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Read about awards, recognition, projects, celebrations, staff changes, and other announcements about Minnesota cities.

Awards & Recognition

Rochester wins $1 million Global Mayors Challenge grant

The City of Rochester is one of 15 cities selected from more than 600 entries worldwide for a $1 million Bloomberg Philanthropies’ Global Mayors Challenge grant. The Mayors Challenge is a competition designed to spark innovative, replicable ideas for improving cities, and the lives of people living in them, by encouraging leaders to think outside the box about how to confront their most difficult challenges.

The 2021 Global Mayors Challenge focused on identifying and accelerating the most ambitious ideas developed by cities in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The 15 winners of this Challenge were awarded $1 million each to help implement their breakthrough ideas and, ultimately, to spread those ideas to other cities around the world.

Rochester, which was one of only three U.S. cities selected, won for its initiative to increase the number of women from the Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) community who hold jobs in the construction field. In Rochester, BIPOC women make up 13% of the population, yet fill less than 1% of available construction jobs. The city is engaging BIPOC women, employers, and labor associations to design pathways for BIPOC women to have increased participation in Rochester’s growing construction industry. The city and its partners are doing this by focusing on education, training, hiring, and work culture.

“Advancing the work in our proposal will allow us to address the marked disparities that exist for BIPOC women in Rochester,” says Mayor Kim Norton. “It will also help meet the needs of the construction and built environment industries that are vital to our growing community and in advancing the new federal infrastructure investment.”

St. Paul Receives NLC Grant to Promote Equitable Career Opportunities for Youth

The City of St. Paul has been selected by the National League of Cities (NLC) to join a new initiative called Youth Excel: Cities Advancing Equitable Youth Economic Recovery and Empowerment. St. Paul joins five other cities from across the nation receiving grants of $150,000, along with specialized assistance from NLC’s staff and other national experts, to advance the city’s efforts to expand STEM career pathways for young people.

“Early investments in our youth pave the way toward a brighter future for all of us,” said Mayor Melvin Carter. “This partnership with NLC will help us encourage and inspire the next generation of leaders in Saint Paul.”

Through this initiative, the City of St. Paul plans to develop partnerships and implement strategies that improve access to quality postsecondary education and career pathway opportunities that lead to higher wage jobs, focus on job quality improvement strategies, and integrate the critical perspectives and voices of youth and young adults. The initiative will focus on youth and young adults who face barriers in accessing these opportunities, including members of our community who identify as Black, Indigenous, or people of color (BIPOC), are low income, or are disconnected from school and/or the workforce with limited access to quality educational and career experiences.

This will be a collaborative effort with partners from throughout the region, including Minnesota Technology Association, Ramsey County Workforce Investment Board, Ramsey County Workforce Solutions, St. Paul Area Chamber, St. Paul College, St. Paul Public Schools, Sprockets, and Youthprise.

The NLC Youth Excel initiative runs from January 2022 through June 2023 and is supported by the Siemens Foundation.

MSFCA announces Fire Officers of the Year

The Minnesota State Fire Chiefs Association (MSFCA) recently presented two fire chiefs with 2021 Minnesota Officer of the Year Awards. The awards went to Joe Fitch of the Kasson Fire Department and Greg Peterson of the White Bear Lake Fire Department.

Fire Officer of the Year is awarded to an officer currently serving in the Minnesota fire service. Selection criteria emphasizes leadership, innovation, professional development, integrity, service to the public and contributions to the fire service as a whole.

Joe Fitch

Fire Chief Joe Fitch of the Kasson Fire Department is the winner of the 2021 Fire Officer of the Year–Population Under 10,000 Award. After working his way up from firefighter, to training officer, to captain, Fitch was appointed fire chief of the Kasson Fire Department in 2011.

Throughout his years in the fire service, Fitch has implemented several new programs and services for the Kasson Fire Department. Most recently, he has focused on the importance of the physical and mental health of his department. He provided a physical wellness program at the Kasson Fire Department by partnering with Olmsted Medical Center (OMC). Fitch also provided mental health education to the department by implementing the PAR360 program, which promotes the emotional well-being of first responders. In addition, Fitch joined the City of Kasson in creating a video series about mental health awareness for the community and beyond, impacting his department and community.

Greg Peterson

Fire Chief Greg Peterson of the White Bear Lake Fire Department is the winner of the 2021 Fire Officer of the Year — Population Over 10,000 Award. Peterson was appointed fire chief of the White Bear Lake Fire Department in September of 2017. Prior to this appointment, Peterson was a career firefighter at the City of Roseville for 20 years, reaching the rank of battalion chief. Since 1995, he has also been a leading instructor in the fire and EMS fields in the Twin Cities area.

Throughout his 27-year career, Peterson has responded to and commanded countless emergency scenes, including the 35W bridge collapse in 2007, where he led a crew of Roseville firefighters through the wreckage in a lifesaving recovery mission. More recently, he initiated the effort to assemble countywide response task forces for events surrounding civil unrest.

Since his appointment as the White Bear Lake Fire Chief, Peterson has thoughtfully navigated significant operational changes. For example, in 2018, he directed the Fire Department’s transition from a mostly part-time paid-on call model to a 24/7 staffed combination model. He has successfully implemented overdue change and, as a result, response time to all calls has decreased by at least half.

Public works association announces award winners

The Minnesota Chapter of the American Public Works Association recently announced winners of its annual awards. Award recipients were:

  • Jerry Johnson, Utility Operator, City of Chanhassen
  • Jason Staebell, Principal Professional Engineer, Hennepin County, City of Medina
  • Michael Thompson, Public Works Director, City of Plymouth
  • Chris Petree, Director of Operations (Rochester), WSB

These individuals were selected based on exemplary public service within their respective communities by a panel of their peers in a 2021 statewide call for nominations.

The first three individuals are the winning finalists in separate categories – Public Works Employee, Superintendent/Supervisor and Public Works Manager/Director. Chris Petree was awarded the Hugo G Erickson Award in recognition of his many years of outstanding service to the Minnesota Chapter of the American Public Works Association.

Beth Engum, senior project manager for Bolton & Menk, Inc. and president of the Minnesota Chapter of the American Public Works Association, noted that public works officials often perform their public service duties quietly and without public recognition. She congratulates these outstanding employees and notes that the nominees are highly deserving of the honor. In addition, she applauds the efforts of all public works employees throughout the state and welcomes the opportunity to publicly recognize those who serve so well.

In Memory

Peter Solinger passed away on March 2 at the age of 87. He was born in Richmond, Minnesota, to John and Eva (Lenarz) Solinger. He married Marilyn Buettner on Aug. 31, 1957. He served in the Army and was stationed at Ft. Lewis in Olympia, Washington.

They raised their family in Rochester, Minnesota, where Solinger owned The Rochester Visitor publishing company. He was very active in the community, including serving as City Council member for 20 years, a member of the Knights of Columbus, and Rochesterfest parade chairman. He served as president of the League of Minnesota Cities in 1991. Solinger enjoyed traveling throughout the United States and Europe. In retirement, he and his wife enjoyed spending winters in Florida. He could always be talked into a round of golf, a game of cards, or a fishing trip.

Survivors include his wife, Marilyn, and his children: Shereen, Jeff (Nancy), Doug (Amy), and Karen (Pete), as well as 16 grandchildren and seven great grandchildren.