It was an eventful year nationally and internationally, even without the end of the world that some predicted. But there was no shortage of big news locally, between disasters both natural (the drought) and manmade (Kansas redistricting). Here are a few of the stories that made headlines plenty of times here:
Redistricting — Following the release of the 2010 Census, state and local officials alike began to work on redrawing political boundaries at all levels — county, city, state and federal — based on the distribution of the new population numbers. It was easy in some cases — officials at the local level passed new maps with few problems — but easier said than done for the state Legislature. Just before the process was turned over to the courts when the stalemate made Kansas the last of the states to set new boundaries, each chamber approved their own proposals, including one that would have moved Leavenworth County into the “Big First” congressional district that includes most of the western portion of Kansas. Whether or not Leavenworth County should have its own state Senate district was also up for debate.
Election — The painful and hard-fought redistricting battle led to a wave of filings of some seasoned candidates and some political newcomers. It also led to one unique situation here, with House Rep. Melanie Meier challenging incumbent Rep. Jana Goodman for the 41st House district seat following Meier being redistricted out of the 40th, which she had previously represented. The elections Nov. 6 proved Meier to be successful. And when the session begins in January, there will be new faces in the 40th District, the 5th State Senate District, the 3rd District County Commission seat and, for the first time in nearly 30 years, the Lansing mayoral spot, which went to Lansing City Councilman Billy Blackwell.
Lansing Bond — Spurred by historically low borrowing rates and construction costs and the endangered nature of the state’s aid for bond and interest payments, the Lansing School Board proposed and promoted a $73 million bond issue to build a new high school with athletic facilities and renovate the existing high school to accommodate the middle school, leaving the existing middle school to serve as an intermediate school, relieving some of the enrollment pressure felt in all three existing schools. Despite a price tag higher than the first estimates, the voters approved the issue, giving it 52.8 percent of the votes. The high school is expected to open in 2015.
Drought — Much of Kansas remains starved for moisture, months after a near-record-setting summer. Prolonged heat and scarce rain wreaked havoc on first corn, then soybeans and now wheat. Officials also urged caution during Fourth of July activities, warning that dry weather had turned grass into a tinderbox. Numerous brush and grass fires kept fire departments busy around the county, including a fire thought to be started by a discarded cigarette that scorched 420 acres over two days in western Leavenworth County in August.
Page 2 of 3 - Hotel development — In January, Leavenworth city commissioners approved a deal to purchase the remaining parcels needed for a hotel development. City officials had been working for more than a year to acquire all of the land needed for the proposed hotel at Fourth Street and Metropolitan Avenue. Since the remaining parcels have been acquired, the city has met various conditions of an agreement with the hotel developer including having the land graded. With the city’s work completed, the developer was given a 120-day inspection period, which has not yet expired. Under the city’s agreement, JCJ Land Partners will purchase the site for $520,000. The developer plans to build a Marriott brand hotel.
Fire chief — There was shake up in November in the leadership of the Leavenworth Fire Department. Mark DeMaranville was removed as the chief, but he has remained with the department as a health inspector and safety officer. Mark Nietzke, who had been an assistant chief, was named the acting chief. At the time, a city spokeswoman said the changes were the result of an ongoing personnel issue and she couldn’t provide additional details. DeMaranville had returned to duty in early October after being injured during a Sept. 5 motorcycle accident northwest of the city. The results of a blood alcohol level test that was conducted as part of the accident investigation have not been released. A report about the accident was forwarded by the Leavenworth County Sheriff’s Office to the Leavenworth County Attorney’s Office for review. The County Attorney’s Office is still investigating the matter.
Fireworks death — A man was killed in an explosion following the city of Lansing’s annual July 4 fireworks show. Andy Jones, 44, Lansing, was a volunteer with crews that were disposing of fireworks that had not discharged during the show, which was held at the Kenneth W. Bernard Community Park. One exploded near Jones, who was pronounced dead at the scene. The explosion occurred after the spectators for the fireworks show had left the park.
911 pocket call — Two Leavenworth men were arrested in March for drug crimes after one of them accidentally called 911. Jesus D. Santos and Jesus E. Suarez March 1 after the Leavenworth Police Department received what was described as a pocket dial 911 call. The dispatcher could hear what sounded like two people arguing. Police were able to locate the source of the call and met with the two men in the 100 block of South Seventh Street. As they were preparing to leave the scene, police officers found what they believed to be crack cocaine in individually wrapped bags. The substance, which tested positive for cocaine, was found under the bumper of a car the two men had been in when officers arrived. In September, Suarez was sentenced to more than 14 years for crimes related to the March 1 incident. In November, Santos was sentenced to six years in prison. He was sentenced to two years for a drug charge related to the March 1 incident and an additional four years for having his probation revoked in three other cases.
Page 3 of 3 - Baby left in alley — A Leavenworth woman was arrested May 3 for allegedly leaving her infant son alone in an alley. Elizabeth A. Michaud has been charged with aggravated endangering a child but her case has not yet gone to trial. Authorities believe Michaud was under the influence of drugs or alcohol the night of the incident. Police have estimated that the baby was in the alley for at least three hours before he was found in a stroller by an area resident.
Carnegie closes — After 25 years of service in promoting education in the fine arts, the Carnegie Arts Center in Leavenworth closed its doors at the end of June. Housed in the city’s first dedicated library building constructed through funds donated by steel magnate and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie, the facility itself had incurred massive maintenance and repair costs, while economic struggles depressed enrollment in the center’s music, dance, drama and art classes. In keeping with the center’s original agreement with the city, ownership reverted to the city once the arts organization moved out. No firm plans have yet been established for the center on Fifth Street.