidt also received the Chief’s Award of Merit in 2017 as part of the 2016 bicycle rapid response team.
Kelly joined the police department in 2013 after several law enforcement and security jobs. Kelly is also a certified paramedic and was an EMS instructor at Hennepin County Medical Center, according to his resume. His resume said he began serving as an Army National Guard combat medic in 2008.
While on the Minneapolis force, Kelly received two lifesaving awards and a Medal of Commendation for an incident in which he and other officers were able to subdue a man who was high on a hallucinogen and carrying a loaded gun. Kelly also has SWAT training, and received an Award of Merit for being part of a team of officers who tested and evaluated the department’s body cameras in 2015.
Data released earlier this week shows both officers also have complaints against them. Kelly had five complaints filed against him. All were closed without discipline.
Schmidt had three complaints filed against him, two were closed without discipline and one remains open. Details about the complaints were not available.
Minneapolis has been rocked by two high-profile fatal police shootings in recent years, including the November 2015 shooting of 24-year-old Jamar Clark and last July’s shooting of 40-year-old Justine Ruszczyk Damond. Officers in the Clark case were not charged, and trial is pending for the officer who shot Damond.
Information from: Star Tribune, http://www.startribune.com