Taking a Look Back at 2013, Part One - The Missourian: Local News

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Taking a Look Back at 2013, Part One

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Posted: Wednesday, January 1, 2014 9:00 am

One of my favorite columns to write each year, if you can call it actual writing, is this two-parter that begins this week and concludes next week.

It’s the annual year in review as we covered it in your St. Clair Missourian.

Doing this column takes a lot of work — busywork, that is. There’s not a lot of thought that goes into it, however, as all I do is review stories and refresh our memories by writing some lead information from the key happenings throughout the year.

But, this paper and the Jan. 8 edition next week are important issues because they chronicle the main events that shaped our community during the past year. I know there are many people who keep these editions solely for this purpose.

That’s why I take the time to compile it. I save these issues, too.

We already published our Top 10 stories of the year this past weekend. That’s another keeper edition as well.

But, as I say every year, don’t get used to seeing my “Coffee With Keith” column on the front page. I only appear here for these year-in-review columns. After next week, I will return to where I belong on Page 3S of your St. Clair Missourian.

So, here we go. Settle back and review 2013 with me.

And, as always, thanks for reading.

January

•Full-time classified staff within the St. Clair R-XIII schools will receive the same health insurance benefit as other district employees after the board of education voted during its December meeting to offer the package.

•The ball has been volleyed back onto the city’s side of the court as the aviation division of the U.S. Department of Transportation has stated that “the agency will not consider closing St. Clair Regional Airport … until the city corrects deficiencies at the airport.” However, state Rep. Dave Hinson, who also received a copy of the letter, called The Missourian specifically to say that the USDOT letter does not mean the airport will remain open.

•St. Clair R-XIII School District buildings as well as St. Clare Catholic School were placed on lockdown for a short time as a precautionary measure after a loud noise resembling a gunshot was heard near the high school campus. St. Clair Police Chief Bill Hammack told The Missourian that the source of the “loud noise,” which could have been a gunshot, a vehicle backfiring or something similar, wasn’t known at first, but the situation was deemed safe. It appears a blown fuse from an Ameren Missouri transformer in the area may have been the cause.

•Plans to revamp and move the counselor area at St. Clair High School have been delayed as R-XIII Superintendent Mike Murphy said school officials currently are working with City Inspector Jeremy Crowe to get all the necessary paperwork completed.

•The St. Clair Fire Protection District will keep moving forward after former Chief Eric Hinson was indicted on fraud and multiple tax evasion charges on Jan. 9 involving his alleged misuse of about $593,236 of district funds between January 2006 and September 2011.

•Despite a rampant and deadly influenza season across the country in which no state is immune, both the St. Clair and Lonedell school districts have not had to deal with an abnormal amount of student cases so far, administrators said.

•In response to both a formal and informal complaint regarding the increased rental hangar rates at the St. Clair Regional Airport, the city decided to roll back the amount it charges tenants to last year’s rates. The action did not come without some controversy, however, as Mayor Ron Blum had to break an unusual 2-2 tie and cast the deciding vote.

•Kevin Hillman did not necessarily want to leave the St. Clair R-XIII School District and resign as its high school principal, but for family reasons and because the correct career opportunity presented itself, he felt it was in his best personal interests to do so. The administrator turned in his resignation to the board of education during an executive session after January’s regular meeting. His resignation is effective at the end of the current academic year.

•With about 10 minutes to go until the deadline, St. Clair got itself a race for mayor. Lifelong local resident Ramon Dominguez filled out the necessary paperwork to add a second candidate for the city’s highest office, joining three-term incumbent Ron Blum on the April 2 ballot.

•After almost 20 years of serving as the city’s collector, Lynne Huff has decided to retire, Mayor Ron Blum said. Blum informed the board of aldermen during their regular meeting that Huff, 60, is calling it quits, probably sometime in April.

•Stealing again topped the list of St. Clair Police Department reports generated in 2012. In fact, the top three types of reports remained the same from 2011 to last year as motor vehicle accidents and domestic assaults again finished second and third, respectively.

•St. Clair is doing its best to keep pace in the current difficult economic times, but it needs additional funding sources to continue moving forward, Mayor Ron Blum said. Blum gave his annual State of the City address during the St. Clair Area Chamber of Commerce’s January membership meeting at Budget Lodging.

•In the end on this day, the youngest was the best. Third-grader Current Smith outperformed 10 older students to take top honors in the St. Clair R-XIII School District Spelling Bee. The 10-year-old who attends Edgar Murray Elementary School fared better than students as old as five grades her senior en route to the crown. In all, it took only 21 words to produce a winner.

•Despite feeling it should not be necessary, the St. Clair Board of Aldermen agreed during its most recent meeting to open a separate bank account for the St. Clair Regional Airport. The decision came as the city tries to address operational and financial issues in relation to a complaint filed saying that the city is mismanaging the facility.

•Lonedell R-XIV is in the elite company of only nine other school districts in the state that put together a perfect score on the Missouri School Improvement Program’s latest accreditation summary report. Lonedell accumulated 80 out of a possible 80 points on the MSIP 5 summary report.

February

•A slower fourth quarter of the 2012 calendar year allowed call numbers for the St. Clair Fire Protection District to remain the same as the year before, statistics showed. In fact, the exact same number of calls were filed in both years at 1,302.

•Eight St. Clair Junior High School eighth-graders continued the R-XIII school district’s tradition of faring well at the 2013 Chicago Future City competition by placing third overall with their presentation, “Ciudad de Agua Pura.” Students involved in the project were Rileigh Cassimatis, Josh Dierking, Cassie Durbin, Kate Feddersen, Emily Hansel, Allana Kordonowy, Nissa Krier and Christopher North.

•A contract was signed cementing an agreement between the city and the St. Clair Area Chamber of Commerce. The one-year pact calls for the Chamber to provide some economic development services for the city. In return, the Chamber will receive $6,500 for the work. The contract between the two entities states that the Chamber will complete the city’s Enhanced Enterprise Zone application process and seek the city’s designation as an EEZ from the Missouri Department of Economic Development.

•Eric Hinson, who served as the St. Clair Fire Protection District’s chief and treasurer for several years, pleaded guilty on Feb. 6 to one felony count of fraud and five felony counts of tax evasion. Hinson, 43, appeared before U.S. District Court Judge E. Richard Webber and entered his plea.

•Under the continued direction of the Rev. Jim Armistead, the St. Clair Agape House continues to reach out to and assist individuals and families in need. In 2012, the Agape House — which has eight rooms, a cottage and three transitional houses — provided 25,907 nights of lodging to 1,438 people. Coupled with its food pantry, the shelter feeds about 3,900 families per month and averages about 2.1 million pounds of food distribution a year to those in need.

•Lonedell R-XIV School Superintendent Fred VanBibber is retiring at the end of the current academic year. The Lonedell board of education accepted VanBibber’s letter of resignation during a special meeting.

•St. Clair R-XIII School District Superintendent Mike Murphy announced that Michael Hunter will be promoted from assistant principal to principal at the end of the current academic year. The announcement came less than a month after current Principal Kevin Hillman resigned to become superintendent of another school district in the state.

•A 13-year-old seventh-grade boy will face disciplinary action after he admitted to scribbling a note on his desk in a St. Clair Junior High School classroom stating that there were explosives in the building. The note, written on the front edge of the storage shelf underneath the desktop, caused the evacuation of SCJHS. All 500-plus students were moved to the high school gymnasium as a precautionary measure.

•The 2013 city budget line item for sewer system repairs was more than quintupled earlier this month when the board of aldermen agreed to add $35,000 into the fund in order to have necessary monies to fix ongoing problems. The action during the board’s first meeting in February came on the heels of the city already exceeding its total 2013 budgeted amount for system repairs during the month of January alone.

•St. Clair High School will have men sitting in its top two chairs this fall who already are familiar with administrative duties as well as with the local students and community as Jeff Hamlett has been hired by the R-XIII district to be the assistant principal at the facility. Hamlett currently is the assistant principal at St. Clair Junior High School and will join Mike Hunter, who was promoted from assistant principal to principal at SCHS.

•A St. Clair man is being held in the Franklin County Jail on felony charges after he allegedly assaulted his 88-year-old grandparents and his father. James “J.R.” Robert Capehart, 31, was arrested and charged after the incident that took place at 165 W. Springfield Road.

March

•After reviewing all options, a decision was made for St. Clair High School to have its prom in the gymnasium. “All things considered, it was our best option,” Principal Kevin Hillman said.

•St. Clair Building Inspector Jeremy Crowe is working hard to remedy a situation that apparently has two or three licensed massage therapy businesses operating in violation of current city laws. Crowe said the issue first came up when he was doing some research, and as he continued to look into the matter, it was discovered that restrictive city ordinances actually are handcuffing this type of business.

•The administrative turnstile within the St. Clair R-XIII School District rotated a couple more times as changes were announced in the management team at Edgar Murray Elementary School. Superintendent Mike Murphy confirmed to The Missourian that current Principal Kent Sherrow has resigned and that Assistant Principal Larrinda Witt has been promoted to take his place.

•The city and its Industrial Development Authority have agreed on terms for transferring ownership of Evergreen Park so the proposed spray pad facility can be built there. During a recent St. Clair Board of Aldermen meeting, members passed an ordinance directing Mayor Ron Blum “to convey Evergreen Park” to the IDA so the spray park can be constructed and to simultaneously execute a lease with the option to repurchase the Park Drive property at the end of the lease term.

•On the day after the event was over, organizer Mark Bay was confident that the 2013 Truth and the Outdoors accomplished its mission to combine the truth about Jesus Christ with the love of the outdoors. The three-day wildlife expo that took place on the St. Clair High School campus attracted a record crowd of 13,500 that got their fill of the hunting and fishing world as well as a taste of the Gospels.

•Members of the St. Clair Planning and Zoning Board liked how a fellow Franklin County city handled putting together its updated massage establishment ordinance, so they will recommend a similar law to the board of aldermen in the near future. In fact, other than some minor changes, the city planners recommended adopting the exact same ordinance that the city of Washington already has in place.

•The St. Clair R-XIII School District is dealing with its fourth student suicide of the academic year after a 13-year-old junior high school student was found dead in her Crawford County home. The Crawford County Sheriff’s Office identified the teenager as Alexis Huff. St. Clair Superintendent Mike Murphy said Huff only had been a student in the district for six days.

•Rising floodwaters flowing onto Old Cove Road just east of Moselle trapped an area woman in and then on top of her car until she could be rescued by St. Clair Fire Protection District personnel. Interim Fire Chief Mike Kelley told The Missourian that crews were dispatched to Old Cove Road between Moselle Road and Cedar Lake Drive, and when they arrived they found the woman on top of her car, which was sitting in about 12 inches of water. The woman was rescued without incident. She was identified as 23-year-old Lyndsay Miller of St. Clair.

•Two additional pieces of the St. Clair R-XIII leadership puzzle have been put in place as the district works toward getting its administrative team set heading into the 2013-14 academic year. During the board’s March meeting, current R-XIII teacher Ted Koenigsfeld was hired to be the new administrative intern at the high school while Eric Lause was offered the job as the assistant principal at the junior high.

•At a minimum, St. Clair’s administration has figured out a short-term solution in dealing with the retirement of longtime City Collector Lynne Huff. City Administrator Rick Childers announced that Tiffany Burton has been hired as an accounts receivable clerk. The board of aldermen approved her employment.

•St. Clair Mayor Ron Blum and City Administrator Rick Childers are encouraged about the news they received from the Missouri Department of Transportation saying that the agency will not stand in the way of the city and its quest to close the St. Clair Regional Airport. Interim Director David B. Nichols sent a letter to the Federal Aviation Administration stating that “because the city has made its desire clear, MoDOT will not oppose the city’s request to close the airport.”

•The St. Clair R-XIII School District did not waste much time in selecting a new assistant superintendent and then fill the vacancy created when an internal candidate was promoted to the position. The board of education unanimously voted to promote St. Clair Elementary School Principal Nadine Myers to assistant superintendent and then move that school’s assistant principal, Steve Weeks, to principal of that building. Both promotions will become effective on July 1.

•Lonedell R-XIV students, faculty and staff will continue to see Jen Ulrich and Sue Emmons walking the hallways of the school when the 2013-14 academic year gets under way in August. The change will be in the titles appearing before their names. The R-XIV board of education unanimously voted to put Ulrich in the superintendent’s chair and Emmons in the principal’s seat after current boss Fred VanBibber announced last month he was retiring at the end of the current year.

April

•After spending the day in the sun outside city hall on a chilly spring day, a sunburned St. Clair Mayor Ron Blum said he was at home relaxing and getting warm when he heard that he had been re-elected to a fourth term. Blum, 57, easily defeated challenger Ramon Dominguez by nearly a 2-to-1 tally in the municipal election.

•Nobody would be incorrect if he or she referred to the 42nd annual Celebrate St. Clair banquet as the Farmers & Merchants Bank show as the financial institution swept the Chamber of Commerce’s two biggest awards presented to recognize St. Clair’s best. For the second consecutive year, a bank employee was honored by being named citizen of the year as teller Dottie Nelson was chosen, while the bank itself was picked as business of the year.

•Therapeutic massage licenses now legally can operate within the St. Clair city limits without having to worry about location or really about anything else as long as they are licensed and follow the rules. The St. Clair Board of Aldermen made quick work of unanimously passing the ordinance that amends Chapter 13 of the city’s code of ordinances regarding massage establishments.

•The Sullivan Planning and Zoning Commission approved a conditional use permit for Air Evac Lifeteam to construct a helipad and modular shelter on a piece of property near Missouri Baptist Hospital. “We do anticipate opening a base in Sullivan,” said Julie Heavrin, public relations manager for Air Evac Lifeteam’s main office in O’Fallon.

•After using two lengthy executive sessions to discuss the matter, city officials have decided to keep hangar rent at the St. Clair Regional Airport at $175 per month for at least the rest of the year. The rental rate became an issue in February when tenant Glenville Sutcliffe sent the city a letter as well as a draft lease agreement that proposed to lower the monthly hangar rental rate to $125 per month after the city already had voted in January to reduce the fee from $300 to $175.

•St. Clair is making progress toward establishing an Enhanced Enterprise Zone that could spur industrial and economic development in and around the city. The city’s board of aldermen approved an ordinance establishing a seven-member EEZ advisory board.

•The St. Clair R-XIII School District again was able to pull within its own ranks to fill a position on its leadership team. Superintendent Mike Murphy announced that St. Clair Elementary School teacher Sande Racherbaumer has been promoted to be the assistant principal there. She will continue to work with Steve Weeks, who was promoted to principal after current Principal Nadine Myers earlier accepted the job as one of the district’s two assistant superintendents.

•Some local Hillbilly Hot Rods and Waste Warriors will be representing St. Clair at an international competition next month. The two R-XIII school district teams earned that right by advancing to the Destination Imagination Global Finals in Knoxville, Ky., in May.

May

•Not only do taxpayers foot the bill for St. Clair Ambulance District board members to have personal cellphones, but their spouses also get the free perk courtesy of the district and its taxpayers. Ambulance Chief Bill Hollo confirmed to The Missourian that the personal cellphones are given to any board member and his or her spouse who request it, and the district picks up the tab each month.

•The St. Clair Parks and Recreation Board gave its blessing to a project spearheaded by a local young women’s organization that would bring an outdoor amphitheater to the city. Park board members listened to a presentation from Friends for Change, a small group of local teenagers who describe themselves as “entrepreneurs who want to provide a place for safe and enjoyable events in St. Clair.”

•Franklin County Presiding Commissioner John Griesheimer assured the 30 or so in attendance at St. Clair’s Enhanced Enterprise Zone public hearing that the county would not support the project if it wasn’t sure it would be beneficial. Greisheimer’s comments came after several individuals, most of whom reside in the Villa Ridge area, voiced their opposition to being included in the proposed zone.

•St. Clair Ambulance District Chief Bill Hollo has turned in his letter of resignation to his board of directors. Hollo confirmed his decision to The Missourian but emphasized it has nothing to do with the controversial policy that allows all ambulance board members and their spouses to have district-provided and paid for cellphones if so desired. All six board members, three spouses and Hollo’s wife take advantage of the perk, costing local taxpayers about $6,000 annually.

•The Missouri Department of Transportation’s ribbon-cutting ceremony to dedicate the new Interstate 44 North Service Road and Highway 47 interchange project took a lot longer than expected when an accident took place immediately in front of the ceremony while it was in progress. Two vehicles collided on Highway 47 just north of I-44 in front of the old Bartolotto’s used car sales lot shortly after the ceremony got under way. The ceremony was being conducted in that lot.

•St. Clair High School Class of 2013 Valedictorian Jonah Pfeiffer challenged his fellow graduates to look ahead and yet remember their past as they close one chapter in their lives and open another. Pfeiffer, as the top academic student this year, gave a rousing speech as the St. Clair R-XIII School District conducted its annual high school commencement on the athletic field behind the school. In all, 138 seniors earned diplomas.

•With a unanimous vote followed by the swoop of a pen, the Missouri Department of Transportation can take St. Clair off of its list of entities vying for recent state airport improvement funds. During a board of aldermen meeting, Mayor Ron Blum and City Attorney Kurt Voss were given the authority to sign agreements for the transfer of entitlements with MoDOT’s aviation division.

•In the end, the St. Clair Board of Aldermen trusted its planning and zoning commission regarding conditions placed on a permit for a recycling center to operate on the west side of the city. The aldermen first conducted a public hearing and then during its regular meeting discussed and approved the CUP for Poor Boyz Recycling, which is moving its operations from downtown to newly annexed land at 685 W. Gravois Ave.

•Franklin County’s first spray park should open in St. Clair as scheduled. City Administrator Rick Childers said “everything is good to go” in regard to the facility being operational as anticipated in Evergreen Park.

•The unusually wet and cool spring has wreaked havoc on St. Clair’s aging wastewater system, so much so that it has cost the city about $100,000 in nonbudgeted funds to haul away excess sludge. City Administrator Rick Childers and Public Works Director Ed Bliss updated the board of aldermen on the situation during meetings this month. Two invoices from a hauling company totaled $50,530 and $44,323.75, respectively, for sludge hauls in April and early May.

•On May 24, 1913, a small community bank opened its doors on Main Street in St. Clair with a starting capital of $12,500. One-hundred years later, with assets totaling more than $165 million, Farmers & Merchants Bank remains a community-oriented financial institution and still is located on St. Clair’s Main Street.

June

•The St. Clair R-XIII School District now has a little more rhyme and reason to how it will go about paying staff members involved with extracurricular and cocurricular activities. During the board of education’s most recent meeting, members adopted a policy that puts the extra pay on a more level playing field and rewards those who have experience and stay in the district over a longer period of time.

•Everything is back to normal at Meramec State Park east of Sullivan after an evacuation of the campground was ordered by the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office. Park Superintendent Dan Wedemeyer said that about 75 sites in the campground areas were occupied and therefore evacuated during the overnight hours on June 1 because of the rapidly rising Meramec River that runs through the park. The campground was reopened at about noon on June 2.

•Members of the St. Clair Ambulance District board of directors said they voluntarily have given up their free provided cellphone service that has caused a stir in the community. The decision announced during the June board meeting means that according to the board members, nine of the 10 personal cellphone lines the district currently have no longer will be used by board members or spouses. Board Chairman Tony Hinson confirmed the decision and lines affected.

•The National Weather Service has confirmed what some residents believed, that a tornado was the cause of damage along a swath of land between St. Clair and Union. The NWS released a report that stated an EF-1 tornado snapped trees and caused other damage on May 31. There were no reported injuries.

•All systems appear to be a go for a group of young women to spearhead a project that will bring an outdoor amphitheater to St. Clair. During its most recent meeting, the board of aldermen approved a motion to proceed with the project in Evergreen Park as long as the group, which calls itself Friends for Change, provides letters of intent regarding services and costs, its escrow funds and obtains all necessary permits.

•Former St. Clair Fire Protection District Chief and Treasurer Eric Hinson was sentenced to 35 months in prison after he pleased guilty earlier this year to one felony count of fraud and five felony counts of tax evasion. United States District Court Judge E. Richard Webber sentenced Hinson. Hinson also was ordered to pay $615,298 in restitution. Of that amount, $515,298 will go to the fire district while the other $100,000 will be returned to the bonding company.

•Franklin County Sheriff Gary Toelke said that juvenile authorities will look into the case involving the two children who disappeared from their homes south of St. Clair. The two children — 13-year-old Erica Linsey and 11-year-old Scottie Warner — were found unharmed about 12 hours after they disappeared. A massive search was conducted by law enforcement agencies and other emergency personnel in the Piney Park area, located a few miles south of St. Clair off of Highway K. “The juveniles stated they went into the woods because of a disagreement with the sister of the female and other emotional issues,” Toelke said.

•The first forward steps were taken this month to bring a 100,000-square-foot warehouse to the city. During its June meeting, the St. Clair Planning and Zoning Board made and approved two motions that recommend a minor subdivision on city-owned land and the site plan for the warehouse. The business that will build the new facility is River’s Edge. The property being considered is Industrial Development Authority land located in the St. Clair Business Park west of Highway 47.

•Even though the 2013-14 budget approved by the St. Clair R-XIII School District board of education projects expenses well exceeding revenue, it features operating under the same tax rate, giving raises to staff, providing insurance options for all full-time employees and initiating a bold plan that provides one-to-one digital learning. The new budget that estimates those revenues and expenses also absorbs about a 7 percent decline in local assessed valuation and the continuation of being underfunded by the state through its allocation formula. The fiscal year 2013-14 budget, which unanimously was approved by the R-XIII board of education, totals $21.58 million.

•After four months of discussion, the St. Clair Planning and Zoning Board has decided not to recommend that a portion of a city street be vacated. By a 5-1 vote during their June meeting, the planners opted against the request made by Tom Ritter to vacate the portion of Nashville Street between Mill Hill Road and Maupin Street. The street, which has not been used by the city for almost 50 years, runs behind Ritter’s business property which fronts Frisco Street.

•A Jefferson County man accused of setting several fires in 2009 that destroyed the former St. Clair Livestock Auction Barn off of Highway 47 pleaded guilty to charges in U.S. District Court. Gregory M. Cromer, 65, of Cedar Hill, is scheduled to be sentenced on federal charges of damaging or destroying buildings. Franklin County Arson Investigator Jim Schuhmacher said there was “overwhelming evidence” that Cromer was involved in setting the fires on Jan. 8, 2009, that destroyed the auction barn and several expensive horse trailers valued at between $125,000 and $160,000 each.

•When Jen Ulrich takes over as the Lonedell R-XIV School District superintendent on July 1, she will be working with a budget that projects a deficit of about $28,000. The Lonedell board of education approved the 2013-14 academic year budget during its June meeting. Projected revenue for the coming year is about $4.8 million.

Note: The July through December St. Clair area year in review will be published Jan. 8.

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