Click here to read about the top story, the economy and its local effects.
Here are the other top local stories of 2011, as chosen by the Star News staff.
Judge handed Bell the maximum sentence
Judge Thomas D. Hayes described Cory Daniel Bell as a dangerous individual from whom society needed protection and proceeded to sentence him back in February to the longest possible consecutive sentences he could.
They total 345 months and didn’t begin until he finished his sentence in Stillwater for what he did to Keith Glenn and his Elk River family in 2009.
With good behavior, Bell will serve at least 230 months. The commissioner of corrections has the ability to tack on more time for bad behavior, Hayes noted.
A Sherburne County jury found Bell guilty of all four counts of Leah Emmans’ criminal prosecution, including two counts of criminal sexual conduct in the first degree, burglary in the first degree and assault with a dangerous weapon in the second degree.
The jury also agreed there were aggravating factors, including that his victim could not flee because she had a child in the home at the time of the assault and that she had been violated in multiple forms.
When Bell was asked by Hayes if he wanted to say anything, he said “No, your honor.” He sat stone still throughout most of the sentencing hearing.
His victim read a victim impact statement that brought the courtroom back to July 22, 2006 — the day before her assault and rape.
“It started out as such a beautiful weekend,” she told the courtroom.
She and her daughter had completed the invitations for her sixth birthday. They were both eager for the big party — her first to be held at a water park. This splendid day continued with a trip to the beach.
But when this woman put her head on her pillow that night and went to sleep, she had no idea her life would never be the same.
She awoke to Bell — a stranger — putting his hand over her mouth, being suffocated and threatened by him that he would kill her if she didn’t follow his instructions.
He proceeded to rape her, violating her in multiple ways — all while the victim’s daughter slept in a room next to hers.
The victim told the court one of her overriding fears was that her daughter would awake to find her mother dead in a pool of her own blood.
There were times that Bell reportedly put the knife down, but fearing the ramifications for her daughter she chose not to make a run for it.
She addressed the judge as directed and told him that Bell was not only a rapist but the murderer of whom “I once was.”
Elk River police may never have arrested Bell for the 2006 assault had Keith Glenn’s son, Christopher, not chased Bell down after the crime he committed against Keith Glenn in 2008. He was able to catch him and hold him in a headlock until police arrived.
The rape victim lived in fear for more than three years after her assault, not knowing where her assailant was or if he would ever be found.
He was charged with the crime on Dec. 21, 2009, after DNA, taken after the Glenn burglary and assault case was prosecuted, linked Bell to the 2006 crime.
Elk River’s old Target store sees rebirth
The area in and around Elk River’s old Target store underwent an extreme makeover in 2011.
The 90,000-square-foot store was completely remodeled and turned into a Jo-Ann Fabric and Craft, an Ashley Furniture HomeStore and a Furniture Mart.
The Elk River Target had opened in 1995 as one of the anchors of what was then the new Elk Park Center shopping center. It closed in October 2008, as a new SuperTarget opened in Otsego. Furniture Outlets USA purchased the building in 2009, running a furniture liquidation center out of the space until it was renovated.
Across the street, the former Movie Gallery building was renovated and turned into a Pizza Ranch restaurant.
Two area cities change top post
Elk River and Otsego both saw changes in their top staff positions in 2011.
Mike Robertson resigned as Otsego’s city administrator in March while Lori Johnson resigned as Elk River’s city administrator in June.
Johnson was then hired as Otsego’s city administrator in July.
Both Johnson and Robertson had been long-time city employees.
Robertson was Otsego’s first city administrator and served in that position for more than 12 years.
Johnson was initially hired in 1985 as Elk River’s first finance director. She was promoted to city administrator in 2005.
Cal Portner began working as Elk River’s city administrator in October. He had been the administrative services director for the city of Plymouth.
‘Powered by Nature’ is city’s new brand
The city of Elk River went through a branding process led by a Tennessee-based consultant in 2011. The final result: “Powered by Nature.” The new brand was unveiled in September.
The new brand promise is: For people who want to breathe the outdoors, yet want access to big city amenities, Elk River is an emerging small city where the Elk and Mississippi rivers flow together on the fringes of the Twin Cities and where the heart is powered by its nature so you are energized and inspired to make a difference.
Landfill suits settled; campground pending
The city of Elk River and the Elk River Landfill reached an agreement in 2011 to settle lawsuits over the expansion of the landfill.
The landfill had initially sued the city after the City Council denied the landfill’s request to expand in September 2009.
The agreement allowed the landfill to seek approval for a smaller expansion. As part of the deal, the city would collect millions in a fee to be paid by the landfill over the remainder of the its lifespan.
Meanwhile, litigation brought by Wapiti Park Campground against the city was still alive at year’s end.
Arts Alliance gallery forced to move
The Elk River Arts Alliance’s former home will soon be demolished.
The buildings are owned by the Housing and Redevelopment Authority (HRA), and the group was informed earlier this year they needed to be out by Nov. 6.
Concern about a potential roof collapse of 720 Main and its possible impact on adjacent buildings prompted the city to require the Arts Alliance to find another home. The Arts Alliance has moved into temporary quarters at 312 and 314 Jackson Ave. in downtown’s Jackson Place.
Meanwhile, the group continues to look for a permanent home.
Grand jury indicts two in shooting case
A Sherburne County grand jury issued an indictment Nov. 3, charging Matthew William Morse with assault in the first degree, assault in the second degree, possession of a controlled substance in the fifth degree, and possession of a pistol after a crime of violence conviction.
Sherburne County Attorney Kathleen Heaney convened the grand jury on Nov. 2 to inquire into a shooting that occurred at a private residence at 611 Fourth St. in Elk River on Sept. 27.
The grand jury also issued an indictment charging Michael Travis Bergquist with two counts of burglary in the first degree, felony assault in the fifth degree and trespass. Bergquist is the man who was shot.
In a statement of probable cause, police laid out a case for a drug deal gone bad when the victim allegedly entered the home and was shot in the abdomen.
In the course of investigating the matter, the Elk River police determined that numerous people lived at 611 Fourth St. including Morse, who turned himself in the morning after the Sept. 27 shooting.
The Boys of Fall sure were fun to watch
The boys of fall were something else in 2011. It was obvious from the opening weekend, when all three District 728 varsity football teams won, that the year would be special. The three teams went on to have their best combined year ever.
The Rogers Royals and Zimmerman Thunder were conference champions and the Elk River team finished as runner-up in their division.
Rogers managed to win a section title before falling in the playoffs to Rocori, an eventual state champion.