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C&C: Northfield man leads fight for fair DWI arrests

<rthfield man is at the center of a court battle fighting hundreds of possibly unwarranted DWI arrests that were caused by a form of breathalyzer that is allegedly inaccurate. On Jan. 4, Dale Underdahl, a resident of Northfield, appeared briefly in Dakota County District Court to begin the review of his and other DWI arrests throughout different courts across the First Judicial District.

Underdahl was arrested in February 2006 on suspicion of third-degree DWI. His attorney demanded to see the source code that runs the Intoxiliyzer 5000, the breathalyzer that led to his arrest. Underdahl’s attorney believes it is important to find out the source code because it is “his accuser” that would prove his client’s innocence.

While a local judge granted access to the source in 2006, State officials claimed they could not find the code and did not enforce the judge’s order. In the years that followed, Underdahl has fought a series of legal battles with other defendants in various Minnesota state courts including the Minnesota Supreme Court. The code could not be obtained because the corporation that made the breathalyzer, CMI Inc., has refused.

Eventually in June 2009, the Minnesota State government and CMI reached a settlement in which the code was allowed to be used by defendants in criminal cases and petitioners in civil cases.

Now that the source code is admissible in court, several counties and judicial districts in Minnesota have begun to combine DWI cases so the code can be considered in all of them at once. Several counties have already announced their court hearings to be sometime in the next few months. A motion is currently being considered in the Minnesota Supreme Court to combine cases statewide.

City Considering Bonds for New Building Projects

Despite the frustrating economy, Northfield hopes to expand in the coming decade. In order to do that, the city has to roll in some money. By the end of the 2010’s, Northfield hopes to have a new fire station, police station and possibly even a new library.

While the details of these expansions on public services are far from finalized, city leaders hope to at least have the money ready for springing a plan into action. At a City Council work session Tuesday night, Northfield city leaders discussed the possibilities involving accumulating such funds through the issuing of bonds. A preliminary cost estimate for the combined construction is $17 million.

City Finance Director Kathleen McBride presented the council three options of different types of bonds for the fundraising. One is to have a referendum involving the bonds for voters to decide the necessity of these projects. If an election were necessary, the council generally felt it was better to place the referendum on the ballot of the November general election instead of having a special election that could cost the city an extra $15,000. The other two options avoid facing a referendum immediately but instead either give the option of the ability of the public to recall the bond decision through referendum, or face higher interest rates. The council plans to announce what choice they will make with bonds by mid-February.

Helping to spur the council’s push for bonds was the upgrading of the city’s municipal bond rating to AA. Some city leaders were fretful, though, about raising money for construction that may not start for another three years because of the possibility of the rising costs.

“The time difference does make (me) a little nervous,” said Mayor Mary Rossing to the council.

Council members also believed the city would not lose money from the interest rates because of an expected tax base increase. Northfield’s current plan is to build a new fire station on its current location, a new police station in a different location and an expansion to the current library.

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