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5 things to know today: Romantix lawsuit, Backyard chickens, Resignation approved, Rail upgrade, Pop-up shop

A select rundown of stories found on InForum.

RomantixFile
Romantix is located at 417 Northern Pacific Ave. in downtown Fargo.
David Samson/The Forum
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1. Fargo seeks to update laws around adult establishments amidst Romantix lawsuit

In the midst of an ongoing legal battle between the city of Fargo and Romantix, an adult toy retailer, the city has decided to change their municipal code definitions and regulations around adult entertainment centers and adult establishments.

The motion on the table at the commission meeting on Monday, Dec. 12, was to make changes to the city’s laws around adult entertainment centers.

The motion passed in a 4-1 vote, with Commission John Strand providing the lone dissenting vote on the issue.

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The connection between the motion and the Romantix case prompted Strand’s objections. He also called into question the city’s timing on proposing such changes.

“People say it’s not connected, but of course it’s connected,” Strand said. “This lawsuit triggered these actions.”

Read more from The Forum's Melissa Van Der Stad

2. Moorhead residents may soon be able to own backyard chickens

One of Erin Mayer's chickens, Mrs. Clucker Nutter, in the backyard of Mayer's north Fargo home on Wednesday, Nov. 4, 2015. Rick Abbott / The Forum
One of Erin Mayer's chickens, Mrs. Clucker Nutter, in the backyard of Mayer's north Fargo home on Wednesday, Nov. 4, 2015. Rick Abbott / The Forum

It's currently against the law to house chickens within Moorhead city limits, but a new push by four city council members seeks to change that.

Council members Deb White, Steve Lindaas, Larry Seljevold and Heather Nesemeier on Monday, Dec. 12, put forward a motion to draft a first reading of an ordinance allowing Moorhead residents to own chickens in their backyard.

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Prior to the final vote, member Shelly Dahlquist proposed allowing the ownership of cayuga ducks, which is a breed of duck renowned for their quiet nature and winter hardiness. The amendment passed in a 6-2 vote, with Matt Gilbertson and Chuck Hendrickson voting no.

The final motion for a first reading of an ordinance for backyard chickens and cayuga ducks passed in a 6-2 vote, with Gilbertson and Hendrickson once again voting no.

If the ordinance ultimately passes, Moorhead residents will have the option to keep chickens and one breed of duck within city limits.

“I think it’s a complete waste of time, energy and money and resources,” Gilbertson said. Chickens within city limits will bring disease, pests and coyotes, he said.

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Read more from The Forum's Melissa Van Der Stad

3. West Fargo School Board approves resignation of Freedom Elementary principal

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The North Dakota Association of Elementary School Principals awarded Jeffry Johnson, principal of Freedom Elementary School in West Fargo, the Golden Apple Award at the organization's awards banquet held in Bismarck in 2016.
Special to The Forum.

The West Fargo School Board unanimously approved the resignation of Freedom Elementary School Principal Jeffry Johnson on Monday, Dec. 12.

Officials last week said two complaints were filed against Johnson and one was substantiated. The Forum requested a copy of Johnson's resignation letter and personnel file.

West Fargo District spokeswoman Heather Leas said the files will be made available as quickly as personal information can be reviewed and redacted, however Leas noted that such files are large since Johnson has been with the district since 2002.

While the reason behind Johnson's resignation was not given, and the board did not discuss what led up to the unusually timed departure, a parent did address the board.

Jessica Chomitzky, who's son is a special needs student, said she worked closely with Johnson to address her son's needs while he attended Freedom Elementary.

While she stressed that she was "not a friend" to Johnson, she did point out the likely stress put on Johnson prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Chomitzky said in 2020 two of Johnson's students died and a third was diagnosed with a terminal illness. These events were followed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Read more from The Forum's Wendy Reuer

4. Gov. Kristi Noem proposes $6.25M to upgrade floundering South Dakota railroad

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For years, the Sisseton-Milbank Railroad has been inching toward disrepair.

The rickety track averages about one derailment per year; in December 2021, two cars derailed and tipped 6 miles south of Sisseton, destroying the cars.

Unable to support the weight of modern railroad cars, the agricultural products loaded on this 37-mile corridor in northeastern South Dakota move at a snail’s pace of between 3 and 5 miles per hour: a one-way trip takes around eight hours.

“The business is not sustainable at that pace,” says Mark Wegner, the president of the Twin Cities & Western (TC&W) Railroad in Minnesota, which bought the Sisseton-Milbank Railroad just over a decade ago.

But help may be on the way. One footnote in the budget proposed by Gov. Kristi Noem is $6.25 million to fund the state’s share of replacing these 37 miles of track and upgrading the railroad to modern standards.

Assuming those dollars are matched with some $24 million in a grant funding request pending approval from the federal government, Wegner says a revitalization of the railroad would help stir economic development in a rural corner of the state that lags in indicators like personal income and population growth.

On the state side, the project would use one-time funds from the 2023 fiscal year surplus; if the Legislature approves this emergency spending, these dollars would be available as soon as a decision from the federal government arrives, which is expected during the spring or early summer of 2023.

Read more from Forum News Service's Jason Harward

5. Following success with viral TikTok video, local artist opens pop-up shop in downtown Fargo

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Hannah Stelter is the woman behind Designs with Hannah and Scribble Lady, a pop-up shop in Roberts Alley through the end of December.
Contributed / Morgan Schleif

Hannah Stelter was not always the confident artist she is today.

Like many creatives, she struggled with self-doubt and finding her voice as an artist. She recalls getting an easel and set of water colors for her 12th birthday that she never touched until enrolling at Minnesota State University Moorhead.

"For most of my life I didn't make a lot of art because it was really stressful," she says. "I didn't use it until college because I didn't feel like I was a real artist. I didn't feel like I could do that."

A number of experiences have helped build up her confidence, including a TikTok video of her drawing that went viral in 2020.

Since then she's gained nearly 800,000 followers on TikTok , plus an additional 60,000 on YouTube and 20,000 on Instagram . Art sales are strong on her website, itsdesignedbyhannah.com , and now she's ready to try a brick-and-mortar store. She recently opened Scribble Lady , an art supply and gift-based pop-up store at 214 Roberts Alley through the end of the year.

Read more from The Forum's Angie Wieck

Our newsroom occasionally reports stories under a byline of "staff." Often, the "staff" byline is used when rewriting basic news briefs that originate from official sources, such as a city press release about a road closure, and which require little or no reporting. At times, this byline is used when a news story includes numerous authors or when the story is formed by aggregating previously reported news from various sources. If outside sources are used, it is noted within the story.
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