Archive for Thursday, December 29, 2005

Year in review finds many top stories in Baldwin City

December 29, 2005

There was a key word with the top news stories of 2005 in Baldwin City -- diversity.

Whether it was good news, bad news or a combination of both, every angle of the community -- Baldwin City Council, Baldwin School District, Baker University, police, fire, etc. -- had its highs and lows, along with everyone else. It made for an impossible task to choose the standard Top 10 stories of the year.

So, instead, the Signal looks back at the year remembering the most significant stories of the year, not necessarily by importance. Also in a break from tradition, some of the top stories will be listed in groupings rather than stand alone items.

And, as long as traditions are being broken, the annual look back at Baldwin will start with the most recent event -- the alcohol election. Although this story began back in July when the city council was first asked to consider allowing the sale of cereal malt beverages and liquor in original packages on Sunday, the whole matter wasn't decided until a rare city-wide December vote.

The council granted the request for the Sunday sales in September, but not before debating it in a pair of meetings which were strongly attended. Proponents of Sunday sales wanted to be able to compete with nearby communities that allowed Sunday sale of packaged alcohol. Alcohol by the drink was already available in Baldwin on Sundays. Opponents cited religious and quality of life claims. In a split 3-2 vote, the council approved Sunday sales.

As promised, opponents used the 60-day protest period to come up with the necessary signatures on a petition to force the issue to a vote. That came on Nov. 17 and the election had to be held within 45 days. On Dec. 22, 15 percent of registered voters in the city cast their ballots and the council's slim margin was upheld by an equally slim margin of 18 votes -- 198-180.

But, that wasn't all the city news by a long shot. In April, elections were held to determine four council seats. Incumbent council members Tony Brown and Amy Cleavinger were re-elected. Political newcomer Doyle Jardon won the third seat on the council and Gary Walbridge, who had served on the council in the 1990s, won the race for mayor.

But, that wasn't all the city news. However, it's time to switch gears and look at another story grouping. That would be education. While no story jumps to a Top 10 list there, that doesn't mean there wasn't plenty of news.

The education section starts with two retirements, one a shock that will be felt for quite some time. Baker University President Dan Lambert announced his retirement in the spring. Lambert, considered by many to be the best president Baker has ever had, started his long tenure in 1988 and compiled a lengthy and impressive list of accomplishments. Also announcing his retirement in the fall was Baldwin School District Supt. James White, who took over the top spot in Baldwin's schools in 2000(?).

There was other news in both areas, too. Baker announced in November that phase 3 of its multi-million dollar upgrades of the Charlie Richard Sports Complex would occur this year. Plans call for a new eight lane track and synthetic turf at storied Liston Stadium.

As for the school district, the best news was its performance in state assessment testing which showed students in the district were ahead of the class among its peers. Also, Standard and Poors lauded the district as one of the top 11 in the state for best use of school funds. As for school board elections, incumbents Lonnie Broers and Ande Parks won re-election while two newcomers, Ruth Barkley and Bill Busby, won first terms.

But, it wasn't all good news in the school district. Problems at Baldwin High School continued to persist. While not as serious as the shotgun incident in the BHS parking lot that closed out 2004, there was still an edge at the high school which included several students being suspended for throwing snowballs which had led to fights in the past, alcohol being consumed during the school day, a subsequent drug and alcohol survey at BHS revealed wide-spread usage and the fall 2005 school year started with another round of bullying incidents. White promised a stronger response to the bullying in wake of a $440,000 lawsuit won by a Tonganoxie student against that district because of inaction by administrators during years of problems. White brought in an anti-bullying expert to speak to students, teachers, administrators and patrons in October.

There were highs and lows with several long-time Baldwin residents. Raymond Pearson topped the century mark in February(?) and Martha Smith turned 100 in October. Pearson died a few weeks after his land-mark date and the city mourned the loss of long-time favorite Katharine Kelley, the 96-year-old sister of Smith, when Kelley died several weeks after her sister's birthday. Kelley left a legacy of history with her tireless work at preserving Baldwin history at the library, as well as her many similar efforts for the Santa Fe Trail. Much of last year was spent by various groups, including her alma mater, Baker, honoring Kelley. The BHS Alumni Association named her teacher of the century.

There were other landmark events in the city as the Baldwin First United Methodist Church celebrated its 150th year and the Baldwin City Volunteer Fire Department saw three firefighters retire with a combined 104 years of experience. Charlie Stephens, with 44 years, Larry Franq, with 36, and Alba Andrews, with 24, stepped down from the fire trucks in June.

There was national and international angles for Baldwin in 2005 as well. The community celebrated when Terri Twombly returned from a year stint with her Army Reserve battalion in Kuwait and BHS and Baker grad Tony Rider returned from his third stint in Iraq. Still, other Baldwin residents, such as Matt Roach, Scott Grammer and Tyler Trowbridge went to war. Baldwin City also put up a strong response to the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina, establishing a new foundation to help with such disasters.

Of course, there was much more news in the city besides the just-decided alcohol vote. The biggest event was probably the Kansas Department of Transportation approving two grants for the city totaling $2.52 million that will be used to refurbish sidewalks, curbs and spruce up downtown Baldwin as well as restore the historic "Women's Bridge" on High St. Work will begin in the spring on those projects.

But, there were other items. Despite some opposition, the council voted to vacate two blocks around Baker's Liston Stadium to accommodate improvements and increase safety. The streets involved are Fremont and Second. The council also declined to pick up the option on property north of Baldwin Elementary School Intermediate Center which was planned to be a business park and approved the purchase of what is now the Baldwin Municipal Golf Course. The $600,000 purchase is planned for recreational use. The land votes came in a hastily called special meeting in June that was an apparent violation of the Kansas Open Meeting Law and is still under investigation by the District Attorney.

The city also had the good fortune to finally see an end to years of litigation brought by four former Baldwin Police Department officers who sued the city claiming their constitutional rights to due process and freedom speech were infringed. The claims were dismissed in U.S. District Court two years ago and again by the Court of Appeals this year. The officers had sought an excess of $1 million in a case that started in the early 2000s.

It also made headlines this year when it was discovered that more than $114,000 was missing from the Willow Springs Township coffers. The Federal Bureau of Investigation handled the case which resulted in Shelley Ausherman, wife of the former Willow Springs Treasurer, pleading guilty. Sentencing, which could be as high as 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine, is scheduled for Feb. 6.

And, to wrap up the news this year, there was an historic meeting of the major players in the Baldwin community to gauge needs and interest in joining forces to fund and build a possible community center. Representatives from the city council, school district, Baker and the Baldwin City Recreation Commission held several meetings to discuss the possibilities and decided to hire a consultant to explore the idea. The city, school district and recreation commission split the cost of roughly $16,000 equally.

On the following three pages, the Signal looks back at 2005 with headlines and pictures that recorded the year for history.

Commenting has been disabled for this item.