Year was bookended by big leadership changes in Lakeville

Community also grieved significant losses together

Big changes in city leadership bracketed 2013 in Lakeville, starting with the new mayor taking helm after an election win that unseated two incumbents and ending the year with the city’s high-profile search and selection of a new police chief.

Lakeville's new chief of police, Jeffrey Long, will start in his new post on Jan. 20.
Lakeville’s new chief of police, Jeffrey Long, will start in his new post on Jan. 20.

Jeffrey R. Long, currently chief of the Edina Police Department, is set to start in the position Jan. 20.

Long was selected out of a group of three finalists that included Nathan R. Gove, commander with the Golden Valley Police Department; and Brian P. Peters, a commander with the Brooklyn Center Police Department.

City Administrator Steve Mielke credited Long for having the experience and successful management necessary to manage a suburban police department, and Mayor Matt Little cited Long’s experience and ability to build relationships within the police department and the community as factors that led to his selection for the position.

Chief Tom Vonhof retired Sept. 30 after 33 years with the Lakeville Police Department, serving as chief since 2006.

The city held a reception in Vonhof’s honor this fall, and Little said he was sad to see the chief go, calling him “an absolute expert” who has a mix of law enforcement experience, people skills, public presentation skills and leadership skills.

Little’s election win against former Mayor Mark Bellows and Council Member Laurie Rieb opened his seat as a Lakeville City Council member, which became council’s top priority to start the year.

To fill the opening, the council decided to follow precedent set by previous councils, electing to fill the open seat themselves instead of appointing the next-highest vote-getter, David Bares, to the position.

Citizens interested in the council seat applied and finalists were interviewed by the City Council.

After extensive consideration, then Planning Commission Member (former chair of that commission) Bart Davis was selected to fill the role.

Among the significant issues city officials tackled in 2013 was developing the city’s visioning plan, a document to define how the city should look by 2040 and drafted by the Envision Lakeville Task Force.

Economic sustainability and support of high-quality education were named as strategic priorities for developing Lakeville’s future, and City Council members will use the plan to make decisions and chart Lakeville’s future course.

Traffic and transportation were also a major concern by citizens and council members alike as residents rallied against parked railroad cars and wrangled with traffic tangles as I-35 work commenced and shut down lanes; the year also included debate centered on the planned roundabout at county roads 50 and 60 (185th Street).

City officials and Dakota County commissioners agreed to include in road work plans the widening of County Road 50 from 185th Street to Ipava Avenue, planned for 2017.

Traffic issues are expected to persist in the spring as the two-year roundabout construction project commences in the spring, causing some road closures.

Drivers will also experience additional traffic delays next year because the Minnesota Department of Transportation’s I-35 road repair work, expected to be completed last season, was extended into 2014.

To better predict where traffic backups will occur by closing the heavily used 50-60 intersection and devise options to reduce delays, Lakeville and Dakota County will fund a $15,000 to $20,000 study that may recommend adding traffic signals or additional turning lanes in certain areas of the city.

Lengthy delays at train crossings that caused outrage among residents may improve in 2014, since the city took steps this year to improve communication with Progressive Rail and give citizens advanced warning of planned train movements.

Recognizing the poor condition of some local roads, the Lakeville City Council also passed a 2014 budget that puts road projects on a fast track.

Lakeville, as a community, suffered multiple losses of prominent citizens in 2013.

Lifelong resident and businessman John Enggren died unexpectedly on May 4 from pneumonia that occurred after suffering a back injury in a fall.

Enggren, with his family members, operated a grocery store in downtown Lakeville and a clothing and dry goods store that later split into men’s and women’s stores.

He was lauded as one of the key businessmen who helped build the city’s economic development and establish its successful annual Pan-O-Prog celebration,

Officials also grieved the loss of former City Council Member Nancy Enright who died in January.

Enright, remembered for her kindness, served on the Lakeville Park and Recreation Committee and Planning Commission before being appointed to the council in 1981, where she served through 1989.

In office, Enright helped manage and plan city development in a time of unprecedented growth.

She was described by former Mayor Duane Zaun as “one of the most wonderful people ever to serve on the City Council.”

One of Lakeville’s most lauded police officers also died in 2013.

James Jensen was described as an old-fashioned patrolman who so impressed the community that the city’s first park, James Jensen Park, carries his name.

He started his law enforcement career in Lakeville in 1956 and stayed three decades, patrolling downtown on foot, regularly dropping by local businesses and getting to know the owners.

In a tragedy that is still reverberating throughout the community, Lakeville North High School junior Alyssa Ettl, 16, died Dec. 4 in a car crash while driving to school on a slush-covered Dodd Boulevard.

Ettl was active in school, her church and the community; she was described by church leaders, friends and teachers as a friendly, outstanding student with a strong faith who reached out to others.

Hundreds clung together in the bitter cold as her family placed a memorial along Dodd Boulevard on Dec. 7 near the accident site. Ettl’s visitation and funeral drew huge crowds, and the family was surrounded by an outpouring of care and sympathy from Ettl’s friends, coworkers, teachers and neighbors.

Alyssa Ettl
Alyssa Ettl

Many told Sun Thisweek they were inspired to follow Ettl’s example, re-examining their faith and vowing to carry on life as she would have lived it by helping others less fortunate. Ettl’s best friend Sammi Piekarski said Ettl changed the world.

“People are changing, rethinking things. Our community has become a lot stronger in this.”