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Marinette struggling to recruit employees

EagleHerald Staff Writer

MARINETTE—The City of Marinette is struggling to recruit and retain qualified employees.

The Personnel & License Committee approved Tuesday a motion to amend the city’s vacation policy for new employees in an attempt to mitigate this problem. Moving forward, full-time employees hired on or after Jan. 1, 2021 will receive 10 days of vacation prorated to their date of hire in their first calendar year.

Mayor Steve Genisot said he hopes the amendment will help attract more qualified candidates.

“A lot of employees are coming from jobs where they have several weeks of vacation, and our current policy has quite a long vesting period to get their first two weeks,” he said.

Human Resource Director Jen Nelson said that lack of vacation for new hires is a significant barrier for recruitment.

“It’s really hard to recruit new candidates when, during the first year that they’re working, they have no vacation at all,” she said. “We’ve lost some really good candidates due to the fact that we could not offer vacation.”

In addition to helping the city recruit qualified candidates, Nelson said she thought the new policy could improve work quality for recently hired employees.

“Productivity would probably increase (with this amendment),” she said. “If they’re working for a year without vacation, they’re going to get burnt out.”

Personnel & License Committee Chairperson and Alderperson Rick Polzin said he felt the change will have a positive impact.

“I know it’s been a real significant barrier in the last couple hirings that we’ve had,” he said. “The interviewees brought it up, so I think we need to do something. This is a step in the right direction to ensure that we get some qualified candidates working for us.”

The council also unanimously approved Tuesday a motion to expand the residency requirement for municipal office employees with the same objective of increasing the applicant pool. The expansion increases the residency requirement from a 15 mile radius of the city’s jurisdictional boundaries to a 30 mile radius.

The Personnel & License Committee previously discussed the residency requirement at an Aug. 17 meeting.

“(The residency expansion) would be very beneficial to us in the recruiting and retention process and getting a larger pool of applicants,” Police Chief Jon LaCombe said at the Aug. 17 meeting. “A lot of officers have spouses or families living in Green Bay or working in Green Bay, and it’d be nice for them to be a little farther south so they can split the driving distance.”

Public Works Director Patrick Carlson and Fire Chief Jay Heckel agreed that changing the requirement would help their respective departments recruit candidates.

“It’s been very challenging to fill certain positions, especially when it comes to getting (Commercial Driver Licenses),” Carlson said.

Heckel added, however, that expanding residency could increase delays for callback personnel.

“For me, unfortunately, it’s a catch-22,” he said. “I rely on callback personnel, and that kind of hurts me a little bit. The tradeoffs remain to be seen.”

City Attorney Robert Gagan said the city can legally update its residency requirement as long as it complies with Wisconsin Statute 66.0502, which states that local governments can impose a 15 mile or greater residency requirement only on emergency personnel. He said the city’s definition of emergency personnel includes department heads as well as employees in the Police, Fire and Public Works Departments.

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New Stephenson salt room built on ancient remedy
  • 3 min to read

EagleHerald Staff Writer

STEPHENSON—For his latest business endeavor, Roger Younk of Stephenson, listened to his body.

What’s good for him, he decided, must be good for other people.

After a session at a salt therapy room in southern Wisconsin, Younk said his asthma and cough cleared up considerably. He regained a feeling of energy and could belt out a Randy Travis song.

It was enough to persuade Ann, his wife and co-owner of the business, that opening a salt room on their property had potential.

The Country Mile Salt Therapy Room, which opened in August by appointment, recreates the feel of an ancient salt room. The concept of using salt for medicinal purposes dates back to the 1800s in Russia and Europe, Younk said, where people relied on salt to cure a range of illnesses, from asthma, emphysema and bronchitis to sinusitis and sleeping issues.

“We’re not a doctor. We’re not a clinic. We’re just here trying to help some people,” Younk said.

The room uses no drugs, just sodium chloride, a natural antibacterial and anti-inflammatory agent. “It’s natural stuff,” he said. “People sign a consent form when they come in. They come on their own volition and reap the benefits.”

The Salt Therapy Association provides information and access to research papers describing its benefits. Breathing in dried salt in microscopic form can absorb allergens in the respiratory tract, reduce inflammation and open the airways, the association said. “It gets the moisture out of the lungs,” Younk said.

The Country Mile Salt Therapy Room was carefully designed to look like a salt cave with one mural depicting the sun shining at a cave entrance on one wall and another creating a waterfall flowing through rocks. Younk wanted a tranquil look, and Jim Finlan of Escanaba did the painting by hand, he said.

While the murals create the feeling of a natural environment, a wall of pink salt brinks is illuminated and turns a cool blue, and the gravel floor is made of colorful granulated Himalayan salt rocks.

“When we come in here, we lower the lights down dim. We throw on relaxing music in the background and you sit in this room, and relax and breathe,” Younk said.

An automatic salt grinder set in the wall blows microscopic salt into the room. “This is all done in medical grade steel,” Younk said. If you took an aerosol can and shot it into the sun so you could see the particles in the mist, that’s how finely ground the salt is, Younk said.

A 45-minute session costs about $35. “It’s as you need it. It’s not going to doctors and saying I’ll see you in three months for a follow up. If you feel good, you don’t have to come back,” he said.

The salt room sits near to Younk’s shredding business, Country Mile Document Destruction, which is going strong, he said. He also raises cattle and owns the Ice Cream Palace next to the theater, which is open and doing well, he said.

With his Tivoli Theater in Stephenson closed due to COVID-19, Younk had the time to remodel a woodshed on his property and turn it into the salt room with a separate waiting room. It took about five months and $50,000 to $60,000 to turn the shed into a handicapped-accessible building. In the front, Younk sells bath salts, balms and other salt products customers can take home.

The biggest challenge to the salt room, Younk said, is getting exposure. He turned to digital marketer Michael Rock, owner of Internet Presence LLC in Spalding, Mich., for help.

Rock, who created the website for Country Mile Salt Therapy Room, said he wasn’t aware of salt therapy until he started to research it for the site to educate people about it. In the Upper Peninsula, only two salt rooms exist, he said. Now he hopes to try the salt therapy himself.

With little competition to worry about, Rock said, Younk might be ahead of the curve. “Upper Michigan only has two to date,” Rock said. “People drive hundreds of miles to go to the salt room in Wisconsin. It’s a nice untapped market up here.”

While the Younks hope to realize a gain from their investment, it isn’t their only motivation. Ann Younk encouraged Roger to build the salt room so others could benefit. “I like that it helps Roger. He used to cough and cough and cough. I’m really glad he’s getting relief from it,” she said. “It’s better than going to the emergency room.”

Younk said he didn’t do a lot of market research ahead of time because he understood the salt room’s importance to him personally. “If you had a hard time breathing and you found something that will help you breathe, how do you put a price tag on it?” he asked. “I’ve seen the value. If nobody comes, I still have the room there for myself.”

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Wallace man gets jail time for sex with minor
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EagleHerald Editor

MARINETTE—A Wallace man will serve less than a year in jail for having consensual sexual intercourse with a girl more than half his age in November of 2019. The girl drowned the next day in the Menominee River.

The victim’s family members say they aren’t pleased with the sentence, but the prosecution states the judge handed down the maximum sentence allowed.

Todd A. Ihander, 42, was sentenced Aug. 24 in Marinette County Circuit Court Branch 1. Judge Jane Sequin sentenced the defendant to nine months in jail for sexual intercourse with a child, age 16 or older, and 60 days in jail for alcohol sale to an intoxicated person. The sentences are consecutive for the two misdemeanors. Ihander also must register as a sex offender.

While sympathetic to the family members, Marinette County District Attorney DeShea Morrow said Ihander received the maximum sentence based on what he could have been charged.

She added that Ihander had some prior convictions in Michigan for some “concerning behavior,” but that could not figure into the charges in this incident.

“He certainly is not a great guy,” she said. “The point I made at sentencing, to justify the maximum sentence in both (charges), is that she clearly was vulnerable and he took advantage of somebody that he should have been helping. He was 40 years old and she was a young girl. That never should have happened.”

According to the criminal complaint, Ihander had consensual sexual intercourse with a 17-year-old girl at a swimming area in the Town of Peshtigo on Nov. 8, 2019. They met on SnapChat, according to court records. The complaint states the girl drank hard alcohol, passed out in Ihander’s vehicle, and slept at his home.

The next morning, Nov. 9, Ihander bought the girl four cans of beer at the State Line Mini Mart in downtown Marinette, the complaint reads. The girl did not want to go home and she told Ihander she was going to drink the beer under the Interstate Bridge, according to Ihander in the complaint.

Ihander told investigators he had to get to work by 8 a.m. and the girl was going to go to the homeless shelter after she drank the beer, he said in the complaint.

Marinette County Sheriff’s Office detectives observed video footage taken at the entrance to Stephenson Island. They saw a girl matching the description of the victim walk under the bridge, the complaint states. About two hours later, at 10:16 a.m., the girl appears to come out of under the bridge and slips on some rocks, according to the complaint. She disappears from view and it is believed she went under the water and did not get out, the complaint reads.

The victim’s body was discovered on Nov. 19. An autopsy revealed she had drowned and an analysis by the Wisconsin State Crime Lab indicates that she had sexual intercourse with the defendant, according to the complaint.

“I’m very satisfied with the outcome because it’s what I could prove and quite frankly a lot of it was based on the defendant’s statement,” Morrow said. “Fortunately we were able to get the DNA and prove the sexual assault.”

She acknowledge that cases like this are extremely emotional and difficult for the loved ones of the victim.

Ihander is the brother of Gregory S. Ihander, who is in prison for the 2015 murder of his former girlfriend, Jolene Eichhorn. Another brother, Kevin M. Ihander, is serving time in prison for the sexual assault of a former girlfriend.

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Oconto fugitive captured in woods
  • Updated

OCONTO—Cody J. Krueger, the man wanted for attempted murder in Oconto, was caught Friday in Oconto County.

The Oconto County Emergency Dispatch Center received a call at 3:16 p.m. Friday of a reckless driver in the Town of Lena. Deputies located the vehicle, but the driver refused to stop, according to the Sheriff’s Office. The driver exited on foot on Deer Lake Road in the Town of Pound.

The man was identified as Krueger, 24. Deputies, acting on a tip, went to a home on Janik Road in the Town of Lena. They arrested Kyra L. Saldana, 19, on a probation and parole warrant, and Steve M. Bickel, 37, for maintaining a drug trafficking place, possession of marijuana and possession of drug paraphernalia.

Krueger had fled the residence, but he was found at 7:15 a.m. Saturday hiding in the woods off of White Lake Road, according to the sheriff’s office.

The Oconto County Sheriff’s Office was assisted by the Oconto Police Department, Suring Police Department, Gillett Police Department, Oconto Falls Police Department, Lena Police Department, the Marinette County Sheriff’s Office, Brown County Sheriff’s Office, Wisconsin State Patrol, Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, and Oconto County Emergency Management.