Mother Nature has dealt Nebraska a cruel blow over the past week.
The eastern half of the state has been dealing with flooding of historic proportions, while out in the west a blizzard killed thousands of calves and livestock.
It didn’t just start with the “bomb-cyclone” that struck last week. For a month, the state had endured a snowy and cold stretch. Then the storm hit and the snow quickly melted, rain fell and the ground was too frozen to absorb it.
So all of that water flowed into rivers and streams that soared out of their banks onto highways, county roads, city streets, bridges, homes and businesses. Large ice chunks battered roads and bridges.
The damage was devastating. Whole towns were cut off with no one being able to get in or out.
In Central Nebraska, Dannebrog, Wood River, North Loup, Gibbon, St. Paul, Burwell, Archer, St. Edward, Cedar Rapids, Ord and many other communities were hit hard by the floods. Elsewhere in the state, Columbus, Fremont, Norfolk, Ashland and other cities suffered extensive flood damage.
Through it all, though, Nebraskans have kept their heads up and met the challenges with determination.
First responders — firefighters, paramedics, law enforcement, National Guard helicopter units — have risked their lives countless times to save others. Some people had to be rescued from the middle of rushing floodwaters when their vehicles were swept off the road. Others were pulled from rooftops when their homes were overtaken by the floods.
These heroes — the first responders — went out in harrowing conditions to save others. They went into the waters to get others out.
In addition, community residents and volunteers filled sandbags and did what they could to keep the floodwaters back. Even more volunteers have come in to help with the cleanup.
Neighbors helping neighbors is the Nebraska way, and it has been on display in full force this week.
As the floodwaters recede, and the extent of the damage is seen, it can seem overwhelming. For those whose homes and businesses have been damaged, it will be easy to become discouraged.
They should know, though, that they aren’t alone. Several groups are collecting funds to help flood victims, including the Grand Island Community Foundation. These charitable groups, along with government assistance, will offer help.
The first day of spring is today. Springtime brings new life as the grass greens and the trees bud.
It also can renew spirits as the sun shines and the weather warms. Flood victims must persevere and look to brighter days. They are coming.
After a year where the Nebraska State Fair lost a projected $1.4 million, the fair board passed a budget Friday reducing expenses in areas such as personnel and entertainment. The new budget projects putting the State Fair back in the black by more than $300,000 next year.
State Fair Board Chairman Chris Kircher called the 2020 budget “fiscally conservative,” and one that “will get State Fair finances back on track.”
The fair board meeting, which took place at Fonner Park, wasn’t without its share of drama. At the meeting’s beginning, Patrick Kopke, chief of finance and administration for the State Fair, told the board that unless the State Fair makes some changes in fair operations, it was only one year away from bankruptcy.
After his presentation, Kopke submitted his letter of resignation.
During his presentation, Kopke admonished the board for their lack of concern about the State Fair’s spending, along with not heeding his concerns in November 2018 when he questioned the financial feasibility of the Fair’s concert-bundling plan.
Also, Jeremy Jensen, who is the board’s finance director, added a touch of drama during his report when he said he believed Friday’s meeting was its most important meeting since the State Fair moved to Grand Island from Lincoln in 2010, precisely because of the financial concerns at hand.
“The 2019 budget, from start to finish, was flawed beyond belief,” Jensen said.
Jensen also expressed his frustrations over the negative finger-pointing that has taken place about the Fair and its personnel over the last year. He told the board the performance of this year’s Fair was the responsibility of the board and the Fair’s staff, not of one individual.
After State Fair Executive Director Lori Cox gave her 2020 budget presentation, the board went into executive session for nearly two hours to discuss personnel. After resuming session, there were several questions about the proposed budget before the board voted 8-1 to accept Cox’s budget recommendations. The meeting then adjourned.
After the meeting, Kircher and Jensen met with reporters, where they disputed Kopke’s assertion about the State Fair going bankrupt within a year.
Kircher said it is the board’s responsibility for the success or missteps of the State Fair.
“The actions that were taken today are actions that we take very seriously,” he said. “We have put together a careful plan — with the input of our executive director — and have passed a budget that will put this fair in a positive fiscal position. Despite comments that were made earlier today (by Kopke), we passed this budget today and feel pretty good about (it).”
Jensen said the board made some “tough decisions” concerning the now-passed budget.
“But as far as the future goes, everybody should check back with us in a year and see if we have been able to uphold our end of the bargain,” he said.
Jensen said the 2020 budget is a pared-down version of the 2019 budget, especially when it comes to revenue expectations.
“When you at the way the 2019 budget was put together, there were some estimates for revenue that were not likely to be hit even in an optimum world,” he said.
“Taking a look at expenses, we can talk about being over budget and talk about all these other matters, but, at the end of the day for the 2019 budget, we are probably going to come in under budget for overall expenses for operating,” Jensen said. “It was a matter of taking a step back and trying to figure out ways that realistically measured the amount of revenue we can expect and try to trim some of the expense.”
Jensen said one budget cut involved fair staff. He said the 2020 budget cuts about $600,000 for personnel.
“A lot of this is going to be reclassification,” he said. “We (are) still going to have a lot of seasonal help and have the volunteers step forward so the quality of the event doesn’t fall.”
Jensen said the number of full-time employees will have to be reduced.
“We expect that number to be around eight to ten people,” he said.
Kircher, when asked about Kopke’s financial assessment about the State Fair, said, “We absolutely disagree with his assessment. He is certainly able to have his own opinion, but I think he is wrong. The fact that we passed a budget today that we feel good about — and that our executive director feels good about — and will accomplish the very thing against what he feels might happen. It might have been nice if he had stuck around and seen the budget and had a feel for what we had in mind before making remarks like he did.”
Kircher said he and the board expect Cox to live up to the budget she proposed.
“She feels comfortable with it,” he said. “We believe it is a good start. We have also communicated our expectations that while we need to be very diligent about cutting these costs, we also expect the same quality that this state is used to. She (Cox) feels comfortable for taking these challenges on, and we look forward to working with her.”
Kircher said the board is ultimately responsible for the financial problems facing the fair.
“But I think the assessment of the current condition was not accurately stated here, and we believe that as well too,” he said.
Jensen said Kopke’s statement was not only inaccurate, but also premature.
“At the end of the day, if we just remained status quo and continued doing things the way we have done them, financial distress would have been on the horizon,” he said. “But I think it is really important to understand that we challenged the board and the board accepted the challenge. The executive director accepted the challenge of saying that we have to make some tough decisions. We were able to do that. The idea that the State Fair is going to be bankrupted in a year is not accurate.”
Jensen said the State Fair board and Cox and her staff are moving forward and “We are going to get this thing going in the right direction. It is going to be a fantastic event and, a year from now, pull out the tape and see if what we were talking about was accurate or not.”
Cox’s budget not only laid out ways to reduce overhead and expenses, but also to improve the organizational flow of her staff and being accountable to the board on the way money is being spent for fair preparation.
Kircher said there is a real commitment of the Fair board to participate in the budgeting process of the event.
“They understand the importance of doing this,” he said.
One of the areas that the budget scaled down was in entertainment spending. For prime acts of the Fair next year, there will be nine concerts. The Fair’s total entertainment budget saw a $723,100 reduction from the previous year.
Jensen said the problem with the 2019 budget was that the revenue the Fair was expected to take in was “exaggerated.”
“When everything doesn’t align perfectly, that really put us in a tough spot,” he said. “All the criticisms about blowing budgets, at the end of the day, I think the operating expenses will actually be less than what was actually budgeted for 2019. Stepping back and in hindsight, there should have been a little bit more of planning for the worse and hoping for the best. But it was the 150th celebration and there was a lot of expectation that we needed to have a grand extravaganza but it just didn’t align, obviously.”
One of the things that didn’t align was the weather, with a record rainfall of more than 13 inches during August that shut down parking at Fonner Park. That weather event forced the State Fair to shuttle fairgoers from six locations around Grand Island, which created an expense not budgeted for.
Part of the 2020 budget sets aside money for the Fair operations in case there is another repeat of this year’s rainy August. The rain fund allows for five days of weather interference.
“I credit Lori, as I have challenged her a lot over the last 90 days not only with the budget and other things,” Jensen said. “I nailed her down and I asked if she was confident if she was going to be able to deliver this. After all, her contract is annually renewable and we have to make sure that we are doing the right thing and get the fair going in the right direction.
“She looked me in the eye and told me this what she has been waiting for this. Her comment was something like. ‘Give me rope. I will either climb it or hang myself with it,’ and I think she will climb it,” Jensen said.
When Bonnie Hinkle thinks about the fact that Monday will mark five years since Grand Island Public Schools voters approved a $69.9 million bond issue to complete seven building projects in five years, she cannot believe how fast the anniversary has come.
“When they said five years, it seemed so far away (at the time) and it has actually seemed to go incredibly fast,” said Hinkle, GIPS Board of Education president. “The Jefferson and Stolley Park families may not feel like it went as fast as we wanted it to, but from my perspective, it definitely flew by.”
Monday will mark five years since the Grand Island Public Schools bond issue passed by a margin of 6,120 votes for and 4,898 votes against, which means more than 55 percent of voters favored the bond issue.
The bond issue allowed for new Jefferson, Starr and Stolley Park elementary schools to be built. It also allowed for remodels at Grand Island Senior High and Barr Middle School, and for additions at Engleman and Shoemaker elementary schools.
Hinkle said discussion on a potential bond issue took place back in 2007 or 2008 when she first came onto the GIPS board. Over the years, “things kept presenting themselves” and in fall 2013, the district started looking at its “highest priorities” that needed to be addressed.
“We started off with a very large list and narrowed it down to what we felt were the most critical needs,” she said. “The administration, especially the Buildings and Grounds Department and our Finance Department, were very good at providing us with information about the ages of the schools, the type of school rooms — like the open concept — expected numbers of kids that we would be coming into the schools and the overall needs for each place.”
Hinkle said there were “several different reasons” the bond issue was needed. Increased student enrollment created a need for extra space and the open-concept classrooms at some schools created safety concerns.
Superintendent Tawana Grover said it does not feel like it has been five years since the passage of the bond issue. She said it seems like GIPS has accomplished “so much” in that time.
“The thing we wanted to do was to honor our community by being on time and on budget,” Grover said. “It is remarkable to see the advancements we have made within the community and the support that it provided.”
She said the bond issue was “already in progress” when she began her tenure as GIPS superintendent. Taking the position “with the backing of a huge financial contribution” from the community gave her confidence as she began her role.
“It gave me a great deal of confidence in the community, knowing that it was willing to invest in their greatest asset: the children,” Grover said.
Virgil Harden, GIPS’ chief financial officer, said, “There are times when it feels like five years went by really fast, but when I stop and I reflect on the amount of work that has been involved, it has been a lot of effort.”
Harden said that back in fall 2013, the board hosted a workshop where it focused on facilities. It went “back and forth” before members decided on “the most pressing projects” to take to the voters in the form of a $69.9 million bond issue.
“As far as getting to the $69.9 million, that was really an educated guess between the architects, the contractors we consulted with, Mr. (Dan) Petsch (buildings and grounds director) and myself about what we would need to get these buildings built on time,” he said.
Harden said GIPS is “totally in budget” with the bond projects. While spending on the bond projects, plus the addition of an eighth project with an addition at Career Pathways Institute, totaled $80 million — $10 million more than the bond referendum asked for — Harden said the sale of the district’s bonds allowed it to accrue additional funds.
“That gave us more money and then we invested additional resources that we had over the five years because we have a 1-cent special building fund,” he said. “That generates about $1.5 million. Those things add up, plus we had some cash built up for all the furniture and fixtures included in those totals. We made money in the depreciation fund for that.”
Harden added: “It is six or seven different pots of money that come together to add that extra $10 million. But the largest portion is that premium that we sold those bonds on.”
Hinkle said prior to the passage of the bond issue on Sept. 9, 2014, the district hosted a number of town hall meetings where the public could learn more about the bond issue and comment on it. It was through these town halls that GIPS decided to remodel Barr and to complete all of the building projects within five years, rather than seven.
“Originally, we had said it might be seven years,” she said. “But the board and the community all said, ‘Is there any way to do this a little faster? It seems like if you take seven years, then you will be coming back to us saying you have another need.’ That is when our Buildings and Grounds Department went back, looked at it and found a way to make things happen in five years. We are very appreciative of their efforts to make things happen.”
GIPS Director of Buildings and Grounds Dan Petsch said the district was able to accommodate the Grand Island community’s desire to finish the seven bond building projects in no more than five years.
“I thought that was extremely aggressive. I think it would have been a little easier if we made it seven years,” Petsch said. “But, we did have the ability with buildings and how it timed out to accomplish that request from the public; I am glad we did, too.”
He said the building schedules “were mostly normal” despite the demanding timeline to complete all of the seven building projects. While it was “a little aggressive,” it was not overly aggressive.
“We made our completion dates pretty close like we expected it to,” Petsch said. “We set up what we were going to do and we pretty much hit those marks. I thought everything worked out rather well.”
Harden said in the long run, the bond saves GIPS money, compared to if the bond issue had not been passed.
“One of the things that is real painful is when we put money — usually hundreds of thousands of dollars — into modulars or minimal additions that we did,” he said. “They ended up being more expensive because they were not built to the same standards as they (the new buildings) are.”
Hinkle said she is “very impressed” with how the buildings turned out as a result of the passage of the 2014 bond issue.
“I was a Stolley Park parent, so I know how the school functioned when my kids went there with the hallways and things,” she said. “Walking into the school now and seeing the space available to them is amazing to see. They have lockers now, which they did not have in the past. I enjoy seeing the room sizes and knowing how much more conducive to learning that will be. It is just overwhelming.”
Grover said the passage of the 2014 bond issue demonstrated how the community wants to put student safety first.
“The old buildings needed a lot of upgrading, as well as just features that would allow for more safety and security,” she said. “That certainly played into non-negotiable safety features that we now look to as a guideline for how we want our buildings to be.”
With the passage of the bond issue, Grover said, the community not only invested in new buildings, but also in the future of GIPS students by building a strong foundation for them to have “such a sense of pride and belonging.” Having new, welcoming schools “set the tone” for what GIPS’ goals are for providing a welcoming environment to students.
“The voters said yes to our kids, yes to the future and yes to the growth of this community,” she said. “Monday is the culmination of memories that will be built for students for years to come. We have so much gratitude to the community for its support.”
Harden said he is “thrilled to death” that the bond issue came to fruition because “it is investing in kids.”
“Where would we be with all the kids that we have without all these new buildings and facilities, and the growth that is now possible because of them?” he said. “There are times when we look back and say, ‘That was a big deal.’ This is a big deal for the city of Grand Island and its schools to invest this money and put it in play.”
Former Northwest High school vocal teacher David Sackschewsky walked out of a Hall County District Courtroom Thursday afternoon and reported to jail.
Sackschewsky, found guilty of stealing money from Northwest’s 14 Karat Gold Show Choir Booster Club, will serve at least 86 days at the Hall County Department of Corrections.
District Court Judge Mark Young placed Sackschewsky on five years probation and ordered him to pay $150,000 in restitution. The ruling says Sackschewsky must pay $1,700 a month to the booster club, commencing on the first day of the month following his “release from incarceration and continuing for 60 months thereafter.”
Sackschewsky, 47, will spend 90 days in jail — minus four days for time already served.
He may serve an additional 30 days beginning Sept. 1, 2020, and 60 more days starting Dec. 1, 2021. But that 90-day sentence may be waived by the court upon the recommendation of his probation officer.
In October, Sackschewsky pleaded guilty to second-degree forgery totaling $5,000 or more and no contest to theft by unlawful taking totaling $1,500 to $4,999.
At his sentencing Thursday, Young said Sackschewsky’s productions at Northwest were a source of pride for the community. But eventually he started using 14 Karat Gold money to support his lifestyle, including vacations. He put a lot of time into creating fictitious documents, the judge said.
Young said Sackschewsky is a gifted teacher, a master showman and a skilled motivator. But, “Sir, you also stole.”
Before sentencing, prosecutor Sarah Hinrichs said Sackschewsky betrayed parents and show choir supporters. To pay the “exorbitant” show choir fees, Hinrichs said, some families had to make sacrifices “and he took advantage of that sacrifice.”
Near the end of his tenure at Northwest, show choir students had to pay $900 in fees and generate $500 in corporate sponsorship for each group they were in, Hinrichs said.
Over time, she said, Sackschewsky got “caught up in the hype” and spent money that wasn’t his.
She said that in January 2017, when Sackschewsky’s sister, Laurie Stutzman, became treasurer of the booster club board, the number of checks going to the defendant increased.
“He believed that he was entitled to this money. That’s hubris. That’s not bad bookkeeping,” said Hinrichs, who was assisted by Matt Boyle.
The two parties agreed before Thursday that $150,000 would be the amount sought in restitution.
Pointing to Sackschewsky’s financial situation, Hinrichs said, “I think clearly the defendant has the ability to make restitution.”
Sackschewsky believed he could pay at least $500 a month, and Hinrichs felt some of the monthly expenses he listed were discretionary. She pointed to a camper, which she said was bought at least in part with show choir money.
In Sackschewsky’s defense, attorney Mark Porto said the teacher devoted decades of exemplary public service to the lives of young people.
“He has made this community a much better place than it would be without him,” Porto said.
But even extraordinary people make mistakes, he said.
Porto believes Sackschewsky fits into the category of people who rationalize their behavior in their own minds and the problem then spirals out of control.
Sackschewsky has continued to maintain that he was told years ago by someone on an earlier incarnation of the 14 Karat Gold board that he should receive a stipend because of his time, his commitment and the quality of his work. He also paid for a lot of things out of his own pocket, Porto added.
In addition to paying himself back, Sackschewsky later began paying himself the money that would have constituted that stipend. He convinced himself that he was entitled to that money because of his years of service and his devotion, Porto said.
That was not excuse but an explanation, the lawyer said.
Sackschewsky lives a modest life, Porto said. He lives in a modest home and his family has only one vehicle — a van. He doesn’t own an expensive condo or a second home somewhere.
Porto read supportive comments from some of Sackschewsky’s former students. He has received support, Porto said, from priests, journalists and retired state senators. His supporters describe Sackschewsky as a devoted family man.
In arguing against jail time, he pointed out that Sackschewsky spent four days in jail over this year’s Easter holiday, even though he had been cooperating with law enforcement. He was arrested on a Friday afternoon, in the presence of his wife and children. Sackschewsky’s wife was driving at the time they were stopped.
His troubles have been well-publicized, Porto said, so no jail time was necessary to send any message to Sackschewsky.
“That message has been sent,” he said.
Sackschewsky’s criminal actions pale in comparison to the positive impact he has had on this community, Porto said.
Sackschewsky has “significant medical issues that need to be addressed,” he said. He cannot drive.
Porto also disagreed with Hinrichs’ assessment of Sackschewsky’s financial condition.
In his statement to the judge, Sackschewsky said he understood why he was in court and he accepted responsibility for his actions. Early in his time at Northwest, he regularly lent his money to the music program. That led to him compensating himself to a larger degree than necessary.
He knew in his heart it was wrong, he said.
Those actions jeopardized and eventually separated him from a job he loved.
“And I know things will never be the same,” Sackschewsky said.
He feels guilty for bringing shame upon his family and for conversations that had to take place among families in the area. He also feels sorry for the people who attended the school performances.
The crime, Sackschewsky said, has turned his career of good work “into a probable footnote.”
He has received both physical and spiritual therapy since losing his job, he said.
Sackschewsky asked Young “with deep humiliation” to refrain from giving him jail time.
“You can be confident that I will not reoffend,” he said.
Hinrichs said jail time was required so as not to detract from the seriousness of his offenses.
Young said he has received many letters about the case. Many of those messages came from members of an organization called Team Shack. Young felt some of those letters were in response to a note Sackschewsky sent to his supporters.
In that message, Sackschewsky said he could still get jail time, so he would appreciate their support, “regardless of the fact I did not steal any money.”
Hinrichs also made reference to that comment, which she and the judge felt was a sign he didn’t accept responsibility.
As part of the conditions of the sentence, Young said Sackschewsky must submit to chemical tests of blood, breath or urine upon request of his probation officer. The judge wonders if his problems at Northwest might have begun with an alcohol or drug problem, and would like to see if there is evidence of that.
Another condition of probation is that Sackschewsky be gainfully employed or actively seeking employment.
Porto brought up the issue of where the restitution will go. The true victims in the case were the students who were taught by Sackschewsky and their parents, rather than current students, he said.
Young said that decision will be up to the 14 Karat board.
Why is “seeing and believing” the theme of the Academies of Grand Island Senior High?
Administrators and teachers want students to know that they see them, and they believe in them.
Sunglasses, which are part of the theme, made an appearance at Tuesday’s launch of the school’s academy system. At the end of the kickoff celebration, many teachers donned sunglasses and gathered in the middle of the west gym.
The kickoff was a true pep rally. The gym was completely full for the noisy gathering, which included music from a GISH band. Members of the Academy Ambassadors ran around the gym, trying to get students to do the wave.
This is the first year for the academy structure at GISH. All freshmen enroll in the Academy of Freshman Exploration, which was introduced last year. Students spend the next three years in one of the other five academies.
Nicki Stoltenberg, who was the kickoff’s emcee, said students are going to have “unique and awesome” opportunities this year. Not only will they get to take some “really cool” classes, but they’ll also get to work with business and industry professionals. It will be something no other school in Grand Island has ever done, said Stoltenberg, who is academy liaison.
Jeff Gilbertson, GISH’s executive principal, agreed that it was a historic day.
Gilbertson told the students they have the chance to take their passions and interests and develop them into a purpose. The idea is to have a plan at graduation.
Administrators know the students can formulate a plan. “Because we believe in you,” Gilbertson said.
The students’ responsibilities, he said, are to attend school and to communicate with teachers and staff members. If students feel they’re overlooked, they need to step forward.
“You need to advocate for yourself,” Gilbertson told them.
Teachers want to hear if students feel they’re having trouble, he said.
“We will support you to the nth degree at this great high school,” Gilbertson said.
Superintendent Tawana Grover thanked the students.
They had a hand in creating the academy system if they ever completed a survey or let teachers know what they need, Grover said.
Working with the local business community will help students on their journey to thriving, she said.
The district believes every student needs to be seen and supported, Grover said. “The main thing is we believe in you.”
Speaking briefly were the principals of all the academies, who presented their staffs.
Fawn Gernstein of the Academy of Business and Communication quoted Steve Jobs.
Teachers will challenge students, Gernstein said, to make a dent in the universe.
Ron Hester of the Academy of Education, Law and Public Safety quoted Gandhi, who urged people to lose themselves in service to others.
His academy, Hester said, is about serving other people.
During the course of the rally, attendees got to hear some fun facts about the administrators. In introducing their colleagues, administrators shared little-known facts.
Grover, for instance, wrote a children’s book several years ago. She has ziplined over the San Diego Zoo at 55 mph. And she bakes cakes. Her specialties are German chocolate and red velvet.
Gilbertson can ride a unicycle. Gernstein loves shoes.
Four students were asked about their academy plans.
Mirka Coralles has joined the Academy of Education, Law and Public Safety. A senior, she’s thinking about becoming a detective.
Miranda Aguilar, another senior, is part of the Academy of Technical Sciences. “I just wanted to get into architecture because that’s something I always wanted to do,” Aguilar said.
Hunter Weeks and Ryan Baker have both joined the Academy of Engineering and Technology. Weeks likes cars. The academy will allow Baker to “do whatever I need,” possibly involving houses or cars.
By going to an academy, it’s easier to get into college, Weeks said. Baker expects his academy experience will lead to greater pay.
DONIPHAN — Sherri O’Callaghan stood in shock as she watched water flow across Sonja Road and onto her property in Amick Acres west of Doniphan Friday afternoon.
Two weeks ago, O’Callaghan faced tree damage from a wind storm that left debris all over Amick Acres, Grand Island and surrounding areas. Now, she dealt with another dilemma of a flooded basement and lawn as a result of a reported 4.5 inches of rainfall early Friday morning.
“At about 9 a.m. this (Friday) morning, Sonja Road was open and there was no water,” O’Callaghan said. “We saw it starting to come up from the field. It didn’t take more than five minutes for the water to cross the road and make its way back to the lake.”
In Amick Acres, the Platte River overflowed its banks, going into an adjacent field before flowing across Sonja Road, into the lawns of property owners and into Amick Acres Lake. Grand Island/Hall County Emergency Management reported Sonja Drive, Rene Road and Graham Road all had water on and crossing them.
Amick Acres Lake’s retaining wall also flooded, leaving many lakeside property owners with water up to their back porches and flooded basements.
Jamie Bittfield of Kenesaw, O’Callaghan’s sister, said she was one of about a dozen family members who came to help her sister pump water out of her basement and clear items out of there.
“Right away this (Friday) morning, the basement had probably eight inches of water in it,” Bittfield said. “We have pumps going and Yellow Van has been here getting the dehumidifiers going. However, the water is rising as we speak. It is a lost cause right now (Friday afternoon). There are no amount of pumps that can pump it out fast enough.”
As of Friday afternoon, O’Callaghan said she did not know whether she was going to evacuate and stay elsewhere for the night. She said at the time, that if the water does not rise any more, she would stay, otherwise she would stay with one of her relatives who had come to help.
The Hall County Roads Department helped deliver sandbags to areas in Amick Acres Friday. In Amick Acres East, community members worked to fill bags with sand, which were then placed on the road by the roads department.
Members of the Doniphan-Trumbull High School football team, including Dominick Alexander, Collin Jepson, Jediah Manka, Austin Rewerts, were called out of school to bag sandbags to help with the flooding in Amick Acres. The football players said they started sandbagging at 11:30 a.m. and were still doing so at 3 p.m. Friday.
“We are just loading up with the bags with sand and loading them up into a trailer,” Alexander, a freshman, said.
The football players said the entire team came out to help. A few of them said they had friends affected by the flooding at Amick Acres. Others said they just wanted to help people in their community.
The American Red Cross opened an evacuation center in Doniphan in response to flooding in the area. The evacuation center is at the United Methodist Church, 304 N. Fourth St.
Individuals and families displaced from their home are urged to come to the center where Red Cross volunteers are on hand to welcome those impacted. At this time, the center is not serving as an overnight shelter, but officials are monitoring the situation and are prepared to transition to a shelter if the need arises.
Just outside Grand Island, Cedar Hollow School said in a Facebook post that it experienced a large amount of rainfall that caused its back parking lot to be unusable. As a result, the school had to use a “staggered schedule” with students dismissed at various times for pick-up since only the school’s front parking lot could be used for dismissal.
The Grand Island City Council voted Tuesday unanimously to prohibit the use of vaping devices in public places.
Stacy Nonhof, Interim City Attorney, told the council the ordinance will go into effect on Wednesday, Sept. 11. It would amend Chapter 39 of the City Code to prohibit vaping in public place just like tobacco smoking.
Nonhof said she introduced the ordinance after council member Chuck Haase questioned the use of vaping devices in public places several months ago.
Nonhof said she looked into the uses and effects of using vaping products. She presented that research to the council Tuesday night.
According to the Center on Addiction, vaping is the act of inhaling and exhaling the aerosol, often referred to as vapor, which is produced by an e-cigarette or similar device. According to the Center, the term is used because e-cigarettes do not produce tobacco smoke, but rather an aerosol. It is often mistaken for water vapor, that actually consists of fine particles. Many of these particles contain varying amounts of toxic chemicals, which have been linked to cancer, as well as respiratory and heart disease.
The Center said vaping has grown in popularity with the rise of e-cigarettes, which were introduced to the mass market in the U.S. in 2007. Vaping devices include not just e-cigarettes, but also vape pens and advanced personal vaporizers. E-cigarettes, which resemble smoked cigarettes, and vape pens, which resemble large fountain pens, are typically simpler in design and less expensive than devices that have been customized by the user.
Vape pens have been a concern with school officials in Grand Island.
The U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention recently reported the first person has died after being hospitalized from what appears to be an unknown lung illness linked to vaping. One hundred ninety-three people have reported similar symptoms since June 28.
Nonhof said the ordinance amends Chapter 39 of City Code, the Grand Island Smoking Regulation Act. This chapter of City Code was originally modeled after the Nebraska Clean Air Act.
She said state statute allows municipal codes to be more restrictive than state law. Nonhof said Nebraska Legislature had not banned the use of vapor products in public buildings to date. She said the purpose of this ordinance is to prevent the use of electronic vaping devices in public buildings.
Haase said when the Council voted to prohibit tobacco smoking in public places, it did so before the state passed a similar ban.
“Grand Island needs to get its smoking ban ordinance up to date,” he said. “Vaping is relatively new, at least over the last decade, and we need to update and be leaders in the community for the health of our citizens.”
Haase said the state has talked about banning vaping in public, “but we don’t know if and when they are going to do anything.”
“We need to whatever we can to protect the citizens, at least in public places,” he said.
The impact vaping has on the health of those who don’t vape was also a consideration because of the potential dangers of second-hand smoke.
“I don’t want to sit by somebody who is vaping,” Haase said. “I don’t know what that is doing to me, and neither do they.”
According to the U.S. Surgeon General, e-cigarettes are devices that heat a liquid into an aerosol that the user inhales. The liquid usually has nicotine and flavoring in it and other additives. The nicotine in e-cigarettes and regular cigarettes is addictive. E-cigarettes are considered tobacco products because most of them contain nicotine, which comes from tobacco.
Besides nicotine, e-cigarettes can contain harmful and potentially harmful ingredients, including:
— Ultrafine particles that can be inhaled deep into the lungs.
— Flavorants such as diacetyl, a chemical linked to serious lung disease.
— Volatile organic compounds.
— Heavy metals, such as nickel, tin, and lead.
Nonhof said the most significant change to city code is the addition of vaping and vaping device to the definitions.
— Vape or vaping means the inhaling and exhaling of the aerosol produced by any vaping device.
— Vaping device means a device that consists of a mouthpiece, battery, a cartridge for containing the e-liquid or e-juice and a heating component for the device that is powered by a battery.
Vaping devices may include, but not be limited to, e-cigarettes, vape pens, advanced personal vaporizers (MODS), JUUL’s or any other device whether professionally made or homemade that are designed and used to inhale vapor products.
— Each of the other sections of Code being amended adds vaping as a prohibited activity along with smoking in the traditional sense.
In a related item, the city council amended Chapter 20 of the City to concerning the age of minor in possession of tobacco.
Nonhof said the Nebraska Legislature recently changed the age from 18 to 19 to legally possess and purchase tobacco and tobacco products.
The ordinance amends Chapter 20 of City Code, Minor in Possession of Tobacco, to increase the age of legally possessing tobacco products, vapor products or alternative nicotine products in the City of Grand Island from 18 to 19.
Nonhof said the ordinance makes the city compliant with State Statute on the age for legally possessing these products.
For the record
In other action, the City Council voted:
— To establish a shared-cost residential sidewalk repair program.
Councilmember Mitchell Nickerson proposed the program. He said the program would address defective and inadequate residential sidewalks found within the city’s municipal boundaries. The program would use $25,000 to start the program from the Public Works Department budget for FY2019-20. The funds would be allocated within the proposed budget.
Nickerson’s concern in proposing the program was that there were sidewalks in the community where sections were in rough shape and could present a hazard to people walking on the sidewalk, such as people with disabilities or older citizens.
Haase, who supported the program, also said many in the community are not financially able to fix their sidewalks. He said this is a way for the city to share that cost with individual homeowners.
Other council members said the city must find cost-effective ways to implement the program and determining who is eligible. Public Works Director John Collins will work on ways to implement the program. High priority will be given to those sidewalks near schools and medical facilities or where ongoing work may reduce costs such as areas around the annual sidewalk ramp project.
The council voted to approve the program.
— To approve a labor agreement between the City Of Grand Island and the International Association of Firefighters, Local No. 647. The proposed labor agreement will begin Oct. 1, 2019, and continue through Sept. 30, 2023.
— To approve the annual city salary ordinance.
Haase voted against the agreement over concerns he has about the sustainability of the city budget. He said the wages of city employees should be on the table when discussing how to control city spending. He said if it is not something that can be negotiated
In other business, the Mayor and City Council recognized Council member Michelle Fitzke for her service on the City Council at Ward 5 from Dec. 9, 2014, to Aug. 27, 2019. She is resigning her seat because her family moved out of Ward 5. They thanked Fitzke for her leadership and dedicated service to the citizens of Grand Island. Mayor Roger Steele is currently looking at applications to fill Fitzke’s vacant council seat.
More than 100 people gathered in the warehouse of Zabuni Specialty Coffee Auction at 220 N. Walnut St. for its grand opening and ribbon-cutting ceremony Tuesday.
The international company will bring coffee grown by Kenyan family farmers directly to U.S. consumers.
Among those attending the ceremony were two dozen Kenyan government and business officials and family farmers, according to Laban Njuguna of Grand Island, owner and CEO of Zabuni Specialty Coffee Auction.
At the core of the business is giving Kenyan family farmers who grow coffee direct access to U.S. markets. Njuguna said this access will allow the farmers to receive a better price for their coffee. In turn, those better prices will boost the local Kenyan economy and enable the country’s coffee industry to grow as international demand for the product increases.
Once the coffee is shipped directly from Kenya to Zabuni in Grand Island, the green coffee beans are auctioned off to more than 5,200 independent buyers throughout the country. Those local coffee shops roast the green coffee beans for freshly brewed coffee for their customers.
There are about 700,000 small-scale family coffee farms in Kenya. Those farms average 2 to 4 acres in size. Before Njuguna developed the concept of having the farmers directly marketing their coffee to consumers, Kenya’s coffee industry was declining as many farmers could not make a living for their families because of depressed coffee prices. This was at the same time when coffee demand in the U.S. and worldwide was growing, especially for specialty coffee.
According to E Imports, the United States imports more than $4 billion worth of coffee per year.
Americans consume 400 million cups of coffee per day, making the U.S. the leading consumer of coffee in the world. The market Njuguna is targeting is the 31,000 independent coffee shops in the U.S. that have $12 billion in annual sales.
But there were many hurdles that Njuguna had to jump over before Tuesday’s grand opening. There were financial, bureaucratic and political hurdles, as well as many other barriers. But like Kenyan marathon runners (who are the best in the world), Njuguna was in for the long run.
About 80,000 pounds of coffee arrived in Grand Island last week.
“It has been slightly more than two years, but we thank God that we are here now,” Njuguna said. “It has been a learning process. It has been exciting. It has been tough. But it is Cornhusker resilience. We are set for the future and not just for today.”
He said several setbacks had to be maneuvered past along the way.
“We were supposed to launch in July, but the idea was not to get here quick but to get here in the right way,” Njuguna said. “We are now set for the future.”
Speakers from the Kenyan delegation praised Njuguna and spoke of how this will open up new avenues of economic opportunity for the small family coffee farmers and the Kenyan economy. State Sens. Dan Quick and Curt Friesen also spoke at the ceremony, along with Grand Island Mayor Roger Steele.
The ceremony was at Zabuni’s warehouse. The guests were surrounded by bags of Kenya coffee beans that will be auctioned off this week, along with cups of Kenya coffee that showed the quality of the product.
Local developer Ray O’Connor had purchased the old Sears building where Zabuni is located. Sears left Grand Island’s downtown area in 1979 when it moved to the Conestoga Mall. The building sat unused for many years. O’Connor divided it up into sections for the development of Zabuni and other businesses. Where the ceremony took place Tuesday in the basement of the building was once a miniature golf course when Sears occupied the space.
Njuguna said the idea behind Zabuni is supplying the small coffee shop owner who can only afford to buy one of the several 300 pound-plus bags of coffee beans that are shipped to Grand Island from Kenya.
“The idea is to give them the same opportunity for quality coffee and to do the same for the producer,” he said. “If you only produce one quality bag and you want to come here to get into the market, you can do that. This is about enhancing trade, technology and getting a real quality Kenyan coffee product, and in the future, African coffee to the end-user.”
Njuguna said by selling directly to the end-user in the U.S., the small family Kenyan farmers will get a better price for their product and recognition “and not somebody there in the middle claiming that they are the ones that put it together, but the farmer who gets the recognition and who gets paid for their sweat. That is what it is all about.”
He said there is a growing demand among U.S. coffee drinkers and small coffee shop owners that the coffee they drink be “ethically-sourced.”
“A lot of people will pay extra if they know that the producer is benefiting,” Njuguna said.
The excitement among small coffee shops is brewing about Zabuni as Njuguna said much of the coffee that has arrived was already sold before it got to Grand Island.
A prominent partner in getting Zabuni off the ground and running was the Grand Island Area Economic Development Corp.
In June, the Grand Island City Council approved a resolution authorizing the city to enter into an economic development agreement with Zabuni Specialty Coffee Auction/Sycamore Investments, LLC.
Zabuni Specialty Coffee submitted an LB840 application for a forgivable loan for $100,000 over four years.
According to Dave Taylor, executive director of the Grand Island Area Economic Development Corp., Zabuni creates economic opportunity in Grand Island. The LB840 funding helped to create 10 new jobs with an hourly wage of $18. Zabuni requested $50,000 for job creation, $25,000 for job training and $25,000 for infrastructure.
Taylor said the LB840 funds will be disbursed incrementally through 2022.
He said his organization has been working with Njuguna for two years to get the project up and running. During that time, Grand Island has hosted several trade delegations from Kenya, and the Grand Island Area Economic Development Corp. led a trade mission to Kenya.
He said Zabuni is an excellent example of not only diversifying Grand Island’s economy but also how to strengthen its international ties.
“This is an international business,” Taylor said. “One doesn’t associate Grand Island with coffee.”
But he said when Njuguna approached his organization, he was struck by the native Kenyan’s vision about bringing the coffee of his home country to Grand Island and at the same time helping family farmers, like Njuguna’s 104-year-old grandmother, create a better quality and standard of life by being paid a fair price for the product they grow.
“His vision was to help the Kenya farmer prosper,” Taylor said. “Laban bringing the coffee here from Kenya with the Zabuni Specialty Coffee Auction is truly going to change not only coffee from right here now, but for generations to come.”
Grand Island residents and visitors will be paying more when they purchase local goods with the passage of a half-cent sales tax increase.
About 58 percent of the voters on Tuesday approved the increase. Unofficial results have 7,200 votes in favor and 5,291 against.
“There is an enormous sense of relief. I’m very happy with it,” said Mayor Jeremy Jensen of the passage.
The local sales tax will increase from 1.5 cents to 2 cents and go into effect in April. The tax will be applicable to all goods purchased in Grand Island, excluding groceries. The increase is expected to raise an additional $5.5 million annually over a 10-year period. Those funds will be used for improvements to streets, bridges, sidewalks and other infrastructure projects, as well as public safety equipment.
Voters last rejected a sales tax increase in 2016.
Jensen, who spent the evening watching election results with mayor-elect Roger Steele, said he thinks the issue was supported this time because the public asked the city to live within its means. He said they have done that by having a balanced budget the last two years.
“I also think just more clearly describing and understanding the need was something we’ve all taken the initiative to do and I think people understand we are a community that’s growing. When you have that going on you are going to need additional revenue,” he said.
The sales tax increase had the backing of the Grand Island International Association of Firefighters and a group called the Committee For Grand Island’s Future. Those involved with both groups spoke publicly about the issue and went door-to-door looking for support from voters.
“The committee’s really excited about it. I think the things it will do for the city will be really beneficial,” said Jared Stockwell, a committee member and a firefighter.
He said the benefit will not just be for infrastructure projects, but also continued improvements with public safety in the form of vehicles for the fire and police departments.
When the sales tax increase failed two years ago, a motor vehicle tax, otherwise known as the wheel tax, was implemented. City officials, including Steele, said prior to the general election that the wheel tax would be allowed to expire if the sales tax increase was passed. The wheel tax is scheduled to sunset Sept. 30, 2019.
Within the Academy of Freshman Exploration at Grand Island Senior High lies a new class called the Freshman Seminar. To simply describe the purpose of this class would best be stated as “creating the culture for our freshmen in the Academy system.” It is the class that bridges the middle school and high school, then leads in the transition of what is expected of a freshman student.
This is a class the high school is long overdue in offering to our incoming freshmen.
As we were putting the final touches on the Academy of Freshman Exploration this past summer, the teams agreed the core values of integrity, ownership and perseverance would be the driving characteristics we will focus on for the school year. If we can get to the point where these terms are feeding our culture daily and the students are buying in, we are going to see great strides made by May 2019.
Instead of the teachers of the four core classes or a homeroom teacher trying to teach this, we will be tackling this in Freshman Seminar for the entire school year.
The first nine weeks of high school have been built around team building and self-exploration. Through a series of surveys and discussions, our students have discovered their character strengths, learning styles, personality traits and the commitment to their One Word for the school year.
The National Guard has led the seminar students through part of their school curriculum to develop a relationship with our students, knowing that some will choose the military as a post-secondary option. It has also been an eye-opening experience for our students to see the expectations of the military. It is amazing what a few push-ups can do for those who don’t want to pay attention.
We have also started their graduate profile and an online portfolio. The students are collecting evidence of what they are experiencing and learning at GISH. Throughout this school year the students will build a resume and begin their 10-year plan.
We also hosted a Career Conference with 20 individuals from the Grand Island business community who shared their career story with our students. This included a representative from all 19 pathways and Mayor Jeremy Jensen addressing the entire Freshman Academy as the keynote speaker. This was all put into place to bring a greater sense of purpose to their education and their attitude toward being college, career and community ready.
The Freshman Seminar is covering the five academies and 19 pathways to help the students as they choose their academy. To help with this decision, our students are using Nebraska Career Connections to research everything from an accountant to a wind turbine technician. The students are researching the future needs of these jobs, education expectations and salary range. Through the surveys on this site, the students are getting a very good analysis of their interest level, work values and skills confidence in their preliminary choices.
To wrap up the first semester we will be loading up every freshman student to be the guests of the University of Nebraska for one day in late December. Yes, we will be packing up every freshman at GISH and planting them on the campus of UNL to hear about a program being specifically designed for our high school. We all know if you cannot see yourself in a setting, it probably won’t happen. If we want our students to develop a greater purpose about their life after high school, we need to do our best to give them the big picture of college and careers.
During the second semester the students will be challenged with a community project. To achieve our goals of integrity, ownership and perseverance, the students will work together to improve a need within our city. This will be our first step in encouraging volunteerism within the community and beginning to see their need to give back. They will make this experience an anchor for their online portfolio and develop pride and confidence in what they accomplish.
As we are building this new culture for freshmen, none of this could be possible without the efforts of our entire Island Team staff. Each of our four teams consist of a staff member from English, science, social studies, math, special education, foreign language and physical education. Then when the following are available, we also have our team counselor, social worker, behavior specialist, ELL Coach, Sped Coach and Academy Principal Dr. Maggie Mintken discussing our plan of attack.
Every team meeting we are looking at student concerns and the student successes with our “Student of the Week” awards, which go out to multiple winners each week. In order to make our high school transition, we want our students to see examples of students who are standing out with attitude, effort and behaviors.
Even though it has been an exciting start for Freshman Seminar, there are still many cultural changes we are working on. After 10 meetings of the seminar I posed a question to the students, asking what is the one characteristic they believe the students at GISH were lacking the most?” Overwhelmingly the students answered “respect.” It is pretty safe to say that the lack of respect will always go hand-in-hand with the lack of accountability. This is the battle that can be the difference maker for our students and their opportunities of gaining success in the post-high school world. Our business employers are looking to hire employees they can rely on to show up on-time to work each day. They are also looking for those individuals they trust will do their assigned jobs.
Our goal with Freshman Seminar is through these experiences with business leaders, the National Guard, volunteerism and completion of assigned tasks, our students get one step closer to becoming college, career and community ready.
Montie Fyfe teaches Freshman Seminar at Grand Island Senior High. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ken Gnadt began each day with a mission to make a positive impact on his community, Nebraska and the world. For all but the last few days of his 85 years on earth, he exuded boundless energy and a passion for life that few people have been fortunate to experience. On his bucket list was a plan to skydive on his 90th birthday. Though his time was cut short of that goal, his was a remarkable, productive, well-lived life. It was his passion for life that kept him young and vital.
He died a rich man when considering the wealth of friends he amassed and greater legions of people who looked up to him as a leader, mentor and inspiration on so many levels. He was known as Grand Island’s “Mayor for Life,” Mr. Grand Island, Mr. Rotary, Distinguished Nebraskalander, and “can do” Ken.
Ken’s friendship extended to the fullest measure, for he could be counted upon to be there through thick and thin and especially when a friend was ailing or in the final days of life. Odds are that there is no one in the community who has attended more celebration of life services than Ken Gnadt.
Ken was a man of the world, having spent most of seven years in Taiwan working in agricultural trade. During his time there he rapidly expanded his foreign circle of friends and acquaintances. There he also continued his participation in Rotary International, an organization to which he was dedicated for 54 years. He worked tirelessly to recruit new members and fundraise and promote Rotary’s global mission to eradicate polio.
Ken had a gift for rallying people around a purpose, whether to tackle a civic project, recognize a deserving individual for their achievements, help someone in need or raise funds for a pet project. He could be counted on to see those efforts completed. When Grand Island won the relocation of the Nebraska State Fair, he led the effort to raise local funds to meet the challenge. And when the community came to the realization it needed to recruit 1,000 volunteers to support the fair, it was his “can do” attitude that led the successful effort. He was an ardent advocate for veterans causes and served as honorary chairman of the Hall County Hero Flight. He was fully engaged in the effort to keep the Grand Island Veterans Home from moving.
Ken also had a passion for history and the natural world. He was one of the Crane Trust Nature & Visitor Center’s biggest boosters at a time when the organization was struggling. He was a strong steward of water conservation and was actively engaged in the Nebraska Children’s Groundwater Festival, which will celebrate its 30th anniversary next year. He served on the Stuhr Museum Foundation board and was active with the Hall County Historic Society. Ken had an encyclopedic knowledge of Nebraska’s history, landmarks and off-the-beaten-path points of interest. He traveled the Lewis and Clark Trail and traversed many other waterways and Midwestern back roads.
Ken never lost sight of his roots, which were anchored in the small family farm located near Alma, Kan., and his cherished alma mater — Kansas State. Grand Island’s Rotarians were accustomed to Ken’s proclivity to sport his school colors when his Wildcats had a good week.
Grand Island’s genial, distinguished ambassador has joined his many friends and beloved wife, Bonnie, in heaven. Ken Gnadt’s legacy is manifested in the many lasting, positive impacts he had on his adopted hometown and state. His life’s work will be celebrated for a long time to come.
The Northwest Public Schools middle school bond has failed.
With results coming in from Hall, Howard and Merrick Counties, voters rejected the bond issue 75 percent to 25 percent. There were 1,344 votes cast against, and 458 votes cast for.
The proposed bond was for $11.5 million to construct a new free-standing middle school at the Northwest Middle School site.
Superintendent Matt Fisher called the bond failure disappointing and “a big loss for our kids.”
“I think our board put a lot of time and thought into developing the best plan possible,” he said. “Through this whole process, there were very few people who wouldn’t agree that we need to do something different. This was the best plan and the board did a good job of moving forward with the best plan. But, if that isn’t the direction people want to go, then we can certainly come back and look at some of the other options that are out there.”
Fisher said even though the proposed bond issue failed, the district and the school board is not done with working on moving toward a middle school structure.
“I think that is a problem and something that needs to be resolved,” he said. “Since the bond failed, it did not get resolved in this manner. But, it is going to have to be reviewed and decided where it will go next to try to solve that issue.”
That, Fisher said, will require going to the board. He added the board has some different options on the direction it wants to take.
“There are some different options that involve closing buildings, shrinking our population or potentially converting one of our existing buildings,” Fisher said. “The unfortunate thing about all those options is that, for the long term, they are going to cost our taxpayers more and not produce as good of an overall experience for our middle schools students. But those are the things the board will need to go back and consider.”
In the Northwest Board of Education race, Zach Mader, Dan Leiser and Robin Schutt were the top vote-getters. All three were vocally opposed to the middle school bond. Fisher said each have different ideas of how they want the district to move forward and that he looks forward to seeing how they “mesh” with current board members.
“I certainly welcome their ideas and we are open to their ideas. We will see where that takes us,” he said. “We are still going to have to deal with a middle school issue. That is going to be front and center when they take their oath in January. They are going to have to start dealing with where they go with the middle school from here.”
Wednesday’s immigration raids led to an increase in federal detainees at the Hall County Jail, but the increase was not dramatic.
As of Thursday afternoon, the jail had seen a net increase of 17 detainees, said Hall County Corrections Director Todd Bahensky.
The workers began to arrive at the jail after midnight Thursday. A total of 28 detainees came to the jail — 21 men and seven women. They were brought in by both U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the U.S. Marshals Service.
The men and women had presumably been processed at the ICE facility in Grand Island before being sent to the jail.
Eleven of the detainees left the jail later Thursday. Another group might be heading out later Thursday or Friday, Bahensky said.
It appears that no one stayed overnight at the ICE facility, which is at 703 S. Webb Road. Immigrants arrested in Wednesday’s raids were processed both inside that building and in two white tents behind the structure, said Shawn Neudauer of the Department of Homeland Security in St. Paul, Minn.
Some of those people were released. “Those who were released will return to the area where they were arrested,” Neudauer said. Others were placed in local jails, he said.
The processing center in Grand Island was the only such facility in Nebraska, Neudauer said. Detainees came to Grand Island from all over the state, he said.
He didn’t believe anyone was left in the tents Thursday. The goal was to get “everybody taken care of” Wednesday, he said.
Neudauer confirmed that there were air conditioners in the tent, and that detainees were provided food and water. It was warm in the tents, he said, but the federal agents worked in the same conditions as the detainees, he noted.
Before Wednesday’s immigration raids, the number of ICE detainees in Hall County Jail numbered in the low 60s, Bahensky said.
As detainees arrived in Grand Island, so did lawyers.
Dorian Rojas of Omaha’s Immigrant Legal Center was at the jail Thursday. She and a Lincoln lawyer were meeting with individuals who had been jailed.
“We’re here to support the families that have been ripped apart,” said Rojas, who is supervising attorney for the Immigrant Legal Center’s child and family team. They call their work the pro bono detainee project.
If detainees are eligible for bond, the attorneys will represent them at bond hearings. If they qualify for some form of humanitarian immigration relief, the lawyer will help prepare the case, she said. An attorney, for instance, might help people apply for asylum or for special immigrant juvenile status.
Rojas had met with two detainees, she said.
Grand Island attorney Mark Porto also met with two detainees at the jail Thursday. He described himself as “a sympathetic attorney who’s volunteering some time.”
He was gathering information from the detainees, which he planned forward to attorneys who would represent them. Bond hearings are an important step for the workers who were arrested, Porto said. So it’s important that they have a “competent bond hearing,” said Porto, who was interviewed at the Multicultural Coalition.
Some of the workers were issued notices to appear before a federal immigration judge and released from custody. The rest remain in ICE custody pending immigration court proceedings.
Like the people from the Immigrant Legal Center, Porto had a stack of pro bono detainee project intake forms, which he planned to fill out as he interviewed the detainees.
The Multicultural Coalition is acting as a hub for the response to the raids in O’Neill and elsewhere. “So that means we are housing Immigrant Legal Center attorneys,” said Executive Director Audrey Lutz.
Lutz said there’s a group of local lawyers who “want to show the community that the criminal defense attorneys in Grand Island will not stand for ICE actions of this nature.”
The Multicultural Coalition is also channeling donations received in response to the immigration raids. People can go to the Multicultural Coalition’s Facebook page or they can bring a donation to the organization, which is at 325 W. Fourth St.
“We’re also collecting donations for the O’Neill community,” Lutz said. The Coalition is looking for drivers to deliver supplies to O’Neill.
Six organizations, describing themselves as Nebraska immigrant advocacy organizations, issued a statement condemning “the arrests of hard-working Nebraskans and the tearing apart of families.”
In addition to the Multicultural Coalition of Grand Island and the Immigrant Legal Center, the statement was issued by the Center for Rural Affairs, Centro Hispano Comunitario de Nebraska, Heartland Workers Center and Nebraska Appleseed.
According to Homeland Security, criminal arrest warrants were executed Wednesday for 17 individuals “connected to an alleged criminal conspiracy to exploit illegal alien laborers for profit, fraud, wire fraud and money laundering in Nebraska and Minnesota.” Agents also identified employees “who were subject to arrest for immigration violations and were unlawfully working” at businesses searched, says a news release.
Bahensky also pointed out that some of the people detained have not been charged with criminal offenses.
Hall County voters sent a clear message in last week’s primary election:
They want change.
— After 20 years and five terms, Jerry Watson was voted out as sheriff and will be replaced by one of his deputies, Rick Conrad.
— Also after 20 years and five terms, Scott Arnold lost his re-election bid to continue representing District 7 on the Hall County Board of Supervisors. Ron Peterson won the Republican nomination and will face Democrat Peggy Pape in the November election.
— After four years and one term on the county board, Doug Lanfear will no longer represent District 1. Retired police officer and political newcomer Butch Hurst won the Republican primary and will take a seat on the board in January.
In all, two of the three county board incumbents on the ballot lost. The only one to win was Jane Richardson in District 5. In District 3, Supervisor Steve Schuppan didn’t seek re-election. Former supervisor Dick Hartman won the GOP primary and will face Democrat Gayle Clark in November.
Each voter had their own reason for their vote, so trying to see a reason for the outcomes is speculation. However, there are a few points worth noting.
First, Arnold, Lanfear and Watson were all facing strong challengers. For many years, Hall County officials have run unopposed for re-election. That all changed this year as quality challengers filed in about every race.
Faced with good choices, voters opted for change.
For the past couple of years, the Hall County board has been divided and often has wasted time on petty arguments and what seemed like personal conflicts.
That’s not to say that the incumbents who were defeated were solely responsible for the divisiveness. That blame can be spread among the entire board. These incumbents were on the ballot this year and took the heat for it.
But the message was sent that change was needed and the board needs to focus on what voters want, which is a more conservative approach to spending and more transparency.
Voters are giving the board a chance to reset its focus.
In the sheriff’s race, Conrad made the case that morale was low in the department and it was time for a change. Perhaps voters were saying that no one is entitled to an elected position; they have to earn it by working hard.
The next seven months will be interesting as a number of county officials will now be lame ducks. When January comes, they will no longer hold their positions.
These officials will continue to serve residents and carry out their duties for the rest of the year. County business must be carried on, but it may be better to put off some long-term decisions until the new officials take office.
In conclusion, it was disappointing to see such a low turnout — only 22 percent of registered voters in Hall County went to the polls. Statewide, 24 percent of registered voters actually voted.
Those figures are disappointingly low. It was thought that the contested local races would have brought out more voters, but not everyone was voting for county supervisors, only those in four districts. Also, Grand Island mayor and most city council races weren’t on the ballot because of too few candidates.
This primary election, though, was extremely important to Hall County government and voters spoke loud and clear that they want change.
Affected by the weather, the Nebraska State Fair may have seen an attendance drop this year. But fair officials point to increases in a number of categories that reflect an improved experience for fairgoers.
Final revenue and attendance numbers won’t be available until around Sept. 21.
Going by observation, “it wouldn’t surprise us at all if the numbers were down,” said Chris Kircher, chairman of the State Fair Board of Directors.
But attendance is not the only measurement of a fair’s success, Kircher said. Fair officials pay a lot of attention to customer satisfaction, he said.
While officials “can’t change the weather, what we can address is whether our fairgoers have a good experience” and whether they “want to come back to the fair next year,” he said. In those areas, the numbers were good.
“Clearly, this was a challenging year weather-wise,” Kircher said.
A wet weather pattern had an impact even before the fair began, causing two concerts to be moved indoors.
While there were some good days during the 11-day period, “the amount of rain we’ve had had a lasting impact throughout the duration of the fair. So that was a challenge that we were working with every single day of the fair,” he said.
Heat was a factor, but temperatures are often high this time of year, Kircher said.
State Fair Executive Director Lori Cox referred to the “onslaught of moisture levels” that hit the area for two weeks preceding the event. The rains caused high humidity levels early in the fair, she said.
Customer satisfaction numbers have been trending upward for several years. In spite of this year’s weather, which caused the cancellation and shifting of some events, “that number went up yet again this year,” Kircher said.
Kircher and Cox were also pleased by an increase of close to 40 percent in the average number of days that fairgoers attend the fair. The average is now close to three days.
Statistics also show an increase in the number of people traveling more than 76 miles to get to the fair.
“That means that some things that we decided to do this year are working. And that’s exactly how you continue to grow the fair, is to get more people out here,” Kircher said.
Some things are beyond your control, said Kircher, pointing to the cancellation of Saturday’s Husker football game.
“But we feel good about those things that we were able to control because the results are showing us that they’re continuing to add to the success of the fair,” he said.
Kircher and Cox also point to strong growth in livestock and small animal entries. This year’s entries exceeded last year’s with a particular spike in FFA beef and 4-H rabbits.
Officials also cite a significant growth in sponsorships. Sponsorship sales rose 16 percent over 2017.
Other improvements, they say, include increased security measures and new scholarships for 4-H and FFA participants. The latter program provided $8,000 in tuition aid to market champions.
Newly installed security cameras helped locate lost children quickly and reduced incidents throughout the fair.
Officials also pointed to increased national media coverage, due in part to the State Fair hosting Nebraska senatorial and gubernatorial debates.
The fair also expanded efforts to those in need. The “Webster’s Wonder Kids” program served 100 foster kids by providing them gate admission, Up With People tickets and carnival wristbands.
Cox is excited to dig into survey results to find out why people stayed longer this year.
“What was it that brought them back for a third day? Do we have so much entertainment that they couldn’t see it all? Is that important for us, to continue that trend?” Cox said. “Is it that they enjoyed themselves so much and just want to experience all of those good things?”
Cox, who took over the job Jan. 19, did well in her first year as executive director, Kircher said. She “stepped right into the middle of a plan” that was already in place, he said.
To adequately prepare for a State Fair requires a year, Kircher said. In the case of scheduling big-name entertainment, it can take more than a year.
In a statement, Kircher said Cox “has demonstrated to the board that she’s a quick learner who delivers results. Looking ahead, we believe that many others will come to this same conclusion.”
The board is excited about some of Cox’s ideas “that she’ll actually have an ability to act on next year,” Kircher said.
When Grand Islanders heard that the downtown post office might close, many objected by saying “Please, Mr. Postman.” The Postal Service rejected the written comments, figuratively saying “Return to Sender.”
The final day for Grand Island’s downtown post office has arrived. The retail window at 204 W. South Front will close at 11 a.m. today.
The window will reopen in a new location, at 3835 Old Potash Highway, at 8 a.m. Monday. The Old Potash building, which has been serving as a processing and distribution facility, will become Grand Island’s only full-fledged post office.
Since the news was announced, some businesses, churches and other entities in the middle of the city have shut down their post office boxes. From now on, they will rely on mail box delivery.
Credit Management and Revenue Cycle Specialists were among the companies that hoped the Postal Service would reverse its decision. But that didn’t happen.
So beginning Monday, life will be different for Credit Management and RCS, which share the same ownership and the same downtown building.
“It’s going to be a lot less convenient to pick up our mail,” said Dave Faimon, chief financial officer for Credit Management and RCS. Each company has a post office box in the downtown facility. “So it’s probably adding about eight miles to the round trip.”
Currently, those companies make at least two or three calls each morning to get their mail.
To get to the new post office, “You have to go through one of the most accident-prone intersections in the city, and the road there is a two-lane road with unpaved shoulders,” Faimon said. So traffic congestion and safety are a problem, he said.
The postal locations will now be on the north and west sides of the city, Faimon said, referring to the Webb Plaza Station and Hy-Vee.
Still, Credit Management and RCS will adapt. “We would prefer it didn’t happen, but we will take care of business the best we can,” Faimon said.
Public Works Director John Collins expects traffic to decline on South Front Street. Large semi-trucks will no longer deliver mail and packages to the post office, so visibility and traffic should be better on Pine and Front streets.
At times during the day, the intersection of Highway 281 and Old Potash receives D and F marks on the city’s grading scale. F means the delay is longer than acceptable. “D means you’re getting concerned,” Collins said.
“That intersection has a lot of D and F already,” he said. Shifting the postal business will add a couple of hours of F level of service daily, he said.
Less impact than expected
Still, the postal shift will have less of an impact on the intersection than the city originally anticipated.
Initially, city officials assumed that 100 percent of downtown postal traffic would move to Old Potash.
“The reality is it’ll be something under half, at best,” Collins said.
Some of the people currently using the downtown post office will use one of the other postal locations. In addition, people currently visiting the downtown post office several times a day will consolidate those visits into once a day, or every other day. Some people visit the downtown post office frequently just because it’s handy. Some of those people might stop at the Old Potash location on the way home from work.
“If you have to drive across town, you’re going to aggregate your trips so that you don’t have to make as much effort,” Collins said.
The people traveling to the new post office won’t all be going at the same time. The increase in traffic caused by the postal switch might be as little as 10 percent, Collins said.
That being said, however, the amount of traffic on Old Potash is growing. “The city is growing to the west,” Collins said. No matter what happens, “there will be more cars on it every year as long as the city keeps growing.”
Improvement is coming
The city is planning a major Old Potash project, which “will alleviate the traffic in that area for quite a while.”
Collins hopes work will begin in 2020.
No. 1, the project “will put the right amount of pavement down from North Street to Webb Road.” In addition, “it will improve each of the intersections in there. At 281, it’s just widening it out so you have more lanes, and for example, if you’re eastbound on Old Potash and 281, we’re adding a lane of traffic so you cut in half the delay there because of adding the additional lane.”
That will improve service just because the delay will be so much less, he said.
“The other thing we’re doing is restricting the entry and exit from Old Potash. Right now you can drive on and off it at any location, and that’s causing a lot of the congestion as well as the collisions,” Collins said.
Eliminating collisions makes traffic flow better. But “when you don’t have to worry about cars pulling in front of you every five feet, you tend to drive at the speed limit,” he said.
The Old Potash work will involve a minimum of two years of construction, and possibly three.
“It’s a really big project,” both in terms of size and cost, Collins said.
Meanwhile, back downtown, many motorists like to use the two sets of collection boxes along Front Street.
Brian Sperry, a Postal Service spokesman from Denver, said Thursday there will be no change to the collection boxes.
There’s a chance that diagonal parking spaces will be added on Front Street.
But Collins said the driveway will remain across the street from the post office as long as the collection boxes remain.
City Council member Mark Stelk said the move of the post office from downtown is bittersweet. People meet their friends and say hi to each other at the post office all the time, he said.
Some people like to see things change. Others like to see things stay the same. But developments like this are part of progress, Stelk said. “Life moves on and things change.”
Stelk is the owner of General Collection, which relies on the downtown post office.
As part of the change, General Collection is going to street delivery, rather than using a post office box.
“And the other thing we’re doing is we’re selling stamps to our customers,” Stelk said. The company isn’t making any money on that service. “It just saves them another trip to the post office or Hy-Vee or wherever.”
City Administrator Marlan Ferguson says the Postal Service’s decision to move out of downtown was disappointing. The city protested the decision “as much as we could at the time,” he said.
Ferguson hopes some sort of satellite location will come to downtown, which is growing, he said. The center of downtown is also a government hub, he said. Hopefully the city can show the Postal Service that there’s a need for a downtown site, he said.
Nearly two dozen people gathered at Eagle Scout Lake in Grand Island on Saturday evening to discuss the Central Nebraska Humane Society’s new “Capacity to Care” policy that would slightly increase the number of animals euthanized at the shelter.
The policy will be implemented Nov. 12 to help ease overcrowding at the shelter. The people who gathered Saturday are looking for alternatives that would not necessitate the need to euthanize any animal.
“We want to show support for the staff of the Humane Society and help them help the animals as much as possible,” said Jeff Thomas, who helped organize the meeting. Thomas is a volunteer at the Humane Society.
“I just felt compelled to say that we can do something,” he said. “We can help. We can make a difference.”
Thomas called the meeting earlier Saturday, posting it on social media. Before coming to the meeting at Eagle Scout Lake, he said there were 75 shares.
“People are taking an interest,” he said. “We can do something as a community to show that we care.”
Jill Hornady, president of the Humane Society’s executive board, said recently that she’s been wanting to implement the Capacity to Care policy since joining the board three months ago. She said overcrowding at the shelter has raised concerns for the safety and health of both the animals and staff.
But the proposed policy has upset some members of the community.
On Saturday, Thomas said, a number of at-risk animals were adopted. He said any animal that is saved and finds a new home is a victory.
Thomas said they want to spread awareness among the public about the situation.
“The Humane Society is not the bad guy,” he said. “They are doing what they can. They need some help.”
One area that Thomas suggested would help is for more people to volunteer at the shelter.
“Since all of this has happened, I have seen people post on social media that if they (the Humane Society) implement this policy, they will not donate anymore,” he said. “That is so wrong and misguided. They need donations more now than before this happened. We have to change that line of thought. We need to get more people to volunteer. We need to do what we can do.”
For those who want to help find a solution and to get more information, Thomas has started a Facebook page called “Forever Paws.”
LINCOLN – Xavier Watts deserves much of the credit – or blame, depending on one’s point of view – for the Class A football state championship trophy not heading west of Lincoln for the 12th straight year.
The 6-foot-1, 190-pound Omaha Burke receiver scored twice in the third quarter to give the Bulldogs a spark, then made a fourth-down grab late to seal a 24-20 back-and-forth win over Grand Island Senior High.
The Islanders were attempting to win the program’s first state title since 1978, second of the playoff era and sixth overall Monday at Memorial Stadium.
It also would have been the first Class A title by a team outside of Omaha or Lincoln since Kearney’s 2006 crown.
And things were looking good for Grand Island, which took a 14-3 lead into the second half and came up with a huge defensive stop early in the third quarter.
But then Watts scored on passes from Tyler Chadwick of 62 and 37 yards within a span of 3:21 to put Burke on track to win its first state title.
“(Watts) is one of the best players in the state,” Bulldogs coach Paul Limongi said. “He’s a competitor. He’s athletic. He’s tough. He came through tonight.”
Watts finished with 11 catches for 159 yards, but Burke (13-0) was kept under control by the Islanders’ defense for most of the first half.
“One of our goals was no explosive plays, and they got those two explosive plays in the second half,” Grand Island coach Jeff Tomlin said. “(Watts is) just a good, good player on a really good team.”
Watts ignited things with a 62-yard score with 4:56 left of the third period that brought the Bulldogs to within 14-9 after a blocked PAT kick.
“We needed something and we got the momentum there,” Limongi said. “When we get the momentum and we start feeling it, we’re tough to beat.”
Then Watts made a 37-yard catch in the end zone despite being sandwiched by a pair of Grand Island defensive back. He also made the grab on the 2-point conversion to put the Bulldogs up 17-14 with 1:35 remaining in the third.
Grand Island (10-3) did regain the lead. John Reilly scored from 1 yard out with 6:49 left in the game. The Islanders were up 20-17 after a blocked PAT.
A 35-yard run by Caleb Francl on third down and a 23-yard pass from Cole Evans to Broc Douglass moved Grand Island quickly down the field on the possession.
But Burke went up for good with 3:04 to go. James Burks, who amassed 219 yards on 39 carries, scored his lone touchdown on a 7-yard run to account for the winning touchdown.
“They put us in some tough personnel situations,” Tomlin said. “That’s a credit to their coaches because we would have liked to have gone with a bigger lineup. But they have those speed receivers, too. It’s a catch-22. …
“I thought for the most part we played really well. They have so many quality athletes I knew it was going to be hard to hold them down all night. But I’m proud of our effort.”
Watts capped off his big second half with a 12-yard catch on fourth-and-5 from the Grand Island 29-yard line to keep the Islanders from having one final opportunity in the final minute.
The defenses were the stars of the first half, coming up with key stops deep in their own territory.
The Islanders came up with the first one.
Omaha Burke converted a fourth-and-4 from the Grand Island 19-yard line after initially lining up for a field goal before reconsidering during a timeout during its opening possession.
The Bulldogs moved to the 7, but a pair of incompletions on third and fourth downs ended the threat.
Grand Island went 93 yards in 12 plays with the drive getting off to an unusual start. Evans grabbed a pass that was batted back to him and gained 15 yards. He finished 17-for-25 passing for 158 yards with one touchdown and one interception to go along with his 15 receiving yards.
On fourth-and-7, Evans threw to Francl, who powered his way past a defensive back into the end zone for a 33-yard score. That gave the Islanders a 7-0 lead with 2:30 left in the first quarter.
Francl then made the tackle after a bad snap on a punt attempt to give the Islanders the ball on the Burke 14-yard line. But this time the Bulldogs’ defense came through, stuffing Timo Sikes on a run up the middle on fourth-and-1 from the 5.
Burke went from its own 7 to the Islanders’ 6-yard line before settling for a 23-yard field goal by Colin Campin to get on the scoreboard with 5:43 left in the half.
The Islanders wasted no time answering that score.
Sikes rumbled around and through the defense for 43 yards to set up Reilly going around the left side untouched for an 18-yard score on the next play. That put the Islanders up 14-3 with 4:55 remaining before halftime.
Omaha Burke got one play after Grand Island’s fourth-down try from its 45-yard line failed with four seconds remaining. Chadwick’s toss downfield was deflected by an Islander, but the ball went right into the hands of Watts who curled into the end zone.
But an ineligible receiver downfield penalty brought it back, and a Burke run was stopped after a short gain to end the half. That prevented Watts from producing a big momentum-turning play in the first half, but he got the job done in the third quarter.
The Islanders went into the locker room with their 14-3 lead and 104 yards in both rushing and passing.
“I think we overall played a really good first half,” Tomlin said. “We shot ourselves in the foot with penalties, which I think in the end was a big factor. They obviously played real good defense in the second half. …
“Offensively we showed signs of playing really well at times, in the first half in particular. Overall effort was outstanding. Execution – I wish our execution was a little bit better.”
Grand Island survived fumbling the ball on its own 3-yard line without giving up any points early in the second half. Matt Jurgensmier lost the ball just as he was ready to punt, allowing Burke to take over just three yards away from the end zone.
But a fumble helped back the Bulldogs up six yards on first down, and the defense held from there. And Burke came up empty when Campin’s 23-yard field goal try went wide left.
Watts came through on the next two possessions, and the rally was on for Burke to claim its first football championship.
“(I’m) still a little in awe,” Limongi said. “There’s been a lot of great football teams at Burke the last 55 years. We’ve been close a lot. This is for them.”
Although Grand Island’s memorable playoff run finished one win short of the state title, Tomlin knows that the Islanders created some lifelong memories – and more.
“I hope they have lifelong relationships and are still keeping in touch in 10 years,” he said. “I hope they are men of honor and integrity, and I know they will be. But they’re going to have a lot of good memories of being with their buddies and all the hard work they put in. Hopefully there are good memories of their coaching staff.
“We made a pretty good team. I’m awful proud of them.”
There was a darkness that fell over the prairie at the Crane Trust Nature and Visitors Center shortly before 1 p.m. Monday that very few of the thousands of visitors there had ever seen or now will ever forget.
For nearly an hour the sky around them slowly darkened, the temperature dropped, the wind picked up slightly and an event talked about for years was finally here.
All eyes, covered with protective glasses, were turned to the sky. The glasses then came off. It was safe to look. People rose from their portable lawn chairs, there was a brief silence and when totality came — when the moon covered the sun — there were cheers, there were tears, there were brief moments of uncertainty, there were people totally awestruck and speechless at something they had never witnessed before.
“I was speechless and I cried,” said Sue Hicks.
For many people, like Sue and Charles Hicks of Dallas, Texas, despite all the buildup, all the science that would explain what they were going to witness, they were still speechless, lacking words for what they had just experienced, feeling an intense emotional catharsis that was colored by a flood of emotions.
“It was biblical,” Charles Hicks said.
And for many, it was a spiritual encounter with nature made only that much more intense by experiencing it as a community of strangers gathered on the prairie of Nebraska. There were people there from more than 20 states and four countries to see what many were calling an “experience of a lifetime.”
Others brought their own personal stories to bring meaning to what they were to experience on the prairie.
Thomas Gonsiorczyk of Neuglobson, Germany, was at the Crane Trust. He came from Des Moines, Iowa, with his U.S. family to witness the eclipse.
“My brother found out about the Crane Trust,” Gonsiorczyk said. “I knew about this for a number of years and it was my plan to come here to the U.S. at this time.”
This was Gonsiorczyk’s first total eclipse, but it was made even more special by his story of self-discovery about him and his family.
Gonsiorczyk was born in Des Moines and was adopted by his German parents in the U.S. His adopted parents moved to Germany in 1967, so he grew up there.
While he knew that he was born in the United States, it was only in 2008 that his adopted parents told him about his biological family in the U.S.
“It was very special to be reunited with my family here in the U.S. and to come here to see the eclipse,” Gonsiorczyk said.
Along with Gonsiorczyk, there were also visitors from other countries, including the Netherlands, Brazil and England.
Sara Dawes of Santa Fe, N.M., rented a car there and drove to Grand Island to witness the total eclipse. She arrived Sunday and found a place to stay via Airbnb.
“My hostess was phenomenal and she took me to the Solfest in Hastings,” Dawes said. “There was a sign there about the Crane Trust, so when I woke up early this morning, here was where I came. I had planned to come up here for the solar eclipse, but coming to the Crane Trust is the cherry on top as this is beautiful.”
What made it beautiful was witnessing a total solar eclipse on the prairie. It only took a little imagination to picture the eclipse several hundred years before taking place over a tall-grass virgin prairie.
The Crane Trust Nature and Visitors Center is not a stranger to visitors from throughout the world. Every spring, one of the grandest spectacles in nature takes place there along the Platte River when more than 500,000 sandhill cranes temporarily roost there for several weeks before heading to their breeding grounds in the north. It is one of the largest mass migrations of animals in the world.
Now the Crane Trust was welcoming other visitors from throughout the world for another of nature’s spectacles, a total solar eclipse.
It was also a family affair for people such as Blair and Sarah Laddusaw of Omaha, who brought their three children to the Crane Trust to witness the eclipse. The children are Ella, 11; Luke, 9; and Rose, 7. They were just one of the many families there.
The Laddusaws made it a weekend in the area. They attended some Girl Scout events, visited Stuhr Museum and attended the Solfest in Hastings.
After the eclipse was complete, the family was awestruck by what they had just seen.
“That is why we came to this area and we decided to come to the Crane Trust because it’s wide open and we would have a good view,” Blair Laddusaw said.
“This is a lifetime event,” said his wife, Sarah.
Also attending were Paul Smith of San Francisco and his 15-year-old daughter, Abby. They were visiting relatives in Springfield and had traveled to Nebraska from California by train.
“We have been planning this for a few months,” Smith said. “It was actually Abby’s idea to come here. She learned about the eclipse at school and it was her idea to come here and meet some relatives for the first time.”
“All my friends were really jealous that I had relatives in Nebraska,” Abby said. “I think it is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity coming here and seeing the eclipse and meeting my family. It is a celebration, you know. It is like nature and the sky ... I just can’t explain it.”
People began arriving at the nature center before 6 a.m. The Crane Trust was prepared to handle as many as 3,000 visitors as the event was free and there were miles of trails on the prairie from which to witness the event. After the eclipse, many said they felt an actual physical change come over them that they likened to having a spiritual conversion.
Many in the crowd felt uncertain about the weather as there was talk about clouds, but when eclipse time arrived, the heavens parted and the moon slowly covered the sun for all to witness.
Prior to the eclipse, Diana Nevins of the Omaha Astronomical Society gave a presentation about the various myths throughout history concerning a total eclipse, the different types of eclipses, what to expect and what to look for when it happens. At the height of the total eclipse, the horizon for 360 degrees around them appeared like a sunrise and the planet Venus was in view when the sky was dark and the sun hidden by the moon.
Nevins had witnessed a total eclipse in 2016 in Indonesia and she said she was where she was supposed to be for the 2017 eclipse in the U.S. — along the Platte River in Central Nebraska. She, like many of the others, was drawn to the prairie because of its broad horizons and big sky.
“For most people, it is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” Nevins said. “The average person now lives disconnected from nature as we spend our lives in concrete buildings and air-conditioning and we have street lights on all through the night. This is one of the few astronomical phenomena that even the most citified dweller will be able to look up and appreciate. And they should as there is nothing like a total solar eclipse.”
Present to help out at the nature center were 30 volunteers who assisted and guided the visitors in order to help enhance their eclipse experience.
One of those volunteers was Brad Einspahr of Shelton. This was his first time working as a volunteer at the Crane Trust.
“I have a friend who is employed here, so I thought I would come and help out,” Einspahr said. “I have never seen an eclipse before and I know it is going to be amazing.”
And Einspahr wasn’t mistaken as he and millions of others from across the country witnessed something that was truly amazing.
Finally, after a couple of weeks of intense speculation, it appears official. Scott Frost is indeed coming back to coach the Nebraska football team.
The hiring was officially announced just before 5 p.m. Saturday. An introductory press conference is scheduled for Sunday.
Nebraska athletic director Bill Moos selected Frost, who will be the 30th coach in school history, after consulting with UNL Chancellor Ronnie Green and NU President Hank Bounds
Moos said Frost is a natural fit at Nebraska and is well-prepared to lead the Husker program.
“I am thrilled that Scott is returning to his alma mater to lead the Husker football program,” Moos said in a statement. “I truly believe that we have hired the premier young coach in the country and that exciting times lie ahead.”
Frost, 42, was the quarterback for the 1997 Nebraska national championship team.
“It is a great honor and privilege to have the opportunity to return to Nebraska and to lead the Husker football program,” Frost said in the statement. “I have been fortunate to be at a wonderful school the last two years, but Nebraska is a special place with a storied tradition and a fan base which is second to none. I am truly humbled to be here. The state of Nebraska and the Husker program mean a great deal to me. This is home.”
Frost said he appreciated Moos giving him the opportunity to lead the program.
“I would not have the opportunity to be in this position without a lot of great people who have helped me throughout my career,” he said. “Specifically, I would like to thank Coach (Tom) Osborne who has played such an integral role in my life over the past two decades, both on and off the field.”
Frost’s deal is with $35 million for seven seasons. The seven years ties the longest contract ever given at Nebraska. Basketball coach Tim Miles also got a seven-year deal in 2012.
The deal would make him the highest paid Husker coach in history and the third highest paid football coach in the Big Ten.
The reports came shortly after Central Florida defeated Memphis 62-55 in double overtime to win the American Athletic Conference championship to finish the season a perfect 12-0.
Earlier in the day, Frost wouldn’t talk about the Nebraska job in the postgame press conference. He wanted to talk to his players first.
"They should give you time after the season to make decision, and they don't," Frost said. "These things happen at the wrong time. The one thing I wouldn't do is sacrifice my time for the team."
Frost said he never expected a 12-0 season.
"Going undefeated isn't just improbable, this is impossible," Frost said. "This was fun. This game was fun. This season was fun. This has been the best year of my life."
Frost played for and coached under some of the top coaches around. At Stanford he was coached by Hall of Famer Bill Walsh, and of course Tom Osborne at Nebraska.
In the NFL he played for Bill Parcells and Bill Belichick with the New York Jets and Jon Gruden with Tampa Bay.
He began his coaching career as a graduate assistant at Nebraska before taking the same job at Kansas State.
He coached linebackers at Northern Iowa in 2007 and became co-defensive coordinator the next year. His defense was third in the FCS in takeaways with 40 and ninth in scoring defense (17.7 points per game). The Panthers gave up just 107.1 yards per game on the ground that season.
Frost joined Oregon’s coaching staff as wide receivers coach in 2009 under head coach Chip Kelly. During four seasons as wide receivers coach, the Ducks went to four straight BCS bowls.
When Kelly left the program in 2013, Mark Helfrich was elevated to head coach and Frost became offensive coordinator and quarterback’s coach.
On Dec. 1, 2015, Frost was hired as head coach at Central Florida. The Knights were 0-12 the year before, but finished 6-6 his first season and went to a bowl game.
The city of Grand Island’s latest budget proposal is suggesting saving nearly $964,000 by reducing the number of full-time equivalent positions on the city payroll by more than 15.8 FTEs.
That proposed reduction includes three police officers and three firefighters/paramedics.
The 2017-18 budget also would increase the city property tax levy by 4.744 cents per hundred dollars of valuation, bringing it to a total of 37.154 cents per hundred dollars of valuation. City documents supporting that proposed levy increase said it would generate an additional $1.4 million for the coming fiscal year.
The Grand Island City Council will have a special meeting starting at 7 p.m. Tuesday to consider all the budget proposals.
Other city potential staff reduction include eliminating the assistant to the city administrator, reducing police community service officers from 6.5088 FTEs to 3.5028 FTEs, reducing library staff from 25 positions to 23.5, and reducing park maintenance staff from 9.58 to 7.58 positions,
In addition to reducing personnel costs by cutting jobs and increasing the property tax levy, the city also is proposing several ways to increase revenues.
They include a proposal to adopt a brand-new wheel tax at some point during the coming fiscal year; adopting a storm water surcharge to be assessed against residential, commercial and industrial properties; and changing the natural gas occupation tax from 3 percent of gross receipts to a charge per therm.
The document prepared on the wheel tax estimated it will increase city revenues somewhere between $1 million and $1.5 million. It also projected that a storm water surcharge would generate $174,000 from residential customers, $132,000 from commercial customers and $10,200 from industrial customers.
City documents said the storm water surcharge revenue can be used for street drainage work, such as flushing pipes, cleaning inlets, resetting flow lines, and maintaining ditches and detention cells.
The surcharge also can be used for capital projects such as the Moore’s Creek Drainage extension. The document pointed out that the city’s general fund “is usually, but not always, used for such projects.” A third category of use is the city’s storm water program. The document said the storm water is federally mandated. In the past, that mandatory program has mostly been paid for by the city’s general fund.
That same document pointed out Grand Island’s revenue from the natural gas occupation tax has been decreasing as natural gas prices have declined. By switching to therms, the city could expect to see a $65,304 increase in revenue from residential customers, a $190,206 increase from commercial customers and a $115,832 from transport customers.
Finally, the city is proposing to adopt or increase a number of city fees. One example of a new fee is a $200 catering fee. An example of a fee increases shows that pet licenses are scheduled to rise by $10 per year if a person licenses his or her pet after Jan. 31.
The city is proposing that the fire department adopt several new fees and increase a number of others; that a number of ambulance fees be increased; that the cemetery increase a wide variety of its fees; that the maximum per team charge for sports leagues and sports tournaments be increased; the fees for the city golf course go up for the coming fiscal year; that fees rise at the Heartland Shooting Park; and that some fees at the Community Field House go up.
Other proposals include increasing some planning and zoning fees; increasing most landfill fees; increasing some transfer station fees; and increasing compost site fees. There are a number of miscellaneous fee increases, including some specialized fees such as sanitary sewer engineering plan reviews and storm sewer engineering plan reviews.
There is one proposed ordnance on Tuesday evening’s agenda — implementing a car rental occupation tax — which would impact the customers of about 10 car rental businesses in Grand Island. Car rental occupation taxes are levied in Omaha and Lincoln. A supporting document estimated the new occupation tax would generate about $150,000 in revenue, which would be used for lease or purchase of equipment for Grand Island city street division.
Students got the Starr treatment as they walked on a red carpet into their first day of school on Thursday. It was a day of firsts for everyone as kindergartners, teachers, staff, faculty and other students started off the year in the brand-new Starr Elementary School on Adams Street.
Justin Timberlake’s “Can’t Stop the Feeling” played as students and parents walked on the red carpet through the main entrance doors. Teachers greeted each student with high-fives and smiles. They seemed just as excited as the students, busting out little dance moves after each wave of students.
Many parents took cellphone photos of their children standing in front of the new school. Other students clutched their guardians’ hands, some looking nervous and others ecstatic.
For kindergartners, it was the first day of school ever, as well as going to school in a brand-new building.
Max and Maggi Simonson’s daughter Maisy, 5, was one of those kindergartners.
After going into the school and eating breakfast, the students wandered into the gym to find their teacher’s line. Kindergartners didn’t have assigned teachers yet, so they sat in lines assigned with different colors.
Maisy, with her purple-framed glasses and her colorful first-day-of-school outfit, was the first in the yellow line. She often had a smile on her face and was seemingly excited, but a little nervous about going to school. Her parents stood not far away after chatting with their oldest child on her first day.
“It’s exciting, it’s overwhelming,” Max said about sending their oldest off to her first day of school.
The Simonsons attended open house on Wednesday night — a visit that helped with some of the unknowns.
“It eased all of her jitters,” Max said of Maisy.
“And our jitters,” Maggi said.
Max said the people at Starr were helpful in making the students feel welcome and comfortable.
Maisy said she’s most excited about coloring at school.
Other students, such as the McHugh siblings, Trey, 7, Dominic, 8, and Tyonia, 6, are excited about the new school’s playground equipment. Their parents, Tyler and Chelsey, said they also went to Wednesday’s open house, which was exciting because their family got to see the new school for the first time. Chelsey said the first thing her kids said when they walked in on Wednesday night was, “What’s that smell?”
“That’s a brand-new school,” she said she informed her kids, who commented on the new school smell.
As the gym started to fill up with students, parents and teachers, some school board members and Superintendent Tawana Grover were also present. Second-grade teacher Hannah Gloe was smiling brightly, with her arms full of tissue boxes that her students brought for school.
After everyone was gathered in their classroom lines, Principal John Hauser held up a small American flag and everyone said the Pledge of Allegiance together. Before Hauser, staff and faculty sent the kids off to their classrooms with more high-fives, some more school spirit was needed.
The students were sitting on the gym floor, waiting for their moment to jump up with excitement.
Hauser shouted, “Starr!”
The students responded with “Stallions!” as they jumped to their feet.
Supporters of keeping Chapman School open applauded Monday night as the Northwest school board voted 4-2 to repurpose the K-8 school into a K-5 school for the 2017-18 school year and perhaps beyond, while pursuing a plan to establish an alternative education program at the building.
Kim Meyer and Brett Mader were the two board members who voted against, while board members Karl Quandt, Jeff Schimmer, Mike Shafer and Duane Witt voted to keep the school open. However, board discussion also indicated that the decision to keep the school open could be revisited in as little as two years if efforts to recruit students to attend Chapman School fall short of the goal. That goal would be to have 20 students per grade, with Superintendent Matt Fisher pointing out that the those goals need to be met in kindergarten and other early grades.
He noted that parents of fifth-grade students have already committed to a school and are not likely to option into Chapman. Fisher said that means it will take a number of years to bring Chapman to nearly full enrollment.
The Northwest board voted to close Chapman school at its December meeting following a series of public meetings on how to restructure the Northwest school district. Many farmers in the district said the restructuring was needed because their tax bills to support the school district were getting high enough that it was becoming difficult to farm profitably, especially with the drop in commodity prices.
The meeting started with Jill Rutan, Amy Lunch and Christina Vlcek, who did their own calculations on the per pupil cost at Chapman, starting at more than $12,000 for the current year. Rutan said recruiting efforts are bringing back some district students, as well as option students.
Those efforts show 36 option students could attend Chapman next year. She said if next year’s enrollment at Chapman rises to 110 students, the per pupil cost would decrease to $9,550.
Rutan said there are 16 verbal commitments to Chapman next year, which would bring the possible total enrollment to 126 students, which would bring the per pupil cost down to $8,330. She noted that 15 new option students would bring in more than $141,000. The 16 verbal commitments are all option students. Should those verbal commitments materialize, that would bring more than $151,000 additional dollars. That is a potential of more than $293,000 in additional revenue. Most of those students would be in the lower grades.
All the calculations eliminated Chapman’s Title I costs and special education dollars. Superintendent Matt Fisher said that Chapman has a higher percentage of special education students than the other K-8 buildings, but each school does have special education students.
Vlcek told the board that they are happy with the agenda item that proposed repurposing Chapman as a K-5 building and location for an alternative education program.
Jeremy Vlcek noted that there are questions about sustainability.
He said school supporters have found two different pieces of land that could be developed as new subdivisions to Chapman, with each of them able to support three to four-bedroom houses. He said the village of Chapman is willing to bring infrastructure to the area.
While the board debated the merits of keeping Chapman open as a K-5 building, it spent as much or more time talking about the alternative education program. The idea would be for Northwest to form a cooperative with other schools to serve students who need to be in an alternative education setting.
Northwest High School used to be part of Central Nebraska Support Services Program, but has dropped out to provide its own alternative education and special educations services. Ryan O’Grady, the new director of special services, said that also opens up the possibility of Northwest going in with other school districts to form a cooperative of its own. Such a model could be structured in several ways. One possibility would be for each school district enter into a multi-year agreement, perhaps three years, and pay an annual fee to support the cooperative.
O’Grady at first said that fee would guarantee that a school district could send one of its students in need of an alternative education setting into the alternative education program at Chapman. But O’Grady and Fisher amended that statement, noting that some type of consortium would have to be established to help make admission decisions. O’Grady said there still might be situations where the proposed alternative education program at Chapman might not be the right fit for a student.
However, O’Grady noted that some school districts are sending their students with special needs to districts many miles away. That indicates there might be interest by a number of school districts in being part of an alternative education program if it was established at Chapman.
Fisher said that if such a program was set up, it would segregate the alternative education students from Chapman’s K-5 students. However, O’Grady said the program’s goal would be to get students back into their regular classroom setting.
The motion was specifically stated to repurpose Chapman into a K-5 building. Fisher noted that would mean some Chapman students would be attending one of the other three K-8 buildings in the Northwest district next year. He said that also would result in some reduction of staff.
However, because the alternative education program is brand-new, the motion said that option would only be pursued, because of the uncertainty of how quickly — as well as if — it can be put together.
During debate, Mader noted that even with the additional students recruited to Chapman for next year, the building would still not be at full enrollment capacity. Fisher said it might take several years to reach capacity, with the goal to have 20 students in each year’s kindergarten class until that first kindergarten class reaches the fifth grade. He said having 20 students per grade should be the standard for all the K-8 schools in the Northwest district, a situation that would make the district more efficient by lowering per pupil costs. But he noted that the board needs to look at actual enrollment numbers as soon as this fall.
Each of the new academies at Grand Island Senior High will be a “small learning community” of students that will include a team of teachers, a high school counselor and a principal.
That was among the information that Grand Island Public Schools staff gave people who showed up Monday evening for a public information session on the academy system that is being implemented at GISH. The meeting was conducted in the Senior High auditorium.
The informational meeting did not feature a question-and-answer session, although it did invite people to stop outside the auditorium and use index cards to write down any questions they might have. Monday’s meeting was a presentation from various people in the Grand Island Public Schools, who attempted to answer what school officials said were the “most frequently asked questions from previous public meetings.”
Josh McDowell, chief academic officer for GIPS, said the list of FAQs was whittled down from a much larger list of 200 inquiries from the public.
Two of those questions centered on athletics and the fine arts. GISH Principal Jeff Gilbertson introduced Islander head football coach Jeff Tomlin and vocal music teacher Jeff Vyhlidal to answer those questions, at least in general terms. Tomlin said he and Coach John Swanson began working on a block schedule this past summer when it was announced that Senior High would begin using that system.
“Coach Swanson worked awfully hard on it,” said Tomlin, who added that adjustments were made to their tentative block schedule over a number of months.
“We think it is a very workable plan and we feel good about it,” he added. “We feel good that we can serve the needs of our student-athletes. There are still adjustments that need to be made, and we aren’t sure about all the variables, but we feel we have a good, solid, workable plan going into next year.”
Vyhlidal said the new block schedule will “keep all the same classes, with the same staff that we have.” But he also said it will require some changes.
Vyhlidal said he intends to create a varsity choir. Within a 90-minute block, he added, he plans to have a chamber choir and varsity show choir.
There will be flexibility within that 90-minute block to sometimes spend more time with the chamber choir than show choir, and vice versa, depending on the concert schedule and competition schedule for the two groups. Vyhlidal said the block schedule will mean the creation of an additional choir, “which would be for all those students who are not in show choir but who want to be in choir.”
McDowell said GISH staff will need intensive professional training to implement the academy model system at the school. He said high school counselors will “marry” the American School Counselors Association standards with the National Standards of Practice for Academies. Senior High counselors are scheduled to receive two days of training next week for the new academy model.
During the first week of December, McDowell said four Senior High math teachers will travel with Gilbertson to an Omaha high school that uses the same type of scheduling proposed for GISH. That schedule includes an eight-period day, divided into a four-period “A” schedule for one day and a four-period “B” schedule for the next day. Each period is scheduled to run for 90 minutes.
He said the Omaha trip will allow the four math teachers to see how their subject is taught within the block schedule format. On Jan. 3, McDowell said, “all staff members here at Grand Island Senior High will have that ‘teaching-on-the-block’ training.”
Bonnie Hinkle, Grand Island school board president, said she traces the roots of the academy model back to 2013, when the board and school administrators were questioning whether GIPS needed a second high school. One factor that weighed against a new high school was its cost, which Hinkle said likely would be near $90 million.
At the same time the board was considering the possibility of building a second high school, Hinkle said it also was wondering what the high school of the future would look like. She said the high school of the future might consist of more than bricks and mortar.
The result was a high school visioning process that involved community members, parents, students, administrators, teachers and counselors.
That prompted the school board and administrators to consider different high school models. Hinkle said the academy model was ultimately “because one of the things we heard loud and clear was that we need to make a large high school feel smaller, a small learning community.”
“Our students want to feel valued and important,” she added. Hinkle said GISH “is not broken,” but the academy system is an attempt to take “best of what Grand Island Senior High already has to offer and building it higher to make it better.”
Superintendent Tawana Grover said the consulting firm Croft & Justus was contracted by GIPS to work with community members, parents and school officials to create a five-year strategic plan for the district. Two long documents were produced as a result of that work. To make all that material shorter and accessible to the public, Grover said, four pillars were created to fit with the proposed Academies of Grand Island.
Grover said the pillars will:
— Empower principals and teachers to be instructional leaders.
— Personalize learning pathways for students.
— Design decisions by using data.
— Partner with the community.
Hinkle said the most important thing for students will be connectedness. She hopes the small learning communities will result in students becoming connected to at least one adult, whether that be GISH teacher, counselor or administrator, or perhaps an adult who is a business partner to a particular academy.
By Nicki Stoltenberg
Grand Island Livestock Complex Authority
The Aksarben Stock Show will include exciting changes for 2017 as one of the nation’s largest 4-H stock shows will move to the world-class facilities at Fonner Park.
The Aksarben Horse Show Kicks off the event Saturday, Sept. 23, and Sunday, Sept. 24, in Thompson Arena. Saturday’s events include reining, pole bending and barrel racing beginning at 3:30 p.m. Sunday’s events begin at 8 a.m.
The 90th annual Aksarben Stock Show begins at 8 a.m. Saturday, Sept. 30 and 8 a.m. Sunday, Oct. 1. The stock show culminates Sunday evening with the Aksarben Purple Ribbon Auction, which raises more than $250,000 annually to fund Aksarben scholarships, premiums and awards. The 2017 auction will be a new experience with the auction taking place in the Five Points Bank Arena and projected live on the big screen monitors in the barns and livestreamed via YouTube.
The show attracts more than 1,000 4-H exhibitors from a 10-state region. Another 700 youth from across the country will descend on Grand Island to participate in the National Livestock Judging Contests and 4-H Livestock Quiz Bowl competitions Sept. 30 and Oct. 1.
Admission to the Aksarben shows are free to the public. Admission to the Purple Ribbon Auction is free, but the Purple Ribbon Auction Reception, preceding the auction, is a ticketed event. For more information about the Aksarben Stock Show, Purple Ribbon Auction, sponsorship and volunteer opportunities, call me at (308) 382-4515, visit aksarbenstockshow.com or email email@example.com.
This past February, the Aksarben Foundation officials announced the decision to move the stock show and auction to Grand Island after hosting the events in Omaha for the past 89 years. Foundation officials believe the move to Grand Island represents an opportunity to broaden their economic impact across the Heartland and increase the number of businesses and community leaders committed to their mission.
The move was a collaborative effort between Aksarben and the Grand Island Livestock Complex Authority to enable the event to grow as a premier destination for 4-H youth and continue the tradition of extending agricultural education to them.
GILCA is a partnership that includes the Nebraska State Fair, Fonner Park, the Grand Island Chamber of Commerce and Grand Island Convention and Visitors Bureau.
GILCA’s mission is to draw premier events to Grand Island to promote year-around use of the $42 million in livestock facilities located at Fonner Park. Completed in 2012, the facilities include nearly 500,000 square feet of state-of-the-art exhibition, livestock and equine facilities constructed initially for use by the Nebraska State Fair. Buildings include the Five Points Bank Arena and dedicated barns for cattle, swine, sheep and goats, as well as the Pinnacle Bank Expo Center.
Nicki Stoltenberg is the director of fundraising and initiatives for the Grand Island Livestock Complex Authority.
HASTINGS — A fire on Friday at BG&S Transmission in Hastings destroyed the building, which closed most of the downtown area.
The fire reportedly started around 9 a.m. at Lexington Avenue and West Second Street. When crews arrived, the building was engulfed in flames, Hastings Fire Chief Kent Gilbert said.
“We were really playing catch-up, here,” Gilbert said.
Gilbert confirmed that no injuries were reported, and everyone made it out of the building before crews arrived.
Gilbert said about 50 to 75 firefighters were on scene. Crews from the Hastings area helped, including the Kenesaw Volunteer Fire Department, Trumbull Rural, Juniata and others. Gilbert said many area departments responded and he couldn’t keep track.
“We called early for help,” Gilbert said. “We’ve had a lot of downtown fires. We know a bad one when we see it.”
Hastings police Sgt. Brian Hessler said his whole crew responded to the scene to help the Fire Department with traffic.
Hessler said everything from South Street to Fourth Street was blocked off, as well as everything from Lincoln Avenue to Baltimore Avenue. He said some of Burlington Avenue up to Seventh Street was also blocked off at one time. Traffic had to be diverted for safety reasons and so the fire hoses could run to the scene.
Hastings police diverted traffic as needed, with many changes. Hessler said police worked with the Fire Department as the scene evolved so they could do their job to safely extinguish the fire.
“It was pretty fluid for a while,” Hessler said of the traffic closure changes.
Gilbert said the Police Department worked well with the Fire Department, though it was tough to communicate and keep up on the changes. Gilbert said the Fire Departments’ main priority was finding the hydrants.
Thomas Hiatt, an employee at Computer Hardware, said he and his co-worker made the 911 call. Computer Hardware is across the street from BG&S.
Hiatt said a man from BG&S ran to Computer Hardware asking for help and for them to call 911.
“‘We’re on fire here,’” Hiatt recalled the man saying.
Hiatt said he and his co-worker saw the fire evolve.
“We did see fire in one of the areas there,” Hiatt said. “Slowly, it just started getting worse.”
Hiatt said the whole incident happened a little after 9 a.m. He said Computer Hardware had no equipment damage, but the store windows were cracked. Hiatt said before the fire heightened, he could feel the heat from BG&S inside the Computer Hardware building.
“I’ve never seen a fire just take over a building like that,” Hiatt said. “The building was totally engulfed in flames.”
Photos show the flames were higher than the two-story building. Smoke could be seen just south of Doniphan on Highway 281. The smoke blew east with the wind, creating a haziness over Hastings.
More than 50 people watched the fire from the corner of Lexington Avenue and West Second Street. More watched from other streets and from afar. On the fire scene, several pickup trucks and cars were burning, tires engulfed. Windows and bricks fell as crews pumped water from two ladder trucks into the building.
Hiatt said he and his co-worker helped BG&S get people out before the fire escalated. He said some people were worried about possessions and about what was happening, but they knew they had to get out. Hiatt said he has a good relationship with many of the people at BG&S. Everyone was out safely, which he was very thankful for.
Paul Hamelink, a Hastings city councilman, said he lives about a block away from where the fire happened. He wasn’t downtown during the fire, but like many, he came to see “what was up.” He said he heard a few explosions when he arrived at the corner of Lexington Avenue and West Second Street, but he believes it was windows breaking.
Gilbert said fires “aren’t that uncommon” in downtown Hastings. He said this was probably one of the biggest fires he’d seen in a while.
Gilbert said no cause is known yet.
“We know that the shop was open and there were workers inside,” Gilbert said. “It’s a transmission shop, so there are lots of combustibles.”
Upon arrival, Gilbert said he and other firefighters heard several explosions come from the building.
“We believe that was all just containers,” Gilbert said. “That didn’t slow us down. If you have things blowing up around you, you want to look before you jump.”
Grand Island, Hall County and the surrounding areas are one step closer to having a new hospital, which doctors involved in the project say will help improve health care.
A few hundred people showed up to the southwest corner of Highways 34 and 281 for a groundbreaking ceremony for the new Grand Island Regional Hospital.
Dr. Tom Werner, one of the doctors involved in the new hospital project, said the four-story, 174,000 square-foot full-service hospital will include 64 beds and “everything you would expect from a regional hospital” including medical care, surgical care, an emergency room, obstetrics and intensive care.
Werner added one architectural feature of the new hospital is that it will include an open window on the upper two stories that face east.
“We all have situations arise in our lives where there is stress and we end up in the hospital,” he said. “I would venture to guess most people standing here today, at one time or another, will themselves be on the top two floors of that hospital, wandering around, seeing that open window and Stuhr Museum off to the east.”
Werner added the biggest thing the new Grand Island Regional Hospital will offer is “local say and local control.”
“There will be local physicians, local nurses, local staff and local administration that is supportive to a local board,” he said. “Grand Island, Hall County and Central Nebraska, this is your hospital. This is the helping hand of your neighbors extended out to meet your needs.”
Dr. Ryan Crouch, another doctor involved in the hospital project, added there was a sense among physicians in the community, and the community in general, that they were experiencing “taxation without representation.”
That brought out the revolutionary and rebellious heart that a lot of the physicians and community members have,” he said.
During Thursday’s groundbreaking ceremony, Crouch said that when the idea for the new hospital began three years ago, there were five doctors on board. Now, he said, there are approximately 85 physicians, plus health care providers and professionals involved with the new Grand Island Regional Hospital.
Once this group was formed, Crouch said it solidified and formed one collective opinion: It needed a healthcare facility that could take care of the Grand Island community and the region. After launching a grassroots effort to make the new hospital a reality, Crouch realized it needed the support of the community to make it a reality.
“We cast a net into our community and looked to harvest hearts that were in harmony with ours; people that wanted to do the right thing for their neighbors and community,” Crouch said. “We had such an (turnout) of community support and the same goals. We were amazed at how many people stepped forward to help us. They had similar values of kindness and wisdom, and helped us to work through some of the technicalities.”
Crouch also expressed thanks to Mary Lanning Healthcare and Bryan Health for their work in helping the group of doctors, health care professionals, businessmen and construction contractors learn how to successfully and efficiently run a hospital.
Lt. Gov. Mike Foley, who spoke at Thursday’s groundbreaking ceremony, said his wife and his daughter are registered nurses, which has led him to have a great appreciation for high-quality health care and health care facilities.
He added an event over the weekend, which landed his wife in the emergency room and in surgery, helped him realize the “incredible need for first-class health care facilities” across Nebraska.
“Now, with this new facility, we are going to have an enhancement to premiere medical facilities right here in central Nebraska,” Foley said. “What a great lesson, not only to Hall County and Grand Island, but the wider region of service in the entire state of Nebraska.”
Grand Island Mayor Jeremy Jensen said he ran for mayor to experience moments like Thursday’s groundbreaking ceremony. He added 20,000 cars bypass Grand Island everyday and that the city is failing to capture those people due to not having enough growth to the south along Highway 281. Jensen said the new hospital project should help to attract these people off Interstate 80.
“When this particular project came before me, and I started thinking about it, it was really about creating the momentum,” he said. “Selfishly, I think about it from the terms of the economic development of our community. This project and this intersection right here (at Highways 34 and 281), is going to serve as a catalyst to get us to continue to move to the south and grab some of those cars that bypass us everyday.”
In an interview with The Independent, Cindy Johnson, president of the Grand Island Area Chamber of Commerce, agreed with Jensen and said the new hospital project is the start of something bigger.
“We need to close that gap and bring travelers off the interstate and into Grand Island to can partake in all of the wonderful products, services and entertainment options we have here,” she said. “This will be a catalyst for that type of growth and will spur investment down the south side of Highway 281. I don’t think we’ll be able to imagine what it is going to look like in 10 years. It is just going to be a huge difference.”
Prataria Ventures, a subsidiary of Chief Industries, which is constructing the project, previously told the Community Redevelopment Authority the project will total $110 million.
At its September meeting, the CRA approved a redevelopment contract with Prataria Ventures that provides $15.8 million for a three-phase development that includes the new hospital, a medical office building and a hotel on the property at the intersection of Highways 34 and 281.
Andrew Willis, an attorney working with Prataria Ventures on the project, told the CRA at its September meeting that there will be a 24-month build on the hospital and then an 18-month build for the medical office building and hotel.
The Nebraska State Fair attendance this year was just 10,000 short of the all-time attendance record, which was set 20 years ago.
During a press conference on Tuesday, Joseph McDermott, executive director of the Nebraska State Fair, said the attendance was 379,108 fairgoers. That was the highest attendance since the fair moved to Grand Island in 2010. It also was close to the all-time record for the Nebraska State Fair, which was set in 1997 at 389,171 fairgoers.
Along with nearing the all-time record, the number “shatters the attendance for the last year in Lincoln,” McDermott said. The last year the State Fair was held in Lincoln, attendance was 367,203. Since moving to Grand Island in 2010, the State Fair was had a total of 2,415,137 visitors.
“Our numbers this year are far better than expected and is a testament to the hard work the State Fair staff puts in to create such phenomenal results,” McDermott said.
He also credited the many volunteers who help make the fair a success.
From the State Fair surveys and feedback, 88 percent of people said they’re likely or very likely to recommend the Nebraska State Fair to others. About 60 percent of fairgoers came from Central Nebraska, with Lincoln and Omaha attendance accounting for more than 20 percent.
The concert attendance drew many people, too. Chris Kircher, chairman of the board for the Nebraska State Fair, said the numbers are just shy of 39,000 concertgoers for this year.
Pentatonix drew 12,843 people, Brad Paisley had 6,011 and Ronnie Milsap was a near sell-out with 4,997. For King & Country sold 4,071 tickets, Lynyrd Skynyrd sold 3,416, Joan Jett sold 3,285 and Cole Swindell sold 4,375 tickets.
The Pentatonix show was the most popular show this year.
“That brought in a wide variety of concertgoers and fairgoers and a lot of first-timers,” Kircher said of the Pentatonix concert.
Though the State Fair had many positive comments and growth, Kircher said they are aware of some complaints from concertgoers.
Kircher said many people complained of long lines, security and line-of-sight issues. He said the State Fair wants to address those issues, especially with the potential for even more growth next year.
Some of the things Kircher said they will consider to address the issues is adding another gate for the outdoor venue and more efficient security practices.
McDermott said for the concerts in the Heartland Events Center on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, they used walk-through scanners, which were more efficient. He said they may consider using those for the outdoor concerts next year.
McDermott said the first year in Grand Island had about 309,000 fairgoers, so the increase from then to 2017 has been about 70,000.
“That’s pretty impressive,” McDermott said.
But it doesn’t stop with this year, as staff will continue to figure out how to make next year’s fair even better. McDermott said the way to do that is to continue doing what they have done for the past eight years. He said focusing on a variety of entertainment and on customer service to serve fairgoers are most important.
“That’s going to be a challenge, to continue to raise the bar,” McDermott said.
However, with 18,000 more fairgoers than 2016, McDermott said that’s better than expected. Who knows, next year could also defy expectations and be that all-time record-breaking year.
CHICAGO -- On the way to Omaha Sunday morning, I saw the sign just west of Lincoln that read something like “112 people killed this year on Nebraska roads.”
It made me think that I didn’t personally know anyone who had been killed.
A couple of hours later, I was sitting on a plane at Eppley, waiting for Flight AA3290 to push off for a short trip to Chicago for the annual Big Ten Media Days.
I checked my messages one more time.
And I saw it.
This can’t be right, I thought. This has to be wrong.
I reread it, hoping it would say something different.
“Sam Foltz killed in a car accident last night.”
It came from a trusted friend. I knew it must be true.
Suddenly, I thought I might have to use that bag that is available on airplanes. I was sick to my stomach and there was a lump in my throat the size of a football.
All of a sudden, all that stuff I had planned to write about didn’t matter one bit.
A fine young man had lost his life. Who cares that the Huskers were 6-7 a year ago, that there were still questions about Tommy Armstrong Jr at quarterback, that the offensive line had to be rebuilt, that four players who would have all been top-line players on the defensive line were gone, that the linebackers look like the strength of the defense.
The news of Foltz’s tragic death in Wisconsin while coming back from a punter’s camp would make all that stuff insignificant.
Foltz was just a good kid. Check the internet and you’ll see all the tributes from coaches, teammates and friends who knew him best.
I can’t claim to have known him that well. I interviewed him a couple of times when he was in high school, including just before he and teammate Ryker Fyfe participated in the annual Shrine Bowl game.
But I heard his coaches -- both high school and college -- speak in glowing terms of him. I also heard Grand Island Senior High Activities Director Joe Kutlas sing his praises more than once.
After being a three-sport standout for the Islanders, Foltz went on to punt for the Huskers and became one of the best in the nation. Foltz would have been a huge weapon for the Huskers with his ability to pin opponents inside the 10 or to boom a 70 yarder when needed.
There is no doubt the NFL was in his future. He was that kind of a punter.
He probably could have played receiver or defensive back if the Huskers needed him, but he was so valuable as a punter.
We’ll get back to talking about the Huskers’ prospects for the upcoming season in the coming days. We’ll do that, because there is no alternative. The world keeps on spinning and life goes on.
For the Nebraska media, it’s going to be a rather somber group that proceeds with its duties the next couple of days in Chicago. Coach Mike Riley, quarterback Tommy Armstrong Jr., receiver Jordan Westerkamp and linebacker Josh Banderas were scheduled to attend.
They won’t be making the trip. It just wouldn’t be right. They need a few days. The team needs a few days.
They will adjust and move on, but you can bet Sam Foltz will be remembered throughout and beyond what would have been his senior year of football at the University of Nebraska.
Northwest school board members will once again discuss district restructuring when they meet for their regular December meeting Monday, but this discussion could potentially lead to a motion on what the actual restructuring plan should be.
Northwest has hosted a series of public meetings and surveyed both school district patrons and parents who live outside the Northwest school district but send their children to one of the five Northwest schools. Because of dramatic increases in the value of farmland, agricultural producers who live in the Northwest district have become increasingly concerned about the property tax bills they receive to support the school system.
Those concerns prompted administrators and school board members to hold the public meetings on restructuring. Since that time, board members have held a special work session and have had committee meetings to further discuss restructuring scenarios, which are designed to make the school district more efficient and lower the property tax levy, while also maintaining a quality education.
However, at the recent board work session, several farmers with land in the Northwest district said they opposed any restructuring plan that would require passage of a bond issue to implement. The said survey questions were asked in a way that gave people little choice but to support a bond issue as part of restructuring. Several predicted that any proposed bond issue proposal would go down to an overwhelming defeat.
Others at the special board meeting said they have doubts about whether the amount the state pays for option students to attend the Northwest school district fully reimburses the school system for the cost of educating those students. That is a contention that has been disputed by Northwest administrators. Nevertheless, some people said they might like to see fewer option students attend the Northwest school district.
Under state law, school districts must accept option students as long as they have the physical space and programs to accommodate them. However, there are restructuring proposals that would reduce the number of option students who could attend the Northwest school district. One such option would involve putting all the students from the sixth through 12th grade into the existing high school building.
That likely would mean fewer option students going to Northwest High School, although it might result in more room for option students in one or more of the K-5 buildings that would be created by such a plan. However, some people have warned that greatly reducing the number of high school students in the Northwest system might also reduce the programs the district is able to offer.
It is not certain that anyone will make a motion to restructure, but that is at least a possibility because Monday is a regular meeting when the board is authorized to take official action.
In other business, the board will be asked to approve a contract with the district’s certified staff for the 2017-18 school year. The new base salary under that contract will be $33,700.
It also will be asked to recognize the November 2016 election results, which returned incumbent Karl Quandt to the board and elected first-time board members Bret Mader and Mike Shafer.
During the public recognition portion of the meeting, the board will honor Madi Bahe for her 10th-place finish in the 2016 girls NSAA state cross country competition and it also will honor members of Northwest’s 2016 NSAA state volleyball Class B runner-up team.
Grand Island has a $1 million surplus in the coffers from the inaugural food and beverage tax implemented in 2008 to pay for Nebraska State Fair development.
The Grand Island City Council initially created the 1.5 percent occupation tax on served food and non-alcoholic beverages to pay for the $5 million Community Fieldhouse, which doubles as the 4-H and FFA exhibit building during the Nebraska State Fair.
“It is currently estimated after the final payment (June 30, 2016) on the Grand Island Fieldhouse that we’ll have $1 million in surplus on the food and beverage occupation tax,” City Finance Director Ranae Griffiths wrote in a memo to the city council. “We can designate how those funds will be spent.”
City administration is recommending three specific ways to spend the surplus:
- To replace the artificial turf in the fieldhouse at an estimated cost of $250,000.
- To design and build an additional concession stand and bathrooms at the Veterans Athletic Field Complex at an estimated cost of $225,000.
- To use the remaining $475,000 toward the lottery matching funds for the State Fair, which averages about $87,500 each quarter, or $350,000 each year.
“The surplus funds would also be transferred to a special revenue fund to ensure they are reserved for payment of these three items,” Griffiths wrote in the memo.
Grand Island City Attorney Jerry Janulewicz is to discuss the earmarks with the council during a 7 p.m. Tuesday city council meeting.
The city council created the food and beverage tax in 2008 to pay a bond on the Community Fieldhouse, but later decided to use the revenue for two other State Fair related expenses. In 2009, the council decided to use the food and beverage tax revenue to cover the $1.6 million cost of relocating softball and soccer fields from Fonner Park to the newly created Veterans Athletic Field Complex as a way to free up additional parking at the State Fair campus.
In 2011, the council decided to use the occupation tax revenue as matching funds for the State Fair’s receipt of money from the Nebraska Lottery. The host city has to match 10 percent of those lottery proceeds.
Over the years, the council had debated whether to use surplus revenues to pay the fieldhouse bond off early, but decided against doing so as the tax would sunset once that building was paid off.
Last month, Grand Island voters decided to renew the 1.5 percent occupation tax with no sunset. Beginning July 1, it will apply to all served food and beverages, including all alcohol sales.
Grand Island Parks and Recreation Director Todd McCoy said the city had hoped to get five to 10 years of use from the artificial field turf. But six years of heavy use and the annual moving of the turf have caused excessive wear.
“The seams are worn and it’s matted down,” McCoy said. “We’ve just got a lot of use quite honestly.”
The Veterans Athletic Field Complex currently has one concession stand and a three-stall men’s and women’s restroom on the north side near the softball fields. McCoy said the hope is to add a second concession stand and restrooms on the south side of the athletic complex by the soccer fields. Currently, portable outdoor toilets are being used by the soccer fields, he said.
On the agenda
Other issues before the city council Tuesday include:
- Ratifying Mayor Jeremy Jensen’s pick of Capt. Robert Falldorf to be promoted to Grand Island police chief, following the retirement of Police Chief Steve Lamken. Falldorf is to start as chief on June 20 at an annual salary of $114,247.
- Accepting a $533,364 Homeland Security Grant for the purchase of a fire training simulator and authorizing up to $54,000 in local funds to match the grant for the Grand Island Fire Department.
- Meeting in closed session regarding labor contract negotiations with the Fraternal Order of Police No. 24, representing Grand Island police officers and sergeants.
- Approving an agreement with the Grand Island Public Schools to split the cost of widening Adams Street just north of Stolley Park Road and to the entrances of Barr Middle School and Starr Elementary School.
- Awarding a public transit contract to Senior Citizens Industries to provide in-city busing services for $638,430 for July 1, 2016, to June 30, 2017. The contract is renewable for two years with fees being $54,799 from July 1, 2017, to June 30, 2018, and $56,442 per month for July 1, 2018, to June 30, 2019.
- Creating Sanitary Sewer District No. 538T to serve parts of the Jack Voss Horse Country Club Third Subdivision, parts of the Miracle Valley Second Subdivision and areas west of Engleman Road and north of Michigan Avenue.
- Appointing Al Satterly to the Civil Service Commission.
If you go
What: Grand Island City Council meeting.
When: 7 p.m. Tuesday.
Where: Grand Island City Hall, 100 E. First St.
Topics: Hiring Capt. Robert Falldorf as police chief, earmarking $1 million in surplus occupation tax revenues for parks improvements, accepting a grant for a fire training simulator, agreeing to split costs on a widened Adams Street with Grand Island Public Schools.
The conceptualization of the brand spanking new Central Nebraska Regional Airport Terminal began nearly six years ago. Last week the new, state-of-the-art terminal was officially dedicated with a ribbon cutting ceremony.
The moment was a historic one for Grand Island and, in fact, for all of outstate Nebraska as the regional portal has been elevated into higher prominence as a preferred point of departure and arrival for air travel.
Nearly 65,000 travelers passed through the Grand Island airport last year setting yet another record as word has spread about the convenience and value of flights offered by American and Allegiant airlines to destinations such as Phoenix, Las Vegas, Orlando and Dallas/Fort Worth — a popular hub for connections throughout the U.S. and foreign countries.
The $14.1 million, 34,000-square-feet terminal began passenger service on March 22 replacing a 10,000-square feet terminal built in 1954. $10 million of the terminal’s cost was federally funded.
Airport officials including Director Mike Olson, airport authority chairwoman Lynne Werner and airport board members sought to make a profound statement with the design and functionality of the new facility. The end product has vastly exceeded everyone’s expectations.
The building stands a fully functional, expandable work of art, representing one of the most advanced and energy-efficient airport terminal designs in use today. The CNRA team worked hard to create a sense of place and arrival for visitors to Central Nebraska. Large, beautiful murals of local landscapes convey a warm welcome while a Platte River schematic ingeniously woven in the terrazzo flooring guides travelers to check in, security, departure, baggage claim and back to ground transportation.
Improvements at the airport will continue. The next big capital project will be to extend the existing 7,000-foot-long runway to 8,000 feet to accommodate larger aircraft serving more distant destinations. That multiyear project will get underway next year.
The new terminal will be an invaluable tool for Olson to use in recruiting more airlines and destinations. The airport upgrades will also help attract new investment, businesses and professionals to our community over the coming decades.
We applaud CNRA leadership for their remarkable achievement.
A chartered Allegiant Airlines flight carrying 79 Vietnam veterans returning to Grand Island from a Hero Flight trip to Washington, D.C., rolled onto the tarmac at the Central Nebraska Regional Airport at 5:15 p.m. Tuesday.
More than a thousand onlookers waved flags, signs, cheered and clapped to greet the plane — and its cargo of heroes.
“Welcome home, welcome home, welcome home,” chanted one little boy as he peeked through the chain-link fence to see the veterans.
“You’re our hero Grandpa,” said the sign 7-year-old Cooper Halverson and 11-year-old Jett Halverson held for Army veteran Danny Halverson.
The plane door opened as the Northwest High School band broke into “A Salute to America’s Finest” — a medley of songs honoring each branch of the military.
The veterans walked down the unloading ramp into a receiving line of salutes and flags held by Patriot Guard members standing shoulder to shoulder.
At the end of the line, Mayor Jeremy Jensen presented a key to the city engraved with “Thank you for your service” while Grand Island City Administrator Marlan Ferguson handed each veteran a city pin.
“This is unbelievable,” said Army veteran Larry Badura as he looked across the crowd. “Something we never had.”
Veteran Jerry Hirschman said the trip was very meaningful — to see the World War II memorial, the Korean War memorial and the Vietnam Wall.
“But I think the best part is this,” he said in awe of the community turnout. “We didn’t get this before. It’s hard to put into words.”
Ferguson, a Vietnam veteran himself, said the emotion of the return was overwhelming. It brought back memories of his medic service when he just tried to keep his “head down and survive another day.”
“They are so appreciative,” Ferguson said of the veterans he greeted Tuesday.
Even Mayor Jensen was overcome.
“It’s — I’m a little bit emotional,” Jensen said as he paused with tears in his eyes. “Thinking back to what a lot of these guys went through when they came back from the service 50 years ago, I hope this is some sort of consolation prize.
“It doesn’t make up for what happened 50 years ago, but it certainly is a step in the right direction,” he said.
A line of traffic along Sky Park Road backed up nearly to Capital Avenue for visitors waiting to park and greet the veterans.
“I haven’t seen this many people out here since George Bush (visited in November 2006),” said code enforcement officer Cody Harrie, who was helping direct traffic with Grand Island Police Chief Steve Lamken.
Many of the well wishers didn’t have a family member on the trip itself. They simply came in honor of veterans and stood back and waved flags.
“My patriotism brought me out,” said former Grand Island Mayor Margaret Hornady, who cheered in the crowd.
Jeremy Palu turned out with a flag on a 20-foot pole that he flew from the bed of his pickup truck in the overflow parking lot.
“This is just overwhelming,” said Hall County Veterans Service Officer Don Shuda. “As soon as we came in, the comments from the veterans — they didn’t realize the impact of the enormous amount of folks who would be here. The hugs and tears are flowing.”
“It was a hellavu good time,” said veteran Craig Hand.
“We saw so many things, but the thing that really blew me away was the teenage kids that were on tours from all over the country,” Hand said. “A lot of them actually had tears in their eyes and came up to you and thanked you for your service — it’s the first time that’s ever happened to me since I got back (in 1974).”
Hand said older Americans have thanked him for his service, but never the younger generation — until this trip.
“It was very emotional,” he said. “Tough on the old boy.”
Of 11,169 votes cast in the District 35 legislative race on Tuesday, Dan Quick wound up winning the battle by only 61 votes.
Quick captured 5,615 votes, or 50.27 percent of the votes cast, for the right to succeed Mike Gloor in the Legislature. Gregg Neuhaus collected 5,554 votes, or 49.73 percent.
Shortly before 11 p.m., Quick wasn’t sure of his victory. But if he did win, he said, “I just want to thank everybody that voted for me and supported me along the way.”
People told him it would be a tight race. “So I knew it’d be close,” he said.
The key to the victory was “our hard work going door to door,” Quick said.
“That’s one of the greatest experiences that I’ve ever had, getting to visit with all these constituents,” he said.
Quick and his wife, Alice, visited close to 9,500 residences, “and then I know we’ve had help from a lot of other people,” he said.
Quick supporters visited between 14,000 and 15,000 doors. “And then we had lots of people calling,” he said, referring to the work of phone banks. “I think that helped a lot.”
Neuhaus, 63, was not happy with his opponent’s campaign.
“It’s disheartening, not so much the loss but the lies and the misinformation that his campaign put out in the last week,” Neuhaus said Tuesday night.
“In his talks, he would always talk about his faith — his Catholic faith — and then to lie about the things that he lied about and have his wife lie about and the coordinating agencies lie about is really disheartening,” Neuhaus said. “The loss is one thing, but the way he campaigned is frankly disgusting.
“We had a positive campaign. We didn’t lie about anything. We didn’t hide behind the nonpartisan nature of the Unicameral,” Neuhaus said.
Quick, he said, tried to come off as a conservative.
“I want to apologize to the unborn children that are now not going to be born,” Neuhaus said. “I apologize to the taxpayers that are going to see their taxes increase. I apologize to the businesses that will not come to Nebraska because our tax structure is going to be so unattractive, just like it is now.
“I wish I could have done more,” the Grand Island attorney said. “I wish I could have convinced people of what he is and what I am, but that didn’t work out.”
Quick, 58, has lived in Grand Island for 35 years. He has worked at the city’s Platte Generating Station for more than 26 years.
He is president/business manager of International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 1597. He is also president of the Nebraska State Utility Workers Conference and vice president of the Central Nebraska Central Labor Council in Grand Island.
As a young man, Quick lived outside Hordville on his family’s farm and went on to graduate from Hordville High School. He has lived in Grand Island since April 26, 1980, when he got married.
The Quicks have three children and five grandchildren.
Gloor is leaving office because of term limits.
In the May primary election, Quick received 43 percent of the vote and Neuhaus 39 percent. Third-place finisher Zachary Zoul received 18 percent of the votes cast.
Now that the state has returned part of the Veterans Home property, we can start to make decisions that will last long into the future. As a city council member and most of all the son of a disabled vet, it is time for all groups to be represented in talks that will forever change the landscape of northern Grand Island.
The first order of business is to pump the brakes a bit and listen to the vets and the various groups that will want to make improvements and developments in the future and listen to the citizens of Grand Island that in their wisdom bought this land and donated it to the state for a future Soldiers and Sailors Home. Only after that can we even begin to look to the future preservation and development of the land surrounding the Vets Home and their cemetery. The Veterans Cemetery should and with the help of the council will be a cornerstone of the southwest corner of the property. We need to renovate the current grounds after all the ongoing construction that has gone on at that corner is complete. I have talked to various veterans and citizens that think expanding the cemetery for future veterans would be a great idea since the only other Nebraska Veterans Cemetery is located in Alliance. If the city decides to expand its cemetery to this location, and decides to enlarge the current Veterans Cemetery, we could petition the state for help with the improvements to the Veterans Cemetery.
When looking at the present campus, the tree line to the west and the tree line to the east between Capital and Old Highway 2, to me, are hallowed ground. There has been many vets over the last 125 years that lost their last battle there and this ground deserves the respect that they earned. This ground can be developed but very carefully as this is a very sensitive piece of the veterans’ and the Grand Island citizens’ history. There are many opportunities for income-based veterans housing, veterans services, clinics and assisted living areas in this area that will help all groups of veterans young and old. We as a community do not need to rush. This is a once-in-a-lifetime chance to put something together that will serve all the veterans and citizens of the state and Grand Island.
There are many people that sense this is a done deal as to how the property will be developed and reused. This could not be farther from the truth. There have been many ideas that have been passed around between different groups, but anything being concrete or set in stone is not true. There is more than 500 acres that have been used as farm ground since the property was acquired and I fully expect that will remain the norm for years to come. The city council must pass any idea for reuse that is presented to us and there will be a public hearing for all parties to express their views when that time comes. Many veterans were disrespected for their service. This will not happen on the watch of this council. This council contains some of the best people that I have had the pleasure to work with and I know that the integrity of the Veterans Home and the veterans is first and foremost on their minds.
My grandfather, who was a baker at the home, took me on my first fishing trips to the pond with two of his friends from World War I on many occasions and forged a bond within me for the home. I do not believe that when or if it is finally closed, the city, the citizens or the veterans groups will let it fall into disarray. With open and honest dialogue, I believe that the best days of the Veterans Home are ahead of us and not lost in the history of the past.
The 2016 Nebraska State Fair attracted 361,107 people, which was an increase of 2.5 percent over last year’s 352,176 figure.
It was the largest crowd the fair has attracted since the move to Grand Island, Executive Director Joseph McDermott said this morning.
Attendance has grown each year in Grand Island except for 2014, "when we lost 25,000 people on Labor Day Sunday due to the threat of severe weather," McDermott said.
Since 2010, the fair has brought in 2,345,429 people.
The biggest attendance this year was this past Sunday, when 56,280 people came through the gates. Saturday, Aug. 27, was the second-biggest day, with 51,878 people.
Fair officials have had time to analyze statistics for the Aug. 26 Thomas Rhett concert, which drew about 10,000 people.
Omaha and Lincoln accounted for 20 percent of the Rhett fans, McDermott said. Twenty-nine percent of the Rhett attendees came from the Tri-Cities. Five percent were from out of state, and six of the Rhett concertgoers live in other countries.
McDermott noted that 87.25 percent of people surveyed would recommend the fair to friends and family.
Fair attendance, coupled with the approval rating, "tells us that the Nebraska State Fair, through the hard work of our board, staff and many volunteers, continues to create an event that’s better each year," he said.
All of the indoor concerts did well, McDermott said.
"Maybe I shouldn’t be surprised, but Hannah Huston did very well. There were about 3,300 people at that concert," he said.
Chris Tomlin, on Thursday night, sold out. The fair’s Christian act always does well, McDermott said.
He was "maybe a little surprised" by Saturday night’s Toto turnout, which was less than 2,000.
"I think the fact that it was up against the Nebraska football game has to factor into that," he said.
Sunday night’s Charlie Puth concert "came on very strong," he said. Puth appeals to people in their teens and 20s.
"They don’t buy in advance, so there was a ramp-up to that concert," McDermott said. Puth sold about 3,300 tickets.
"But I think all the concerts did well," McDermott said. Still, you can always do better, he said.
With Grand Island City Council’s approval of a resolution to accept part of the state land that makes up the Grand Island Veterans Home property on Tuesday, Mayor Jeremy Jensen says Phase I is complete.
That phase is re-acquisition of the land that the city of Grand Island gave to the state more than 128 years ago.
Jensen said that Phase II — redevelopment of that property — “begins tomorrow.” In a lengthy statement to the council and the public, Jensen also made it clear that veterans will have a voice in how that property is redeveloped.
He told the council that three young, forward-looking veterans will be part of the redevelopment committee for that property.
After the meeting, Jensen said those veterans are Ryan Kaufman and Adam Armstrong, both with the Lutheran Family Services At Ease program, and Trevor Stryker, who is with VetSET.
Jensen told the council that a recent story in The Grand Island Independent was accurate when it said he deliberately excluded veterans’ voices from Phase I re-acquisition of a portion of the Grand Island Veterans Home property.
Jensen said there was understandably a lot of emotion involved with the state’s decision to move the Grand Island Veterans Home to Kearney, where it will become the Central Nebraska Veterans Home.
However, the mayor said he saw that decision as final and he could see no benefit in continuing to contest it.
Jensen said he believes it is futile for Grand Island residents to believe that a second veterans home could be located in Grand Island to supplement the new home in Kearney.
He said that when he first took office as mayor, he believed it was too long to wait until 2018 or 2019 for the city to reacquire the veterans home property. He had what he called an internal goal of reacquiring at least part of the property within a year.
He noted there will be an election between now and 2018. That means he might no longer be mayor of Grand Island at that time. It also might mean that Pete Ricketts is no longer governor of Nebraska.
Jensen said if that happened, it would negate any “gentleman’s agreement” that he and Rickets might come to on the fate of the former Grand Island Veterans Home property.
The mayor said that he has made only two commitments to the governor about the property being given back to Grand Island. The first is that the city of Grand Island will properly maintain the Veterans Cemetery that is part of the property. The second is that the city will maintain a buffer zone to keep that land a sacred piece of ground for the Veterans Cemetery.
Jensen said that means there will be no commercial or retail development immediately adjacent to the Veterans Cemetery. Both he and the governor like the idea of Grand Island putting a city cemetery next to the Veterans Cemetery. But he said absolutely no decision has been made on the location for the city’s cemetery expansion.
Jensen noted his e-mail and voice mail have been filled over the past week to 10 days with all kinds of wonderful ideas on how to use the former Grand Island Veterans Home property. He said there will be plenty of time to consider all ideas because it very well may take 25 years to fully develop the property.
Most people have no idea how big the Grand Island Veterans Home property really is, Jensen said. He noted that Highway 2 is not the northern boundary of the property. Rather, Highway 2 merely bisects the property.
The full expanse extends all the way up to Eagle Scout Lake and where Highway 281 curves around the north part of the city before turning straight north to go to St. Libory and St. Paul.
Jensen said he personally cannot see the city using the property for housing. “I don’t see any spec houses going there,” he said after the meeting.
But during the meeting, the mayor said he was open to the possibility that at least part of the property could be used for housing for homeless veterans or for senior citizen veterans.
The mayor stressed he is not a real estate developer and indicated that coming up with plans is probably beyond the expertise of almost everyone in Grand Island. He anticipates putting out requests for proposals from consultants who can help the city decide how to best develop it, most likely in some type of multi-use plan.
Jensen also said that the fate of the Grand Island Veterans Home “campus” is still not decided. He noted that no decisions can be made until 2018 at the earliest, with that timetable possibly extending until 2019 or even 2020. That’s because the new Central Nebraska Veterans Home will not be completed and ready for occupancy until 2018 at the earliest.
He said a future city council will have to decide if the campus itself is in good enough shape for Grand Island to accept from the state of Nebraska. The state has set aside $4 million to demolish current buildings. City council members were assured that the state is willing to spend more money if necessary to complete the demolition.
Jensen cautioned that demolishing all the buildings on the campus is not a certainty, in part because a review of the buildings will have to take place under the National Historic Preservation Act.
In addition, a state White Paper says the city must deal “fairly and compassionately with the need of the United Veterans Club to have a legal right to indefinitely occupy the 10.667 acres constituting the parking lot at little to no cost except its own maintenance ...”
Councilman Mitch Nickerson said he viewed the partial re-acquisition of the Grand Island Veterans Home as a case of Grand Island “making lemonade of something that was sour” to most Grand Island residents.
Other council members expressed similar attitudes, with Councilman Mark Stelk saying he thinks the initial re-acquisition of most of the Grand Island Veterans Home property will one day be viewed as just as historic an event as when Grand Island deeded the 640 acres of land to the state of Nebraska to create the original “State Soldiers Home.”
Jensen said he hopes the future uses of the property will create a legacy for future generations that they are proud that their father or grandfather was involved in finding a new purpose for the land.
The 2015 Nebraska State Fair set an attendance record with 352,176 guests, shattering the previous record for the State Fair since coming to Grand Island from Lincoln in 2010.
“This was a banner year for the Nebraska State Fair with our largest concert in the history of the fair and even more new and exciting attractions to entertain fair guests,” Executive Director Joseph McDermott said.
McDermott, who announced the final attendance totals on Tuesday morning at the Nebraska Building on the fairgrounds, said the 11-day total for this year’s State Fair, which ended on Labor Day, was 10.82 percent more than last year’s attendance of 317,785. Last year’s attendance was low due to a wet August that saw nearly 6 inches of precipitation in Grand Island. The previous attendance record was set in 2012, when attendance reached 336,987.
While wet weather didn’t hamper this year’s fair, there were seven straight days when the high temperature was in the 90s.
With the record attendance, McDermott said the State Fair is now only 15,678 people shy of reaching the 2 million guest mark since the State Fair came to Grand Island in 2010. Fair officials hope to reach that milestone on the opening day of the 2016 fair.
He said the highest attendance for 2015 was the first Saturday of the fair, when the total came in at 61,855. That also was the day of the Keith Urban concert, which contributed to the large attendance.
The Urban concert sold 11,780 tickets and was attended by folks from 28 states and three foreign countries.
McDermott said fair officials are looking at ways to improve the outdoor concert experience, such as better crowd management. He said plans are already underway to continue the outdoor concerts at the 2016 State Fair.
“It was a great concert,” he said. “Everyone we have heard from said it was a great concert and were very pleased, but that doesn’t mean we can’t make some improvements.”
He said it is most likely that the outdoor concert will again be planned for the State Fair’s opening weekend.
“It was good not only for the Nebraska State Fair but for our vendors, as many reported having record days,” McDermott said. “I think it proved that we can host a major talent here at the Nebraska State Fair in Grand Island in Central Nebraska.”
The two opening days of this year’s fair saw a 33 percent increase in attendance over last year. Other big attendance days were Thursday, Sept. 3, which had a 35.12 percent increase over the previous year; Sunday, Sept. 6, with a 23.69 percent increase over the previous year; and Friday, Sept. 4, with a 12.61 percent increase. Nearly 60 percent of the fair’s overall attendance came on the two weekends.
McDermott said other highlights from the fair included:
— The State Fair Marathon, Saturday, Aug. 29, attracted 861 runners, of whom 428 ran the half-marathon and 186 ran the full marathon. “I think you can look for continued phenomenal growth in the State Fair Marathon,” McDermott said.
— The Firefighter Combat Challenge drew 100 participants, including 14 relay teams and 23 tandem teams, representing eight states. “The show’s organizers told us that the crowd here in Grand Island was one of the largest they had ever had at any event,” McDermott said.
He said the Firefighter Combat Challenge will return to 2016 State Fair.
McDermott also said early reports indicate that the State Fair was a hit with fairgoers. He said the overall fair experience received 4.4 out of 5 stars on surveys, and 80 percent of the surveyed fairgoers said they were likely or very likely to highly recommend the Nebraska State Fair to others.
“Word of mouth is our most effective advertising medium, and the word is very good,” McDermott said, “It’s our goal to always make improvements from year to year to make every Nebraskan proud of the state’s largest entertainment event.”
By Joe Duggan and Paul Hammel / World-Herald Bureau
LINCOLN — Nebraska has repealed the death penalty following a dramatic vote Wednesday by state lawmakers to override the governor’s veto.
The high-stakes vote to override the veto of Legislative Bill 268 was 30-19. It requires at least 30 of 49 senators to overturn a gubernatorial veto.
The outcome represented a defeat for first-term Republican Gov. Pete Ricketts, who made an all-out effort to peel away some of 18 conservative senators who helped pass the repeal bill. Earlier in the session, lawmakers overrode the governor’s veto of a bill that raises the state gas tax.
And it represents a crowning achievement for Sen. Ernie Chambers of Omaha, who has made repeal of the death penalty his top priority during his four-decade political career.
Senators voted 32-15 a week ago to pass LB 268, which marked the most votes ever for a repeal measure in the Legislature. Leading up to the override vote, several senators said they had received hundreds of calls and emails both in support of the death penalty and in support of its demise.
The measure replaces lethal injection with a maximum punishment of life in prison. It will take effect in 90 days, which would be late August or early September depending upon when the Legislature adjourns.
Legal experts say the repeal erases the statutory means to carry out a death sentence in Nebraska, meaning the 10 men currently on death row will serve de facto life sentences.
Nebraska has not carried out an execution since 1997.
In 1979, 25 lawmakers voted to abolish the death penalty, but they could not overcome the veto of former Gov. Charles Thone.
HOW THEY VOTED
Yes: Roy Baker, Kate Bolz, Patty Pansing Brooks, Kathy Campbell, Ernie Chambers, Colby Coash, Tanya Cook, Sue Crawford, Al Davis, Laura Ebke, Tommy Garrett, Mike Gloor, Ken Haar, Galen Hadley, Matt Hansen, Burke Harr, Robert Hilkemann, Sara Howard, Rick Kolowski, Mark Kolterman, Bob Krist, Brett Lindstrom, John McCollister, Heath Mello, Adam Morfeld, Jeremy Nordquist, Paul Schumacher, Les Seiler, Kate Sullivan, Matt Williams
No: Dave Bloomfield, Lydia Brasch, Joni Craighead, Curt Friesen, Mike Groene, Dan Hughes, Jerry Johnson, Bill Kintner, John Kuehn, Tyson Larson, Beau McCoy, John Murante, Merv Riepe, Jim Scheer, Ken Schilz, David Schnoor, Jim Smith, John Stinner, Dan Watermeier
One person died and another was in critical condition at CHI Health St. Francis as a result of a structure fire Saturday afternoon at Centennial Towers, 910 N. Boggs St., Grand Island Fire Chief Cory Schmidt said.
Schmidt said the Fire Department received an automatic fire alarm from the building at around 1:10 p.m. Saturday, and there was a 911 call at 1:11 p.m. saying there was smoke on the eighth floor of Centennial Towers.
Schmidt said the fire broke out on the ninth floor in the back of the building.
Centennial Towers is an 11-story, 134-foot high-rise consisting of 122 one-bedroom apartments and one two-bedroom apartment managed by the Hall County Housing Authority. It’s the second-tallest building in Grand Island.
“When our crews arrived shortly thereafter, there was heavy smoke coming from two sides of the building from the ninth floor,” Schmidt said. “Crews went in to start a search at the ninth floor and encountered heavy smoke.”
A woman who was on the ninth floor of the building fell from a window, which had heavy black smoke coming from it, around 1:25 p.m. onto an awning at the entrance of Centennial Towers.
She was taken to St. Francis with another person, who was in critical conditions with burns, Schmidt said. He said the woman who fell “unfortunately passed away.”
“Crews will be on scene investigating,” Schmidt said. “The state fire marshal has been notified. At this point, we are not sure how many people will be evacuated. It could be the entire building due to the smoke and water issues that we are facing. It is going to be an ongoing investigation. We foresee it taking quite some time.”
Officials of the American Red Cross, along with other agencies, were on the scene to assist those who were displaced from their apartments because of the fire.
More details about the cause of the fire will be released as the investigation continues, Schmidt said.
Schmidt said most of the residents of Centennial Towers got out on their own once the alarm system went off.
“That was great,” he said. “When our crews went up to the eighth floor to hook up to a standpipe system that goes to the fire floor, they did encounter quite a few people walking down the stairs. We really didn’t have to assist anybody out of the building as most of them had done that prior to our arrival or our arrival on scene.”
There were at least seven ambulances on the scene, including ambulances from Midwest Medical and Wood River Fire Department. Along with Grand Island Fire Department firefighters, firefighters from Grand Island Rural Fire Department were on scene.
“Our system is built where we rely on other agencies,” Schmidt said. “We did issue a 411, which means we issued a recall several times for off-duty personnel, and we also requested that the Grand Island Rural Fire Department respond to our stations in case, if more calls do come in, they can assist with those.”
Schmidt said, because Centennial Towers is an 11-story structure, the fire there is an example of why they Fire Department needs the proper aerial units and people to man that equipment. The ladder truck that was on scene has a 95-foot platform, but its actual usable reach is in the 80-foot range.
Schmidt said the building was not equipped with a sprinkler system.
“It is standpipe fitted, which means that there is piping in place where we can hook to a system instead of dragging firehoses from an actual fire truck,” he said. “Upstairs, we hook to a standpipe system, which is a pre-piped system, and hook our hoses up on the floor of the fire or below, which saves us a lot of equipment and time.”
Schmidt said that, in the future, the Fire Department will be trying to retrofit buildings such as Centennial Towers and other multistory buildings with sprinkler systems.
At the time the Centennial Towers was built, he said, sprinkler systems were not required.
Schmidt said the Fire Department has worked with the Hall County Housing Authority over the years to upgrade the alarm system.
“There is a very good system in place as the alarm activated and functioned as we would expect,” he said.
Hall County Corrections Director Fred Ruiz and Assistant Director Jimmy Vann were fired Thursday afternoon following nearly four hours of closed-door meetings.
The Hall County Board met with special investigators Pam Bourne and Kelly Ekeler of the Woods & Aitken law firm in Omaha and Lincoln, respectively.
The board had hired the firm in June after 30-year jail Sgt. Debb Rea retired and submitted a letter to the county board detailing management and operational concerns at the jail.
“It means a lot to Ms. Rea that her complaint, her resignation, got this whole ball rolling,” said Rea’s attorney Kathleen Neary in Lincoln. “We’re appreciative that the board took her complaints seriously, and they should have; she’s a well-respected, long-term employee who served the community well and was forced to leave her employment because of illegal conduct at the facility.”
Neary declined to specify the nature of that conduct, stating that she is still discussing a possible lawsuit with her client.
The county board convened at 1 p.m. Thursday and immediately went into a two-hour-25-minute closed-door meeting regarding “threatened litigation.” The board met with the investigators and Hall County Attorney Jack Zitterkopf.
That was followed by a one-hour closed-door meeting with Vann regarding “personnel.” When Vann left that meeting, Ruiz came in and met with the board, special investigators and Zitterkopf for 15 minutes.
Ruiz walked out of the meeting at 4:50 p.m., followed by county board Chairman Scott Arnold, who walked with Ruiz to Ruiz’s vehicle in the parking lot of the Hall County Administration Building. Both were silent as they walked.
Arnold re-entered the county board meeting room with a somber face and sat with his eyes down, resting his head on folded hands. He then rubbed his eyes before reconvening the meeting.
Supervisor Gary Quandt moved to fire Vann. The motion passed 7-0.
Quandt then moved to fire Ruiz. That motion also passed 7-0.
The board had no discussion on either motion and Arnold immediately adjourned the meeting.
The terminations are effective immediately and Arnold said Zitterkopf will be in charge of the jail until the county board can appoint an interim jail director.
Arnold said “no comment” as to why the board took such swift and decisive action. Other supervisors also declined comment.
The action was supported by numerous former jail employees, four of whom attended Thursday’s special meeting, despite it being held largely behind closed doors.
Former corrections officer Alan Rakosky submitted a written statement to Supervisor Dan Purdy.
“The first step in solving a problem is recognizing there is a problem,” Rakosky’s statement read.
Several county board members have known for at least four years that there were management concerns at the jail, yet failed to take action, he said.
“This mismanagement has had a profound effect on virtually the entire jail staff,” Rakosky stated. “That includes the loss of many excellent former career officers.”
The four former officers in attendance Thursday had 71 years experience collectively. All said they left due to management issues under Ruiz and Vann.
Mandi Hadenfeldt said she left after being told she would have to reapply for her job after being gone for surgery.
Frank Nickel said Ruiz showed no respect for any of his staff. Nickel, who left after 20 years of service, said he was called into Ruiz’ office in 2006 and told that to get ahead, he would have to “kiss the ring.”
Al Peterson said Ruiz approached him, rolled up his sleeves, put his elbows on the table and told Peterson he wanted “to tangle with you.”
“I didn’t think that was very professional,” Peterson said.
Rakosky said the jail, under the leadership of Ruiz and Vann, quickly became a situation of “playing favorites” and being a “good old boys club.”
Rakosky said those who didn’t go drinking with Vann after work or riding motorcycles, were passed over for promotions, assigned night shift or pulled off certain duties.
“It got to the point that the enemy was the administration, not the inmates,” Rakosky said.
In his statement to Supervisor Purdy, Rakosky said there is an “extreme loss of morale with many current officers” at the jail.
That impacts the officers’ ability to do their jobs properly.
“This is putting officers at risk and most importantly, public safety at risk,” Rakosky stated.
Prior to entering the closed-door meeting, Vann was asked about rumors that he had been escorted out of the jail Wednesday.
“No, no,” Vann said.
“I took a day off today and I still got my keys to get in” he said holding up the keys on his belt loop.
When Ruiz arrived, he was asked about fostering a “kiss the ring” management style that played favorites.
“I have no reaction,” Ruiz said.
Ruiz said nothing after he left the meeting.
Arnold remained with a stressed look on his face as he left the county building after the meeting.
“It’s no fun,” he said. “Friends, years.”
Arnold is a Grand Island police officer and had worked with Ruiz and Vann, not only in the jail setting, but Arnold had worked with Ruiz before when Ruiz served as captain of Troop C of the Nebraska State Patrol office in Grand Island.
Peterson said he believed that past relationship with Ruiz, not just from Arnold, but from other county supervisors who sought Ruiz out to hire as jail director, is what caused such a delay in the county board taking action about the management concerns.
Ruiz had retired from 26 years with the State Patrol and entered a second career as a mental health therapist when the county board approached him in April 2006 to be the interim jail director after then director Dave Arnold resigned after being accused of fraudulent billing related to the county’s law enforcement computer system. Ruiz served two months as interim director and was then hired as the permanent jail director.
Vann was hired as assistant jail director in December 2003 after having served nearly five years as a corrections officer in the Gulf Correctional Institution, a state prison, located in Wewahitchka, Fla.
Ruiz was the highest paid Hall County official, making $104,807 a year. Vann was paid $68,654.
Arnold said the county board has no timeline for finding a new jail director, but the issue of jail administration — naming an interim and discussions on a possible director search — may be included on the agenda for the county board’s upcoming meeting on Tuesday.
Several years ago, Sally Domeier’s daughter was in a severe accident.
She lost the use of her right arm, but she also became severely depressed and dependent on the medications doctors prescribed her for the pain.
The family sought help, Domeier said, but what they really needed was a psychiatrist who could balance her medications. Because the family lives between Ord and Burwell, however, Domeier said they had almost no choice but to make regular drives to Omaha — something that would disrupt their lives, jobs and care of their other children.
“I feel like we’ve just been on our own because in this area, you can either get a counselor that doesn’t have the training to deal with the problems, or we have to hunt for someone who has the right training,” she said.
But Domeier is not alone in facing that problem.
Access to mental and behavioral health care in rural areas has been an issue in Nebraska for years, and experts say it’s not getting better.
In fact, many in the field say with the stigma attached to mental illness and challenges getting resources to rural areas, mental health care provider shortages might be more dire than ever.
Dr. Howard Liu, director of the Behavioral Health Education Center of Nebraska, is familiar with the shortage of mental health care providers in the state, and he said it’s not new.
Generally, he said, treatment for those with behavioral health needs has shifted from institutions to serving needs in the community. Nebraska is no different, Liu said, but that’s where the problem arises for the state’s small, rural communities.
“The challenge is not all the resources are there to support them,” he said.
The statistics back that up.
According to the June 2015 Nebraska Behavioral Health Workforce report, 48 of Nebraska’s 93 counties did not have a mental health provider in 2014.
The report studies the licensed behavioral health workforce in the state, which includes psychiatrists, psychologists, advanced practice registered nurses, physician assistants, licensed independent mental health practitioners, licensed mental health practitioners and licensed alcohol and drug counselors.
State and federal shortage areas show the need, as well.
Tom Rauner is the primary care office director for the Office of Rural Health, and he submits the federal shortage designation proposals. Rauner said there is a shortage of mental health providers across the country, but it’s more apparent in rural areas.
The federal shortage designation focuses on psychiatrists, Rauner said, and it is determined using a 30,000-to-one population-to-psychiatrist ratio. Only one area — consisting of Dodge, Washington, Douglas, Sarpy and Cass counties — was not listed as a shortage area in 2015.
State shortage areas for psychiatry and mental health show similar results. They are based on a 10,000-to-one population-to-psychiatrist ratio and do not include areas within a 25-miles radius of Omaha and Lincoln.
Of Nebraska’s counties, just two — Fillmore and Thurston — were not designated shortage areas in the most recent report, and eight were partially designated.
According to the workforce report, more than 84 percent of psychiatrists practice in metropolitan counties.
And according to Liu, the shortage could get worse.
The workforce report shows that more than half of the licensed workforce is over the age of 50. “It’s really going to be truly an acute shortage in the next few years as those folks retire,” Liu said.
A rural stigma
But the challenges in finding mental health care in rural Nebraska are not limited to finding a provider.
Tom Adams is the executive director for the National Alliance on Mental Illness Nebraska, which provides support for those touched by mental illness.
They have support groups across the state, he said, which allow for person-to-person connection. In rural areas of the state, however, Adams said, finding anyone to talk to is sometimes hard. “Just to go to have a place to talk to someone is a huge challenge for us,” he said.
Mental illness is also somewhat of a hidden problem there, Adams said. Farming communities sometimes have a “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” mentality, he said.
Keri Brugger and Mary Howell said they see that, too.
Brugger is a counselor for the Valley County Health System’s Heritage Program, and Howell is the program manager.
The program, Howell said, is Medicare-based and provides people 55 and older group, individual and family sessions to cope with issues such as anxiety, depression and grief. They are one of two programs in the state, she said, and they serve a 30-mile radius around Ord.
In a rural area, Howell said, people are sometimes resigned to the fact that mental issues are just something to deal with. If they do seek help, she said, they might not be able to define something like depression to a general physician, and they might not get the treatment they need.
There’s also a lot of stigma attached to mental health issues, Brugger added.
Because of that, those affected might not want people to see them parked outside the office of a mental health practitioner.
“People don’t want to get treatment for that, especially in the rural areas, because of small-town mentality,” Brugger said.
But hope for mental health care in Nebraska is not lost. Educating people about mental health in schools is one place to start, Brugger said.
Outpatient services for all ages would help in their area, Howell said, and financial resources, such as offering higher wages, might help draw more providers out.
Rauner said state and national student loan repayment programs are helping with that by giving incentive to providers to work in rural areas.
He also said they continue with efforts to get all levels of mental health professionals into rural communities and to find methods that work best for retention.
“The bigger piece is trying to make sure we’re getting the right providers with the needs people have in that area,” he said.
Liu said BHECN, too, aims to support integration of behavioral health services with primary care, which could cut down on the stigma rural consumers feel. The goal would be to add a mental health provider, such as a therapist, into a family practice, so patients could get care at the same time they see their regular physician.
Using telecommunications to provide telehealth care is also promising, he said, allowing a psychiatrist to serve many rural locations.
And it’s important to focus on the future of health care, Liu said.
It’s challenging to recruit providers to practice in rural Nebraska if they have no ties to the state, Liu said. If current high school and college students can receive support and mentorship from providers in the state, they might be more likely to stay and practice here, he said.
“We really have to invest in our local students and mentor them all the way through,” Liu said.
The issue is important, he said, because it’s about health.
Adams, of NAMI Nebraska, agreed. Mental health issues touch everyone, he said, and building a stronger system of access helps to build a stronger state.
“It’s not a matter of just do we have enough psychiatrists … ” he said. “We need to have a state that says ‘This is important to us, we need to take care of it,’ because we want Nebraska to be a place that has compassion and where people can have a good life.”
Grand Island Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Robert Winter officially announced that he is retiring at the end of this school year.
His official letter of resignation was read Monday evening by GIPS board president Bonnie Hinkle. The letter reads as follows: “Please accept this letter as official notification of my intent to retire at the conclusion of my 2015-2016 contract.
“It is my sincere hope that by providing the Board of Education with this information now, sufficient time will be afford to secure a quality Superintendent to lead this outstanding school district well into the future.
“It has been both an honor and pleasure to work the Board of Education, administrative team, dedicated teachers and support staff over the past four and one half years. I look forward to concluding my 38-year career as a public school educator by providing dedicated services to Grand Island Public Schools and the greater community of Grand Island.”
The letter was read after board members met in a closed-door session to primarily discuss the purchase of real estate. Typically, a superintendent in Winter’s position will let his school board know that he is thinking of retiring even before he makes it official as Winter did on Monday evening.
So even though the letter was not a complete surprise, Hinkle said she was reading it with sadness to see Winter make the official decision to retire. She noted that Winter said he wanted to do four things when he was hired as superintendent by the Grand Island school board 4 1/2 years ago.
Hinkle said that Winter said he wanted to reorganize the central administrative office; open the Career Pathways Institute; create a public relations position to better inform the public about the school district; and successfully pass a bond issue.
Hinkle said Winter accomplished all four goals, making his tenure in Grand Island very successful. Board members gave Winter a standing ovation. One of the four goals came when Grand Island voters approved a $69.9 million bond issue in September 2014, the largest-dollar bond issue in the school district’s history.
Winter’s central office administrative team includes Associate Superintendent Robin Dexter; Executive Director of Business Virgil Harden; Executive Director of Human Resources Wayne Stelk; Executive Director of Information Technology Cory Gearhart; Director of Student Services Toni Palmer; Director of English Language Learning Kris Schneider; Director of 21st Century Curriculum Josh McDowell; Marketing & Communications Coordinator Jack Sheard; and Director of Professional Learning Shanna Gannon.
Gannon just started work with the 2015-16 school year, completing Winter’s administrative reorganization.
With the Winter’s retirement now official, board members agreed to meet on Monday, Nov. 9 to interview consultants to help them, the school district and the community select a new superintendent to lead GIPS. That Monday meeting will be just prior to the board’s regularly scheduled meeting on Nov. 12. That timing could allow the board to possible to make an offer on hiring a consulting search firm at its November meeting.
Congress is nearing a long-overdue update of federal education legislation.
No Child Left Behind, adopted in 2002, will be replaced with the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) once the Senate votes on it this week and President Barack Obama signs it as he is expected to do.
A bipartisan compromise to what the House and Senate passed earlier this year was passed by the House Thursday.
The name for the law is very similar to the slogan of the Grand Island Public Schools, “Every student, every day, a success.”
What this update will do is give states the responsibility to work with schools and local districts to develop achievement goals and follow through on them. Instead of the one-size-fits-all approach of NCLB where all of a school’s students were expected to become proficient in reading and math by 2014, each state will be able to develop its own approach to holding schools accountable for their students’ achievement.
Annual reading and math testing for children in third through eighth grade and once during high school will still be required, and ESSA ensures that those test scores will continue to be made public. But the bill also will limit the amount of time students must spend taking standardized tests each year and will stop federal efforts to tie test scores to teacher evaluations. It will put more confidence in our teachers and local school administrators, recognizing that they are the ones who have their students’ best interests at heart.
Yet, it still emphasizes the need to make sure that all students, regardless of race and disability, are getting a quality education. The states will be required to intervene in schools with persistent achievement gaps and high schools with high dropout rates. There has to be an assurance of accountability.
Education Secretary Arne Duncan has praised the bill as a big step toward protecting the civil rights of students. Rep. John Kline, R-Minn., who led the House-Senate conference committee that worked out the compromise, said it gives parents and state and local leaders “the authority, flexibility and certainty they need to deliver children an excellent education.”
In recent years, more than 40 states have sought waivers saying they didn’t have to meet the unrealistic NCLB requirement that all their students, even those with disabilities and English-language learners, be rated proficient on the standardized tests. The waivers will no longer be necessary with ESSA.
It will take time for the states to develop their own plans, but that is where the responsibility should rest. The state standards that have been developed under NCLB are a good start, but now the state of Nebraska will be better able to work with its school districts to ensure success.
We have talented, professional educators in our schools who care about their students’ mental, physical and social well-being. It is important that our school districts each have a curriculum that teaches the students what they need to know to succeed during their childhood and as adults. But we should be allowing our educators to do their jobs without having to teach to the tests.
Senate passage of this new education law should be swift, so that each state can get to work on taking on this responsibility.
The Grand Island school board on Thursday evening authorized issuing $69.9 million in bonds to pay for the building projects that school district voters approved during a special mail-in ballot.
Paul Grieger of D.A. Davidson said the school district could receive proceeds from bond sales in the first week of December. However, GIPS business manager Virgil Harden said that after consulting with legal counsel and bond underwriters, the entire $69.9 million will not be issued in 2014.
Harden explained after the meeting that the school district must spend a certain percentage of the proceeds within a specified period of time after the bonds are sold. The school board also authorized refinancing $4.5 million in Build America Bonds that were used to build the new Career Pathways Institute and to make other district improvements.
Harden said those bonds will be refinanced in the first quarter of 2015, thereby qualifying them to be purchased by banks. However, one of the specifications for bank qualified bonds is that an entity such as a school district must issue less than $10 million in bonds in a single calendar year.
As a result, Harden explained, a portion of the $69.9 million bond issue will be issued in 2014, with the remainder not issued until sometime in 2016.
The $69.9 million will pay for building new Jefferson Elementary, Starr Elementary and Stolley Park Elementary buildings. It also will pay for an addition to Gates Elementary, as well as an addition to Shoemaker Elementary, which will also have the open classroom portion of the school changed into traditional classrooms.
Barr Middle School will get both an addition and renovations. The 100 wing of Grand Island Senior High, which now has some vacant space because of the construction of the Career Pathways Institute, also will be renovated.
In other business, GISH assistant principal Maggie Mintken and GISH staff members Julie Markvicka, Cally Macosko and Shaun Willey gave a presentation on the Islander Summit days that GISH staff and students have on the first Wednesday of each month.
Islander Summit days are used to accomplish a variety of goals, including teaching students how to use technology as part of their studies, giving them information on how to apply for college, teaching them life skills such as how to pay bills and presenting speakers to talk to them about topics that impact their lives. Another goal is getting students to build good relationships with one another, as well as the teaching staff.
One advantage of scheduling specific blocks of time for Islander Summit is getting more uninterrupted time for class instruction.
In response to questions from board members, the GISH staff members said seniors are getting more information about college applications, while freshmen are spending more time on career exploration. Teachers do have freedom to plan the Islander Summit time to meet the needs of their students.
One other action item on the agenda was amending the district’s 403(b) plan to make it comply with the federal definition of spouse.
The board also honored Seedling Mile Principal Charity LaBrie and five members of the Seedling Mile teaching staff for being recognized by the U.S. Department of Education as a National Blue Ribbon School.
LaBrie said the award was based in part on student growth in academic achievement. She said five years ago, about 60 percent of Seedling Mile students were judged proficient in math, with that number climbing to 95 percent today. In math, 77 percent of Seedling Mile students were judged proficient, with that number also rising to 95 percent today.
Student demographics was also part of the recognition. LaBrie said that 56 percent of Seedling Mile’s students receive free or reduced price school lunch.
The board also heard personnel director Wayne Stelk explain a proposal to raise the rate of pay for substitute teachers effective in January 2015 and heard Harden talk about the need to be in full compliance with Security and Exchange Commission rules on issuing bonds.
Harden also explained a possible need to reintroduce an early retirement plan for teaching staff.
He said the early retirement incentives would cost $750,000, but realize savings of $850,000 in the first year, with those savings continuing and increasing each subsequent year.
Harden said the biggest unknown may be on the timing for reintroducing early retirement incentives.
Political newcomer Jeremy Jensen is Grand Island’s new mayor-elect.
“My sense is that people wanted a complete change. Now the pressure’s on me to deliver,” Jensen said. “I am humbled.”
The financial planner and Grand Island Senior High soccer coach showed a commanding early lead over City Council President Chuck Haase.
“It’s surprising,” Jensen said of the 58 percent to 42 percent lead he showed when first results came out shortly after polls closed at 8 p.m. That lead grew to 61 percent to 39 percent and a more than 2,400-vote lead by night’s end.
“I thought, if I had to dig out of a hole early on, I could, but this is nice,” Jensen said.
His 7-year-old daughter, Jolie, thought so, too.
“My bedtime is 9 o’clock, and I get to stay up late,” she beamed at her father’s election party at the Chocolate Bar in downtown Grand Island.
Down the street at the Chicken Coop, Haase gathered with numerous friends, family and campaign supporters.
They all shared in a red, white and blue decorated cake that wished Haase good luck and was signed by family, including his grandkids.
“We’re proud of you, Nov. 4, 2014,” the cake read.
“This is such a great process,” Haase said. “We had the opportunity to meet so many nice and caring people.”
Haase called Jensen about 9:40 p.m. and congratulated him on the win.
Haase still has two years remaining on his city council term and plans to serve out those years.
That was welcome news to Ward 3 City Councilwoman Linna Dee Donaldson, who was at Haase’s election party when she received word of being elected to her second term on the council despite her admission that she didn’t “enjoy” the council because of how hard the work was. Plus, the council and current Mayor Jay Vavricek struggled with personality and process disagreements nearly the entire four-year term.
Donaldson said she now feels much better prepared to serve the city well and didn’t want to “bail.”
“It’s really hard to get started. There’s so much to learn,” Donaldson said. “Not having a background in business, I had to lot more to learn than a lot of people.”
Donaldson said she expects those same types of challenges for Jensen, even though he does have a business background.
“There will be a huge learning curve. There just is,” she said, but also noted that Haase’s remaining years on the council should help assist both the council and the incoming administration.
“We’re all going to benefit that Chuck is around and his wealth of knowledge, and he’ll be willing to work with the council and the new mayor,” Donaldson said. “I have no doubt that he’ll be in there helping us all figure it out.”
That “figuring out” will also include a new administrative team as both Haase and Jensen had pledged to hire a new city administrator, in place of current City Administrator Mary Lou Brown, whose terms ends with Vavricek’s.
Jensen said his goal is to have that new administrator in place by Jan. 1, which is less than 30 days after his Dec. 9 swearing-in date.
The timeline is aggressive but doable, Jensen said. He plans to meet with Haase in the next few days to discuss ideas on the city administrator position and process.
Jensen does have some jitters about taking over the city’s chief executive officer duties, but those jitters have nothing to do with hiring a city administrator, building an administrative team, working with various council personalities, appointing a new council member to fill a vacancy, developing a multimillion-dollar budget or serving a newly minted metropolitan city.
“Truthfully, the only thing that intimidates me about what I’m about to embark on, something I’m going to have to get coached on, is the method of running the meeting — the formality of it — Robert’s Rules of Order,” Jensen said. “Vavricek does a really nice job of that.”
Four-term councilman Mitch Nickerson said he’s excited about the energy Jensen brings to City Hall.
“I think it’s going to be great working with the Jensen administration,” Nickerson said. “The goal here is to move Grand Island in a positive direction, and I’m sure we’re going to be able to do that.”
“This is a night you can’t prepare for,” Jensen said. “It’s been great.”
Ann Oasan, president of UniNet Healthcare Network, has written a letter to Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Nebraska criticizing its proposal for a new contract, saying the latest offer is worse than previous offers.
UniNet is a physician driven, clinically integrated network sponsored by CHI Health.
“Since we wouldn’t agree to your unacceptable proposal before September 1, I am confused as why you think we would agree to something that is worse now.”
However, two Blue Cross Blue Shield officials says that they believe their organization presented an offer that should be enough to bring CHI Health/UniNet back for face-to-face negotiations.
Lee Handke, senior vice president for Health Network Services of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Nebraska and Andy Williams, director of consumer marketing for Blue Cross Blue Shield, said their company offered four possible dates for face-to-face negotiations and CHI Health has accepted none of them.
They also said the Blue Cross proposal of putting 5,000 patients into a value-based health program was a starting point that could expand to more patients in a second year. Again, Blue Cross officials thought the offer was intriguing enough to bring CHI Health/UniNet back to face-to-face negotiations.
Handke said that Blue Cross was the first to make an offer since the termination of the contract between Blue Cross and CHI Health/UniNet. He said he had hoped that offer would restart negotiations.
For her part, Oasan wrote that “we want to partner with BCBSNE on a contract which provides high-value, coordinated care across the entire state.”
Her letter criticized BCBSNE for a proposal that included fee-for-service rate cuts that will not help curb rising health care costs. She wrote that “To bend the cost curve and improve health care value in our community, we firmly believe it requires a paradigm shifts in the way health care is reimbursed.”
Later in her letter, she wrote that “Your proposal to do a value-based contract for up to 5,000 members. Why would you limit our exceptional care to only 5,000 of your members? You stated that you are interested in using a similar program that we implemented for our own employee health plan.
“However, working with high-risk patients was only one part of our program. We analyzed our members and worked to keep them out of the hospitals and ERs. Over time, a patient’s risk level will change, as will their care needs. We would never limit our care to a ‘number,’ as we believe all patients should be offered exceptional and focused care as their conditions may indicate.
“Furthermore, your proposal offers to contract directly with the hospitals outside of Omaha, but we believe that all Nebraskans deserve consistent, high-quality care and attention. Patients in greater Nebraska had access to UniNet’s proven care coordination services within the contract you signed in February, but then you terminated that contract.
Oasan’s criticism extended to BCBSNE’s hopes of finalizing a contract by January.
“We have heard that BCBSNE is incentivizing brokers to keep groups with BCBSNE and telling them you are confident that we will agree to a new contract by 1/1/15. Based upon your most recent proposal, this will not be the case. We are concerned that you are misleading the brokers and the public. You have already jeopardized Nebraskans’ access to health care when you didn’t agree to delay the termination date to December 31. You knew this would cause patients distress for the last three months of the year, but still proceeded to terminate the contract.
“We remain open to discuss a proposal that is beneficial to all parties, one that is value-based and is for all of the patients attributed to our providers, and which includes those providers in all of the UniNet Chapters who would like to participate with BCBSNE through UniNet.”
Handke said that the offer that Blue Cross made to CHI Health is worse in one respect. He said that costs for CHI Health hospitals in Omaha are 20 to 30 percent higher than the other hospitals in the Omaha market, while CHI physicians are paid about 10 percent more than other physicians in Omaha.
During previous negotiations, Blue Cross offered a three-year step down to bring CHI Health costs down to the costs in the remainder of the Omaha market, Handke said.
However, once CHI Health went out-of-network, Blue Cross feels that its costs should immediately be the same as the rest of the Omaha market when it comes back in network, Handke said. He noted that Blue Cross would follow the same procedure for any new Omaha provider that comes into the network.
The lack of the three-year stepdown or transition makes the Blue Cross offer worse from CHI Health’s perspective in the Omaha market, Handke said.
However, in the Grand Island and Kearney markets specifically, the proposal has always been to pay CHI Health the same as before the termination, Handke said. “No decreases. We think that’s fair and reasonable. Again in this proposal, we said we would like to sign that agreement today and focus on Omaha, where we have issues.”
“In Lincoln, in this proposal, we actually recommended an increase in rates, as they’re a little under market in Lincoln,” he said. “In the past, we had not done that.”
Williams said Blue Cross made a proposal to sign directly with Grand Island and Kearney because the two sides really do not have any disagreement on rates in those two markets. He said that would be a way to end the disruption in both communities.
Handke said the proposal to have a value-based program starting with 5,000 patients was a good faith offer.
“The point on the 5,000 was, we thought that would be a good population to start working together with them on,” Handke said. “We’d take 5,000 patients with the most complex, chronic diseases and work with them (CHI Health) to improve the quality and coordination of care for those individuals to enhance patient satisfaction and reduce the cost of care.”
“They had presented some work they had done with 349 of their sickest employees,” Handke said. “We thought this program aligned with what they really had expertise to do in the past and was a good place to start to enhance care for those in grave need.”
“For those 5,000 members, it had two payment components,” he said. “One was a care coordination fee, which we would pay them on a monthly basis, because we know that with those sickest population patients, it requires physicians to do more for their care versus a healthy person.”
“On the back end, we were going to monitor if they could achieve positive outcomes and if they did, then they would achieve additional bonus money,” Handke said. “We thought that was a really good place to start a partnership with them and if it worked, expand it beyond that in the second year.”
Handke said Oasan was mistaken in saying that “we (CHI Health) have heard” that BCBSNE is offering incentives to brokers to stay with Blue Cross. “That’s not true,” he said.
Handke said he finds it interesting that CHI Health/UniNet is apparently willing to accept Blue Cross out-of-network payments as payments in full during a short transition period if employers and their employees move away from Blue Cross coverage. He said those out-of-network payments are much less than what Blue Cross is offering to CHI Health if it would come back into its network.
My previous column attempted to set the stage for my legislative bill on the Grand Island Veterans Home replacement and relocation and shared my personal beliefs and the motivations behind this bill.
The bidding process for the Grand Island Veterans Home pitted Nebraska communities against each other in a win-lose scenario. When communities compete for out-of-state businesses considering a move to Nebraska the net result is economic gain for both the community selected and the state.
Conversely, moving state agencies and services from one community to another is a win-lose scenario for communities involved with no net economic gain for the state and with potential long term relocation expenses and ongoing increased operating expenses. There is also the potential for political game playing and favoritism.
Both Kansas and Missouri recognized these possible scenarios and long ago demanded the transparency that comes from requiring their legislatures be involved in these decisions.
To that end I have introduced the State Services Relocation bill. If this bill becomes law, any proposed relocation of a state service or agency from one community to another within Nebraska that is estimated to cost $15 million or more would become subject to the public hearing process of the Legislature. Any proposed relocation meeting this financial threshold would need approval of the Legislature prior to implementation.
The bill would require that a description, justification, goals and costs of the proposed relocation, along with any alternative plan, be reported to the Legislature by the appropriate state agency. Additionally, the report would need to include any economic development activity undertaken or planned to fill the economic hole left in the impacted community.
The Legislative committee of jurisdiction would investigate the proposal and hold at least one hearing on the proposal. The committee would then introduce a resolution to either support the proposal, disapprove of the proposal or take no position. That resolution would then go to the full Legislature for one round of debate, possible amendment, and a vote. A majority of 25 votes could approve the resolution and the position of the committee. Less than 25 votes would be taking no position, thereby allowing the proposed move.
The University of Nebraska, Nebraska State Colleges, courts, Legislature or any officer or state agency established by the Constitution of Nebraska (Department of Education and the Public Service Commission along with the constitutional officers) would not be subject to this process.
As introduced, this bill would apply to any move of a state service proposed on or after Jan. 1, 2013, unless the move was proposed prior to the effective date of the bill and all sources of funding have been secured or conditionally approved. This component is the one that provides the opportunity to reverse the decision to move the GIVH. We would finally get the opportunity to present our case to the Legislature, the true representative branch of government.
The Legislature has the right, and indeed the duty, to oversee large expenditures of this nature and to provide an opportunity for Nebraskans to voice their opinion. This is a measured and reasonable response to a very emotional and politically charged issue.
I hope the majority of my colleagues in the Legislature see this bill as appropriate policy but because of the way this proposed move has been handled, I’m sure it will be an uphill battle.
George Ayoub, in his usual insightful way, pointed out in his weekend column that he doubts senators outside the area would have much enthusiasm for the bill, seeing it as a dispute between the governor and Grand Island. My conversations with fellow senators confirm that and, I would add, they also are not enthusiastic about having to choose between Grand Island, Kearney, Hastings and North Platte.
However, the lack of enthusiasm doesn’t mean they aren’t empathetic. The challenge will be to turn that empathy into votes.
State Sen. Mike Gloor of Grand Island represents District 35 in the Nebraska Legislature.
Black smoke billowed into the sky and flames leapt dozens of feet in the air Sunday night as a Downtown Grand Island building burned.
Hundreds of onlookers gathered to watch the blaze at Third and Elm streets, gasping as part of the building that housed Ron’s Transmissions, Edward’s Audio and Video and a thrift shop collapsed.
Grand Island Fire Chief Cory Schmidt said the fire was called in at about 8 p.m., and flames were already through the roof at that time. No one was inside, he said.
Firefighters initially began an aggressive attack, he said, but the flames soon forced them to take a defensive tact.
At about 9:30 p.m., the fire looked relatively under control, with smoke curling up from beneath the roof. Flames soon began to flare up inside again, eventually leaping above the ladder trucks spraying water from above.
“In a large building, we really don’t see a clear picture,” Schmidt said.
The eastern part of the building collapsed, sending flames soaring into the sky. Pops and bangs were heard inside, which Schmidt said were likely caused by chemicals inside the transmission shop.
About 50 personnel responded, Schmidt said, with three ladder trucks coming from Grand Island, Hastings and St. Paul. The Grand Island Rural Fire Department also responded.
No one was injured, Schmidt said.
Even so, he said, the blaze posed several challenges. As an older building, he said, the structure did not have sprinklers, and with so many trucks working hard, water pressure was low.
Though fires of this magnitude don’t often happen downtown, Schmidt said firefighters train for them, and they were ready. “Overall, we’re very lucky there’s been no one seriously hurt,” he said.
Police officers continually told people in the crowd to move back.
One of them was Larry Alvarez, who purchased Edward’s — the westernmost shop in the strip, near Cleburn Street — on Friday with business partner Brian Bohrer.
They had planned to continue selling audio equipment and to fix up the building, he said. They were going to sort out their insurance policy on Monday.
“This is just all so hard,” Alvarez said. “We just bought the place.”
He said he was hopeful the fire wall between his new business and the transmission shop held most of the flames at bay, but he didn’t know if any had made it to the roof.
“I’ve been watching hoping it won’t get our building,” he said.
On Sunday night, however, all Alvarez could do was wait.
Schmidt said while they could not determine a cause Sunday night, initial reports were that the fire started on the second floor near the transmission shop, and it might have been burning for some time before it was reported.
After it has been extinguished, he said, they will call in a structural engineer, and the state fire marshal has been notified.
They will have to investigate before a cause is known and before the next steps can be taken.
“We’re going to have to dig that out and start from the bottom,” he said.
Nebraska State Fair officials were looking for that “wow” factor for the 2014 State Fair. So they built the $5.4 million Nebraska Building.
The building features the return of the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission to the fair, along with the new “Raising Nebraska” agricultural exhibit.
The “wow” factor expectations were certainly accomplished, as far as Mick and Sandy Fowler of Grand Island were concerned. The Fowlers were excited to see what the new building would be like when the State Fair opened in August.
Their curiosity was especially piqued because they live about a block away from Fonner Park.
“We saw the progress being made on this building,” Mick Fowler said. “Now we know and it is really neat.”
When asked what had impressed him so far with the new Nebraska Building, Mick Fowler responded: “Everything.”
“I haven’t seen anything that didn’t impress me,” he added.
“The new Nebraska Building is just wonderful for the state of Nebraska,” Sandy Fowler said. “It allows people in all the counties of Nebraska to see where they live, the environment — we are just very, very impressed.”
While the structure of the Nebraska Building slowly built its presence over the last year, the Game and Parks and “Raising Nebraska” displays were mostly empty spaces by late July. In less than a month, both displays took shape as grain bins and center pivots were added, along with a model of the Niobrara River Valley’s river, hills and wildlife.
The “Raising Nebraska” exhibit was a major collaboration between both the private and public sector.
“Raising Nebraska” is a 25,000-square-foot education exhibit that will serve as a year-round, interactive experience focused on where Nebraska agriculture is today — and where it will be in the future. The exhibit shows how Nebraska farmers and ranchers are positioning themselves to meet the global demand for food, feed, fuel and fiber.
The exhibit is the result of a partnership between the Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources (IANR) at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, the Nebraska Department of Agriculture and the Nebraska State Fair. Key areas of focus for the exhibit includes food security, water management, technology and innovation, animal agriculture, the new bioeconomy, crop production, environmental stewardship, the economic impact of agriculture in Nebraska and consumer-focused information about food production and food safety.
Cargill became the title sponsor of “Raising Nebraska,” pledging $1 million dollars over five years.
“As an agriculture and food company, we really identified with one of ‘Raising Nebraska’ goals of showing how Nebraska agriculture touches everyone,” said Robert Racek, the Omaha-based Western Region general manager of Cargill’s grain business. “The world’s food gets its start every day with agriculture and Nebraska is a major player in that global marketplace.”
Ann Adams of Meade, who visited the State Fair this weekend, said the “Raising Nebraska” exhibit allows people a better understanding of where their food comes from. “There are a lot of city dwellers who think foods comes from the grocery store,” she said.
Sue Pearman of Mullen echoed Adams’ thoughts, and said the “Raising Nebraska” exhibit is needed in the state. With Nebraska’s population mainly urban, she said the display educates people about what modern production agriculture is all about.
“I think there is a big gap sometimes between urban and rural,” she said.
The Nebraska Game and Parks Commission state-of-the art interactive outdoor experience includes an aquarium, archery range and shooting gallery.
Outdoor Encounter includes a 5,900-gallon aquarium stocked with more than 150 fish commonly found in Nebraska. Scenic features include a waterfall, plunge pool and a 150-foot meandering stream and mural modeled after the Niobrara River Valley.
An indoor archery range and old-fashioned shooting gallery will offer fairgoers a chance to try shooting sports in a family-friendly setting. A 4,500-square-foot outdoor area includes children’s play space, with donated playground equipment and climbing structures, a play campsite, a pollinator garden and seating areas where fair guests can relax. Game and Parks also will offer children’s games and demonstrations. All activities are free.
“Thanks to the support and funding from the Nebraska Environmental Trust and the Nebraska State Fair, the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission will provide interactive learning opportunities engaging people in Nebraska’s natural world, outdoor recreation and conservation,” said Jim Douglas, Game and Parks director.
The new Nebraska Game and Parks section of the Nebraska Building marks the return of the commission to the State Fair since the fair moved from Lincoln to Grand Island in 2010. Prior to moving to Grand Island, Game and Parks had a presence at the State Fair dating back to the 1880s.
“They (Game and Park pavilion at the Nebraska State Fair in Lincoln) had a smaller building, which was nice, but this is really nice,” said Bob Hansen of Lincoln.
For Hansen, it was the interaction with the display at the Game and Park exhibit.
“You are really close,” he said. “We (he and his wife) are really anxious to bring our grandkids here some time.”
For Dan Lovercheck of Lincoln, his first impression of the Game and Park exhibit was “awesome.”
“It is just the way it is presented,” he said. “The building is beautiful. The different displays will help people understand more about Nebraska.”
His wife, Ann Lovercheck, said living in Lincoln and attending the State Fair there over the years allowed them a good comparison of the two facilities.
“What we have seen here so far is 100 times better than what was in Lincoln, and Lincoln was nice,” Dan said.
For example, the new mobile aquarium is more open than the one that was located at the State Fair in Lincoln.
“Everything is close and together,” said Ann Lovercheck.
“I like it here because you can go to one building to the next,” she said. “And it is all air conditioned.”
A 59-year-old Nebraska man serving two life sentences for killing his wife and a Grand Island attorney died this morning at the Lincoln Correctional Center, officials said.
Michael Petersen was found unresponsive in his cell at 6:14 a.m., the Nebraska Department of Corrections said in a press release. Staff immediately called 911 and began administering CPR. Lincoln Fire and Rescue arrived and took over the resuscitation. Petersen was pronounced dead at 6:47 a.m. While the cause of death has not been determined, it appears to have been a suicide, Corrections officials said.
The Glenvil man shot ex-wife Nancy Petersen at her home in Buffalo County and attorney Todd Elsbernd outside of his office in Hall County last November. Elsbernd had represented Michael Petersen in his divorce from his wife.
HASTINGS — In front of a district judge on Tuesday in Hastings, Amanda Pecor made an emotional plea for leniency.
Pecor, 30, was charged with negligent child abuse resulting in serious bodily harm for her role in the shooting death of her 4-year-old son, Beau, on April 18.
Since that day, she said, she has not been able to wrap her arms around her son, see his smile or apologize to him for not being able to protect him the way a mother should.
Beau’s 9-year-old brother was charged in juvenile court with manslaughter, and Pecor and her then boyfriend, Matthew Edwards, were warned several times of the boy’s escalating behavior.
“There’s not a single minute that I’m not reminded of the mistake I made,” Pecor read from a letter, crying.
But District Judge Terri Harder said that wasn’t enough.
She sentenced Pecor to 59 to 60 months in prison, the maximum sentence for the Class IIIA felony.
Before the sentencing, both Pecor and her attorney, Amy Skalka, called for probation.
The situation was tragic, Skalka said, and no one knew that better than Pecor. Skalka pointed out that her client had no criminal record and that she still had two children who needed their mother to help them through this time.
Pecor added that she has been working to turn her life around. She said she has been seeing a counselor to work on codependency issues, is living alone, visits her children and is involved in church.
“I’m not the same person I was six months ago,” she said.
Harder, however, said it wasn’t just one mistake. Pecor took her 9-year-old off medication, was inconsistent in showing up for appointments and was dismissive of warnings given by the boy’s school to remove knives and other weapons from the home.
She also added that Pecor and Edwards did not turn themselves in and that they were found in a car loaded with clothes and $1,000 cash.
“I understand you are making progress now, but it’s a little late,” Harder said.
Pecor was given credit for 53 days served. She will be eligible for parole in 29 and a half months, and she could be released in three years with maximum good time.
Edwards, 31, was previously given the same sentence for the same charges. The gun used in Beau’s death belonged to him.
Hall County District Judge James D. Livingston will retire Oct. 1.
The announcement was made Wednesday evening through a press release from the Nebraska Judicial Branch office.
“It has been my honor to serve the citizens of Nebraska and in particular the Ninth Judicial District for over 22 years,” Livingston wrote in a retirement letter sent to the governor’s office.
The Ninth Judicial District includes Hall and Buffalo counties. Livingston’s office is in Grand Island.
After taking the bench in July 1992, he was retained in his position by voters in the district through several elections, most recently in 2008.
Livingston has been an active member of the Nebraska District Judges Association as both a chairman and committee member. Until recently he served as chairman of the Legislative Committee, whose mission is to maintain ongoing relations with the Legislature and track new legislation each year. He was a regular participant in the chief justice’s leadership meetings and Nebraska District Judges Association meetings.
The first step in replacing Livingston will be for the Judicial Resources Commission to call a meeting to determine whether, based on judicial workload statistics, his retirement creates a vacancy in the Ninth Judicial District.
Three other judges serve the district — Hall County District Teresa Luther, Buffalo County District John Icenogle and District Judge William Wright, who travels between the two counties.
BROKEN BOW — With every decision she has to make as the president of the Custer Economic Development Corp. in Custer County, Melissa Garcia asks herself one question: What will this mean for my grandkids?
Though Garcia is only in her 30s, having that kind of foresight in terms of community needs and business growth, she said, is essential.
For Custer County, it’s working.
The large county in the center of the state, population about 10,600, has seen 10 new businesses come in so far this year, Garcia said, with 43 full-time equivalency jobs.
And though the county has a wealth of resources, Garcia and others said the secret to the success is something that could spread elsewhere.
“The great thing about Custer County is we all understand we’re in this together,” she said. “We’re not just one community.”
A solid foundation
Though Custer County and Broken Bow, its largest town at more than 3,500, have grown economically in the last few years, it hasn’t happened overnight, said Donnis Hueftle-Bullock, executive director of the Broken Bow Chamber of Commerce.
“We’re very, very fortunate to have an economic base here,” she said.
In addition, Garcia said, the county has strong resources from which to draw.
At 46 million bushels annually, Custer County is the largest corn county in the state, and it is the second largest beef cow county in the nation.
Those raw factors have helped spell success.
Even without the $125 million investment from a wind farm, she said, there has been $15 million of capital investment so far in 2014. That means $1 million for every 1,000 residents in the county in the last six months, Garcia said.
Businesses ranging from car sales and senior living to hotels, a car wash, massage therapy and a brewery have opened or are soon opening there.
Last year brought $25 million of investment, more than 100 jobs and 11 new businesses.
Civic projects, such as the judicial center, an aquatic facility, a community college and softball fields, have added to the landscape.
And it’s not just in Broken Bow. While the city is definitely the hub of the county, Garcia said, Mason City, population 176, recently had four ribbon cuttings, and Arnold is frequently adding to its services.
“We’re seeing people open doors everywhere,” she said.
But though the county certainly has the resources to succeed, it hasn’t happened on its own.
Harnessing the assets
In order to promote growth, Garcia said, she starts by talking to as many people as possible.
In the county, she said, there are also many opportunities for leadership development. They want to provide resources so people can step up when the perennial organizers get tired.
Finally, she said, there is a focus on filling in the holes in the communities. A common question, she said, is “what can we bring that will enhance what we have here?”
Zeroing in on that question is what made turning a potential negative in Broken Bow into an asset, said Barry Fox.
Fox, who started in business just over a year ago and was an investor at the Cobblestone Hotel and Suites, is opening a car wash and is planning to open a new brewery, Kinkaider Brewing Company, in Broken Bow.
For a long time, Fox said, Broken Bow felt like it was limited in terms of growth because I-80 was built so far away. Eventually, he said, the community learned to embrace Highways 2 and 21 and to work with its small community feel to bring in large community features, such as the brewery or a CrossFit gym.
“I think we’ve kind of realized that people still want the convenience and some of those things they can get in a bigger city,” Fox said. “So we found a way to bring that on a smaller scale to the communities.”
‘Room full of big thinkers’
The real reason that works, Garcia said, is because of the people.
In some places, she said, people get stuck on a problem. In other places, they recognize the problem, but get stuck on solutions. In Custer County, she said, there are leaders who address the problems with resources and ideas.
“I’ve got a whole room full of big thinkers,” she said.
Fox agreed. There’s a group of newer business owners in town, he said, and they feed off each other’s energy. Even outside of that, he said, people regularly come up to him and ask how they can get involved in new projects.
They also invest financially, Hueftle-Bullock said.
“Whenever there’s anything to do as far as fundraising, it’s amazing how the pocketbooks are opened up,” she said.
Those ideas are what can catch on, Fox said, despite a county or town’s resources.
“I think there’s a tremendous opportunity for these rural communities to continue to do what we’re doing, find these smaller conveniences that are lacking,” he said.
As for the future of Custer County, Garcia said, there’s still work to do.
If ag prices drop, Hueftle-Bullock said, growth might be harder to come by. The housing market is also a slight growing pain, she said, as it struggles to catch up.
Garcia said she, too, would like to see more growth in the arts.
To keep the current state going, she said, they are working on rebranding the community, and they are focused on reaching out to alumni to draw them back.
Playing on all of their assets, Garcia said, makes that more likely, and Custer County will continue working to become a place people would like to come home to.
“We know that for our future to be bright and growing and innovative ... we’ve got to be the ones to fight for it,” she said.
LINCOLN - Gov. Dave Heineman today announced Kearney as the new location of the Central Nebraska Veterans Home. Kearney was chosen through a thorough and open bidding process to replace the current 125-year-old Grand Island Veterans Home.
“This was not an easy decision,” said Gov. Heineman. “We have four outstanding communities who submitted outstanding proposals. The proposals were financially stronger and better than we anticipated. I appreciate that each community focused on their strengths and what was best for veterans.”
After the thorough review process, the Site Selection Committee recommended Kearney based on several factors of their comprehensive proposal including the financial proposal; the workforce development plan; and subsidized electrical, water and sewer rates and refuse discounts. Additional factors include no cost equipment such as compactors; the infrastructure and environmental proposals; the physical site; and their outstanding program enhancements which include the woodshop, kiln, library, chapel, landscaping, a veterans memorial, and transportation.
“The Kearney application was rated highest of the four quality applications we received,” said John Hilgert, Director of the Division of Veterans Homes and Veterans Affairs. “Their application was comprehensive and responsive to all categories listed in the Request for Statement of Interest and Offer.”
A request for statement of interest and offer was released on April 29 and four communities sent an offer. Those were North Platte, Kearney, Hastings and Grand Island. The site selection committee was made up of Carlos Castillo, Director, Department of Administrative Services; Catherine Lang, Director, Nebraska Department of Economic Development and Labor; and John Hilgert, Director, Nebraska Department of Veterans Affairs and Director, Division of Veterans Homes within the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services.
The committee met with those interested in making an offer on May 10. The deadline for receipt of written questions and clarifications was May 17 with a response deadline of May 23. Final offers were due by June 11 and site visits by the committee were conducted on June 13 and 14.
Nine principal categories were evaluated and each category was assigned a score based on an overall model of 1200 points from nine categories. Those categories include physical factors, utilities and infrastructure, cultural factors, environmental factors, community services, regulatory factors, workforce factors, community support factors and program enhancements.
Kearney received a score of 1033, Hastings 977, Grand Island 889 and North Platte 855.
Gov. Heineman signed LB 198 into law on May 25, allowing the appropriation of funds for capital construction and property acquisition. In compliance with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Community Living Communities current standards, one 225-bed long-term care facility will be constructed for use by veterans. The site must be located no farther than a two hour driving distance from the existing Grand Island Veterans Home, nor within a two hour driving distance of the other three existing Nebraska Veterans Homes located in Scottsbluff, Norfolk and Bellevue.
Additionally, The Schemmer Associates, whose home office is in Omaha was hired as consultants to aid in the selection process. Their cost was approximately $176,000 which included support of the site selection process and the submission of the application to the USVA which includes schematic and budgeting expenses. They helped valuate and score the different sites from a professional engineering viewpoint. This team assisted with veterans home site selection for the Eastern Nebraska Veterans Home as well as planning and design projects including Iowa Veterans Home Master Plan Implementation in Marshalltown, IA; Madonna Manor (A Franciscan Living Community) in Villa Hills KY; Villa St. Benedict Continuing Care Retirement Community in Lisle IL; Immanuel Communities Lakeside Village Addition in Omaha; and Evangelical Lutheran Good Samaritan Society in Beatrice NE.
In the new Central Nebraska Veterans Home, the resident rooms will be distributed among five services – Long-Term Care, Medically Complex, Dementia, Hospice, and Assisted Living in households of 12-15 members. The cost of the budgeted project is $121 million with an approximate cost of $102 million for the facility. The project funded by a federal and state match and would employee over 350 fulltime positions.
“I know I speak for every Nebraskan when I say how very proud we are of our military personnel and our veterans. We want to thank the staff and leadership of the Grand Island Veterans Home for the manner in which they take care of our veterans, and I hope that the staff and leadership at the current home will continue to be part of the new Central Nebraska Veterans Home in Kearney,” said Gov. Heineman.
Todd Elsbernd is being remembered by many as a kind and funny man who cared about his family, his clients and his community.
Elsbernd, 52, was shot to death outside his law office on North Locust Street Wednesday night.
He was a partner at Bradley, Elsbernd, Andersen, Kneale & Mues Jankovitz. The firm’s office is in the Downtown Center, 308 N. Locust St.
On Thursday, the lawyers and staff at the firm released a statement about their “shock and grief” at Elsbernd’s “tragic and irrational death.”
“We are concerned first for Todd’s wife and three sons. He was a devoted husband and father. He was always proud to speak of the accomplishments of his boys and was actively involved in their activities. His wife, Jeanie, was the love of his life.”
They wrote about his contributions to the community through his work on the Grand Island Public Schools Board of Education, as an instructor for Nebraska hunters’ safety education and as a longtime supporter and board member of Ducks Unlimited.
He was also active with the Riverdogs youth baseball league, was a Grand Island Public Schools band booster and was a member of the Nebraska Bar Committee IOLTA.
“Todd had a great sense of humor,” his law partners wrote. “He lit up every room he entered. In his wake he left people a little happier. He came in to the office every day giving everyone a personal ‘hello.’ Todd was an avid hunter and fisherman. He would say that his true love was just being outdoors and enjoying nature.”
They noted he had celebrated his 25th anniversary of being a member of the Nebraska Bar Association earlier this week.
“He was a dear friend and well-respected lawyer,” they wrote. “He fought hard for his clients and was respected within the legal community for competence and honesty. He is sorely missed by all members of Bradley, Elsbernd, Andersen, Kneale & Mues Jankovitz.”
Elsbernd’s past clients offered their condolences and memories as well.
Jessica Karr was a client and described him as a great attorney.
“He was a very down-to-earth, funny person who genuinely cared about his clients,” Karr said. “He treated you more like a friend than a client and was very supportive. He will be dearly missed. I still can’t believe he’s gone.”
Cassandra Harris said Elsbernd represented her during a divorce and did a wonderful job. She recommended him to friends in need of an attorney.
Thursday was an emotional day at Hall County District Court Clerk Valorie Bendixen’s office. Elsbernd was a frequent visitor to the office and had personal connections with some of the staff through his sons and his own interest in running.
“He was just a great guy, easy to talk to,” said Bendixen. “The district court staff always found him to be professional, friendly and warm.”
Elsbernd was known for his work on the Grand Island school board as well. The regular board meeting was scheduled for Thursday, but it was held with a shortened agenda.
Superintendent Rob Winter issued a statement about Elsbernd Thursday afternoon.
“We are saddened by the terrible news of the death of Todd Elsbernd,” Winter said. “Grand Island Public Schools lost a board member and, more importantly, we lost a caring parent who took an active role in his children’s lives and improving the community. Todd was appointed to our board in August of 2012 to fill a vacant position in Ward C. He later was elected by his ward to this position and served on the finance and facilities committee as well as the personnel committee.
“Todd Elsbernd was a man who cared deeply about this school district and all our students and staff. He will truly be missed. We encourage everyone to keep Todd’s family in your thoughts and support GIPS students and staff who have been impacted by this senseless tragedy.”
Grand Island school board member Tonja Broadwell graduated from Grand Island Senior High with Elsbernd in 1979.
“Todd was a fun-loving, free-spirited guy,” Broadwell said. “He was a great classmate.”
At the same time, she said, Elsbernd was “totally devoted to his family and to his work. He was very serious.”
Broadwell said Elsbernd contacted her when he was considering becoming a part of the school board. She was very glad when he decided to become part of the board because she knew he would do a good job and she would get to reconnect with an old classmate.
He was a “genuine person” who treated everybody with respect, she said, adding that that makes it surprising that “he would be targeted like he was.”
Broadwell said that makes her believe the shooting must have had something to do with Elsbernd’s work as an attorney, as someone took the outcome of a court proceeding so personally that he wanted to hurt Elsbernd.
“It is difficult to understand why anybody would want to hurt him,” she said. “Especially when he was such a great person to know on a personal level.”
His work with the school board earned him a 2013 Award of Achievement from the Nebraska Association of School Boards Board of Directors in September.
Many other people in the community knew Elsbernd through his volunteer hours with the Riverdogs baseball team.
Tino Martinez said Elsbernd was a co-founder of the organization in 2008 and two of his sons played as well. Martinez worked with Elsbernd on the original committee.
“He was great, very detail oriented,” Martinez said. “He was instrumental in getting it off the ground and was very giving of his talents and his time. It was shocking when we heard the news.”
Tommy Puente’s son played baseball with Elsbernd’s sons. He also knew him through his work at the Hall County Jail.
“Overall, a class act,” Puente said. “A great family man. Thoughts and prayers to his family.”
Pat Baughman, the senior regional director for Ducks Unlimited, considered Elsbernd a friend as well as a colleague. The men had known each other for 10 years and Elsbernd had served as a past area chairman of the Hall County Chapter of Ducks Unlimited. He had also been on the state council.
“He was a real go-getter, just fabulous,” Baughman said.
He said Elsbernd was always willing to do anything that was asked of him, especially when it came to conservation.
“It’s a tremendous loss to us as an organization to not have him as one of our top-notch volunteers,” Baughman said. “I counted him as a close personal friend. This hit me hard.
The Career Pathways Institute-Adams Street Campus will hold an open house from 2 to 5 p.m. Sunday for the public to view new facility that opened for classes with the beginning of the 2013-14 school year.
People will be able to take self-guided tours to all parts of the building, which includes classrooms and career-technical education areas for hands-on learning in the areas of construction, manufacturing, automotive and information technology.
The building also has a vacant space for an additional pathway program that will be determined at some point in the future.
While there will be no formal presentations during the open house, the Grand Island school district will show “Ready to Work: The Impact of Career-Focused Education,” a 30-minute program n as part of its “State of Education in Nebraska” series by Nebraska Loves Public Schools, an initiative funded by the Sherwood Foundation with the goal of building pride in Nebraska’s public schools.
Although the Grand Island Public Schools is not the sole focus of the program, it is featured because of the opening of the Career Pathways Institute-Adams Street Campus.
The creation of the Career Pathways Institute-Adams Street Campus was years in the making.
The idea for strengthening career and technical education for the Grand Island Public Schools started when a group of plant managers and owners had a meeting with Steve Joel, then superintendent for the Grand Island Public Schools. The meeting was arranged under the auspices of the Grand Island Area Chamber of Commerce.
Those business leaders told Joel they were having difficulty finding enough employees with the necessary skills to work in their plants.
Grand Island school officials, Grand Island business and industry leaders, and Central Community College officials made a trip in the spring 2009 to the Phoenix, Ariz., metropolitan area, where they saw two models of high school career and technical education.
The consensus view following that trip was for Grand Island to create a version of the career-and-technical education model used by the East Valley Institute of Technology. Under that model, students spent half their school day at their home high school and the other half of the day at EVIT, where they were engaged in hands-on learning in a specific career program.
Creating a space
In December 2009, the Grand Island school board approved the purchase of the former Pentair manufacturing plant on Adams Street, with the intention of converting the building into the district’s own version of EVIT. The purcahse price was $652,000.
The next step was for the district to hire consultant George Copa to work with a 40-member design team on planning the building and the curriculum for the new facility. Copa began working with the design team in November 2010.
The 40 people on the design team included many of the same people who had viewed the East Valley Institute of Technology. The group included GIPS administrators, teachers and school board members, Central Community College representatives and local business and industry leaders.
The design team included a Senior High student, an architect with Cannon and Associates, representatives from Northwest, Doniphan-Trumbull and Wood River Public Schools, a Nebraska Department of Education representative, a Grand Island Economic Development Corporation representative and a Grand Island Area Chamber of Commerce representative.
One design team was to adopt the name “Career Pathways Institute.” Eventually, the Grand Island school board adopted the formal name, Career Pathways Institute-Adams Street Campus, in recognition of the fact that Senior High students also are enrolled in career pathway programs offered at Grand Island Senior High and at Central Community College.
Another decision was that the Career Pathways Institute-Adams Street Campus should be a public-private partnership.
During his work with the design team, Copa emphasized that the new Career Pathways Institute-Adams Street Campus should have a “wow” factor.
If a wow factor has been achieved, it has come at a relatively modest price, according to GIPS business manager Virgil Harden, who said the building’s total cost is about $7.6 million.
Harden said the total includes the original purchase price, architectural fees;, Phase I work for renovation of the former offices on the building’s west end and installation of an elevator for handicapped accessibility, and Phase II renovation and classroom furnishings.
The $7.6 million price tag is a little more than half the cost of building a new elementary school, with room for four classrooms per grade, as well as preschool classrooms, Harden said. The cost for such a K-5 school would be approximately $13 million to $14 million.
The district’s costs also were held down because private industry and business donated in excess of $1 million to buy equipment to provide hands-on learning for Senior High students. Those contributions, made through the Grand Island Education Foundation, lived up to the ideal of creating a public-private partnership.
During October 2011, Grand Island school officials, Central Community officials and local industry leaders took a trip to Oklahoma City to see the career and technical education program offered by the Francis Tuttle Technology Center and to Stillwater, Okla., to learn about the career education program offered by the Meridian Technology Center.
Following that trip, Central Community College and Grand Island Senior High staff spent much of 2012 and 2013 designing the curriculum for the pathway programs offered at the Adams Street Campus.
FULLERTON — State Sen. Annette Dubas cited stress and the toll on her family when announcing her withdrawal from the governor’s race Monday morning.
The two-term senator from Fullerton announced her candidacy for governor in September.
“It was just the stress of running a statewide campaign, being away from home, trying to juggle everything. It is a lot of things that are very demanding and it just got to the point where it was unmanageable,” Dubas said, noting she made the decision this past week. “Things kind of came to a head for my family. It became obvious that it was going to be very difficult to go forward.”
She had toured the state after establishing her campaign and earned the support of a dozen fellow state lawmakers. She and former University of Nebraska Regent Chuck Hassebrook were the only Democrats running to replace Gov. Dave Heineman, who will be leaving office in 2014 due to term limits.
Dubas said the decision was hard because she felt like she was letting down her supporters, “yet not so hard because my family is my priority. My husband is certainly my priority.”
She cited her husband, Ron, at home running the farm as one of the factors in her decision. She and Ron Dubas have four children.
“It’s not just about the candidate. The family is certainly impacted as well,” Dubas said. “You know, we thought we had covered all the bases and we had talked this through and really felt like it was something we could handle, but sometimes you just don’t know until you are into it.”
“It’s difficult when you know you are disappointing people, but at the end of the day my family is my priority,” Dubas said, adding that supporters have been “disappointed but very understanding, especially those who have dealt with campaigns before and know the rigors of a statewide campaign.”
Hassebrook admitted he was surprised when he heard Dubas was dropping out of the race. He said he wishes Dubas, whom he called a “friend and great state senator,” the best in the future but it doesn’t really change the way he plans to run his campaign.
“My campaign has been very focused on building strength to win in November,” Hassebrook said. “All the things I needed to do if I had a primary challenge are the same things I need to do to win in November.”
Dubas, who has been in public office for many years, including Fullerton and Nance County Planning and Zoning Commission, said she hasn’t made any decisions about running in any future political races.
“I don’t know where the road takes me,” she said, noting that there is a lot of work yet to do in the Nebraska Legislature. “I still have a year left to be a senator and want to assure (everyone) that I will continue carrying out that responsibility.”
During her announcement in Lincoln, Dubas noted that she will continue to tackle difficult issues, such as marriage equality, the state foster care system and Medicaid expansion.
“Nebraska is a great place to live, but we must make sure it is that way for all citizens,” she said. “My exit from this race does not mean I am any less committed to these and other important issues facing Nebraskans.”
Dubas said she has no regrets about her brief run.
“It has been just such an incredible honor for me to represent the Grand Island area and District 34,” Dubas said. “So many people have been supportive of me when I made this decision to run for governor.”
ST. PAUL — John Oldson has been sentenced to life in prison for the 1989 murder of Ord resident Cathy Beard.
District Judge Karin Noakes announced the sentence this morning after listening to prosecutor Corey O’Brien with the Nebraska attorney general’s office and defense attorney James Mowbray deliver brief oral arguments on the appropriate sentence for Oldson, who was convicted of second-degree murder in February following a jury trial.
O’Brien argued for life in prison, citing precedent from a 2007 Omaha murder case in which the defendant received a life sentence after being found guilty of the second-degree murder of his former girlfriend.
O’Brien said that sentence was handed down even though the victim’s body was never found. In Oldson’s case, O’Brien said, the evidence indicated that Beard suffered a very violent death.
He also noted that, in the Omaha case, there had been a long-standing relationship between the man convicted of murder and the victim. He said Oldson’s crime is "even more egregious" because his choice of a victim was apparently a "lot more random."
O’Brien said life in prison is an appropriate sentence because, instead of seeing Beard’s death as "a wake-up call," Oldson went on to commit other serious felony crimes following the murder.
Grand Island Mayor Jay Vavricek was arrested Saturday night in Howard County on drunk driving charges.
A dispatcher for the Valley County Sheriff’s Office said Joseph J. Vavricek, 60, of 2729 Brentwood in Grand Island was arrested at 7:18 p.m. in Howard County on suspicion of driving while under the influence and booked into the Valley County Jail in Ord. Howard County does not have a jail.
Vavricek bonded out, she said. She had no immediate record on the location of Vavricek’s arrest or who posted bond.
Vavricek has a hunting cabin in Howard County.
Vavricek was not available via cell phone Sunday — on a number he released publicly this week in a flyer he sent to numerous Grand Island households. He encouraged them to be involved in city government to ask questions and to contact him about local projects.
Vavricek’s home phone number was disconnected. However, the mayor did issue a written release from City Hall at 4:45 p.m. Sunday afternoon.
“I am sorry and embarrassed for the events that have occurred in the last 24 hours,” the mayor’s statement said. “I apologize to my family, those dependent on me, and my community, and will take corrective action so they will never be affected like this again.”
The statement said Vavricek was awaiting the results of the blood draw that was performed following his stop.
“Since this matter will be addressed in the judicial system, Mayor Vavricek has no further comment,” the written statement continued. “Furthermore, since this is a personal matter, city staff will also have no comment.”
City Council President Bob Niemann said the mayor personally called him about 4:30 p.m. Sunday to tell him what had happened. “He sees it as unfortunate, and so do I,” Niemann said.
Vavricek was first elected as Grand Island mayor in 2002 and served a four-year-term as a popular and communicative mayor. Instead of seeking another term as the head of the city, he made an unsuccessful bid for the Third District congressional seat.
Vavricek sat out of elected office for four years, then returned to the mayor’s chair in 2010.
The first half of his second four-year term has been rocky. About half of the city’s department directors have departed during his term and his employment of Grand Island City Administrator Mary Lou Brown led to a formal censure by the city council last August.
A public movement to recall Vavricek failed last summer.
The success of any growing year is good weather — a lot of sunshine, good growing temperatures and water, especially applied either by irrigation or Mother Nature at the right times during the plant’s development.
Beneficial technology and good management practices are important, but without good weather that promotes proper growth and development of a crop, there’s little to hope for at harvest time. From an agricultural perspective, those are the top two stories of the year.
1) Weather — A massive drought shook the very foundation of Nebraska’s agricultural industry in 2012. In Grand Island, the amount of yearly precipitation was nearly 60 percent of normal. In 2013, precipitation returned to its 30-year average.
2) Harvest — The return of normal rainfall amounts in 2013, with the continued application of beneficial technology and good management practices, resulted in a record corn crop. Statewide, the U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates the crop to be more than 1.6 billion bushels. Everything else flows from those two elements of weather and harvest.
3) Crop prices — That’s especially true when considering crop prices. Using corn as an example, there will be about 300 million more bushels in 2013 versus 2012, due to improved crop conditions. Demand, along with scarcity of supply, drove corn prices to record levels in 2012. That hurt the ethanol and cattle-feeding industries. Because of the abundant supply of corn provided by this year’s harvest, prices have fallen by nearly $3 per bushel. That has brought some stability to ethanol producers and livestock feeders but lowered farm incomes that resulted from record high crop prices.
4) Farm bill — Congress failed to pass a five-year Farm Bill in 2013. Progress was made at the end of this year that could lead to final passage of a new Farm Bill in January, but the battle has scarred the debate and compromise that are mainstays of the legislative process.
5) Livestock — Beneficial moisture led to better grass growth in pastures and rangeland, giving cattle producers better stability in the growth of their calf crop and eliminating the need for expensive supplemental feeding and premature culling of herds. Also, abundant corn and soybean crops, along with a better grass crop for hay that lowered prices, benefitted livestock feeders. Also, good prices for calves and finished cattle are helping producers recover from drought and high inputs costs.
The remaining top 10 agriculture stories of 2013:
6) Good corn harvest and lower prices helped jump-start the ethanol industry from the doldrums created by high corn prices brought on by drought in 2012 and a less-than-robust economy that lowered fuel demand.
7) It was a cold and snowy day, but that didn’t deter opponents and proponents of the Canadian tar sand oil pipeline from gathering in Grand Island to comment on the project at a U.S. State Department hearing.
8) The ripple effect of record farm income was a contributing factor to Grand Island’s continued economic growth.
9) The Nebraska State Fair announced in 2013 the building of the $5.4 million Nebraska Building, which will showcase Nebraska’s agricultural industry.
10) After a little more than three years in Grand Island, the State Fair received its one millionth visitor to its new facility at Fonner Park with its re-emphasis on agriculture.
The Affordable Care Act Health Insurance Marketplace will open on Oct. 1, giving Nebraskans a resource for finding health insurance plans tailor made to their individual or family needs.
“The marketplace is designed to help us better understand our health care options, and for those who might need it, there will be help paying for health care coverage,” said Teresa Anderson, health director of the Central District Health Department, which serves Hall, Hamilton and Merrick counties.
Anderson talked about the Health Insurance Marketplace and the Affordable Care Act during a news conference on Wednesday at the Health Department. She was joined by Central Nebraska Community Services Executive Director Jose Zapata, whose agency will help consumers signing up for coverage.
The costs of health insurance coverage and plan options will go live on the marketplace site on Oct. 1.
Many uninsured Nebraskans will sign up on their own, Zapata said. Estimates are there are 23,481 uninsured people in the 21 Central Nebraska counties that CNCS serves. In Hall County, there are 8,379 uninsured people, he said.
But for those who may need help with the marketplace site, there will also be navigators, Zapata said. About $540,000 of federal grant funds were awarded to the state to help Nebraskans enroll in health care coverage. About $54,000 was awarded to the CNCS service area.
“There’s a lot of great, great benefits to the program,” Zapata said. “The health care law provides tax credits and other assistance to help people (who qualify) pay for their insurance premiums.”
The various health insurance plans that are available in the marketplace are provided by private companies. They offer comprehensive packages that cover maternity care, prescription drug coverage, doctor’s visits, hospitalizations and emergency room care, Zapata said.
“An insurance company will no longer be able to deny you or your family coverage because of a pre-existing condition,” he said.
The Affordable Care Act effectively removes barriers that many had experienced in acquiring health care coverage, Zapata said.
Nebraska farmer Jim Knopik, who is board president for the Center for Rural Affairs, said the rising costs of health care and insurance caused many farmers and small-business owners to put off preventive care, and that can lead to more serious or long-term health effects.
“Many farmers and small-business owners have had to do without insurance because it is too expensive,” Knopik said. “Many spouses have had to take on second jobs outside of the farm in order to provide medical insurance benefits for the families.”
In his own case, Knopik said, health insurance, deductibles and prescription costs for him and his wife were taking about 50 percent of their net income, but that should shift to 10 percent of their net income under the Affordable Care Act, he said.
The Affordable Care Act should be a big boost to rural communities, he said.
“How do we keep kids back on the farm and in their rural communities?” Knopik asked. “Health insurance is usually one of the main things one looks for in securing their family’s future. Affordable insurance is a great place to start.”
While Oct. 1 is the date that plan data and costs become available, selection of a plan doesn’t have to be done that day, Zapata said. He encouraged Nebraskans, particularly those who haven’t had health coverage, to take their time to find the right plan.
He suggested people get onto the marketplace website and enter data such as income, Social Security numbers and ages of family members to see what options are available.
The plans will be broken down by services provided and cost and will be flagged as either a bronze, silver, gold or platinum plan as a way to help consumers decide what plan is best for them, the marketplace site states.
Services under the new act will begin on Jan. 1.
“It’s an exciting time to be around and get into this marketplace,” Zapata said. “Oct. 1 is not election day. It’s just the first day that people can start enrolling.
“You won’t get your cards until Jan. 1, so take your time and make sure you get all the information you need to have to make a knowledgeable choice for you and your family,” Zapata advised. “Don’t be in a hurry.”
While U.S. Rep. Adrian Smith, R-Neb., expresses frustration that a new Farm Bill wasn't passed during the last session of Congress, he expects the new Congress to approve one.
But a new Farm Bill will face new funding realities as Congress tackles the debt ceiling and spending cuts needed to address the growing federal debt, which has exceeded $16 trillion.
"I am disappointed that we didn't get a five-year bill," Smith said. "At least we did get an extension that does get us through this next growing season."
Smith, who serves on the House Ways and Means Committee, said the House Agriculture Committee narrowly passed a new Farm Bill because "there were some liberal Democrats and some conservative Republicans both voting no."
"That made it more difficult to pass on the floor of the House," he said. "I think, simply, the votes were not there for the committee version of the House ag committee's Farm Bill."
To address that problem, Smith said, "we need to utilize what they call 'regular order.' The Senate works its will. The House needs to work its will beyond just the committee and needs to pass something in the full House to get to conference committee. That is where the House and the Senate come together and work something out."
Smith said that final product will "not be perfect or get a unanimous vote, but history shows it works. We did that last summer with the ag appropriations bill. It is a heavy lift, but it should be."
Nearly 80 percent of the Farm Bill goes to nutritional programs, such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, which helps low-income families buy food. In the Senate's 10-year Farm Bill spending plan of $969 billion, $768 billion went to nutritional programs, with the rest going to crop insurance, conservation, commodity programs and everything else.
When debating a Farm Bill, Smith said, the nutrition programs will have to take the deepest cuts.
"The food stamp program is such a dominant part of the Farm Bill," Smith said. "It certainly points to the need for reform."
Smith said the Senate is likely to pass a new Farm Bill similar to the one it approved last year.
"But on the House side, there is a better understanding of the need for a product that can pass the full House," he said.
Smith said any legislation Congress passes this year will have to take into consideration the debt ceiling. Lawmakers will have to determine how much spending needs to be cut and how much the government can borrow.
Smith said the Farm Bill represents only 2 percent of the government's discretionary spending.
"The debt ceiling issue and the need to address spending exist in the mandatory spending side with entitlements," he said.
If lawmakers don't reform nutritional programs, such as food stamps, Smith said, those costs could go up to more than $1 trillion in the next 10 years.
"We are at about $80 billion per year with SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) compared to the beginning of the (second) Bush administration, when it was at $18 billion," he said. "But we have opened up the qualifications so wide that we have seen that grow, and that is what needs to be reformed."
Much of the steep growth in SNAP spending came during the recession, around 2007, as many more families lost their jobs and fell under the government's poverty line. Many economists say that SNAP is not contributing to the nation's long-term fiscal problems as increases in SNAP are expected to be temporary. The Congressional Budget Office predicts that SNAP enrollment will fall in coming years as the economy recovers. By 2022, SNAP spending is expected to return nearly to pre-recession levels as a share of gross domestic product.
The 2009 Recovery Act also increased SNAP benefits as a form of economic stimulus. According to National Academy of Science measures of poverty, which count SNAP as income, SNAP kept about 4 million people out of poverty in 2010 and lessened the severity of poverty for millions of others.
Food stamp spending was low when President George W. Bush was elected to his first term and there was a robust economy. Smith said a high priority is to get the economy growing again and lower unemployment rates so there is less need for government assistance.
To help make the economy robust again, Smith said, lawmakers must also begin to reform the nation's tax code.
"History shows that simplifying our tax code will be good for our economy," Smith said. "How we can build our economy is with fixing our tax policy. There is consensus and recognition that our tax policy is broken."
Aurora Police Chief Godfrey Brokenrope died Saturday night from injuries sustained in a motorcycle accident Thursday.
Brokenrope, 50, was flown to Bryan Medical Center West Campus’ trauma center in Lincoln around 7 p.m. Thursday after his motorcycle crashed on Interstate 80 near Seward, according to Deb Collins, Nebraska State Patrol spokeswoman.
After spending two days in critical condition, Brokenrope died Saturday at 6 p.m., hospital spokeswoman Lori Bruns said.
Brokenrope was eastbound on I-80 when he swerved to avoid traffic, which had slowed due to a crash being worked on by the Seward County Sheriff’s Department, Collins said.
The chief’s 2011 Indian motorcycle entered the median, where it rolled, she said.
No other vehicles were involved in the crash, which occurred around 5 p.m. Thursday. On Friday, Aurora Mayor Marlin Seeman said Brokenrope was off duty at the time of the accident.
“As chief, over the years, he’s assembled a superior staff of officers who (give off) every ambiance of the community,” Seeman said in a phone interview Saturday. “He created what I thought to be superior law enforcement.”
According to the city of Aurora’s website, Brokenrope was born in Phoenix but has lived most of his life in Central Nebraska. He is a Doniphan High School graduate and was in the U.S. Army from 1981 to 1984, serving as a military police officer.
He began his Nebraska Law Enforcement career in 1989 with the Grand Island Police Department. In 2000, he moved to Aurora and joined the Aurora Police Department. He became the police chief in 2006.
Brokenrope had recently graduated from the FBI National Academy in Quantico, Va. Only 270 officers from around the world are accepted into the 11-week program that includes classroom instruction and physical training.
He has been an active member of the Aurora community and has volunteered at the Aurora Youth Center and coached baseball and football. He was an avid motorcycle rider.
Seeman said he remembers Brokenrope for his devotion to sharing his Native American culture with members of the Aurora community.
“He was obviously very devoted through his native culture,” Seeman said. “He shared that culture with young people during the past few years. That was very much a part of his personal identity.”
Brokenrope is survived by his wife, Deb, and their children Zac, J.D. and Kylie.
Grand Island is on pace to have the lowest annual total precipitation for records kept by the National Weather Service in Hastings.
Through Friday, Grand Island had received 8.58 inches of rain, which is just 38 percent of normal precipitation through that date.
Jeremy Wesely, lead forecaster for the National Weather Service in Hastings, said weather service records show that the three driest calendar years for Grand Island were 12.01 inches of precipitation in 1940, 12.84 inches in 1934 and 13.63 inches in 1956.
"If we return to normal levels of precipitation for October, November and December, we'd get 3.66 inches of precipitation," Wesely said. That would put Grand Island at 12.24 inches of precipitation, which would be the second driest year on record."
"If we continue at the present pace, 38 percent of normal for the rest of the year, we'd get 1.39 inches of precipitation, which would give us 9.97 inches for the year."
That would be a new record by a long ways, with Grand Island's total precipitation being more than 2 inches below the driest year previously on record.
Wesely said that it is difficult to know exactly what will happen in the next three months, but he also noted that time is running out for Grand Island to avoid having one of its driest years on record.
"If you miss even one month (by having less than normal precipitation) and have two normal months, you'll have the driest year on record," Wesely said. He also pointed out that Grand Island and Central Nebraska are entering the time of year when it is less likely to have really big storms that drop a lot of precipitation in a single day's time.
Mike Hayes, director of the National Drought Mitigation Center at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, said there is no doubt that 2012 has been a drought year for Grand Island and all of Nebraska.
When it comes to drought, most people have the clearest memories of the droughts that afflicted the state in the 1950s and especially in the Great Depression years of the 1930s.
Hayes said that when it came to record high temperatures, he always thought many of the records from the 1930s could never be touched. But with the exceptional drought, conditions were so dry this year that it was not difficult for many areas of the state to experience extremely high temperatures. In some cases, those temperatures either exceeded the record highs from the 1930s or came close.
"At least for one year, it was possible to have temperatures like the 1930s," Hayes said.
A small bit of hope for Grand Island's and Nebraska's drought was offered by Hayes and Brian Fuchs, climatologist for the National Drought Mitigation Center.
In separate telephone interviews, Hayes and Fuchs both noted that it appears a weak El Nino is developing in the Pacific Ocean. Hayes said that creates the possibility of more precipitation in the southern U.S., including Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas.
He said Nebraska would be at about the transition line for increased participation. However, increased moisture in those states to the south might allow increased moisture from the Gulf of Mexico to reach Nebraska, which could improve the chances of rainfall. He said it is difficult for moisture from the gulf to reach all the way to Nebraska when it has to travel across vast, parched, drought-stricken areas of land.
Hayes and Fuchs noted that Texas is in its second year of drought. However, Fuchs said winter weather patterns or storm tracks are often established in late October/early November and continue through much of the winter season. He said that last year, the storm track was established so that some parts of Texas did receive some increased moisture. Eastern Texas especially was hit with heavy precipitation.
In fact, some parts of east and central Texas experienced flooding this past January.
But after the winter and that particular weather pattern ended, Texas slipped back into drought, Hayes said.
The current U.S. drought map shows much of Texas remains under severe drought, with large areas of the state under either extreme or exceptional drought conditions. Only relatively small areas of Texas' land mass can be classified as either abnormally dry or in normal condition.
Currently, most of Oklahoma, Kansas and Nebraska are classified as being either in extreme drought or exceptional drought, which is the worst category.
Hayes said that Nebraska's exceptional drought developed over a long period of time. He said people might ask, "Is the drought over?" if a single large storm occurs that drops ample precipitation over a large area.
But he noted that just as it took a long period of time for large sections of Nebraska to work their way into exceptional drought conditions, it will take a long period of time for those areas to work their way out. It is not always immediately apparent when a drought has ended.
On Sept. 20, the National Weather Service issued its 90-day precipitation outlook via a map of the continental U.S. and Alaska. An "EC" is shown for a vast swath of the continental U.S., stretching from the northeast to southern California and including the Midwest, the Great Plains and many western states.
EC means there are "equal chances" of above normal precipitation, normal precipitation and below normal precipitation. In other words, the chance of any of those precipitation events happening is about 33 percent. Perhaps the El Nino that Hayes and Fuchs talked about is why that 90-day forecast is hedging its bets.
While the precipitation outlook is uncertain, Nebraska is shown on the U.S. map as being part of an area where there is an above normal chance for higher-than-normal or above-normal temperatures.
For his part, Fuchs said he believes it is quite possible that Nebraskans will enter 2013 talking about drought, just as they are now. Hayes and Fuchs each noted that multi-year droughts are not uncommon in Nebraska.
Despite Nebraska's history of multi-year droughts, Hayes and Fuchs said there is no way for anyone to predict with any degree of certainty whether the drought of 2012 will be a one-year event or whether it might stretch into a second year or even longer.
They noted that Nebraska's drought has already caused economic disruption for the state, most notably for dryland crops that were either totally lost or were cut for silage. Many Nebraska ranchers had to sell off or thin their cattle hered because their pasture lands could not support their herds.
Economic conditions for even those with irrigated cropland could start to be disrupted if the drought continues into 2013 and is severe enough that it begins to affect water availability, Fuchs said.
As a result, it does not hurt farmers, and especially ranchers, to begin considering some of the "what-if" possibilities. This is what the online Drought Mitigation Center has to say for ranchers:
"A short-term drought (lasting one season or year) requires management adjustments, but generally won't impact the ranch's viability over the long term.
"In contrast, a multi-year drought may last 3-5 years or more. Each year, drought effects will be multiplied by the management decisions made during previous years. A few years into a multi-year drought, ranch managers may have far fewer management alternatives and resources to work with. Long-term impacts on the ranch's financial health, ecological health, and rancher stress can be devastating.
"Having a plan will help producers get through a short- or long-term drought while minimizing damages."
Mayor Jay Vavricek announced Friday evening that he asked interim City Administrator Mary Lou Brown to withdraw her resignation that was to be effective on Sept. 30 and that she has agreed to that request.
Vavricek made the announcement via an email that was sent to the news media at 6:26 p.m.
It was his second big announcement of the day, coming after a 5:03 p.m. press release saying Grand Island Fire Capt. Cory Schmidt has been recommended as the city’s next fire chief. The Independent was able to reach Vavricek by phone for an interview on that announcement.
However, Vavricek did not return a call to his cellphone late Friday evening following the Brown announcement that was made about 90 minutes later.
In the written press release, Vavricek said with a recall petition underway, he believes it is unfair to move ahead with considering applicants for Grand Island City Administrator, so he has asked former City Administrator Mary Lou Brown to withdraw her resignation and she has agreed.
“With a recall in progress and the related uncertainty, it doesn’t seem fair to anyone involved to move forward with the process at this time,” said Vavricek in that press release emailed to news media.
“Instead, I have asked City Administrator Mary Lou Brown to withdraw her resignation, before its effective date, and I have accepted that withdrawal.”
Vavricek noted he had asked for Brown’s resignation on June 26 and that in July he asked Human Resources Director Brenda Sutherland to begin the search for a new city administrator.
Applications for the administrator position closed Sept. 14, with 26 applications. The press release said 24 people met the minimum educational requirements.
“Of those with municipal experience, there were very few who had served in a city of more than 10,000 in population,” the press release stated.
In the press release, Vavricek said, “This has not been an easy decision for me or City Administrator Brown, but under a recall, I feel the need to go this direction until there is more certainty.”
“Under a recall petition drive, it doesn’t make much sense to hire anyone when you can’t tell a city administrator candidate who their employment will be linked with or for how long,” Vavricek’s statement continued.
“No one who applied for the job knows if employment would be hinged to me … ,” Vavricek said in the statement. The mayor’s statement then continued “ … until the dust settles, would it (the new city administrator’s term) be for four months until a special election or two years until the end of my term? Is employment instead linked to a city council president, and if so, which one?”
“A council president will be elected in a December City Council meeting. Will it be a current council member or a new member from November’s general election? A hiring decision at this time does not make sense,” Vavricek continued in the prepared statement.
“City Administrator Brown didn’t deserve to be ‘asked’ for her resignation,” Vavricek went on to say in his statement. “For that, I apologize to her publicly.”
The email continued:
“Sometimes when you do too much, too fast you can make mistakes. While I hate to admit a mistake, I made one and I own up to it. While I made a decision and sought a resignation in June, it was the wrong decision.
“My decision to seek Brown’s resignation was based on external factors and political outcries and I shouldn’t have allowed that to affect a workplace decision. The position of city administrator should be accountable to on-the-job measurements and performance a person can control.
“As for other alternatives, I’ve thought about that, too. Under today’s circumstances at City Hall, I don’t think it is good for the organization to have a long-term vacancy. It may take months, if at all, to find the right candidate in today’s climate.”
“Appointing an interim wouldn’t be my first choice under these circumstances.
“One thing I’ve learned over the last year or so is that when you spread yourself too thin, as we did with City Administrator Brown wearing two hats between the city administrator’s office and the finance department, it doesn’t work well. Brown’s financial abilities and her backbone to manage a budget and years of business experience better serves the city.
“I appreciate City Administrator Brown’s understanding to reconsider a resignation request before becoming effective. Her sacrifice, courage, and devotion to our community the past two months under the very toughest of circumstances imaginable is a measure of her leadership.”
“With so much uncertainty, I’m doing what I think makes the most sense and is in the best interest of the organization and our community,” Vavricek’s statement concluded.
BROKEN BOW -- The Broken Bow community has shown continued support and acknowledgement for those affected by the van crash Friday afternoon that killed three men and injured eight Broken Bow High School students, and plans indicate there is more community outreach to come.
Broken Bow High School hosted a balloon send-off Monday night in memory of two boys basketball coaches who were killed in the crash, which took place on Highway 2 near Ansley. Participants wrote messages on helium balloons and signed cards for coaches Anthony Blum, 24, and Zane Harvey, 38, who were killed, and the three student passengers who are still hospitalized: Chad Christensen, 17; Austin Reynolds, 15; and Scott Gates, 16.
The boys are being treated at Good Samaritan Hospital in Kearney. According to Patient Care Coordinator Marsha Wilkerson and the Broken Bow Public Schools website, Christensen is in serious condition, Reynolds is in fair condition with a broken femur and elbow and Gates is in fair condition with fractures. Christensen was in critical condition and Reynolds was in serious condition on Sunday.
The crash occurred when Albert Sherbeck, 70, of Ansley crossed left of the center line in his pickup truck and collided head on with the van, which contained the two coaches and members of the Broken Bow High School boys basketball team. Sherbeck, Blum and Harvey were killed.
The Nebraska State Patrol Troop D headquarters in North Platte is investigating the cause of the accident. Capt. Jim Parish of Troop D was not immediately available on Monday to provide information regarding the progress of the investigation.
Funeral services for each man will take place this week.
Services for Sherbeck will be at 10:30 a.m. Wednesday at the First Baptist Church in Ansley, with the Rev. Bill Ragan officiating. Memorials are suggested to the Ansley Baptist Church or the Ansley United Methodist Church choir.
Services for Blum will be at 2:30 p.m. Wednesday at Trinity Lutheran Church in Hildreth, with the Revs. Steve and Patti Byrne officiating. Memorials are suggested in his name. Broken Bow Public Schools will provide bus transport for Broken Bow High School students and faculty who wish to attend the funeral.
Services for Harvey will be at 10:30 a.m. Friday at the Evangelical Free Church in Broken Bow, with the Rev. Brandt Taylor officiating. Memorials are suggested to the Youth Building Fund Project, the Veterans Music Ministry or the Broken Bow Schools Foundation.
Additionally, Broken Bow will have a public memorial service for Blum and Harvey at 6:30 p.m. next Monday in its Municipal Building.
Broken Bow Public Schools continues to update the public on the status of the students injured in the crash on its website, bbps.org. Public Facebook pages requesting prayers and thoughts for those affected by the accident and for Christensen, who remains in serious condition, have attracted thousands of "likes" and comments.
The Nebraska State Fair announced on Wednesday that a Sky Tram will be constructed on the fairgrounds for the 2012 fair.
The Sky Tram will be 40 feet in the air and will traverse the distance of four football fields, from the Exhibition Building to the southern tip of the Cattle Barn, said Joseph McDermott, State Fair executive director.
Construction will begin next month, he said, when concrete pilings will be poured before the Sky Tram poles and other equipment are set in place. McDermott said the Sky Tram will be a permanent installation but will only operate during the 11 days of the State Fair. The rest of the year, the tram cables and cars will be stored to keep them in good shape, he said.
McDermott said the Sky Tram will be owned and operated by Wade Shows, which will be the State Fair’s new carnival provider starting with the 2013 fair.
He said the addition of the Sky Tram is "part of an ongoing commitment that’s important to the Nebraska State Fair board of directors."
"We all want our fairgoers to have unique experiences when they visit, and the new Sky Tram will definitely give our visitors that," McDermott said.
McDermott said the Sky Tram is a major undertaking by the Nebraska State Fair and will provide fairgoers enjoyment for "years to come."
"The Nebraska State Fair has always been about exceeding expectations," he said. "There is no question that the new fairgrounds with its livestock and exhibition buildings are the premier facilities in the nation. Now, with the addition of a Sky Tram, fairgoers will be able to experience the action from 40 feet above the fairgrounds."
The Nebraska State Fair will run from Aug. 24 through Sept. 3 at Fonner Park.
Arkanjelo Kot has been found not guilty of first-degree murder.
A jury of nine women and three men reached the verdict this afternoon. It was read in court at 2:15 p.m. They had been given the case for deliberation at 2:25 p.m. yesterday, went home at 5 p.m. and returned at 9 a.m. today.
Kot, 35, of Grand Island was also found not guilty of using a handgun to commit a felony.
He had been charged with the July 14, 2010, shooting death of Walid Omar-Aden at the Pump & Pantry on West Second Street.
Kot testified at the trial that he shot Omar-Aden in self-defense because he believed the other man was reaching for a gun. Omar-Aden was associated with two men who had shot Kot in August 2009 and killed his cousin.
He testified that Omar-Aden threatened him on the evening of July 14 and that he had been afraid for his life since his cousin’s murder. He purchased a handgun for protection and said he took it with him when he went to confront Omar-Aden after their initial argument. Kot said he had planned to identify Omar-Aden and call the police.
"Thank everybody," Kot said and waved to TV cameras as he left the courtroom in handcuffs.
Although he has been found not guilty in this case, he will remain at the Hall County Jail on a charge of second-degree assault stemming from a June 15 incident at the jail involving a corrections officer.
One of Kot’s court-appointed attorneys, Denise Frost of Oakland, said Kot was "very thankful, very grateful." He has been in jail since the shooting, and the verdict lifts a "great weight off his shoulders," she said.
Frost believed Kot’s testimony was likely the turning point for the jurors. He was able to tell them in his own words what had happened, she said.
"The truth is what set him free," she said.
Frost defended Kot with Clarence Mock, also of Oakland. Mock was called to Omaha before the verdict was returned, she said.
"I’m very disappointed," Hall County Attorney Mark Young said. "It’s going to be tough to call Ohio and give this news to Aden’s family. I feel like I let Mr. Aden’s family down and the community down, and I’m sorry."
He believed some technical aspects of the law may have made the decision difficult for the jury.
"I don’t want to denigrate the hard work of the jury," he said.
OMAHA — Republican Deb Fischer was elected Tuesday to the U.S. Senate, completing a remarkable eight-year journey from little-known state legislator and giving the tea party one of its biggest wins.
Fischer beat Democrat Bob Kerrey, 69, for the seat left open by retiring Democratic Sen. Ben Nelson. Her victory gives the GOP control of both Nebraska’s Senate seats and all three of its House seats.
Nebraska voters previously had elected Kerrey as governor and to two U.S. Senate terms, but he only returned to the state in March after a 12-year absence.
Fischer pledged that she will not lose touch with Nebraska.
“We expect our elected officials to listen and to vote for us in Washington the way they talk to us at home,” she said in her victory speech in Lincoln. “I will stand for you and fight for you in Washington.”
In his concession speech, Kerrey acknowledged what he had from the beginning — that he was a longshot to win.
“From the beginning, we knew that this would be an uphill struggle,” he said. “We did not begin this campaign because we thought it would be easy.”
Fischer, 61, a rancher from Valentine, faced Kerrey after pulling off one of the biggest upsets of the primary election. She defeated two more familiar — and better financed — candidates, state Attorney General Jon Bruning and Treasurer Don Stenberg, who focused their criticism on each other. She also benefited from ads funded by super PACs that accused Bruning of doubling that office’s budget.
In the general election, Fischer, a two-term state legislator, appealed to the state’s deep base of conservative voters by pledging not to increase taxes and to work to cut federal spending. She had the backing of tea party organizations. Super PACs hammered Kerrey with attack ads accusing him of being a liberal.
Kerrey campaigned as a problem solver who could work with members of both parties to address the nation’s most serious problems, including the budget deficit and financially troubled entitlement programs.
Though Fischer maintained her lead in polls, the race tightened in the days before the election, with a poll published by the Omaha World-Herald giving Fischer only a 3-point lead.
In the end, some voters said they could not overlook Kerrey’s long absence from the state. After serving two terms in the Senate from Nebraska, he left politics in 2000 and lived in New York, where he was the director of a private educational institution.
“I think Kerrey did a good job when he was in office here, but my biggest problem with him was that he lived away from here for more than 10 years, and suddenly the week before registration ends, he’s living here supposedly,” said Jan Paulson, 75, of Omaha. “He doesn’t know Nebraska anymore.”
With Nelson’s retirement, Democratic Party officials encouraged Kerrey to run for his seat, hoping his previous political success in the state and reputation would help him even though the state had become much more conservative since he left office.
After winning the Medal of Honor for service in Vietnam and opening a successful chain of restaurants and health clubs, the Lincoln native was elected governor in 1982. He served two terms in the Senate that bracketed a brief run for president in 1992. He expressed frustration about a lack of attention to his ideas for safeguarding Social Security and Medicare and making Congress less partisan.
ORD — Former Ord resident John R. Oldson had been a suspect in
the 1989 murder of Cathy Beard from the beginning.
Nearly 23 years after the two were seen leaving the Someplace
Else Tavern in Ord and Beard was never seen again, Oldson was
arrested on charges involving Beard’s first-degree murder.
Oldson, 45, was arrested at 7 p.m. Tuesday in Randolph, Mo., on
a warrant from the Nebraska State Patrol, according to the Clay
County, Mo., Sheriff’s Department. Authorities there believe he had
been living in the area for about three years after being released
from a Nebraska prison on a separate crime.
The night of May 31, 1989, Beard left behind her keys,
cigarettes and jacket at the bar where she was a part-time
waitress. The 5-foot-2, 100-pound Ord native had on faded blue
jeans, a white, fuzzy sweater with pink and gray stripes and blue
The bar’s manager, Kay Shafer, said in June 1989 that she
recalled that Beard, who lived with her mother, came into the
tavern alone that Wednesday and was visiting with employees.
Someone saw Beard leaving the bar with Oldson, who later told
authorities that he left the bar with Beard and saw her enter a
dark blue or black pickup with one occupant in the alley behind the
Police were called at about midnight after Beard’s personal
items were discovered still at the tavern. After days passed with
the family receiving no word from Beard, investigators suspected
Oldson originally agreed to make further statements to law
enforcement, but police were contacted by his attorney and told
that Oldson wouldn’t be saying anything else.
In a 1992 interview with The Independent as he sat in jail
awaiting arraignment on a third-degree sexual assault charge
involving a different woman, Oldson said authorities had mostly
circumstantial evidence against him.
“If you don’t have hard evidence, a grand jury is going to say
it’s all circumstantial,” he said then. “It’s all so much air.”
Beard’s body wasn’t found until three years later when a rural
Ord woman found a skull while picking up trash along a
minimum-maintenance road three miles east and two miles south of
Ord in April 1992.
Investigators also uncovered other humans remains and clothing.
Beard’s family identified personal items found with the body, and a
pathologist’s report later confirmed the remains belonged to Beard
and that she was violently murdered that fateful night.
At the time, Curt Sikyta was Valley County attorney. He said he
believed that, at some point, Beard had been forced into a vehicle,
but there were no witnesses to that fact.
He said an investigation showed that Beard had suffered blunt
and sharp-instrument trauma, inflicted before and after her death,
but no instruments used to kill Beard were recovered.
After having been told by Oldson that Beard climbed into a
pickup that night, investigators checked out every pickup in
Nebraska, and one in Colorado, that fit the description, but they
came up empty. The Nebraska State Patrol also searched a pickup
owned by Oldson’s father that the younger Oldson often drove,
Sikyta said, adding that they did find some hair fibers in the
pickup, but tests done on the pickup’s materials were
The investigation remained open, and for years local and state
investigators continued to meet to discuss the case.
In a 1999 interview with The Independent, Beard’s mother, Veneta
Beard of Ord, lamented that they were accepting that her murder
might never be solved. Veneta Beard died in 2004.
Beard’s cold-case murder was brought to light again in May 2008,
when newly-elected Valley County Sheriff Casey Hurlburt was
directed by County Attorney Glenn Clark to fully review the matter
and conduct an extensive investigation to determine who committed
Hurlburt said new evidence and witnesses led to the arrest, but
he did not elaborate.
Oldson has a history of sexual assault and child abuse
convictions. In July 1989, just months after Beard’s death, he was
sentenced to a year in jail for the third-degree assault of a
female Pump and Pantry clerk in Burwell. Oldson lifted up her
blouse, touched her stomach and drove away.
During the interview with The Independent, Oldson admitted that
a woman’s stomach was “one of my favorite parts of the body.”
“It’s not a fixating thing. It’s just one of several features of
a woman that figures in on it,” he said then.
In 1992, he was charged with two separate assaults against
women, one in April for which he was sentence to 60 days in jail
and 18 months probation for a reduced attempted third-degree sexual
assault charge in Sherman County for allegedly touching a woman’s
The next year, two felony first- and second-degree assault
charges filed against him were dropped because of lack of
In 2003, he was convicted of felony child abuse for sticking
needles into the stomachs of his two stepdaughters. He was
sentenced to two to four years and served two years in the state
In the December 1992 interview, Oldson said he had known Beard
all his life, and sometimes when he drank, he tried to be more than
a friend with her, but she had rejected his sexual advances.
He said Beard would tell him: “Oh, John, I like you as a friend,
but never in that way. No, no, get away, no, no.”
“Every time I approached her, I was pretty well tanked up,” he
said. “I was real tanked up, as a matter of fact, a couple times.
... What happens is you get more desperate as the night goes on.
Finally, I just reached the bottom of the barrel, what the hell,
we’ll try Cathy, and she wouldn’t have anything to do with me.”
He said he talked with Beard in the bar on the night she died.
Oldson said he and his father had ridden there after work, then got
into his father’s truck and left. While driving in the alley, he
said, he saw Beard enter the pickup he’d described to
He maintained in 1992 that he did not assault her.
When the Missouri authorities went to Oldson’s home on Tuesday
to arrest him, they were ready for a fight, given his criminal
record, Clay County Capt. Steve Wright said.
“Because of his violent past, we had our special tactics and
response team effect the arrest,” he said, adding that as they got
to Oldson’s home, he was just leaving in his car with his wife. “We
just stopped the car, and there was no incident.”
Wright said they believe that after Oldson was released from
prison in 2005, he moved to his mother’s home in Independence, Mo.
He later married and moved to Randolph, which is on the outskirts
of Kansas City, Mo., about 2010. Investigators didn’t know if he
was employed, but Wright said Oldson did not have a criminal record
Oldson is being held in the Clay County Detention Center on 10
percent of a $1 million bond, pending extradition to Nebraska.
Oldson will have an extradition hearing to see if he’ll be sent
back to Nebraska.
Wright said Hurlburt contacted his office a couple of weeks ago
to see if they could find Oldson.
Hurlburt said in a press release that he and Nebraska State
Patrol investigator Jay Morrow had previously traveled to Missouri
to investigate and to make arrangements for Oldson’s arrest.
Hurlburt, Chief Deputy Sheriff Roy Crites and Morrow went to
Missouri again on Monday after the warrant was issued to deliver
the warrant and continue the investigation.
Hurlburt is urging anyone who has any information regarding
Beard’s murder or Oldson to call the Valley County Sheriff’s
Department at (308) 728-3906 or the Nebraska State Patrol at (800)
After one semester of making Northwest High School a 1-to-1 school, with each student having his or her own school-issued iPad, school officials are now evaluating what went right and what could be done better.
Brian Gibson, technology coordinator for Northwest High School, said the iPads have amazing capabilities. He said band students, for example, are performing by following musical scores on their iPad. Musicians can turn their head in a special way to turn the “page” on the iPad’s “sheet music.”
Gibson said school staff realized after the fact they could have done the same thing downloading the dialogue and music for Northwest’s spring musical onto student iPads instead of printing it all on paper.
“We could have saved a lot of paper,” he said.
It’s partly because of such missed opportunities that Gibson says the Northwest school board will be presented with the idea of creating a technology integrationist position for the district. He said that presentation will be made at the school board’s annual retreat.
Gibson said the position likely could be filled by re-arranging the configuration of current staff members, not adding to the staff.
Although some teachers are quite adept at using technology to deliver curriculum content to students, Gibson said, other teachers are finding it more difficult to integrate iPads into their regular lesson plans.
Gibson said that students definitely do not have to be shown how to use technology and teachers need to keep that fact in mind. Gibson said the mantra that he and another staff members have developed is that “the students sitting before you are 21st-century learners.” As a result, teachers need to integrate technology into their regular lesson plans in order to more effectively teach today’s students.
Gibson said there also is a growing consensus that Northwest students should use their iPads for less “consumption” and more “production.” He said the idea of consumption is that students are using their iPads to read that day’s homework assignment for a literature class or to do complete that day’s math homework.
That kind of use means the iPad is being used a little more than an electronic version of a textbook.
Gibson said the idea of production is that Northwest students should be using their iPads for project-based assignments, in which they create text, graphs, charts and videos. When students begin to use technology to complete a project, they are being forced to use higher order critical thinking skills, which Gibson said should be a goal for all teachers in the Northwest system.
The idea that the iPad is to be used for producing things gets back to the three R’s that staff members stressed to Northwest students at the beginning of this school year. The first R is that the iPad is a resource. Instead of passively consuming from the iPad, the student should use that resource to produce work of his or her own.
The second R is responsibility, with Northwest students so far taking good care of their school-owned iPads. The third R is respect, which can be a big issue when it comes to student use of social media and how they treat fellow students through social media.
The Grand Island Police Department is understaffed and the Grand Island Fire Department needs to consider a new management and operational structure, which may include contracting out ambulance transport.
Those are some of the observations and recommendations included in the public safety study that the city commissioned in August 2011.
Just before 8 p.m. Thursday, Grand Island City Administrator Mary Lou Brown released a 753-page packet for Saturday’s 9 a.m. study session at Grand Island City Hall regarding the public safety study results.
The packet included a report on the Police Department, a report on the Fire Department, and supporting studies, documentation and methodologies used in the study. Consultants from Washington,
D.C.-based International City/County Management Association prepared the study for $85,000.
ICMA officials compliment the Grand Island Police Department for being “a highly professional, well-managed police agency” in which “no serious deficits” were found.
“In general, the department appears to be understaffed, and additional sworn personnel are necessary to meet service demands and fulfill the mission of the department,” the consultants state.
At the same time, the department could benefit greatly from additional help by non-sworn officers, the report states.
Police Department recommendations include:
Empanel a “calls for service” committee to identify calls for service that can be eliminated from a sworn officer response.
Create a third shift of officers, called the swing shift or impact team, to supplement current patrol and engage in proactive enforcement to address crime and quality-of-life issues.
Create a supervisory position on each shift, the special operations sergeant, to coordinate crime, traffic and quality-of-life enforcement.
Increase the number of community service officers to six full-time.
Create a robust crime prevention program with a dedicated crime prevention officer.
Implement a case management system to track investigations by investigator.
Add two civilian staff to the investigations division — one to assist administration and one for criminal intelligence and crime analysis.
Merge the administration and criminal investigations divisions and eliminate a captain position.
Implement a field reporting system using a portable, in-car system.
Add sworn personnel to the areas of training, criminal intelligence and community policing.
The Grand Island Fire Department needs to move to a management style called “Integrated Risk Management Planning,” the consultants state. It seeks to identify risks in a community and address them prior to problems arising.
For example, instead of just participating in Fire Prevention Week activities, an integrated risk management department would analyze the fire or rescue causes in the community and train and retrain residents to eliminate preventable accidents.
The consultants recommend that the department move from having a fire chief and four division chiefs to having a fire chief, an administrative associate and three division chiefs representing operations, emergency medical services and prevention.
The study also suggests looking at placing fire or rescue equipment at high call-volume locations, such as a mall, rather than leaving it in fire stations that may not be strategically placed.
Grand Island may also be inefficient in trying to have firefighters also serve as paramedics, which are more difficult to attract.
“A number of communities are finding much better outcomes with sending a lone paramedic in an SUV to begin triage with the rescue unit then transporting,” the report states.
Fire Department recommendations include:
Analyze the contracting out of transport for Emergency Medical Services.
Reduce the staffing at Fire Stations 3 and 4 by two and have a three-person crew at each station.
Implement a Medical Priority Dispatch System at the 911 center.
Use customer response cards to gather customer satisfaction information.
Establish performance measures on dispatch and turnout time.
Acquire a multipurpose apparatus for Fire Stations 3 and 4.
Implement a public access defibrillation program across the community, including in police cars.
Purchase mobile data terminals for all emergency response vehicles.
Purchase an automatic vehicle locator system to aid the 911 center with computer-aided dispatch.
The consultants who prepared the study will present the results and take questions during the Saturday study session, which is open to the public.
HASTINGS -- Grand Island police Capt. Pete Kortum has been named in the new police chief in Hastings.
Kortum has been with the Grand Island Police Department since 1974. He and his wife, Mary, have four adult sons.
The chief announcement came this morning during a special meeting of the Hastings City Council.
Larry Thoren, who was Hastings police chief for 14 years, retired on Aug. 4. He was in law enforcement for 43 years, including 24 as a police chief in two states.
Four finalists, from a field of 27 applicants, were selected by the Hastings Civil Service Commission to replace Thoren. In addition to Kortum, the finalists were Hastings police Capt. Gene Boner, Hastings police Capt. Adam Story, and Litchfield, Ill. Police Chief B.J. Wilkinson.
LINCOLN — Reports that the Obama administration might delay a decision on the controversial Keystone XL pipeline shouldn’t affect efforts to pass pipeline legislation in Nebraska, some state lawmakers said Monday.
“No matter what happens at the federal level, we have to push forward,” said State Sen. Annette Dubas of Fullerton, who introduced a bill last week that would allow state oversight of pipeline siting.
Other senators, including Speaker of the Legislature Mike Flood of Norfolk, said it was too early to tell what impact there might be on the current special legislative session.
Unconfirmed reports citing officials with knowledge of the deliberations said the administration is considering requiring pipeline sponsors to reduce the project’s environmental risks before it can be approved.
That step might put off a decision until after the 2012 election, which would be a way for the White House to at least temporarily avoid antagonizing either the unions that support the pipeline or the environmental activists who oppose it as President Barack Obama gears up for his re-election campaign.
The 1,700-mile Keystone XL, which would run from Canada to the Texas Gulf Coast, needs a permit from the U.S. State Department because it crosses a national border. The administration had saida decision on the permit would come by the end of the year.
State Sen. Chris Langemeier of Schuyler, chairman of the Natural Resources Committee, said Nebraska lawmakers will have to wait and see. He said the administration has changed direction from one day to the next on when it might make a decision on whether a permit will be issued for the pipeline.
If the State Department does slow down the permit process, Nebraska lawmakers could adjourn the special session and take up the issue in January, Langemeier said.
But Sen. Ken Haar of Malcolm, who also introduced a pipeline siting measure, said Nebraska should still act before the end of the year. “We don’t want to be caught with our pants down.”
Requiring that a new route avoid the most sensitive areas or requiring that further steps be taken to limit greenhouse gas emissions would almost certainly delay the project’s approval. Assessing the environmental effects of a new route, for instance, could take months.
The State Department is currently determining whether the project is in the national interest, a process that entailed holding hearings recently along the proposed route. As a result, some issues have become more “salient,” said a State Department official familiar with the process, “including the routing issue in Nebraska.”
“The State Department is committed to conducting a thorough, rigorous and transparent process that leads to a decision that is in the national interest, including, if needed, gathering and assessing additional information,” said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
Any new assessments open up the possibility of further delays.
Pipeline developer TransCanada said it has heard nothing to indicate that a decision would be put off. It has opposed any delay, saying the cost would be prohibitive.
This report includes material from the Tribune Washington Bureau.
Hall County has an official population of 58,607 people, with
Grand Island’s official 2010 population at 48,520 people, according
to figures released Tuesday by the U.S. Census Bureau.
Hall County grew by 9.5 percent during the past decade, while
Grand Island, one of the largest five incorporated cities in the
state, grew by 13 percent. Both figures are among the strongest
growth rates in the state for large cities and large counties.
The other largest cities include:
– Omaha, 408,958, which is up 4.9 percent since the 2000
– Lincoln, 258,379, up 14.5 percent.
– Bellevue 50,137, up 13 percent.
– Kearney, 30,787, up 12.2 percent.
Much of Grand Island’s growth was spurred by the growth in its
Hispanic population, which grew by 5,534 people or 72 percent. That
increase mirrors what has happened in the state of Nebraska as a
whole, where the Hispanic population has grown by 77 percent.
Hispanics now comprise 26.7 percent of Grand Island’s
population. In the 1990 Census, Hispanics were 14 percent of the
Carlos Barcenas Jr., executive director of the Multicultural
Coalition in Grand Island, said the growth of the Hispanic
population in the city is a reflection not only of new Hispanic
families moving in, but of Hispanic families who moved to Grand
Island 10 or 15 years ago, establishing roots in the community and
“We’re not as mobile as were 10 or 15 years ago,” he said.
“Nebraska is a great place to live,” said Barcenas, who noted he
has seen several magazines talk about Lincoln and Omaha as being
among the top cities in the country to raise a family.
He said many Hispanic families are finding Grand Island a good
place to raise their families as well.
In his job as executive director of the Multicultural Coalition,
he found himself talking to a Somali woman who has lived in Grand
Island since 2007, Barcenas said. He said when he asked, the Somali
woman said she had encountered mostly positive experiences in Grand
When viewed by race and not ethnicity, Grand Island is 80
percent white; 2.1 percent black or African-American; 1 percent
American Indian or Alaska Native; 1.2 percent Asian; 0.2 percent
Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander; 2.4 percent two or more
races; and 13.1 percent some other race.
Hall County is also one of the five largest counties in the
state. The other four largest counties, their populations and their
growth rates since the 2000 Census are:
– Douglas, 517,110, up 11.5 percent.
– Lancaster, 285,407, up 14 percent.
– Sarpy, 158,840, up 29.6 percent.
– Buffalo, 46,102, up 9.1 percent.
Marlan Ferguson, one of the members of the Be Counted Census
2010 committee, said he was especially impressed with the city of
Grand Island’s 13 percent growth rate, which trailed only Lincoln
and tied with Bellevue among the largest five cities in
Ferguson said the Be Counted committee had hoped for a
population of 50,000 people within the municipal limits of Grand
Island so the city could qualify for community development block
grants automatically, without having to apply and compete with
Chad Nabity, Hall County/Grand Island Regional Planning
Director, said the official population count of 48,520 was about
700 more people than his own, unofficial estimate of 47,800 people
as of Dec. 31, 2010.
“I try to be conservative in these estimates,” he said.
While the city of Grand Island did not reach 50,000 within the
municipal limits, Nabity said Grand Island’s metropolitan
statistical area or MSA – will be 50,000 or more people – when
areas such as Alda, the Hidden Lakes Area, subdivisions south of
town and a residential subdivision just east of Grand Island in
Merrick County are counted.
Nabity said the biggest question on qualifying for community
development block grants is whether the bar of how big a community
must be to automatically qualify for such grants is raised. Nabity
cautioned that might be a possibility because of concerns over the
Even if the terms of qualifying for grants are not changed,
community development block grant money will not start flowing to
Grand Island immediately, Nabity said. He said newly qualified
communities from the 2000 Census had to wait until 2003 until they
started receiving automatic community development block grants.
Cindy Johnson, president of the Grand Island Area Chamber of
Commerce, said it is gratifying to see such strong growth in Grand
Island and Hall County, especially when so many other communities
in Nebraska and the Great Plains states are shrinking.
She said the strong growth is a validation of what the city and
area leaders have tried to do over the past decade to make Grand
Island and the surrounding area grow.
Johnson said that even though Grand Island did not officially
hit 50,000 population, business leaders still notice when a city is
growing, especially when so many other communities across the
nation have been struggling. She said that leader can look at Grand
Island’s growth and think that the city might have something to
offer his or her business.
Grand Island Mayor Jay Vavricek said the population growth shows
Grand Island offers jobs and services that has attracted people to
the community. He said the population growth creates challenges in
providing needed city services and educational opportunities for
newcomers to Grand Island.
However, Vavricek said it is still a more welcome opportunity
than when a community is not growing. He said that creates the
problem of having fewer residents and taxpayers bear the cost of
providing municipal services.
DANNEBROG — Five area post offices are among 90 in Nebraska and
nearly 3,700 nationwide that have been added to the list to be
studied for possible closure.
Post offices in Nebraska cities large and small have been added
to the list of offices, branches and stations being studied for
possible closing. U.S. Postal Service has added Comstock,
Dannebrog, Mason City, St. Libory, Farwell and Trumbull. Two in
Omaha also are on the list.
Wayne Lauritsen, a Dannebrog village board member, said he
thought they should be able to come up with an alternative to
closing the post offices altogether.
"I would think they could cut down on the hours, maybe just go
part time," he said adding that it may be time to go back to the
practice of housing the post office in the local store.
That is one thing the postal service is looking at, adding that
many of the offices could be replaced by so-called village post
offices. Village Post Offices would be operated by local
businesses, such as pharmacies, grocery stores and other
appropriate retailers, and would offer postal products and services
such as stamps and flat-rate packaging.
"Today, more than 35 percent of the Postal Service's retail
revenue comes from expanded access locations such as grocery
stores, drug stores, office supply stores, retail chains,
self-service kiosks, ATMs and usps.com, open 24/7," said Postmaster General
Patrick Donahoe in a press release. "Our customer's habits have
made it clear that they no longer require a physical post office to
conduct most of their postal business."
Lauritsen did agree that, while he liked having the option of
going downtown to his local post office, "it's more habit than
He said it would probably effect Dannebrog residents like Roger
Welsch or Farwell businesses like Lukasiewicz Furniture-Carpeting
and Appliance, who probably do a lot of mailings, more than
Lauritsen said he was a little surprised to see Dannebrog's post
office on the list because he figured it would eventually get more
business from Rockville and Boleus, which have already had
informational meetings about closing.
He felt a town could probably survive without a post office but
it would be "a tremendous blow."
Bob Waltman of Farwell said he was surprised to see his town on
the list because he had heard when Rockville and Boleus were listed
that Farwell wouldn't be touched for at least two years. However he
added, "I figure they were going to start closing sooner or
Waltman said he felt it wouldn't help the postal service to
close the Farwell office.
"I understand these post offices are making money," he said.
"But they aren't going to save enough to make it worthwhile."
Donahoe noted that the postal service receives no tax dollars
for operating expenses, and relies on the sale of postage, products
and services to fund its operations.
No Grand Island city department is without impact in the present
effort to fill a $2 million budget gap for the upcoming 2011-2012
budget that starts Oct. 1.
Parks maintenance is lowered, library hours will be cut, street
repair is reduced and the finance director position is to be
eliminated in exchange for an assistant city administrator. Many
city fees will be increased or created — including a new $2
processing fee to pay bills in person at City Hall.
But one city department is looking to actually increase
Fire Chief Troy Hughes has submitted a budget plan that would
demote three existing fire department captains in order to save
money and to staff a third ambulance — at least part of the
"The call we made is really to give the best service we could
with the dollars available," Hughes said.
Currently the Fire Department has 15 captains. They serve as the
day-to-day commanders of each of the city's four fire stations for
each of the three daily shifts. There are five captains on duty
each day to ensure that each fire station has a captain on duty
even if someone is out on vacation or sick leave.
Under Hughes' plan, two of those captains would be reduced to
firefighter/paramedics and one would return to being a
firefighter/emergency medical technician. That personnel could
staff a third front-line ambulance — a service that has been
growing in demand as the city population grows.
"It wouldn't give us a third ambulance every day, but there
would be more days that we would have a third ambulance going to
that system," he said.
Hughes told the council in 2009 that the city's medical calls
have more than doubled in a decade — from 1,800 patients in 1999 to
nearly 4,300. A third ambulance has been in demand on numerous
occasions in the past few years when simultaneous medical calls
come in or when there are multiple injuries at an accident
Hughes had requested additional staff in the past (the city last
added fire staff in 2000), but the expense — even with grant
funding that was secured, but rejected — hasn't been approved. That
led to this year's creative proposal involving the demotions of
Such demotions are allowed under the Nebraska Civil Service
laws, which govern government public safety positions.
"We'll do an evaluation according to the civil service rules to
determine who the three would be," Hughes said. "Some of it is
based on performance — and seniority does have a factor in it.
There are several factors when that situation occurs that civil
service has us look at."
When the three are determined, if the city council approves of
the plan, Hughes believes they will step down in position, partly
because they would still be eligible for two years to return to the
captain ranks without having to retake the civil service test for
"Obviously, the three that move down, it won't be an ideal
situation for them personally, but the public will still see the
same level of service and maybe even improved service," Hughes
The department used grant funds to make three of the four fire
stations more energy efficient, resulting in lower utility bills.
It's also seeking federal funds to replace a 25-year-old pumper
truck and hopes to purchase a new combined rescue/pumper truck to
take the place of two outdated units.
"We're real fortunate to have what we have," Hughes said. "Some
of the things we had to do, with the adjustment of the captains and
other things, were ways we accommodated that so we can provide the
service and the public won't feel any drop in service from our
Budget highlights from the $32 million general fund
Job cuts: Finance director, part-time meter reader, full-time
human resources specialist, part-time Geographic Information System
specialist, part-time accounting technician, senior equipment
operator in Public Works, assistant library director, part-time
seasonal parks worker, part-time seasonal pool workers.
Job adds: Public Works engineer through the reorganization of
that department; assistant city administrator through
reorganization of Finance Department and city administration.
Fee increases: New $2 processing fee to pay city bills in person
at City Hall; increase in fire safety inspection fees, medical
treatment and transportation fees; $50 fee for traffic control for
special events; sanitary sewer fees increased; $50 fee to close a
street for a block party; youth fees for using city athletic
fields; $1 more for all entry fees to city pools; increase in fees
at shooting park; increase in cellphone tax from 3 percent to 6
Service cutbacks: Prosecution and enforcement of non-health,
safety and welfare ordinances; significant reduction in code
enforcement of city ordinances by the Police Department; Building
Department secretary position being left open for six months;
deferred maintenance at City Hall; One-Stop building vacated and
positioned for sale; reduction in police records management and
service desk, which may cause delays in getting reports; concrete
street repairs; asphalt pavement repairs; reduction in pothole
patching; reduction in crack and joint sealing in streets;
contracted snow removal; elimination of residential cleanup card
program; library hours reduced; adult services programming at the
library to be reduced; youth programming at the library to be
reduced; parks maintenance and operations cut by $60,000; reduced
fertilization, watering and mowing of lawns in city parks.
Service retentions: Sectional replacement of the City Hall
parking lot; rebuild of Lincoln Park Pool through an increase in
the property tax through the Community Redevelopment Authority;
tree limb disposal program will be expanded.
The Grand Island school board approved the 2011-12 school budget
and the property tax levies needed to support its plan for the
current year at its September board meeting Thursday evening.
The board had a one-hour budget work session prior to the start
of its regular board meeting at 6:30 p.m. at the Kneale
Administration Building. No one from the general public spoke at
either the public hearing for the budget or the public hearing on
the proposed property taxes.
The votes on the budget and tax levies essentially ratified
decisions made earlier this spring when the school board held Town
Hall meetings and budget workshops to prepare the budget, which had
to be trimmed because of a multi-million dollar cut in state
The tax levy for the general fund will be $1.04 per hundred
dollars of property value, up $0.04 from the general fund levy for
the current fiscal year. The levy for the building fund will be
$0.01, down $0.04 from the current budget year.
Virgil Harden, Grand Island Public Schools business manager,
told the board during its pre-meeting budget workshop that the
situation will have a long-term impact if those levies remained
unchanged for a long period of time.
Harden said the district will have a difficult time keeping up
with its building needs with only a $0.01 building fund levy.
Revenues from the previous $0.05 levy will continue to come into
the district coffers through December, then they will drop off
noticeably as the impact of the new, lower levy kicks in.
The school district's general fund is just over $1 million for
the coming fiscal year, but Harden told the board that amount that
exists only on paper. He said that additional general fund money in
the published budget is needed to protect the school district's
budget authority in coming years, as a hedge against unpredictable
But when it comes to actual general fund spending, the district
likely will spend $5 million to $6 million less for the coming
fiscal year than it will for the current fiscal year, which still
has a couple of weeks to run before it ends, Harden said.
During his monthly report to the board, Superintendent Rob
Winter said that the Grand Island school staff is operating with
approximately 30 fewer people this school year than it did last
He pointed out that with 9,000 students and 1,500 employees, the
Grand Island school district represents about 20 to 25 percent of
the city's total population during the school year.
Winter said that in some cases, the school district will try to
do the same amount of work with fewer people. In other cases, it
will let even workers that it considers to be important fall by the
Winter said that the half-time public relations position is one
case in point. He said that position generated 180 to 200 press
releases each year, helped create the school district's annual
report and generated countless pictures for the district
With the elimination of that position, the school district will
forsake two programs for the foreseeable future. One is the
Principal for a Day program, which brought approximately 20 people
into GIPS school buildings for a full day. Over the time that
program has operated, it has given the school district valuable
exposure to anywhere from 80 to 120 community leaders.
Winter said the district also will have to forego producing
programs for the local cable access channel, which he said was a
labor-intensive program for the district.
In other action, the board:
- Renewed its contract with the Hall County Attorney's Office
for a deputy county attorney to work part-time with the school
district in "truancy court" for students who have a great number of
unexcused absences from school.
- Renewed its contract with the city of Grand Island to split
the cost of five school resource officers 50-50 for the coming
- Renewed its agreement with Central Community College for dual
credit courses that can be taken by students at Grand Island Senior
- Reconfigured its lease agreement for building space with St.
Francis Medical Center to operate its Student Wellness Center
program so that the agreement is now the Physicians Network.
- Saw Reyna Raymundo sworn in as the new Grand Island Senior
High student representative to the school board.
Ben Nelson has decided to check in his Capitol keys.
Nebraska's senior U.S. senator is calling it a career after two terms in Washington.
The Democrat's last year has been particularly tough, cast as state Republicans' whipping boy for his vote of support for the president's health care program.
The timing of his vote - which Nelson had a say in - made his the 60th and deciding yea. Soon, the Beltway Breeze revealed a well-publicized bit of arm twisting known as the "Cornhusker kickback," in which Nelson had won a Medicaid exemption for the state.
Despite the exemption being killed later and even though as a Democrat he often voted with Republicans, the health care issue and attendant politicking became an albatross for Nelson.
There is some mathematical irony for all the ire from us independent-minded Nebraskans, too.
Congressional Quarterly determined Nelson the least likely in the Senate to vote with his party, and according to two other vote-tracking databases, Nelson's voting history puts him squarely in the centrist middle.
Still, Nelson's "deal" left many Nebraskans with a bad taste in their mouths, although I'm sure most would concede it was neither the first nor the last bit of politics in Washington intended to benefit Nebraska - only the most visible.
Then we lost the benefit.
Meanwhile, without a Democratic candidate ready to step in, the GOP field for Nelson's seat now might grow.
Nebraskans - even those whose antipathy for Nelson is well-documented - need a GOP primary that concentrates less on beating up a retired senator and the president and more on differentiating qualities and experience among candidates.
In the reddest of red states, Nelson's retirement also augurs a lopsided November. That may serve the winning majority, but a competitive race serves everyone.
* * *
When the Nebraska Legislature convenes on Jan. 4, 2012, it will, in the ensuing 90 days, consider hundreds of ideas that may become laws.
Most of them will not.
A few will become laws, just the same as they do in the other 49 states.
Well, maybe a little more than a few.
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, state lawmakers enacted 40,000 new laws last year, a number of which will go into effect Jan. 1.
Starting Sunday, you'll not be able to use ultraviolet tanning devices if you live in California and are under 18. Dude, it's California. Go outside.
In Nevada, using a handheld cellphone while driving will be against the law. In North Dakota, a similar law applies only if you're under 18. No one there of any age can text message behind the wheel, a nod to the notion that distraction and stupidity are not the sole purview of youth.
Kansans, Rhode Islanders, Tennesseans and Texans will now have to show a photo ID to vote. I assume the identification will be that of the individual voter.
In Oregon, if you employ 10 or more, you can no longer fire, threaten to fire, harass or withhold benefits from an employee serving on jury duty. They did that?
And in Washington, you'll now be able to get special license plates honoring volunteer firefighters and music teachers.
* * *
Nebraska senators will start the session with a note of sadness, too.
State Sen. Dennis Utter's chair will be empty. The 72-year-old died Tuesday after a battle with lung disease.
As his colleagues in government said, Utter was a principled public servant who had a penchant for getting the taxpayers' money's worth. His work to reform the Nebraska Commission of Industrial Relations thrust Utter into the spotlight and was tinged with compromise and courage on a tough issue.
Moreover, I read several fond remembrances of Utter from two journalists who covered him, calling him an effective leader and "good man."
Where nastiness is common and often expected in the rough and tumble of politics, I was especially taken with one writer who said Utter was "a pleasure to interview."
All of which will be worth remembering when the gavel falls Wednesday.
George Ayoub is a columnist at The Independent. Follow him on Twitter @georgeayoub.
The spring air is
always full of hope back home in Gering,
This time of year,
farmers plant seeds in hopes for Mother Nature’s cooperation and a
successful harvest. Ranchers help birth the next generation of
their herds and hope for fair market prices. And workers at the
local sugar plant catch their breath after a busy winter and hope
for a bumper crop this fall so they can do it all over
The Miss America crown
that I’m so honored to wear is a symbol of the hope and optimism
that gets us through each day. But it also bears a responsibility
to help people who have so little of those things—not just in the
U.S., but abroad as well.
are far too many with far too little right now. Families continue
to battle a slow-moving economy here in America, wondering if they
can give their children a chance at a better future while they
struggle just to pay their monthly bills.
Meanwhile, our friends
overseas struggle to simply put food on the table after natural
disasters in other parts of the world have wreaked havoc on food
While considering ways
to help these circumstances, we end up right back on the farm, and
those tiny seeds that farmers are currently planting suddenly seem
to carry a lot more weight.
This year’s crop has
the potential to be the most valuable in U.S. history, and that
translates to more jobs and stimulus for our hurting economy.
Further, the Federal Reserve recently credited agricultural
production with helping lead the nation’s recession recovery, so
whether we live in New York’s Manhattan or Manhattan, Kansas, we
should all be rooting for a good growing
production would also help ease the political instability and
tensions aided by food shortages in other parts of the world. U.S.
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack told Congress a few weeks ago
that farming and ranching will take the crown in record exports
this year if things go as planned.
Of course, if years of
involvement in theater and pageants have taught me anything, it’s
that things rarely go as planned. U.S. producers will need more
than a couple of good harvests to make a difference globally
because population is exploding—predicted to grow by 2 billion
people in the next 40 years—and U.S. farm output will need to
expand substantially just to keep pace.
Can we feed a growing
world population, fuel our economy, and still offer wholesome food
choices to Americans? Sure, just as long as we avoid weakening the
very infrastructure that makes it all
As I write this,
America has just 210,000 full-time farms. That’s it. And being from
an agricultural community, I know these aren’t large corporations
with giant bank accounts. These are small businesses with huge
overhead expenses and a history of modest
Farming and ranching is
expensive, and the risks associated with it are unlike any other
profession, which is why we’re faced with fewer and fewer U.S.
producers to support more and more people.
Retired Army General
Wesley Clark recently called these men and women a "thin green line
standing between prosperity and disaster." This line, he said, must
be held and not weakened any further if America stands a chance to
combat the challenges ahead of us.
But to do so will
require a shift in thinking.
has to do its part in reaching out and teaching us about what they
do and how they do it. Educational groups like The Hand That Feeds
U.S. and the U.S. Cattlemen’s Association are a good start, but
it’s not enough.
The rest of us must
reconnect with our rural roots and understand that we all have a
stake in the success of farmers and ranchers. Urban and rural
America need to come together, and I plan to spend my time as Miss
America to make that happen.
After all, I was Miss
Nebraska first. And if a small town girl from the Midwest can make
it all the way to Miss America, maybe she can help bring America
back to the Midwest.
Teresa Scanlan is Miss America 2011 and is from Gering,
The Nebraska State Fair isn't suffering from a sophomore slump
five days into its second year in Grand Island.
Attendance totals for the first five days show an 8 percent
increase from last year during the same period, State Fair
officials said Wednesday morning.
Jana Kruger, State Fair board president, said attendance for the
first five days of the fair totaled 129,023, compared to the first
five days of the 2010 State Fair at 120,084.
The State Fair's first year in Grand Island drew 309,400 during
its 11-day run, with 20 percent of the attendance consisting of
This year's fair got off to a 9 a.m. Friday start compared to
the 5 p.m. beginning last year. Also, a sold-out performance on
Sunday for Larry the Cable Guy helped boost attendance.
Last year, during the first five days, the fair reached nearly
40 percent of its attendance. Last year, the Labor Day weekend drew
more than 125,000 people. If the trend of increased attendance
continues, the State Fair is on track to increase attendance over
The fair's last year in Lincoln drew 367,203 people.
Attendance numbers could go sky high, as weather conditions will
be nearly ideal for the Labor Day weekend, according to the
National Weather Service in Hastings.
According to the forecast, Saturday will be mostly sunny, with a
high near 80 degrees. Sunday will be sunny, with a high near 73.
Monday will be mostly clear with a high near 73 degrees.
A number of big concerts that could boost attendance remain on
the schedule, including LeAnn Rimes on Friday, country music legend
Willie Nelson on Sunday and classic rock favorite Cheap Trick on
"As we look toward the rest of the fair, we are encouraged that
our total figures will be up as Labor Day weekend has traditionally
been our biggest dates," Kruger said.
But, according to State Fair officials, just as important as
attendance figures are the satisfaction surveys they have been
getting back from fairgoers.
"Approximately 95 percent taking that survey are saying that
they would recommend the Nebraska State Fair to others," Kruger
said. "As we look at the many things in our survey questionnaires,
this one line gives us a quick understanding of how the State Fair
is received by fairgoers."
A number of small computerized kiosks throughout the fairgrounds
allow fairgoers to fill out the satisfaction survey. Those taking
the survey are eligible for a drawing giving away a number of
Joseph McDermott, executive director of the Nebraska State Fair,
said along with recommending the State Fair to others, all
categories in the survey are coming in strong.
"What we are hearing from fairgoers is that things are clean,
well-organized and it is turning out to be just a spectacular
fair," McDermott said.
It was, as has been said several times before, "a once-in-a-lifetime experience."
In May 2011 a small group met at The Grand Island Independent to commit the energies needed to mount up a Hall County Hero Flight — destination, the World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C. On Sept. 21, just five months almost to the day, 25 Hall County World War II heroes and their escorts, along with staff, departed from the United Veterans Club from a standing-room only gathering to the flashing lights of a police escort. With the roaring thunder of the Patriot Riders as escort, they went down lined streets of Grand Island with hundreds waving arms and flags, giving the "V" for victory sign, saluting. And yes, that included the overpass on South Locust street, with flag wavers overlooking the Interstate 80.
Next on the agenda was a box lunch prepared and delivered by Mr. and Mrs. Scott Zana from Arby’s. The goodie bag prepared by the VFW Auxiliary came in handy on many occasions as watering eyes, perhaps allergies, seemed to be a problem on this emotional embarkment. The Patriot Riders escorted the buses into Omaha for an overnight stay. Then it was up at 3 a.m., a quick breakfast at the Comfort Inn, then on the bus, heading for Eppley Airfield and the flight to Washington, D.C.
This memorable departure was only overshadowed by Frontier Airlines recognizing our heroes both on the plane and on the ground, with a water cannon salute upon arrival and a cheering audience upon entering the ramp and concourse. At the Hotel Marriott in Tysons Corner, Va., management and staff were very kind and generous to our group, with exquisite meals and room accommodations.
The banquet guest speaker was Major Gen. Galen Jackman, a Nebraska boy, who recognized the group of veterans as history makers, emulating what this country is all about, freedom and liberty with justice for all. The opportunity to dine at the Army/Navy Club was, to say the least, "exceptional." The guided tour by a Broken Bow native, Stephanie, her husband, Rob, and daughter Mia, started by traveling to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery, where four of our comrades participated in the laying of the wreath.
Then it was onward to the World War II Memorial and the Lincoln, Korean and Vietnam memorials. The grand finale, created by staff member Robert Briseno, who had served with the Old Guard, was the privilege to visit the Old Guard and the Caisson barns. There the group received a plaque dedicated to the Hall County heroes from the Old Guard, where one soldier said he had participated in 537 burials in the Arlington Cemetery during his tour.
Pictures galore, with Mr. Royer and his committee providing the cameras, with Walgreens offering free developing, recorded moments that will long be treasured. Sights, hugs, tears and dignitaries, Rep. Adrian Smith and Sen. Mike Johanns, whose presence was a nice gesture for those who traveled so far and did so much.
The flight home was equally fitting, with the Frontier crew making our heroes welcome and honored. A much appreciated box lunch, with goodies, was prepared by Dee and Donna Rockwell and was at Eppley Airfield to greet our heroes and escorts. Then it was homeward bound to a great reception, with each hero receiving a wooden soldier created by committee member Kayleen Riley.
The trip was far above and beyond my greatest expectations, which originated as an idea spurred with the assistance of the Buffalo County Hero Flight advisers, Mr. and Mrs. Dick Pierce and Ms. Sherry Morrow. It was fueled to its accomplishment by the Hall County Hero Flight Committee and hundreds of citizens of Hall County, surrounding counties and states contributing funds, efforts and ideas. As one young lady said at the Art in the Park Festival: "I don’t have much, but I will give you all I have" — she then emptied her purse of change into one of the Hero Flight fundraising jugs.
This once-in-a-lifetime experience created new acquaintances with similar experiences — along with future events such as the Harvest of Harmony Parade, enjoyed by many heroes who took the opportunity to ride in the comfort of the State Fair shuttle chauffeured by one of their volunteers, with decorations coming from The Great Western Bank and the Grand Island Veterans Home. Heroes will look forward to an upcoming coffee and the Veterans Day Parade to continue to reunite.
We most certainly understand there was an army of individuals organizations and "the maker" that came together to achieve this thrilling experience. We wish to omit no one and apologize if this may have occurred. This is an ongoing venture that will put future flights of Hall County’s World War II heroes on a sacred journey. Your continued support will be ever so much needed and cherished.
Words cannot express the gratitude that these humble veterans felt, who never asked for anything from you, me or their country for their service in maintaining and solidifying what we have today: our freedom.
On behalf of the undersigned, who will take this "dream come true" to bed with them for many nights to come and perhaps beyond, they and I thank you deeply for everything that came to fruition. May God bless each and every one of you for your patriotism, support and, above all, respect.
"Lest We Forget."
With pride let me present the following veterans: Gordon Backer, LeRoy Bilslend, William Bohan, Roland Britton, Robert (Bob) Chipps, Merle Crouch, Maynard Desel, Donald Ewoldt, Wayne Filkin, Leonard (Wayne) French, Jesse Gilmer, Donald Hahn, H. Larry Hanson, Robert Hoffa, Lyle Knott, Maurice Paulk, Richard Sidders, Robert Slattery, Gerald Spencer, Wilfred Stork, John Weatherly, John (Jack) Wilson, Peter Wissing, Billy Wright and Jack Zlomke.
Willie Skala, a Grand Island Realtor, chaired the Hall County World War II Hero Flight Committee that planned and carried out the first flight.
Officials who planned Wednesday's homecoming for the Nebraska
Army National Guard 1-376 Aviation Battalion had their priorities
Their only request was that family members and friends stand far
enough back from the entry door so all the soldiers could come the
Nebraska Army National Guard's Army Aviation Support Facility
without having to wait outside in the damp air.
But as soon as returning soldiers spotted their spouses and
children, they were free to hurry over and given them a long
While the official ceremony was nice, the only thing National
Guard members really desired was big hugs from their loved ones.
Likewise, that was all that family members wanted from the
returning Guard members, who had been gone almost a year on a
peacekeeping mission to Kosovo.
Wisely, the people who planned Wednesday's homecoming did not
make anybody wait for what they wanted.
The ceremonial speech-making commenced only after everybody had
the opportunity for not just a single embrace, but also a second,
third and fourth round of heartfelt hugs.
That was enough time for Lt. Col. Darin Mongeon of Pleasant Dale
to give his wife, Paige, daughter, Sierra, and son, Lane, each an
individual hug and then gather everyone together for a group hug.
During the family embrace, tears were flowing down all four
Similar scenes, minus the tears, played themselves out all over
the aviation base.
Eventually, everyone had to be seated. However, soldiers from
the 1-376 Aviation Battalion scattered throughout the rows of
folding chairs so they could sit next to family and friends during
the ceremony celebrating their return.
"On behalf of Gov. Dave Heineman and the state of Nebraska, I'm
glad to be able to say, 'Welcome home,'" said Lt. Gov. Rick Sheehy,
who said it was great to have the soldiers home for the holiday
Sheehy said members of the 1-376 successfully executed their
mission in Kosovo. He said in doing so they had the opportunity to
demonstrate the values that Americans hold dear.
Sheehy's "welcome home" was echoed by all the speakers.
Sen. Mike Johanns' representative, former Nebraska National
Guard Adj. Gen. Roger Lemke, also made a personal observation that
the soldiers' mission to Kosovo demonstrates the wide-ranging roles
the National Guard fulfills worldwide.
Nebraska National Guard Adj. Gen. Judd Lyons said their
successful mission entailed 3,514 flight hours, transporting
820,000 pounds of supplies into northern Kosovo and numerous
The other theme that ran through most speakers' comments was an
appreciation for the relatives who made sacrifices at home while
their loved ones were deployed in Kosovo. One speaker said it was
easier to command troops in Kosovo when members of the National
Guard knew their families were handling things at home.
Family members' emotions were evidenced by how early many of
them showed up to greet the returning troops.
Many had homemade banners. One banner showed both the sacrifices
and the wide-ranging missions of the Nebraska National Guard. It
carried a soldier's birth date, "12-08-87," and two inscriptions:
"19 in Iraq" and "24 in Kosovo." The date meant the family had just
missed a birthday celebration.
When it came to arriving early, nobody could outdo Paige, Sierra
and Lane Mongeon, who were inside the helicopter hangar by 11 a.m.,
two hours early to greet Darin.
Paige Mongeon said she had planned on keeping her children in
school as long as possible before leaving Pleasant Dale for Grand
Island. But with the weather a little foggy and feeling impatient
because it had been a full year since the entire family had been
together, she said, she finally decided to pull her children from
school early and begin the drive to Grand Island to avoid the
possibility that fog would even be a problem.
"I wasn't going to be late!" she said.
The trio posed for pictures in front of one of the helicopters
in the hangar, holding various posters that were held to greet
Darin when he arrived. After the ceremony, Sierra pointed to one,
which had one portion that read, "'Dad' is the highest rank."
During Darin's deployment, the family communicated via Skype.
Paige noted her work brings her into regular contact with World War
II veterans, who could only communicate via letter with family
members back in the U.S. during that war. "I almost felt guilty,"
But daughter Sierra said she always preferred talking with her
dad via Skype. She said having both visual and audio communication
was much more comforting than talking over the phone.
Darin Mongeon has had three other overseas deployments,
including six months during Operation Desert Storm in the 1990s
before either of the children were born; five weeks each in South
Korea and Germany; and one year in Kosovo. His wife said the Desert
Storm deployment was the most difficult for her because that was a
full combat operation. "Oil wells were burning and I was seeing it
on TV," she said.
Technically, Kosovo was a peacekeeping mission. But "peace" is
relative, with the U.S. National Guard working as part of a
multinational force that includes troops from Germany, France,
Italy, Greece and other nations. Darin said the primary mission is
keeping ethnic Serbs, who are mostly Greek Orthodox Christian,
separated from ethnic Albanians, who are mostly Muslim.
He said this task is most difficult in the mountainous north
region of Albania, which is bordered by Serbia. Serbs and Albanians
regularly fight in that region. Because so much of the area is
impassable by vehicle, supplies must be regularly flown in for the
multinational peacekeeping troops. Likewise, whenever any of the
multinational troops are wounded, they must be medivaced out of the
Darin, a physician assistant in Nebraska, said he served as a
"chopper doc" on medivac flights, treating troops who suffered
everything from head wounds to wounds to the extremities, to open
He said Camp Bondsteel, where he and other Nebraska National
Guard troops were stationed, was peaceful. "The Albanians love us,"
he said. Whenever he or other troops would go to a nearby
community, Albanians would use a fist to thump their chests and
proclaim, "American, American."
"They would always want their photograph taken with us," he
But the Albanians' joy at seeing Americans was nothing compared
to the joy of families being reunited with National Guard troops on
The loudest cheers and applause of the day came when Lt. Kevin
Bricker, commander of the 1st Battalion Aviation Regiment Service
and Support of the Nebraska National Guard, officially ended the
Kosovo mission by facing the audience and issuing the command,
The Nebraska State Fair officially broke ground in its move from Lincoln to Grand Island 414 days ago. In that time, which saw record snow and rain, construction crews have accomplished something pretty spectacular — more than 500,000 square feet of new buildings and infrastructure at Fonner Park.
Now the time has arrived. It's the first day of the Nebraska State Fair at its new home. The construction crews are gone, and the public is arriving to behold this spectacle of cooperation.
State Fair board members Sallie Atkins and Tam Allan said it never would have happened without the teamwork of State Fair, Fonner Park, Grand Island and Hall County officials and a host of others who accomplished a task that many thought was impossible.
Welcome to the new home of the Nebraska State Fair at Fonner Park in Grand Island.
It's a journey that hasn't fully sunk in for either Atkins or Allan as they have been just too busy putting together a state fair.
"Much has been made about how old the State Fair is, but for all practical purposes, it has been reborn," Allan said.
The roots of the rebirth were when the people of Nebraska approved a measure giving the fair a needed lift via state lottery money.
Even with a vote of confidence from the people and a new revenue stream, Allan said, it was still a daunting task as the state fairgrounds in Lincoln were old and in vital need of renovation.
But with the University of Nebraska-Lincoln also eyeing the property, a string of events were set off that led to the State Fair moving from Lincoln to Grand Island.
It was as if destiny was guiding the State Fair's move as a number of cities pitched themselves as potential hosts for the fair, but in the end, Allan said, "far and above, Grand Island's presentation was so much superior to any other location."
The rest is history, and a new history is beginning with Grand Island more than willing to take on the responsibility to host the Nebraska State Fair.
"Grand Island had done a lot of research," Atkins said. "They did their homework for what they felt was possible, and they never looked back."
With the Heartland Events Center and the layout of Fonner Park providing ample room to grow, Allan said, "things couldn't have been better."
"This was an area where we could go and build a new State Fair," he said. "It was just too good of a deal to refuse."
It's a new State Fair in many ways — both physically and in spirit.
"This is a new beginning for us and for Nebraska," Atkins said. "These facilities will benefit all of Nebraska."
Nebraska agriculture will be generously represented at the new State Fair with new cattle, hog and sheep show facilities for youth and open-class exhibitors. Both Atkins and Allan said the new barns will be full at fair time with livestock from not only Nebraska but also throughout the United States.
That interest in the Nebraska State Fair's new facilities will bring new exhibitors from around the country. In addition, a number of national livestock organizations have expressed interest in bringing their national shows to Grand Island, giving the facilities a year-round value of national reputation.
"What it had become in Lincoln was a very large carnival and the best fair food imaginable but some of the poorest exhibition and livestock facilities for a fair in the nation," Allan said. "There was no way to fix those in an easy way other than taking them down and reconstructing those on a difficult site. The emphasis had gotten away from celebrating, promoting and educating about Nebraska's agriculture. We want people to come in and see what this state is producing and what agriculture means to Nebraska."
Atkins said that, while there was a lot of focus on building the massive structures in a little more than a year on the Fonner Park grounds, "we cannot thank Grand Island and the surrounding communities enough for everything they have done to enhance our efforts here."
Later today, there will be a grand celebration officially opening the State Fair to the public. It will feature Gov. Dave Heineman, who has also been a driving force in making sure the transition of the State Fair from Lincoln to Grand Island became a reality.
For Atkins, that opening ceremony will be part of a legacy for both the State Fair and the state of Nebraska.
"This is going to be a very historic event," she said.
"It's also the birth of a partnership with a host city that has been very enthusiastic," Allan said.
In solving the many little problems that arose with relocating a State Fair from one city to another, he said, calls from State Fair officials were not only anticipated by city officials but far along the way to being solved.
"They never let up," Atkins said about the city's partnership in making the fair a reality.
"Fonner, State Fair Park, is not an island," Allan said. "We are part of a community. We are part of a state, and it has been very, very clear that we have been embraced that way."
"Hugh Miner and the Fonner Park board have been an important partner all the way through this process," Atkins said. "It took a good relationship to make that work. They never backed off."
But in the end, both Atkins and Allan said it's all about the people, and the Nebraska State Fair will always be made or broken by the people of Nebraska.
Atkins believes there's a new spirit arising about the Nebraska State Fair.
"I just feel this new rebirth of enthusiasm all across the state for what's happening here," Atkins said. "That is just going to continue to grow as people come here and witness and experience it for themselves. I still get goose bumps coming in here, and I hope that will always continue."
Twelve allegedly violent gang members were taken off the streets
of Grand Island Thursday.
Starting at 6:30 a.m., a FBI Safe Streets Task Force arrested
nine people who had been federally indicted on drug and gun
trafficking charges, according to Weysan Dun, special agent in
charge of the Omaha office of the FBI. It also performed six state
Arrested were Jose "Hoser" Espinoza, 31; Luis "Juicy" Cruz, 30;
Joseph "Sadness" Pecor, 24; Hugo "Big Happy" Galaviz, 22; Anthony
"Maniac" Holroyd, 20; Herman Pacheco, 26; Raymond "Estilo" Caseres,
18; Gilbert "O.G." Ontivernos, 33; Eddy Cervantes, 24, Ricky
Amador, 18; Jose Alcorta, 20; and Jose Hernandez, 32.
Adrian Caseres, 18, and Andrew Esquitin, 22, remain at large and
are considered fugitives.
At a press conference Thursday, Dun explained that 120 law
enforcement officers from state, local and federal agencies
conducted "coordinated arrests simultaneously" in and around the
Grand Island area. The officers were from 16 different
Dun said Esquitin and Adrian Caseres are considered fugitives
and they are seeking the public's assistance to locate these
"I want to emphasize that should anyone have information about
the whereabouts of these two individuals, or if anyone believes
they have encountered or seen these individuals we want them to
call the Grand Island Police Department," he said, adding that it
was important that the public not try to apprehend or confront
Dun said the arrests were the result of an investigation by the
Central Nebraska Drug and Safe Streets Task Force into the East
Side Locos gang.
The investigation was code named "Pier Pressure," chosen in
recognition that Pier Park "had virtually been overrun by gangs and
was rife with gang criminal activity and gang presence," Dun
He said the investigation focused on crimes of violence and drug
trafficking in and near the park.
"The goal was to put enough pressure on the gangs so that
hopefully we can restore Pier Park to the use of the honest and law
abiding citizens of Grand Island," Dun said.
It has been a good year for Grand Island with two new events
increasing the community's statewide exposure and providing another
revenue stream for the community and businesses.
The Grand Island/Hall County Convention and Visitors Bureau
projected that this week's NSAA Girls State Volleyball Tournament
would give the area an economic shot in the arm of nearly $3.5
The three-day event took place at the Heartland Events Center
and other venues in Grand Island and Hastings.
Earlier this year, another premiere event took place at Fonner
Park. The Nebraska State Fair attracted more than 300,000 visitors.
Grand Island already had developed an international reputation as a
destination for more than 30 years as the home of Husker Harvest
As agriculture is Nebraska's top industry reflected by Husker
Harvest Days and the Nebraska State Fair, Grand Island now eyes its
potential as a sports destination, especially after successfully
hosting the state volleyball tournament.
The volleyball tournament builds on the community's reputation
of hosting other sporting events, such as the state cheerleading
competition, Hoops Mania, national shooting events at the Heartland
Public Shooting Park and the State 4-H Horse Expo, among
Convention and visitors bureau Executive Director Renee Seifert
said they began working two years ago on the successful bid to host
the tournament for two years in Central Nebraska.
Seifert said a lot of volunteers put long hours and much effort
into securing the bid.
"When the Heartland Events Center was complete (in combination
with Grand Island Senior High, Northwest High School and Grand
Island Central Catholic), it allowed us to provide exactly what the
NSAA wanted for their new three-day format — six individual sites
with ample seating and parking, as well as providing warm-up areas
for all of the teams competing in the tournament that did not
conflict with fan-access areas," she said.
The event is also an economic boost for Hastings with both
Hastings High School and Hastings College involved in the facility
Seifert said the Adams County Convention and Visitors Bureau has
also "established an impressive record of hosting major events,
including the recently completed NSAA girls state softball
With Grand Island's track record in hosting previous sporting
events, Seifert said, they knew they could host an event as big as
the state volleyball tournament, and they knew the economic
benefits it would bring to the community.
While Grand Island successfully played host to the State Fair,
Seifert said many eyes were watching how well the community would
do with the state volleyball tournament and would look at such
things as attendance and ticket sales.
"They are looking whether they can draw the number of paid
attendees that they have had in the past," she said.
Brian Gallagher, chairman of the Greater Grand Island Sports
Council, said official figures from the NSAA office showed
tournament attendance to be more than 37,000 paid fans for each of
the past two years.
"The Nebraska State Fair showed that residents of western
Nebraska responded very well to having the venue be closer to
home," Gallagher said
Seifert said moving the State Fair to Grand Island allowed
people in central and western Nebraska to attend the fair for the
first time, which helped to boost attendances, and return home at a
reasonable time. She said the same holds true for the state
"Being centrally located in the state, it will enable people who
might not normally have been able to go for the day to watch state
volleyball actually come for the day to watch," she said.
Seifert said the success of the State Fair in Grand Island was a
game changer when it comes to the confidence of community
organizers about hosting a successful statewide event.
"We have for many, many years hosted Husker Harvest Days," she
said. "We know that we were able to handle the crowds of people
that come in here."
Also, drawing people into Grand Island for statewide events,
such as the State Fair and the state volleyball tournament, whets
their appetite to return to the community for shopping, further
enhancing Grand Island's reputation as a thriving and growing
regional shopping and dinning location.
To be able to host those events, Grand Island expanded its
business community, adding new hotels and restaurants that created
jobs and economic activity and added to the community's tax
Also, the state volleyball tournament is different from the
State Fair, Seifert said, in that the State Fair was self-contained
with built-in dinning and entertainment that allowed for a complete
day visit without having to leave the venue. But, with the state
volleyball tournament, people could venture out into the community
between games for dinning and shopping.
With the state volleyball tournament, Seifert hopes to get the
same kind of "wow" reaction about Grand Island and the Heartland
Events Center that visitors experienced when coming to the new home
of the Nebraska State Fair this summer.
"I'm hoping that 'wow' from the State Fair translates into more
people willing to come here," she said. "We want people to go away
from here saying that this was the best state championship."
The Lincoln school board made it official Tuesday night, voting to approve the contract for Grand Island Superintendent Steve Joel to become the next superintendent of Lincoln Public Schools.
With the hiring, the Grand Island school board will meet early this morning to plan how to find a replacement for Joel, whose contract runs through June 30.
Joel confirmed to The Independent Tuesday night he had been informed by the attorney for the Lincoln school board he had been hired.
In an interview prior to Tuesday night's Lincoln board meeting, Joel said he plans to handle the transition from Grand Island to Lincoln much the same way he handled his transition 10 years ago from Beatrice to Grand Island.
Joel said he has unused vacation days he will use to help make the transition to the Lincoln Public Schools, where his first contract day will be July 1.
In the meantime, Joel said, "I'm not going to miss any (Grand Island) school board meetings and I'm not going to miss any big budget planning meetings."
Joel said he does not plan to miss any major committee meeting for the Grand Island school board.
He said he also needs to be involved in making some administrative hires for the 2010-11 school year, specifically hiring a person to be the new director of Central Nebraska Support Services Program (CNSSP). "I will do my job," said Joel. "There is a lot of work to be completed before I'm done."
Grand Island Mayor Jay Vavricek took the oath of office Tuesday night with his right hand raised, his left hand on his boyhood Bible and his family standing behind him.
Besides his wife, daughter and son-in-law, that family included Vavricek's 12-day-old grandson, Aiden Alan Usher, who was born on Thanksgiving Day.
" We have an outstanding community," the mayor said as he took his seat in the council chambers at Grand Island City Hall. He thanked voters, citizens, campaign supporters, family and "God for the opportunity" to serve a second term four years after he concluded his first term as mayor.
Vavricek said the final words of the oath of office, "so help me God," and faith in office were so important to him that he decided to bring the black leather Bible that his parents gave him for Christmas in 1964.
"It's a cherished memento," he said.
Vavricek said his goals in office will be the same issues he campaigned on — wise use of public dollars, public safety, growth through job creation and promoting open government.
He will restore the State of the City addresses that will be delivered by him every six months.
Vavricek said he will preside over meetings using Robert's Rules of Order and will expect impartiality in order to generate full discussion. That impartiality will be expected from city staff as they make recommendations to the council, he said.
Finance Director Mary Lou Brown will be called upon to deliver a monthly oral report on the key indicators of financial performance and key indicators of the city's financial position, he said.
He also wants a strategic planning process implemented. It will begin with a retreat on Jan. 15 or 22 that will lead into a February retreat and then a March 8 formal goal-setting forum.
Vavricek said his initial benchmarks will include budget development and hiring a top notch city administrator.
He wants to work with the city Legal Department to revise the city procurement code and evaluate whether local preferences could be allowed.
Vavricek also wants heightened code compliance in the city. He plans to work with Police Chief Steve Lamken and City Attorney Dale Shotkoski to enhance enforcement of such codes.
In regard to public works, Vavricek praised the past leadership of Public Works Director Steve Riehle, who was not offered an employment contract by the new mayor, but said now there is a new opportunity.
"This may be an opportunity to analyze, but also develop a long-term strategic plan as it relates to our infrastructure in public works and that department," Vavricek said.
It's also time for the council to evaluate whether serving as a liaison on numerous boards, committees and commissions is sound and relevant for them, the new mayor said. There may be new committees or organizations that should have elected leadership as a liaison, he said.
"There's also a number of revenue growth ideas I'd like you to weigh in on," Vavricek told the council without elaboration.
"And finally, when we think about long-term ? we need to look at ways we as a community could grow and be progressive," Vavricek said. "It's probably time to initiate some type of formal visioning process within our community where we involve people, we involve ideas, we promote civic involvement, we promote people of all walks of life to go ahead and propose ideas we can build on in the future."
Also sworn into office were newcomers Ward 1 City Councilman Randy Gard and Ward 3 Councilwoman Linna Dee Donaldson, along with returning Councilmen John Gericke, Mitch Nickerson and Councilwoman Peg Gilbert, who was retained as city council president.
For the record
In other action Tuesday, the city council:
— Ratified the mayor's appointment of Dale Shotkoski as city attorney, RaNae Edwards as city clerk, and Mary Lou Brown as finance director and interim city administrator.
— Awarded a $3.48 million contract to Oakview dck of Red Oak, Iowa, for aeration basin improvements to the Wastewater Treatment Plant.
— Approved a 20-year agreement to be part of the Laredo Ridge Wind Project in Petersburg for 1 megawatt of power generated at the plant beginning in January 2011. The cost to Grand Island is $145,000 for the first year and a 2.5 percent increase each year after. Councilman Randy Gard voted no.
— Approved a liquor license request for Buffalo Wild Wings Grill and Bar at 809 Allen Drive. A liquor license request from Sam and Louie's NYP at 928 Concord Ave. was pulled from the agenda at the owner's request after the Grand Island Police Department recommended denying the permit based on a third-degree assault conviction of owner Donald Friesen.
— Approved a sixth-month conditional use permit for operation of a soil vapor extrication trailer at 417 N. Sycamore.
— Amended an agreement with engineering firm Kirkham Michael to complete a water flow analysis on the proposed Wasmer Detention Cell. Public Works Director Steve Riehle said federal highway funds will only cover 80 percent of the $800,000 estimated construction cost of the water detention cell if the water is flowing from Second Street, also known as U.S. Highway 30 (a federal aid highway) and one block on either side of the highway. If water from other neighborhood streets enters the cell, federal funding will be reduced. The city had not planned on reduced funding, so a water analysis is needed and possible re-engineering.
According to the federal indictment filed against the three principals for First Americans Insurance Service Inc., the trio conspired to “swindle” people through a scheme using fraudulent pretenses.
Stella M. Levea, 54, James P. Masat, 65, both of Grand Island, and Kenneth W. Mottin, 54, of St. Libory are charged in a 25-count indictment. The charges were announced by U.S. Attorney Deborah R. Gilg on Wednesday.
First Americans Insurance Service sold insurance through First Americans Insurance Group and First Nations Compensation Plan. Their office was in Grand Island.
FAIS filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in January 2009.
The indictment against Levea, Masat and Mottin states that Levea was a director, president and treasurer of First Americans; Masat was a director, vice president and secretary; and Mottin was vice president. All three were licensed in Nebraska as insurance producers, but they had their licenses revoked shortly after FAIS filed for bankruptcy.
Count one of the indictment charges the defendants with conspiracy to commit a crime against the United States from Jan. 1, 2003, to Jan. 12, 2009. The maximum possible penalty includes imprisonment for five years, followed by a three-year term of supervised release, a fine of $250,000 and a special assessment of $100.
“It was the object of the conspiracy to swindle multiple victims through a scheme to defraud by means of material false and fraudulent pretenses causing the victims to loan large sums of money to companies under the defendants’ control and to use the United State Postal Service for the purpose of executing the scheme to defraud,” according to the indictment.
The trio is charged with raising funds for FAIS, in part, by borrowing money from private lenders. They provided lenders with promissory notes and told the lenders the loans would be secured by collateral, such as the purchase of an annuity by First Americans, with a portion of the borrowed funds. The defendants also told lenders the annuity would be sufficient to avoid loss of the loaned amount, even if FAIS failed, according to the indictment.
The defendants failed to purchase the insurance annuities and failed to advise lenders that such annuities wouldn’t be purchased, according to the indictment.
Rather than using a portion of the lenders’ funds to purchase an annuity, the defendants used all of the funds to “financially prop up and support the defendants’ business interests and entities and to pay for their and their families’ personal expenses and lifestyles,” according to the indictment.
Monthly interest checks were mailed to the lenders and their banks, giving the lenders a false sense of confidence in the loan transaction they thought they were making. This also caused some of the lenders to loan additional sums of money to the defendants and to refer other lenders to them, according to the indictment.
As a result of the use of the Postal Service, counts two through 18 of the indictment charge the defendants with mail fraud from Jan. 1, 2003, to Jan. 12, 2009. The maximum possible penalty for each of these counts includes imprisonment of 20 years, a fine of $250,000, three years of supervised release and a $100 special assessment, according to the press release.
In 2007, the Nebraska Department of Insurance was concerned about the solvency of FAIS and conducted a financial review and examination of the market activities of FAIS to address these concerns. During the course of the review, Levea and Masat signed a moratorium memorandum with the Nebraska Department of Banking and Finance under which FAIS agreed not to sell any additional notes, according to the indictment.
However, Levea and Masat “knowingly and with the intent to deceive” made or caused to be made false material statements and reports to present to the Nebraska Department of Insurance in order to influence the actions of the department, according to the indictment.
As a result, counts 19 through 25 charge insurance fraud between Aug. 7, 2007, and Dec. 18, 2008. The maximum possible penalty for each of these counts includes imprisonment of 10 years, a fine of $250,000, three years of supervised release and a $100 special assessment, according to the press release.
Levea, Masat and Mottin haven’t appeared in federal court, so no bonds had been set as of Thursday. All three defendants are scheduled for hearings on Dec. 30 in Lincoln.
AURORA — Paul and Marty Harding are professional parents. But
after 36 years on the job as Nebraska foster parents, they aren't
getting paid. In fact, the couple with three foster children in
their care are owed $8,472 in back payments.
"We are supposed to be paid within 30 days of billing," Paul
Harding said. "That isn't happening."
Their payments have lagged two to three months.
If not for the couple's personal savings, they wouldn't be able
to continue covering the costs of caring for their foster children,
who are all teenage girls.
Those costs include $200 a week in groceries, $350 a month in
electricity, $500 a month in fuel to transport the children to
therapy sessions, court hearings and team meetings.
"I don't want it to look like we're money hungry," Paul Harding
said. "But we need compensation because we're putting out money for
food, clothing, etc."
It used to be when foster children came, they came with their
own clothes or a clothing voucher from the Nebraska Health and
Human Services Department, Marty Harding said.
But since spring when Boys and Girls Home took over the state
contract for foster care, there are no more clothing vouchers.
The Hardings estimate they spend about $50 to $100 each month
per child on clothing and other items such as shampoo, conditioner,
toothpaste and even makeup.
"We want them to look nice," Marty Harding said.
But looking nice — and even having the basics — is getting
harder with no payments to foster parents.
Unfortunately for the state's children in foster care, what's
happening with the Hardings is not unique.
State Sen. Mike Gloor of Grand Island said he has heard from
more than half a dozen families in the same situation as the
State Sen. Annette Dubas of Fullerton has also heard directly
from six families. During a hearing on Wednesday in Lincoln, she
also learned that numerous other agencies, organizations and
subcontractors of Boys and Girls Home aren't getting paid.
Gloor said he believes it's a fiscal management problem at Boys
and Girls Home.
"I think the long and the short of it is that a number of the
agencies like Boys and Girls Home's specifically agreed to a
contract and these agencies got in over their head," Gloor said.
"It's got the best of them.
"I think some of these agencies, specifically Boys and Girls
Home, agreed to a contract and had no idea what their actual
expenses for providing service were going to be," Gloor said.
The state had wanted to contract for services so it would have a
known cost, Gloor said. But that type of contract model isn't
something that everyone is good at managing.
"The state was unlucky enough to find people who were willing to
provide the services and didn't have any financial management
skills to really understand their own expenses and what it was
going to cost them to provide these services," Gloor said.
"Clearly, the state is writing checks and paying them, but
somewhere between the state paying and the services being provided,
there isn't enough to go around," Gloor said.
Impact on foster children
To kids in the system, that has meant delaying or forgoing
therapy sessions, not having the team meetings required and, in
some cases, missing out on parent visitations as even the
transportation subcontract has gone unpaid, some parents
A past employee of Boys and Girls Home told The Independent that
the financial uncertainty is felt there, too. Employee
reimbursements for expenses such as mileage have been late.
Employees have even used their own money to put gas in the company
So what's going wrong?
Pat Engel, a former state senator and now a member of the Boys
and Girls Home board in Nebraska, is livid about the problems.
He's new to the board and was unaware of the severity of the
financial problems before reading media stories about the hearing
on Wednesday in Lincoln before a legislative oversight
Numerous organizations that help families navigate the child
welfare system reported they could be forced to close due to lack
of payments from Boys and Girls Home.
"I'm very concerned because of the need of the services they
render to youth in the state," Engel said.
Boys and Girls Home President and Chief Executive Officer Robert
Sheehan said the board will meet on Monday, but he doesn't yet know
if the Nebraska contracts would be discussed. Boys and Girls Home
is a private, nonprofit entity not subject to open-meetings or
open-records laws such as state agencies.
"Everybody's been getting paid. Nobody didn't get paid," Sheehan
said. "There have been some negotiations going on with larger
When questioned about the negotiations, Sheehan admitted that 10
of Boys and Girls Home's 150 subcontractors have not been paid. One
of those not paid is Mid-Plains Center for Behavioral Healthcare
Services in Grand Island.
"Mid-Plains is a large provider that we are in the middle of a
lot of negotiations with," Sheehan said. "We have some disagreement
on things. That's a different issue than an individual foster
Gloor previously met personally with Sheehan, who indicated Boys
and Girls Home is bringing in consultants to help resolve
"Based on my previous experience in health care, I never feel
good when somebody tells me that the consultants are the ones with
the solution," said Gloor, who previously ran St. Francis Medical
Center in Grand Island.
So Gloor took his concerns directly to Health and Human Services
Director Kerry Winterer last week.
"He recognizes this as a crisis," he said of Winterer.
"This can't continue," Gloor said. "Ultimately, families are
going to stop providing these services.
"A good majority of these people aren't in it for the money.
They just want to be compensated for the costs of providing foster
care," Gloor said. "It isn't fair to them. They've got to be
The frustrating part is the state is paying, he said.
"Somewhere between the state paying and these people getting
paid, those dollars seem to be hung up or — worst-case scenario —
those dollars end up being spent on a number of things and never
trickle down to where they should, which is the families providing
direct services," Gloor said.
He said a meeting between the state and Boys and Girls Home was
held in the last seven days.
He thinks it may be time for the state to pull the contract.
"If we're not there now, we'll be there in a day or two," Gloor
said. "This can't continue. It cannot continue."
He advised Winterer to get ready to take over.
"You need to be ready to step in and take this over again, if
these agencies contracted don't seem to be able to do a good job,"
Gloor said. "The state has an obligation to provide these
When contacted on Thursday, Health and Human Services issued a
statement from the division director in charge of foster care.
"We're aware of these issues and have concerns regarding Boys
and Girls Home," said Todd Reckling, director of the Division of
Children and Family Services. "We're having ongoing conversations
with them about financial and other issues."
"Our issue is we got funded the way it's funded. We're going to
try to make this thing work," Sheehan said.
He said it's too soon to tell if the two-year contract is
"There may well not be enough money, but I'm not willing to say
that at this time," Sheehan said.
Blame to share
Should the state have had an inkling that what it was trying to
contract out might not be doable at the cost it wanted to pay?
Boys and Girls Home wasn't the only bidder on the state's child
Visinet had initially been a contractor, too, but went broke and
ended services. Another contractor, Cedars Youth Services, canceled
its contract with the state. Another potential contractor, the
Alliance for Children and Family Services, pulled out of
negotiations last November when the state announced that, instead
of $111 million in state funding for child welfare services, just
$105 million would be paid.
"We made a business decision that there's no way we can deliver
the quality of care our families deserve for that kind of money,"
said Scott Dugan, president and chief executive officer of
Mid-Plains Center for Behavioral Healthcare Services in Grand
Island, which was a partner in the Alliance.
Even though the Alliance bowed out, Mid-Plains is still affected
because it's serving as a subcontractor to Boys and Girls Home.
The Hardings are working for Mid-Plains and received a letter
that the agency has no money to pay foster families because it
hasn't received payment from Boys and Girls Home.
According to the letter, Mid-Plains maintained a reserve account
so it could pay foster parents while waiting for its own payment,
but that six-figure reserve account has been exhausted.
Sheehan said Boys and Girls Home hasn't paid Mid-Plains.
"We are having an issue with Mid-Plains, but we are in the midst
of that," Sheehan said. "That's not about all foster care or foster
"The choice to pay foster parents or not pay foster parents is
not ours; it's Mid-Plains'," he said. "This is a very complicated
But the disagreement isn't about money.
"We haven't said we're not paying you — that isn't the issue at
all," Sheehan said. "It doesn't have anything to do with payment.
It's a whole other issue that we're trying to get resolved."
Sheehan declined to specify the issue.
Dugan also declined comment.
While he didn't elaborate as to why he couldn't talk, a
provision in the Boys and Girls Home subcontractor contract appears
to have a gag order in place against subcontractors.
It specifies that any grievances or suggestions for improved
service be forwarded to the "Boys and Girls Home Quality Assurance
Failing to follow that procedure and only that procedure can
constitute breach of agreement and result in termination, the
It's indicative of what the Hardings said can be a retaliatory
system. They, too, are worried about retaliation for speaking out
about their problems because they've experienced it before.
Paul Harding said, about 10 years ago, they had a foster care
case in which the child was ordered to return to parents who were
using drugs. When the child objected, and the Hardings advocated
with the help of a state senator, they were retaliated against by
not receiving any more placements for more than seven months.
"I think the system is far more interested in kids getting care
than it is in keeping track of squeaky wheels," Gloor said. "I
understand it's human nature in almost anything we do that, when we
complain, we're worried about retaliation, but complaints are
Even if the money issue were fixed tomorrow, the Hardings said
there are other problems.
Number one is communication.
"Communication is atrocious," Paul Harding said.
What makes it so difficult is the number of people involved.
Previous to privatization, foster families worked with a
caseworker from Health and Human Services. Now there's a Health and
Human Services caseworker, a service coordinator for Boys and Girls
Home and often times a representative from the subcontracting
agency, too, Paul Harding said.
There are so many people to keep in the loop that it's hard to
make decisions and communicate them to everyone, he said.
Boys and Girls Home service coordinators also seem to have far
less training and experience than the Health and Human Service
caseworkers, the Hardings said.
Often, a question from a foster parent gets tossed back and
forth between Health and Human Services and Boys and Girls Home,
each stating that the other is the one responsible, they said.
It has created an atmosphere of confusion and often a lack of
"We had to turn the key on this pretty quick," Sheehan said.
"We're just getting started, and there's all sorts of change in
the beginning," Sheehan said. "It's difficult for everybody. The
way everyone has done business has all had to change, and people
don't like that."
Sheehan said some providers have tried to take advantage of the
privatization. Some tried to double what they charged — and other
challenges arose that are slowing payments now.
"We've been charged with the task of making these things work
within the dollars we've been given and continuing to provide
quality care and not let any kid be left behind," Sheehan said.
"That's a challenge.
"We're getting played politically," he said. "This is tough for
Sen. Dubas said perhaps the state should have moved more slowly
to make such a drastic change.
"They (Health and Human Services) are always striving to find
ways to save money and streamline government and services, and this
is one of the things they thought through a public/private
partnership that maybe they could achieve some of those goals,"
Dubas said. "In talking with some of the subcontractors and some of
the concerns they had early on, maybe we weren't just as thorough
as we needed to be before making this big step."
While the conversion to privatization was quick, the senators
and foster parents hope a solution is found quickly, too.
"Are we waiting for it to totally explode in our faces?" Dubas
questioned. "It's really a mess."
"Something has to happen soon because the current situation is
untenable," Gloor said.
The Hardings agree. They've served about 500 children over their
"In the 30-plus years we've been doing this, I've never seen the
system so broken," Paul Harding said.
Dallas and regional jets could bring big change to what Grand
Island airport officials are calling a whole “new day” in the
The Hall County Airport Authority voted unanimously Monday in
support of regional jet service to Dallas/Fort Worth from the
Central Nebraska Regional Airport in Grand Island.
The recommendation is for a new Essential Air Service contract
carrier and destination.
Currently the airport has Essential Air Service, which is
federally subsidized air service, to Denver provided by air carrier
Great Lakes Airlines.
Great Lakes bid to retain offering the Denver flights from Grand
Island at a subsidy of $1.99 million. But the airport board
bypassed that bid on Great Lakes’s 19-seat Beech 1900 planes and
instead focused on a bid with larger planes and a new
The airport board wants the Dallas/Fort Worth service provided
by American Eagle airlines.
American Eagle has proposed using a regional jet with seating
for 37 to 50 passengers. Regional jets have bathrooms, beverage
service and a flight attendant on board.
Based on airline ticket sales and destination history in Central
Nebraska, American Eagle estimated it will board 19,428 passengers
at an average fare of $127. It is seeking a $2.2 million federal
subsidy. That equates to a $57 per passenger subsidy.
Olson said that compares to a $136 per passenger subsidy for the
estimated 7,375 passengers Great Lakes estimated it would
“Even though the American Eagle bid is about $215,000 more than
the Great Lakes bid, I think when we can show that it will get us
off the Essential Air Service ticket that much faster, I think the
DOT (Department of Transportation) would consider it highly,” said
Mike Olson, the executive director of the Central Nebraska Regional
Olson said his own personal goals for the airport were to pick
an air service that would help the region grow, would help grow
passenger numbers, would provide reliable air service and would
wean itself off of EAS subsidies.
American Eagle covers all four of those goals, he said.
American Eagle offered regional jet service to two other
subsidized airports — Roswell, N.M. and Manhattan, Kan. Both are
now off subsidies and sustaining regional jet service through
American Eagle, Olson said.
He called it a “new day” in the EAS program, in which the
federal government is looking to assist small airports to self
sustainability, not just relying on a constant handout.
“I don’t think it’s a slam dunk by any means or any stretch of
the imagination that Great Lakes would be awarded the bid because
they are the lowest bid,” Olson said. “I think it’s a new day and
I’m very optimistic that the DOT will take our recommendation.”
Also working in the airport board’s favor is the tremendous
success the board has had with Allegiant Airlines. The board
offered a financial incentive to Allegiant to begin flights to Las
Vegas two years ago. The flights were so successful, Allegiant
added flights to Phoenix/Mesa last year.
“The airport board has worked hard to build up the enplanements
by offering increased air service as we have seen through Allegiant
Air over the past two years,” Olson said. “As a result we are now
on the radar of more airlines as evidenced with the EAS bids.”
Besides Great Lakes and American Eagle, the DOT received
Essential Air Service bids from Skywest Airlines and Seaport
Skywest proposed flying to Chicago on a 50-seat regional jet,
but Olson said the federal subsidy of $2.9 million, the highest bid
received, would likely knock it out of running. Boardings were
estimated to be about 10,500 to Chicago at an average fair of $115
and a per passenger subsidy of $143.
Seaport Airlines offered two bids, a $1.4 million package of
flights to Kansas City and a $2.5 million package of flights to
Denver, but both were on nine seat turbo-props and failed to meet
the Central Nebraska Regional Airport’s minimum-standard proposal
of using a 15-seat plane. Olson said all the Seaport bids were
thrown out for that reason.
Airport board Chairwoman Lynne Werner said the American Eagle
package gives the potential for the greatest number of new
passengers — which could fulfill the board’s goal of striving to
reach 50,000 boardings a year.
“Our big goal is to board more people,” she said.
Air service reliability is a major factor too, said board member
Ken Caldwell. Reliability and on-time flights is one of the leading
complaints board members have taken over the past several years, he
From a passenger standpoint, Dallas/Fort Worth is a very
friendly airport with jet bridges that connect passengers directly
into the airport terminal, said airport board member Randy Gard. He
also liked American Eagle’s business plan to be able to utilize
three different sizes of regional jets to best accommodate the
local passenger market and maximize their own profits and hopefully
become self sustaining.
Grand Island Area Economic Development Corporation President
Marlan Ferguson praised the board for getting Grand Island “on the
Grand Island is listed as the 11th most utilized airport in the
four-state central region of Iowa, Nebraska, Kansas and Missouri.
It’s up from number 22 last year.
Ferguson believed either Dallas or Chicago destinations would
best serve business customers.
“Either one looks good,” Ferguson told the board.
Olson said Dallas/Fort Worth has direct international flights to
Brazil and Europe — destinations that may help local manufacturing
plants such as CNH and MFS York Stormor.
Olson urged the board to also consider the factor of circuity —
the public’s aversion of going backward to get forward during plane
travel, as in flying from Grand Island to Denver to get to
People don’t like circuity and it should be avoided, if
possible, while still providing access to the top 20 most favored
destinations from Central Nebraska. Destination number one is
Orlando, Olson said, followed by Denver, Jacksonville, Fla.,
Chicago and Washington D.C.
Dallas/Fort Worth has 750 departing flights a day that travel to
19 of the top 20 favored destinations.
The airport board is still working with Allegiant to provide
flights to Orlando from Grand Island in the future.
On Monday, the airport board approved a $18,801 contract with
Mead & Hunt airport consultants to conduct a runway length
assessment at the Central Nebraska Regional Airport. It’s the first
step in extending the main runway so that Allegiant planes, plus
other cargo planes and transcontinental planes needing to refuel,
could fly into and out of Grand Island to longer destinations on
A packed house of nearly 200 people heard the pros and cons of a
proposed oil pipeline to be built across Nebraska, slated to be
completed by 2013, Friday at the Nebraska Farmers Union convention
in Grand Island.
Representing the proposed TransCanada Keystone Pipeline Project
was Jeff Rauh and speaking in opposition to the project was Paul
Blackburn of Plains Justice.
Blackburn's questioned the need for the pipeline with its
associated potential environmental and financial costs, along with
the project's potential safety concerns.
But Rauch defended TransCanada's safety record as a pipeline
company that has already constructed a pipeline across Nebraska and
pointed to U.S. energy demands that the crude oil pipeline would
help meet, along with its financial benefits to Nebraska's economy
in the form of taxes and jobs.
The pipeline would carry crude oil processed from tar sand mined
in western Canada.
Prior to the afternoon program, the Nebraska Farmers Union
luncheon speaker was Gov. Dave Heineman, who also addressed the
pipeline issue in a question and answer session with convention
Part of the controversy about the pipeline is that it crosses
parts of Nebraska's Sandhills and Ogallala Aquifer.
Heineman was asked by a member of Bold Nebraska, which opposes
the pipeline, if he would sign a letter supporting Republican Sen.
Mike Johanns' request of the U.S. State Department for TransCanada
to perform an environmental impact study over its proposed
But Heineman accused Bold Nebraska of playing politics with the
pipeline issue. Heienman then referred to the Democratic
administration in answering the question.
"This is a federal regulatory issue," Heineman said. "There are
two people who can stop it — President Barack Obama and Secretary
of State Hillary Clinton — and that is where our focus ought to
Heineman said he appreciates Johanns' efforts and is supportive
of it and has sent correspondence to Clinton expressing concerns
Nebraskans have about the pipeline project and its proposed route
through the Sandhills and across the Ogallala Aquifer.
"Maybe that route needs to change or maybe they don't even go
forward with it," he said. "But that is where the decision is — it
is a federal regulatory issue and there's nothing we can do at the
state level, at this time, to prevent that. Maybe in the future,
but not on this particular one."
Then Heineman, making another political reference, expressed his
reluctance to get directly involved in the pipeline issue by
referring to former Gov. Ben Nelson, a Democrat, who he said
interfered in the regulatory process of placing a low-level nuclear
waste site in Boyd County back in the 1990s. While that project was
opposed by the local citizenry in Boyd County and the people in the
state, it did end up costing the state $148 million as a result of
that interference, Heineman said.
"And I remember the governor who had to put that in his first
budget — me," Heineman said. "One hundred and forty eight million
dollars because an executive branch official interfered in an
inappropriate way in a regulatory process. We have to be very, very
careful in that regard."
Then, emphasizing again that the state's attention to the
proposed pipeline should be focused at the federal level, Heineman
made another political reference, shifting the blame to the White
House, saying, "Call up the president. He's your president. You
supported him. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, your secretary
While Heineman said there is little the state could do about the
pipeline, he did say it could be addressed during the upcoming
session of the Legislature.
But Blackburn said there are things local governments can do to
protect local landowners impacted by the pipeline's placement.
He pointed to a lot of different ways states have gotten
involved with transnational pipelines being built in their state
while not interfering with the federal regulatory process, such as
route siting, environmental liability, land reclamation, emergency
response to potential spills and placement of pipelines near
facilities such as hospitals, schools and nursing homes. He also
looked at the bigger picture of the impact the pipeline could have
on the U.S.
"I think the questions are, from a big-picture perspective and a
nation-interest perspective, is this (the pipeline) really needed
and when?" Blackburn said. "Or should it be delayed until sometime
later in the future because there's plenty of export capacity right
He asked whether landowners need to be burdened now with an oil
pipeline being placed on their property before "… it is really
proven that it is needed."
Rauch made a case that the pipeline is needed, as half of U.S.
oil needs come from abroad with Canada, Mexico and Venezuela the
nation's top oil exporters. He said Venezuela will be shipping a
majority of its oil to China in the future and Mexico's oil
production is declining, leaving Canada to pick up U.S. demands.
Canada has the second largest oil reserves on the planet, he
Also, with the pipeline bringing Canadian oil to southern U.S.
refineries, Rauch said, that would help those refineries increase
their production, especially with the decrease in crude oil coming
from Mexico and Venezuela.
"This project not only increases oil security, but also creates
significant direct jobs, about 20,000 through construction of the
project, as well as indirect benefits associated with spending in
excess of $7 billion on construction of this project," he said.
Rauch said Nebraska would benefit from 1,200 direct construction
jobs, construction-related taxes in excess of $10 million and a
"significant property tax payer as well, with an aggregate of over
$150 million over the 15-year expected depreciation in accordance
with Nebraska state laws."
As for the massive oil spill earlier this year in the Gulf of
Mexico still on the minds of people, Rauch said TransCanada is
legally responsible for the liability of any accident, but also
listed a number of techniques and technologies the company has to
address a potential spill and if it reaches the aquifer in a timely
But Blackburn said that while TransCanada has certain
obligations under federal law to clean up if an oil spill occurs,
"… it certainly does not have an obligation under statute to pay
for economic damages. That becomes important as those are the kinds
of damages people are concerned about once the spill gets cleaned
Grand Island public schools officials were hoping that things
would return to normal at Senior High following the Wednesday
morning arrest of Billy Aguilar Jr., whom police were seeking in
connection with the Friday night shooting of a Senior High
Superintendent Steve Joel announced the arrest at the end of a
press conference called to explain additional security measures
taken at the school Wednesday morning.
Those additional security measures, though, prompted a number of
parents to remove their children from the school Wednesday
At the end of the day Wednesday, Joel reported that 1,300 calls
to the office were made by parents or guardians who wanted to pull
their children from school.
Although an automated Connect-ED call went out to parents saying
that police had arrested the suspect in the shooting and asking
parents to consider sending their children back to Senior High,
Joel was not sure how many students actually returned.
Joel and Senior High Principal Kent Mann said Senior High
students had been sending each other Facebook messages and text
messages ever since the shooting of Thuc Akur, a Senior High
student, about 11 p.m. Friday.
Many of those messages included rumors of possible retribution
in connection with the shooting, Joel and Mann said. As a result,
Senior High has had "ramped-up" security since Monday morning.
Joel and Mann said they considered all the rumors to be
unfounded. While a threat of retaliation was always at the heart of
those rumors, details such as when and where the retaliation would
take place were always changing.
Joel said some of the rumors had the retaliation taking place at
locations other than Senior High.
However, Tuesday night and Wednesday morning, the rumors started
taking on more specificity, identifying an individual by name.
Joel said Police Chief Steve Lamken contacted school officials
about 7:15 a.m., informing them that there appeared to be
heightened concern among parents and students. He sai