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Oak Pointe Assisted Living of Kearney employee Edythe Amos gets her first dose of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine the last week of December. Amos said she got her vaccine to protect her family as well as residents at the senior living facility.

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2021 brings new commission, government structure, staff to Clay County
  • Updated

CLAY COUNTY — In the first meeting of the new Clay County Commission Monday, Jan. 4, commissioners Jerry Nolte, Jon Carpenter and Megan Thompson swiftly went about changing government operations by making key managerial appointments under the newly enacted constitution.

Leadership changes

Western Commissioner Carpenter and Eastern Commissioner Thompson won election in the fall of 2020, replacing Gene Owen and Luann Ridgeway, whose terms expired and did not seek reelection. Carpenter and Thompson were sworn into office at the end of December. Nolte, the only county leader to remain on the commission after 2020, said he is excited to work with associate commissioners to get the county “back on track” working for the people of Clay County.

“I look forward to stopping the waste and corruption in county government and to support the men and women of law enforcement,” Thompson, former county clerk, told the Courier-Tribune about her new commissioner role.

“My No. 1 goal is restoring a sense of trust among the voters and the residents of Clay County that the government is working for them and is being transparent, accountable and ethical,” said Carpenter, a former state representative from the Gladstone area, of his new elected position.

Staff appointments

As an illustration of these goals, one of the new commission’s first orders of business Monday was to appoint Tom Salisbury as interim county administrator and Kevin Graham as county counselor. The appointments and related pay structures bring an end to high-price contracts with multiple county administrators and outside legal firms that have cost county taxpayers millions in recent years.

Salisbury previously served as regional administrator for the U.S. Small Business. Salisbury, whose official county duties begin later this month, is expected to receive an annual pay rate $120,000 that will be prorated based on the time he serves while a national search seeks to find a  permanent  county administrator, said Nolte.

Salisbury said he looks forward to “helping the county for as long as it may be for,” during the commission session Monday.

The county had been without an administrator at the helm of daily operations since Dean Brookshier’s controversy-plagued employment ended with his resignation in 2018.

Since Brookshier’s resignation and through the end of 2020, daily operations were overseen by Assistant County Administrators Laurie Portwood, Nicole Brown and Brad Garrett, all of which are also no longer employed with the county as of 2021. The ACAs employment was also mired in controversy including some involved in legal action related to public records tampering and the state audit. Their employment ended with severance agreements. All three former ACAs listed claims that their civil rights were violated as well as being subject to a hostile workplace, gender discrimination and retaliation while employed by Clay County.

Settlements involving similar claims leading to the end of their employment were also reached with Melissa Mohler, former county tourism and project development manager; Human Resources Manager D'On Walker; and Nikki Thorn, public relations and events manager.

On Monday, commissioners also appointed Liberty lawyer Graham, who helped craft the language of the new county constitution as part of a circuit court-appointed commission, to reprise his contracted role as county counselor. Graham, a current Liberty city councilman, served multiple stints as the county’s inside legal counsel. For his legal services, Graham will be paid a flat annual rate of $125,000.

Before Graham’s return as inside county counsel, the county contracted with multiple firms in the state including Husch Blackwell, which had been representing the county in its efforts to prevent portions of the state audit that was started after citizen petition.

Nolte had long advocated to end high-cost contracts with legal firms like Husch Blackwell and Spencer Fane, but was blocked by Owen and Ridgeway. Nearing the end of 2020, Husch Blackwell chose not to seek renewal of its contract with the county.

In addition, Husch Blackwell along with another lobbyist group, Michael H. Morris & Associates, will no longer provide lobbyist services to the county at the state level.

Nolte, who never approved of outside lobbyist contracts but was outvoted by Ridgeway and Owen for them, said ending outside lobbyist contracts will save tens of thousands of taxpayer dollars, which were previously wasted as no lobbyist report on services rendered had been presented to the full commission.

Carpenter and Thompson said Graham brings a wealth of knowledge and experience to the roll and will save the county hundreds of thousands of dollars by being local.

New government structure

While the full structure of the new county constitution, approved by voters in 2020, will roll out over a multiple-year span, changes required under the constitution have already begun. These efforts include livestreaming of commission meetings and reinstating public comment during commission sessions in addition to the commission hiring a county administrator and in-house attorney.

Going forward, the administrator will be in charge of appointing directors to most government departments outside of elected offices. Under the constitution, the only offices that remain elected are assessor, auditor, sheriff and prosecuting attorney. In addition, under the new constitution, the presiding commissioner only votes on commission action items in the event of a tie of associate commissioners. That voting change was reflected in Monday’s commission meeting with Nolte not voting on action items as Thompson and Carpenter voted in lockstep.

“We’ve got a lot going for us as a community. … There is every reason to believe that Clay County government can and should be one of those things,” said Carpenter at the end of Monday’s session. “It should be a thing people can be proud of, that is serving them every day, and I look forward to being a part of it.”

Thompson said going forward, citizens can expect the commission to operate in a civil and professional manner, something lacking for many years.

“… There should be nothing but good coming from this day forward,” she said.

2020: A rollercoaster of a year
  • Updated

Editor’s Note: This is the second part of a two-part series recapping 2020. The first part was published in the Dec. 31, 2020 edition. This portion includes June through December 2020. For other year-in-review coverage, check out the Courier·Tribune NOW app or visit mycouriertribune.com.

In the Northland, like in many communities around the globe, 2020 was a year heavily marked by a multitude of negatives centering on civil unrest and racial issues, uncommon criminal cases and the ever-impactful coronavirus pandemic.

Despite the negatives, there were also positives to come from 2020. Some of the silver linings to the pandemic cloud that was 2020 were part of our #Bounceback coverage and included profiles of local health care workers, business owners and community members who came together to help those in need. We at the CT were inspired by these stories and look forward to continuing to highlight these Bounceback efforts and other positives in the year to come.

As a look back at 2020, the following is a recap of each top story’s headline and first paragraphs from each weekly print edition’s front page. This recap is a reflection of the rollercoaster that was 2020: the bad, the worse, the good and stories that showcase change is on the horizon in 2021.

June 4

Headline: Clay Countians moving forward with possible government change

CLAY COUNTY — At the polls Tuesday, June 2, Clay County voters, with 11,142 of the 19,670 votes cast, said they want the circuit court to create a commission to frame a new form of county government that would be put to voters at a later date. The passed ballot measure was Proposition C.

The decision was not a landslide as 8,528 votes, roughly 43% of votes cast, were in opposition to the measure, according to uncertified county election results.

Now that Prop C passed, the appointed constitutional commission will look at how county residents want to define the structure and system of county government including the number of and power of elected and other officials and whether to include a system for elected leader recall.

June 11

Headline: Seeking ChangeBlack Lives Matter protest lines Main Street

SMITHVILLE — While holding signs denouncing racism that included statements such as “White privilege is real, skin color is not a crime and racism is a pandemic,” throngs of Smithville children, young adults and parents lined downtown Smithville’s Main Street Monday, June 8, as they took part in a Black Lives Matter protest.

The local protest came in the wake of deaths elsewhere in the nation of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, African Americans who were killed by police during encounters with officers. Their deaths, along with those of other minorities in recent months and years, have sparked outrage in communities across the nation, with protesters taking to the streets in recent days and weeks to demand racial equality and justice for those killed as a result of police action.

One group at the Smithville protest was the Guptas, a mixed-race family that includes parents Debbie and Ganesh and daughters Autumn and Leeta. Ganesh, who wore his U.S. Army uniform and held a sign that read, “Remember Kent State,” commented on the state of policing in the U.S., saying oversight is needed.

June 18

Headline: Opening UpCounty allows mass gatherings up to 250

CLAY COUNTY — In light of the state’s full reopening that began Tuesday, June 16, Clay County Public Health Center eased restrictions on businesses and mass gatherings effective at 12:01 a.m. Tuesday, 16. While all statewide restrictions are lifted, local authorities like cities and the county public health center can still put further rules, regulations or ordinances in place in their jurisdictions.

Clay County Public Health Center’s recovery plan allowances now include:

• Relaxing all business and organizations’ occupancy restrictions to 50% of the entity’s authorized building/fire code occupancy.

• Allowing gatherings including religious services, weddings and funerals of 50% of listed occupancy to continue provided physical distancing is maintained.

• Allowing mass gatherings of up to 250 provided physical distancing is maintained.

• Allowing public and neighborhood association pools up to 50% of the bather load within the pool enclosure.

The county’s new order is set to expire at 12:01 p.m. Sunday, July 25.

June 25

Headline: Man charged in Liberty robbery, kidnapping case following chase

LIBERTY — A Liberty man faces multiple felony charges after a vehicle chase led to his arrest in connection with a reported robbery and kidnapping that allegedly began at a Liberty car wash June 17.

According to a warrant issued in Clay County Circuit Court Friday, June 19, Terry E. Campbell, 35, of Liberty is charged with felonies of kidnapping that may have included inflecting injury or terrorizing, robbery, tampering with a motor vehicle, sexual abuse and two counts of armed criminal action.

The chase occurred around lunchtime June 18, and involved Campbell, who was driving a dark blue Volkswagen sedan.

July 2

Headline: Chase ends with officer shooting suspect in Liberty

LIBERTY — A vehicle chase that began in Independence ended with an officer-involved shooting in downtown Liberty around 2 p.m. Tuesday, June 30, near the intersection of Leonard and Mill streets.

Sgt. Andy Bell with the Missouri Highway Patrol, the law enforcement agency heading up the shooting investigation, said the chase began after a white male, Lance A. Bowman, 30, of Independence failed to stop a red pickup truck he was driving for a traffic stop in Independence around 1:45 p.m. Bell said the stop was initiated after an officer noticed the red truck being operated in a careless manner and at a high rate of speed near the intersection of Truman and Lee’s Summit Road.

July 16

Headline: 3 compete in Republican primary for county assessor

CLAY COUNTY — Three candidates in the Aug. 4 primary election vie to be the Republican to compete against Democrat Bruce Cantwell on the November ballot for elected office of county assessor.

Each candidate was asked county-specific questions ahead of the August vote. ... Candidates facing off in the Republican primary are Tracy Baldwin, Bill Keefer and Chris Lonsdale.

July 23

Headline: Kearney schools need family input for reentry plan

KEARNEY — In order to make a return to school this fall as successful as possible, Kearney school district leaders say they need more family input on if they plan to have their children attend in-person classes starting this fall.

The district released its back-to-school plan last week, sending district families a copy and a survey, asking for input and enrollment information. The plan includes multiple alternatives depending on public health mandates and was crafted after months of input from district families, educators, support staff, public health officials and other stakeholders. It includes options for classroom learning, all-digital education and a hybrid model.

July 30

Headline: Coronavirus updateNursing home outbreaks leveling off in Clay County

CLAY COUNTY — According to officials with Clay County Public Health Center, after weeks of increased positive cases and dozens of deaths, multiple outbreaks of coronavirus at area nursing homes are leveling off.

As of Monday, July 20, CCPHC Communications Specialist Kelsey Neth said outbreaks at nursing homes had accounted for a majority of the health center’s reporting jurisdictions cases and deaths with:

• 92 cases and 12 deaths at Pleasant Valley Manor Care in Pleasant Valley,

• 19 cases and no deaths at Heritage Avonlea of Gladstone,

• eight cases and zero deaths at Liberty Health and Wellness and

• 58 cases and seven deaths at Ashton Court Care and Rehabilitation Centre in Liberty.

Aug. 6

Headline: Familiar faces claim county primary victories

CLAY COUNTY —Two familiar female faces in Clay County government will face one another for election as western county commissioner in the November general election after both women won their party’s races in the Tuesday, Aug. 4 primary.

In the Republican race, with nearly 42% of all 40 precincts counted, Lydia McEvoy bested Rodney Phillips, Barry McCullough and Josiah Bechtold for the win. Based on unofficial totals from Clay County Election Board, McEvoy took 3,215 votes to McCullough’s 2,680, Phillips’ 1,004 and Bechtold’s 775 votes. In total, 7,674 votes were cast.

With her win Tuesday, McEvoy moves on to face Democrat Cathy Rinehart in the general election this fall. Rinehart bested outgoing state Rep. Jon Carpenter, taking 73% of 10,599 votes cast to Carpenter’s nearly 27%, or 2,859 votes.

Aug. 13

Headline: Cathy Rinehart will not dispute recount in western county commissioner primary

CLAY COUNTY — Cathy Rinehart said she is not contesting results of the verification recount that showed her opponent, Jon Carpenter, as the true victor of the Democratic primary for western district county commissioner.

“It’s all good for me. I can’t speak for anybody else, but it’s all good for me. There are no hard feelings,” she told the Courier-Tribune.A full verification recount was initiated late last week after election directors discovered a programming error with tabulators that impacted six Democratic races and 21 voting precincts. Races impacted were those for state representative in House districts 16, 17 and 18 and county races for eastern and western district commissioner and sheriff. Precincts impacted included parts of Gallatin, Chouteau and Liberty. The only opposed race in the impacted group was the western commissioner race.

Aug. 20

Headline: Protesters demand fall contact sports in schools

CLAY COUNTY — In addition to wanting their children to have the opportunity to play sports this fall, protesters against possibly postponing fall sports to spring in light of the COVID-19 pandemic are taking issue with county public health administration, saying there is a lack of transparency and public input.

Rallies in support of a traditional fall sports schedule were held in Liberty, Kearney and Smithville this week with another rally planned for Thursday, Aug. 20, in time for Clay County Public Health Center’s monthly board meeting. In addition to rallies, proponents of fall sports created a private Facebook group, #letthemplay — Clay County 2020-21 Sports, that now has more than 4,500 members.

Aug. 27

Headline: Clay County emergency order extended

CLAY COUNTY — Clay County Public Health Center extended the emergency order related to COVID-19 until further notice.

“This includes the requirement that masks be worn in all areas of public accommodation to help prevent the further spread of COVID-19. Although we remain in Phase 2 Step 2 of recovery, schools may reopen and youth sport leagues may resume while following proper COVID-19 safety protocols,” states a release from the center.

The emergency order was first enacted in March. It has had several amendments in recent months as the pandemic continued, with the most recent set to expire at 11:59 p.m. Sunday, Aug, 23, if an extension was not ordered. That amended order included the recent requirement of masks in public.

Sept. 3

Headline: Liberty schools prepare for obscure year

LIBERTY — The Merriam-Webster definition of obscure is, “not readily understood or clearly expressed” which might be used to describe Liberty Public School’s coming year. The beginning of a new semester during the coronavirus pandemic means beginning classes either virtually, in-person or both through a hybrid approach to learning. The school year starts Tuesday, Sept. 8.

While reentry plans are subject to change depending on how coronavirus impacts the community in coming months, plans for the start of the 2020-21 school year were influenced by students, their families, faculty, staff and administration.

Sept. 10

Headline: Construction underway in Smithville Marketplace

SMITHVILLE — As people drive along U.S. Highway 169 in Smithville, they may notice the changing landscape.

Although coronavirus has delayed a lot of things including business developments, construction of Price Chopper and Porters Ace Hardware in Smithville Marketplace is moving along. Each coming business has walls up with outside paint and parking completed thus far.

Porters passed final inspection Friday, Sept. 4, City Development Director Jack Hendrix said.

Sept. 17

Headline: Northland schools continue free meal offerings for all students

Throughout the Northland, students returned to in-class, virtual and hybrid model learning. Since the COVID-19 pandemic began closing doors to local schools in March, districts took it upon themselves to provide meals to students and families for free.

Now that school is back in session, Northland district leaders say there are still meals available regardless of the students’ learning model.

The Kearney School District is now offering free meal service to all students in school district boundaries.

Sept. 24

Headline: City permit needed?Clay County threatens legal action against KC over Annex

CLAY COUNTY — The Clay County Commission is again mired in legal controversy, this time with Kansas City over construction of the $20 million new Annex. The project is being constructed at Missouri Highway 152 and North Brighton Avenue in Kansas City.

While grading work has begun on behalf of the county, an inspector from Kansas City issued a stop work order Tuesday, Sept. 15, citing the county’s lack of a site disturbance permit.

Oct. 1

Headline: Porters Ace Hardware run by 3rd generation Northlanders

SMITHVILLE — After hosting a ribbon cutting Sept. 24, the locally known Porter family opened a new Porters Ace Hardware in Smithville Marketplace.

Store manager Alex Porter said it was fun having the ribbon cutting, which included the store’s youngest guest, a six-week-old baby whose older brother, 1, was mesmerized by a Bobcat, a piece of motorized heavy equipment, outside.

Oct. 8

Headline: Liberty approves business grants program

LIBERTY — The Liberty City Council approved up to $250,000 for a Small Business Grant Program for eligible small businesses within Liberty city limits. Liberty joins Smithville and Kearney in giving out grants to city businesses.

The program is made possible through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, which Congress passed and the president signed on March 27.

On May 1, the Clay County Commission approved Resolution 2020-139, distributing federal CARES Act funding to Liberty for eligible expenses incurred to address the COVID-19 pandemic.

Oct. 15

Headline: Smithville fire district seeks tax increase

SMITHVILLE — A proposed 35-cent tax levy increase for Smithville Area Fire Protection District, if passed, will pay to fully staff station No. 3 in Paradise.

The station was built with a bond issue passed by voters in 2012, but a tax levy increase that ran on the same ballot to staff and operate the station failed. A second attempt at the levy increase was placed on the following August ballot and failed again. Since then, the third station has remained unmanned.

Oct. 22

Headline: Current clerk, political newcomer vie for eastern county commissioner seat

CLAY COUNTY — Current County Clerk Megan Thompson and political newcomer Dustin Bell are facing off in the race for eastern county commissioner on the Nov. 3 ballot.

Both participated in interviews with the Courier-Tribune ahead of the election and discussed where they stand on issues and questions posed to them by voters.

Oct. 29

Headline: County constitution passage would add commissioners, get rid of 5 elected offices

CLAY COUNTY — This election cycle, voters in the county will again get to decide if they want to fundamentally overhaul the structure of Clay County government by opting to approve or vote down a constitution. Multiple previous attempts at passing a constitutional or charter form of government failed at the ballot box, with the most recent in 2013.

The language for the current constitution proposal was crafted by a 14-member circuit court-appointed, bipartisan group after voters approved moving forward with exploration of a new form of government earlier this year.

Nov. 5

Headline: Voters overhaul county governmentConstitution passes with 81% of vote

CLAY COUNTY — In addition to ushering in two new associate commissioners at the ballot box in the November general election, Clay County voters overwhelmingly said more government change was needed by voting “yes” on a county constitution.

Based on uncertified county election results, more than 81% of the 122,803 votes cast on the question approved the constitution. Just under 19%, or 22,911 votes, were cast in opposition to the ballot question.

Changes approved as part of the constitution’s passage include expanding the three-person commission to seven, term limits for and an opportunity to recall commissioners, limitations on debt and requiring public meetings to be live-streamed.

Nov. 12

Headline: Stepping into harm’s waySmithville gas station manager intervenes during woman’s assault

SMITHVILLE — Darrell Cooper, 30, faces two counts of felony assault following an incident the morning of Wednesday, Oct. 4, at the Smithville Kum & Go gas station, 1102 S. U.S. Highway 169. His bond is set at $250,000.

“About 9:15 a.m. is when we got a call about an assault,” Smithville Police Chief Jason Lockridge said. “Officers arrived and found a 36-year-old woman from Independence who had been assaulted inside the store by a 30-year-old male from Trimble. (The store general manager) had also intervened to try to protect the woman and was assaulted as well.”

Store General Manager Jill Volpi said the experience was scary and violent.

“He was really violent,” Volpi said. “I didn’t think about it. I just went in and did everything I could to get him off her.”

Nov. 19

Headline: ‘At critical point again’

Metro health directors sound alarm on rising COVID-19 rates

As COVID-19 surges in the Kansas City metropolitan area, the region’s area health directors, including Gary Zaborac at Clay County Public Health and Rex Archer at the Kansas City Health Department, are sounding the alarm in a letter released Friday, Nov. 13.

“As health department directors and health officers representing the health departments of the Kansas City region, we fully understand the impact that stay-at-home orders have on our local economy. However, COVID-19 transmission cannot continue to rage out of control in our community given the severe strain on our health and medical systems,” the letter reads.

The letter states there has been an increased demand for testing, resulting in a lag in testing turnaround time and a strain on public health contact tracing abilities.

Nov. 26

Headline: Fire chiefs say some PPE becoming hard to order

Nationally, there have been 553,450 fire service personnel responses to confirmed or suspected COVID-19 incidents between Jan. 1 and Nov. 11, according to the U.S. Fire Administration.

As of Friday, Nov. 20, total cases to date in Clay County surpassed 8,300 with 129 deaths reported between Clay County Public Health Center and Kansas City Health Department. According to the CCPHC recovery dashboard, hospitals are operating over capacity with respect to staffing, supplies and testing due to the virus.

“Currently, we are not seeing a sustained reduction in cases necessary to continue moving forward with recovery,” states the CCPHC dashboard, online through clayhealth.com. “... We are seeing an increase in COVID-19 admittance in hospitals as well as increases in individuals testing positive for hospital tests.”

Dec. 3

Headline: COVID-19 case counts upHospitals seeing virus-related increases

CLAY COUNTY — Two of Clay County’s largest hospitals that have patient beds and emergency rooms, Liberty and North Kansas City, continue to see an increase in COVID-19 patients.

At North Kansas City Hospital, COVID-19 cases are spiking, said Chief Medical Officer James Stewart. While not giving exact numbers, Stewart reported from Oct. 9 to Nov. 9, the hospital had a 53% increase in its daily COVID-19 census.

Dec. 10

Headline: Liberty investigates Confederate monument revestment

LIBERTY — The Liberty City Council, with a 5-3 vote, is pursuing legal revestment of a hotly debated cemetery lot with a Confederate monument in the Fairview-New Hope cemeteries.

The decision came after an almost-three hour meeting in November. Revestment is the return of a territory or piece of land to the control of a monarch or other authority such as a city.

Councilmen Greg Duncan, Kevin Graham, Harold Phillips, Mike Hagan and Gene Gentrup voted in favor of looking at revestment. Council members Jeff Watt, Paul Jenness and Rae Moore voted against. While all three in opposition spoke against racism at a recent council meeting, they worry about the precedent with private property the move would make.

Dec. 17

Headline: ‘I don’t know why I pulled the trigger’Murder charge follows Smithville shooting

SMITHVILLE — A Smithville woman faces charges of second-degree murder and armed criminal action following an alleged argument Thursday, Dec. 10 with her fiancé that turned deadly.

A release from Smithville police states Lori A. Ackerman, 47, was charged with the felonies in connection with the death of 48-year-old Shannon Tate. Officers responded to the shooting in the couple’s residence around 10 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 10, in the 100 block of Tipperary Street. When officers arrived, they found Shannon Tate on the floor with a gunshot wound to the head. He was taken to an area hospital, where he later died Friday, Dec. 11.

Dec. 24

Headline: County collector’s office gets ‘good’ state audit rating

CLAY COUNTY — A state audit of Clay County Collector Lydia McEvoy’s office gave her office an overall rating of “good.” The ranking is the second highest possible. The report is the fourth released as part of an ongoing state audit of Clay County that was initiated by citizen petition. Previously released audits of the clerk, recorder and public administrator’s offices were given the same rating.

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New county leadership pauses Annex project, working to stop audit roadblocks
  • Updated

CLAY COUNTY — Keeping in tune with the new year, new leaders and new rules theme of the Monday, Jan. 4 county commission session, commissioners ordered work on the controversial Annex project paused and work to end state audit roadblocks to commence.

Annex work

The current Annex is at 1901 NE 48th St. in Kansas City. It serves a number of purposes, including providing office spaces for the county collector, assessor and a satellite office for the Recorder of Deeds. Previous commissioners Gene Owen and Luann Ridgeway moved forward with acquiring land for a new Annex despite public and Presiding Commissioner Jerry Nolte’s opposition, contending a new Annex in a new location was needed because the current one was not made for the functions it serves, has issues with internet connectivity and is hard for residents to find.

Nolte and new Commissioners Jon Carpenter of the western district and Megan Thompson of the eastern district believe the estimated $20 million project that would see a new facility built in a new location is not in the best interest of taxpayers.

“We need to make sure we are doing responsible spending of the taxpayers’ money,” said Nolte.

The new commission directed staff Monday to conduct more research on the matter, including setting up a meeting with the county’s bond counsel firm. As expenses related to the work were previously under sole oversight of the often tight-lipped former Western Commissioner Gene Owen, current commissioners say they need to identify the scope of the project to date, how much has been spent and legal and contractual obligations to determine how to move forward in the best interest of taxpayers.

It is unclear if the commission will or legally can scrap the project that has received little public support and much taxpayer and elected officeholder criticism.

“There’s been a lot of information that has been kept, not only from the commission, but from staff. Our citizens also need to have a voice moving forward,” said Thompson.

Carpenter said the project will present a challenge for the county as millions have already been spent with site work underway.

Because the county’s financial stability may be an issue in light of possible losses in sales tax revenues due to the coronavirus pandemic, Carpenter said spending on projects not essential to current county operations need to be curbed. The current Annex location, which suits the needs of the southern portion of the county’s population, he said, should not be an asset lost. Updating the current Annex is a preferred option, he told the Courier-Tribune.

Ending audit roadblocks

In addition to pausing work and related expenditures on the new Annex site, commissioners directed staff Monday to find out how best to end costly lawsuits and related appeals hindering the citizen-petitioned state audit of county operations.

Like other citizens of the county, Carpenter said, he looks forward to a full and thorough audit of the county, which requires cooperating with the state auditor and ending, “the string of lawsuits that have come one after the other at great expense to taxpayers … to thwart the audit.”

“The courts have made it pretty clear at this point in decision after decision that yes, the county needs to fully cooperate with our state auditor,” he said. “It would be my hope that in the very near and immediate future we move in the direction of ending whatever ongoing lawsuits and appeals the county has been paying for and to fully cooperate with the audit.”

Thompson, who previously served as county clerk and received a “good” rating in portion of the state audit of her former office, said she and her former staff cooperated fully with auditors and encourages others to do the same.

“As public servants, we shouldn’t have anything to hide. That includes our predecessors,” she said of former county staff and commissioners.

Nolte said unlike in the past where some county legal actions were taken without consent from or knowledge of the full commission, he wants new County Attorney Kevin Graham to report all options available in the audit to the full commission.

“It is helpful to all commissioners to know where we stand,” he said.

Graham said he will bring details back to the commission in the next meeting or two.

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Liberty Hospital welcomes New Year's babies
  • Updated

LIBERTY — An estimated 371,504 babies were born around the world on New Year’s Day, according to UNICEF.

According to history, the image of a baby representing a fresh start dates back to ancient Greece. Marking the rebirth of the god Dionysus, festivities included placing a baby in a basket and parading the infant through town. Babies born on the first day of the year supposedly have the best luck throughout their lives.

At Liberty Hospital, the first baby of 2021 arrived at 4:50 a.m. to Marisol Rodriquez and Eduardo Garcia of Kearney. Eduardo Jr. weighed in at 6 pounds and 13 ounces and was 21 inches in length.

Eduardo said his son’s due date was Jan. 10.

“We actually arrived at the hospital on Thursday morning, but they sent us home. Then, two hours later, Marisol’s contractions kicked up,” he said. “We came back to the hospital around 4 p.m. Dec. 31. I guess he wanted to be the first. It was a New Year’s Eve to remember.”

Eduardo and Rodriquez are thrilled with their new family addition that also includes two older daughters.

“2020 was a tough year,” said the father. “Having our son gives us a new reason to be thankful. We give thanks to God. We are healthy and the baby is healthy. We can be extra grateful to start 2021.”

As for honoring their son’s birthday on New Year’s Day, Eduardo Sr. said the family has a late dinner on New Year’s Eve, so they expect to be able to honor their son on New Year’s Day specifically.

“It will be good, and when he is older and stays up to midnight, we will celebrate,” he said. “We will honor his day.”

The second Baby New Year at the hospital arrived at 6:09 a.m. to Kylie Ehrsam of Independence. Sophia JoLee Johnson made her appearance, weighing in at 7 pounds, 11 ounces and 21 inches in length.

“Sophia was due Jan. 3,” the mom said. “I went in on Wednesday night and was induced on Wednesday night, but she was stubborn. She waited until 2021. I have been joking that she was too good to make her appearance in 2020.”

Currently, Ehrsam said her daughter is being a great baby.

“I have not decided how we will celebrate her birthday,” she said. “However, I am glad that she is not part of that horrible year that was 2020.”

The third baby to be born on New Year’s Day, Melody Ann Grace Hammons, was born at 12:14 p.m. to Angela Archer and Kale Hammons of Kansas City. She weighed in at 8 pounds, 9 ounces and 20.5 inches in length. The family did not respond to requests for an interview.

The fourth baby of New Year’s Day, Kennedy Lynn, came when expected Jan. 1 to Michael and Alexandra Silver of Liberty. Arriving at 1:43 p.m., Kennedy weighed in at 6 pounds, 14 ounces and measured 20 inches in length.

“She’s our first child,” Alexandra said. “We have been talking about how to celebrate her birthday. I think we will do the New Year’s Eve countdown and make it the countdown to her birthday. No matter what, it was a great way to start off 2021. Last year was such a crazy year, our daughter has added that brightness in our world. We are very blessed and very grateful.”