2011 has been a year filled with a wide variety of news stories in the Sunland.
Triumphs and tragedies, teamwork and disputes highlight the past year’s news stories in the Beatrice Daily Sun. The following (in no particular order) are some of the biggest stories of the past year.
The saga of the Wymore City Council
The four-member board elected to serve the people of Wymore had a difficult start to 2011.
In January, Wymore citizen Lee Car submitted a recall petition to remove Councilman Dan Hawkins from office.
The complaint alleged that every time the city council would move into discussions to fill a council spot vacated by Dan Guenther, elected mayor in November 2010, Hawkins would leave the meeting, breaking the council’s quorum and effectively stopping any city business from occurring.
For months, Hawkins would end meetings in protest of the council attempting to appoint Beth Cordry-Hookstra to the open seat.
Finally, Cordry-Hookstra removed herself from consideration and the city council appointed Sue Sapp on March 1, whom Hawkins had no objection to.
Meanwhile, in March, the petition circulated by Carr collected enough signatures to move forward with a recall election of Hawkins.
In May, Wymore voters living in Ward 1 recalled Hawkins 70-60. The next month, the council appointed Don Sullivan to fill the seat vacated by Hawkins, giving the Wymore City Council a full board once more.
Bacterial meningitis claims life at Tri County
In January, two cases of bacterial meningitis were reported at Tri County Elementary School. Tri County closed as crews worked to sanitize the school.
One of the children infected with the disease, Josef Parker, 4, died tragically on Jan. 29 at the Iowa University Children’s Hospital in Iowa City after a two-week battle. The night before, more than $40,000 was raised to help the Parker family pay for medical bills.
A candlelight vigil was held in DeWitt just blocks from Parker’s home on Jan. 30, attended by dozens from the community and the surrounding area.
The other student diagnosed with bacterial meningitus, fourth-grader Kelsey Manchester, recovered and returned to school.
BSDC has highs, lows
The Beatrice State Developmental Center experienced several highs and lows in 2011.
Among the high points for the center for the developmentally disabled was achieving federal Medicaid recertification for the fourth of five intermediate care facilities (ICFs). In December, the Solar Cottages met the criteria set forth by the Center for Medicaid Services.
The four ICFs certified for Medicaid funding represent 94 percent of the center’s population, the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services said.
BSDC CEO Dan Howell said he believes the fifth and final ICF, the Kennedy unit will undergo a survey to receive certification in the near future.
It was in that Kennedy unit that 15 employees were suspended and five employees charged with felony abuse of a vunerable adult and strangulation after an investigation released showed instances abuse occuring over a months-long period.
Those five individuals — Matthew L. Pangborn, Cameron M. Barnes, Matthew B. Johnson, Cody A. Creek and Carmen C. Yates — are no longer employees at BSDC and are in various stages of the judicial system.
Howell said the Kennedy ICF employed 70 people in various capacities. The unit has been shut down, he added. are currently in various stages of the court system.
The 106 Kennedy building was home to seven men with behavior disorders where the abuse allegedly occurred. Six of the seven individuals were transferred to other ICFs on campus while the seventh moved into a community setting.
Howell said the Kennedy ICF employed 70 people in various capacities. The unit was shut down, following the report.
Mary Stickney found innocent of animal abuse
A Cortland woman charged with over 100 counts of animal neglect won her right to continue her animal rescue in April.
In November 2010, Gage County Sheriff’s deputies along with inspectors from the Nebraska Department of Agriculture seized over 100 dogs from Mary Stickney’s residence, believing the conditions were not suitable for the dogs.
Several months later, Stickney took the stand in her defense, telling the story of how she nurses dogs back to health from the bleak life they lived in puppy mills across the country.
Defense attorney John Sohl asked the jury to let Stickney go on “being the best friend these damaged animals ever had.”
The jury agreed, and Stickney was given custody over the dogs once more.
“I knew I’d win because I don’t abuse or neglect anything,” Stickney said at the time.
Big moves for industry
After a bleak few years, Gage County industries began to turn around, with building expansions, companies moving to the area and others deciding to set up headquarters in Beatrice.
In March, Neapco Components, and manufacturer of driveline components and the first manufacturer to locate to Industrial Park in 1982, celebrated the opening of a 100,000 square foot expansion to its plant.
Also in March, Worldlawn Power Equipment, a Chinese-owned company manufacturing lawnmowers and other lawn care equipment, bought Encore Manufacturing.
At a grand opening ceremony, Worldlawn President Hardy Shao said he hoped the purchase of the Beatrice company would mark a day of optimism and hope for the community.
In late June, a start-up solar panel manufacturer announced it had selected Beatrice as its headquarters.
Rare Earth Solar, formed by Allen Kruse and Joseph Brewer, announced it planned to purchase the former 274,000 square foot Husqvarna building to produce solar panels created from common elements found in Nebraska.
When at full capacity, Kruse told the Daily Sun the company might employ as many as 120 people in manufacturing and other high-skill jobs.
Beatrice Public Schools builds new stadium
It has been nearly 100 years since Beatrice last built a new stadium for athletics, marching band and physical education.
Athletic Park, which has been used by the school and the city since 1913, had seen better days.
With a strategic plan in place, the Beatrice Public Schools Board of Education allocated $1 million in federal stimulus bonds towards the construction of a new stadium facility at Beatrice High School in February.
The board selected Olsson and Associates as its performance criteria developer and later a design by BHS alum Ben Stindt to be built at the school through a joint effort by local contractor Caspers Construction and Nemaha Landscape Construction.
In July, ground was broke on the facility, which quickly began to take shape.
Community leaders have organized a fundraiser with the goal of raising $1.5 million to complete the project approved by the board as well as pay for additional amenities at the facility.
County vs. highway department
While both the Gage County Board of Supervisors and former highway superintendent Marlin Kliewer seemed to start 2011 on the right foot, the relationship between the two deteriorated quickly.
On Feb. 23, the board reprimanded Kliewer for taking vacation time without notification.
Again in April, the board questioned Kliewer’s attendance at a bridge inspection convention in Kearney, the need to travel to the conference the night before and the attendance of Weed Control Superintendent Emily Rosenthal.
Both Kliewer and Rosenthal filed complaints with the Nebraska Equal Opportunities Commission citing discrimination by the county board. The NEOC found in favor of the county against Rosenthal while Kliewer’s complaint is still be investigated by the organization.
Kliewer and Rosenthal both resigned from their positions in late August. Prior to their resignations, both had been suspended on Aug. 1 amid allegations of discrimination made by an employee within the highway department.
Former officer convicted of sexual assault of a child
Terry Stiles, a former Beatrice police officer and Gage County Sheriff’s Office investigator, was found guilty of sexually assaulting two girls, ages 8 and 11, at a private swimming pool by a 12-person jury in September.
According to court documents, Stiles was babysitting the two children when he made them take their swimsuits off while he took his swimming trunks off in a private pool. The children testified that Stiles then made them touch him inappropriately.
The presiding judge in the case, Paul Korslund, sentenced Stiles to two consecutive prison terms of three to five years each in early December. Stiles will also need to register as a sex offender upon his release.
Animal ordinances take center stage
The Beatrice City Council defined what pets Beatrice homeowners can and can’t have with city approval in 2011.
The months-long process centered most on whether or not three pot-bellied pigs could stay with owners Matt and Alexis Winder at their Bellwood Drive home.
In April, the council struck down a notion to allow “exotic” or “unusual” pets inside city limits and said the pigs were such an animal. The next month, the Winders were issued a “pig-at-large” citation.
The council looked back over the ordinance in late May and June, deciding to let exotic animals into city limits through a permitting process. When the Winders attempted to apply for a permit in July, the council voted against the application 8-0.
In August, Alexis Winder convinced the city to look at implementing a “grandfather” clause into the ordinance, thereby letting the Winders keep their three pigs at their home. The council approved of the amendment in September, only to order the Winders to observe a 70-foot setback from adjacent properties with their pets.
Finally, in October, the city council reduced its setback requirement to 50-feet, to the liking of the Winders.
The city council also specified laws about dogs and potentially dangerous dogs. The laws pertain to responsible ownership, Mayor Dennis Schuster said.
“We’re making a law here to regulate people, not animals,” Schuster said. “It’s people that behave irresponsibly with animals, no differently than people can behave irresponsibly with cars or motorcycles.”
Economic development returns
Nearly a year after Gage County Economic Development ceased operations, a new economic development group formed to steer the future of Gage County’s economy.
Beginning in March, talks between the Beatrice City Council and the Gage County Board of Supervisors regarding the formation of a new economic development group, how the group would be funded and staffed.
Both the council and the board agreed to contribute $100,000 each to the group for operations, and hand selected a board made up of business people, community members and others from around Gage County.