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Cold temps: The worst is over

The worst is behind us.

For cold temperatures, that was the good news delivered Thursday by meteorologist Joe Calderone of the National Weather Service office in Chanhassen, Minn.

“We’re coming out of it now,” he said.

But area children may not agree that the worst is behind them. At least some school districts are looking at a makeup day or two because of the four days that were called off this week due to Monday’s snow and the frigid temperatures on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.

The Eau Claire school district, however, is not one of them.

The state Department of Public Instruction requires a set number of hours of instruction over the course of the school year, said Kim Koller, the Eau Claire school district’s executive director of administration.

“We have built in enough so that those four days won’t have to be made up,” she said. “We planned for a level of excess.”

But any more lost days because of the weather will have to be made up. April 22 is a professional development day for district staff with no classes scheduled. If there is another day lost because of snow or cold, it will be made up that day in Eau Claire, Koller said.

If there are two more days canceled because of weather, it is unclear when the second makeup day would occur, she said.

If it comes at the end of the school year, the last day of classes in Eau Claire is now Thursday, June 6.

Altoona students won’t be as lucky.

“We do have a makeup day,” Altoona’s interim superintendent Ron Walsh said.

Three canceled days are built into the school district’s calendar. But because Thursday was the fourth canceled day of the week and school year, the makeup day will be Monday, April 22, he said.

If a second makeup day is needed yet this year because of snow or cold, that will come on Monday, June 10, Walsh said.

The Chippewa Falls school district normally builds two days into its yearly calendar for canceled school days. That means two of the four days canceled this week won’t have to be made up, said Michelle Golden, the district’s director of human resources and public relations.

But it’s still unclear whether the other two days have to be made up, she said.

Gov. Tony Evers declared a state of emergency in Wisconsin this week because of the snowstorm on Monday and the frigid temperatures on Wednesday and Thursday.

The Chippewa Falls school district is trying to determine whether the state of emergency means the makeup days will be waived by the Department of Public Instruction, Golden said.

“Everybody wants to know,” she said.

But if the two days have to be made up, they will come at the end of the school year, which currently ends on June 6, Golden said.

“We keep our spring break open,” she said.

Regardless, Golden warns students that additional makeup days could be on the table because today is only Feb. 1.

“Most of our snow days usually come in late February and March,” she said.

The deep freeze endured this week by west-central Wisconsin residents was indeed historically nasty.

In Eau Claire, the mercury hit minus 30 degrees shortly before noon Wednesday, making it the coldest recorded temperature at the Chippewa Valley Regional Airport in 23 years, according to records from the Wisconsin State Climatology Office.

The office indicated Wednesday’s temperature was the lowest in Eau Claire since readings of minus 35 and minus 33 on Feb. 2 and 3, 1996. It was only the 12th day in the last 50 years the temperature has hit 30 or more below zero in Eau Claire.

Of course, it felt even colder, as the lowest recorded wind chill in Eau Claire this week was minus 54 at about 9 a.m. Wednesday, according to the National Weather Service.

Preliminary data from the Weather Service show the temperature in Eau Claire reached nearly the same level Thursday, dropping as low as minus 29 in the morning hours.

It was even more frigid Thursday morning in other regional communities, Calderone said, noting that temperatures plunged as low as minus 36 in River Falls, minus 35 in Menomonie and minus 34 in Augusta.

The agency also indicated Wednesday’s high of minus 15 was a record low maximum temperature for Jan. 30 in Eau Claire, breaking the mark of minus 14 set in 1899.

On the bright side, the big chill was expected to end, with temperatures finally rising into positive numbers today after about three days of subzero readings.

The Weather Service’s forecast as of late Thursday afternoon called for highs of 17 today, 37 on Saturday and 43 on Sunday.

Gordy's responds to lawsuit

CHIPPEWA FALLS — Gordy’s Market Inc. wants a $46.2 million lawsuit filed by food distributor Nash Finch dismissed, and if it is not, the grocery chain seeks a jury trial.

“Gordy’s Market Inc. demands judgment dismissing plaintiff Nash Finch Company’s complaint against Gordy’s Market Inc., for its costs and disbursements according to law, and for any such further relief the court may deem just and equitable,” the company said in a 10-page court document responding to the lawsuit.

In the written response filed Thursday, Gordy’s contends that Nash Finch has “failed to state claims upon which relief can be granted,” and they have “failed to mitigate its damages.”

In the Nash Finch lawsuit, the food distributor claims that Gordy’s owes $43.2 million in a rebateable incentive, a $1 million note, and $1.9 million in accounts receivable. In Gordy’s response letter, it states “GMI lacks knowledge or information sufficient to form a belief as to the truth of the allegations ... and therefore neither admits nor denies them.”

In the Nash Finch lawsuit, the food distributor claims that Gordy’s is on the verge of insolvency. Gordy’s did not address that issue in its response.

Gordy’s is represented by Milwaukee-based attorney Timothy Hansen. Milwaukee attorney Michael Polsky, who was appointed as receiver, has not “provided any direction” to Hansen on how to proceed forward, the response states.

“GMI files this responsive pleading to avoid the risk of default judgment entered against GMI if it fails to respond within the deadline prescribed by statute,” the response reads.

Polsky has set a deadline of April 24 for any creditors of Gordy’s to enter claims with the court if they seek to participate in any dividends.

William Jacobs, Nash Finch vice president of treasury and corporate development, submitted an affidavit along with the lawsuit, writing that Gordy’s is in default under the terms of the “customer supply agreement” from November 2017.

“GMI is unable to pay plaintiff timely since late August 2018,” Jacobs wrote. “GMI’s delinquent balance with plaintiff has grown considerably in the last few weeks.”

A review of Gordy’s finances indicates the company “has no excess cash to get caught up on its delinquent balance,” Jacobs wrote.

The lawsuit states that Gordy’s promised to pay the principal sum of $1 million, together with interest on the principal balance. As collateral, GMI included “equipment, fixtures, inventory, investment property” and included liquor, wine and beer licenses, the lawsuit states. Gordy’s assumed leases of six stores from Nash Finch, with collateral assigned to each of the six locations.

“As a result of these defaults, (Nash Finch) accelerated the maturity of the note so that all amounts there under were immediately due and payable as of Dec. 27, 2018,” the lawsuit states.

No future court dates have been set. The case is being handled by Judge James Isaacson, who oversaw the last lawsuit filed against Gordy’s.

In August 2017, Nash Finch filed an $86 million lawsuit against the grocery chain. By Dec. 7, 2017, 1,400 separate creditors filed proof of claims totaling an additional $50.7 million and Settlers Bank filed a claim of $5 million.

By the end of the year, 20 of the 26 Gordy’s Market locations had either been sold or closed, leaving just six in the company’s portfolio: Chippewa Falls downtown, Chippewa Falls on Lake Wissota, Cornell, Ladysmith, Chetek and Barron. The Eau Claire store was later added.

Jeff Schafer, who returned to the company in March 2017 after a half-year sabbatical, is now leading the new, smaller team. Joining him are his brother, Dan Schafer, as head of finances, and Jeff’s son, Nick, as head of merchandising.

The Schafers acquired the six stores in December 2017 through an auction and working out an agreement with SpartanNash, the new corporate name of Nash Finch.

SpartanNash was the highest bidder, buying the six stores at the auction for $19.8 million. The food distributor then agreed to assign its interest in the purchase to Gordy’s. This agreement allows the Schafers to retain ownership of the six stores and keep 340 employees on the payroll.

Some of the other 20 stores, like in Stanley, were never sold. Others, like Chippewa Falls south and Rice Lake, remain shuttered and aren’t reopening as grocery stores.

Clerk of court denies grievance over firing

CHIPPEWA FALLS — Chippewa County clerk of court Karen Hepfler has rejected a grievance claim by former employee Nate Liedl, who was fired Jan. 10.

Liedl, 37, worked in the clerk of courts office for nearly six years. He ran against Hepfler for the clerk of courts position in the November election. He submitted a grievance letter to the county a week his firing, contending he was dismissed because he ran against his boss in the election.

Hepfler sent a letter to Liedl this week, denying the claim. She doesn’t address Liedl’s allegation of why he was dismissed.

“I have reviewed the grievance,” Hepfler wrote in the one-page letter. “Pursuant to the grievance policy, the grievance is hereby denied.”

Liedl said he is still considering filing a wrongful termination lawsuit against the county. He said he will be contacting human resources director Toni Hohlsfelder to request a hearing to appeal the termination.

The county’s attorney, Jim Sherman, said Thursday that the county cannot comment on any ongoing grievance issues.

Liedl said he sent the grievance letter to the County Board chairman and vice-chair, and neither has responded to him.

Hepfler, 55, has served as clerk of court since 2001. Along with dismissing Liedl, Hepfler also recently fired two other workers in her office, including a woman who actively campaigned for Liedl on social media and at parades throughout last summer.

Liedl said he decided last spring to run for the elected position to lead the office, and he began collecting signatures. Shortly after filing, he was giving a warning about his job performance; he had never had any form of discipline in his first five years there.

Hepfler, a Democrat, received 14,450 votes (53 percent) to win re-election on Nov. 6. Liedl, who ran as a Republican, received 12,622 votes (47 percent).

Prior to being fired Jan. 10, Liedl was told that “transaction report” for 2018 that monitored his computer activity showed he had accessed juvenile department cases 18 separate times. Liedl readily admits he had read the cases, but didn’t know it was something he couldn’t do, or would be considered a fireable offense.

“We knew things were confidential, but we didn’t know we couldn’t access them,” Liedl said previously. “We knew we couldn’t talk about it.”

Liedl said this rule should have been explained better during his training. The fact that he did it 18 times over the course of the year shows he didn’t know what he was doing was wrong, he contends.

The woman who assisted Liedl during the campaign was terminated Dec. 6. She declined to comment, and asked that she not be identified because she didn’t want to lose her severance package. She worked in the office for about seven years.

“I believe the discharge of two employees who worked on a campaign against Ms. Hepfler within two months of her being re-elected shows these were instances of vindictive targeting,” Liedl wrote in his grievance letter.

Liedl’s six-month son, Jaxon Hunter, died Nov. 1, after he was reportedly stomped on by a 10-year-old Chippewa Falls girl. Liedl maintains that he did not look at the girl’s file or anything related to that case.

Liedl contends that other workers in the office — both former employees and current staff — have confided to him they have looked at similar confidential records. He didn’t want to divulge any names to not get anyone else in the office in trouble.