“HOT, HOT, HOT” was the screaming headline (in red ink) at the top of Page 1 of the June 30-July 1 Weekend issue of The Rolla Daily News. “No relief in sight to heat wave” was the subheadline.
In that report, exactly midway through the year 2012, the news staff showed how hot it was with a photograph of cookies that were literally baking on the dashboard of the editor’s car. Another, smaller photo showed a staff writer eating one of the cookies.
There was no relief of any consequence for weeks to come after that mid-year report. Although some rain has fallen, and the temperature has fallen, Missouri remains in moderate to severe drought, and that is why we are picking the heat and drought as the No. 1 news event of 2012 in Rolla.
Our other top news events are:
2. Election year
3. Drugs and other crimes
4. Completion of school construction
5. City council controversies
6. Library renovation and changes
7. Islamic Student Center/Mosque dedicated
8. New S&T chancellor
9. Some hopeful signs in business
10. Parks and recreation fiscal cliff
1. HEAT AND DROUGHT: The heat and drought threatened to hinder our community’s Fourth of July celebration. Despite repeated burn bans, lifted briefly each time there was a sprinkling of rain, fireworks were not banned with the exception of sky lanterns, devices that lift into the air as a candle heats the air inside an envelope and float away on air currents.
The 2012 drought, severe as it was to creeks and ponds, important to the area’s cattlemen, was not severe enough to require rationing of water in the city limits. Rolla Municipal Utilities officials assured the public the aquifer that feeds the wells was not going dry.
Rolla held on until rains fell and the temperature moderated. What 2013 holds for us worries some people, while others figure it will all even out and we could have a problem of flooding instead of drought. Time will tell.
2. ELECTION YEAR: The municipal elections were held in April. The primary and general elections were held in August and November, respectively. Just three election days out of the 366 days of the year, but they took up a whole lot of attention throughout the year.
The city, school and hospital elections in April weren’t too controversial and there were only a couple of surprises. Steven Leonard unseated incumbent Stan Spadoni on the city council. In the school election, Rodney Southard was edged out by Greg Stratman. Southard asked for a recount, but he was edged out again.
Page 2 of 4 - There was plenty of controversy in the primary and general elections, thanks to the statewide races.
Owing to a strong Republican turnout, Gary Hicks unseated Charles “Bud” Dean on the Phelps County Commission. Hicks resigned his city council seat effective Dec. 31 and Sue Eudaly was appointed by Mayor Bill Jenks to fill his post until the April 2013 election.
3. DRUGS AND OTHER CRIMES: Police Chief Mark Kearse was a busy lawman throughout the year, and a good part of his time was spent trying to get people to understand the danger posed to the community by something called “bath salts.”
Through repeated presentations to the council and interviews with the newspaper, the chief worked to get the message across to parents and their children that what was posing as “bath salts” was really a deadly synthetic drug that would change lives for the worse if smoked, snorted or ingested.
He also worked to get prosecutors and legislators to take action to get the stuff off shelves and the sellers prosecuted.
Rolla police raided a business called The Pleasure Zone a couple of times and took other steps to prosecute. Law enforcement agencies joined together on a billboard campaign against drugs in October. There’s still work to do to fight drugs and here at year’s end, Chief Kearse is still at it.
Drugs were just a part of the crime picture in Rolla in 2012. For instance, at least two suspects stole two utility vehicles and one four-wheeler from a motorcycle shop on Highway 63 south in January. In February, police announced they suspected it was part of a large crime ring operating across the state.
More crime? On Jan. 11, A Slice of Pie was burglarized. Cash was taken. No pies were missing.
Want even more? The Rolla Federal Credit Union on Forum Drive was robbed Oct. 17; Ricky R. Whitby Jr., 25, of Rolla, was arrested without incident.
That’s just the tip of the crime iceberg. Look for the month-by-month recap coming up in Monday’s issue of The Rolla Daily News for more crime of the past year.
4. COMPLETION OF SCHOOL CONSTRUCTION: Rolla High School and Rolla Middle School additions were worked on throughout the year.
These were paid for with proceeds from what was called a “no-tax” bond issue approved in 2010. Rolla Junior High School received the first attention with a large addition completed and dedicated in 2011.
The RHS and RMS additions were dedicated at open houses held in September.
5. CITY COUNCIL CONTROVERSIES: The Rolla City Council just couldn’t get its fill of controversy.
On Jan. 2, the council’s citywide ban on smoking anywhere in town where people are paid to work took effect.
Page 3 of 4 - “Lights out in Rolla” was the main headline on the first weekend paper published after the ban took effect.
Rolla police said they were prepared to give out tickets to smokers if necessary.
Then on Jan. 4, the Rolla City Council began debating an ordinance that would ban the tossing of candy from parade floats.
“I think it’s just crazy,” said Glenn Gibson, of Rolla, who said he had marched in the parade with other veterans and had been a spectator with his grandchildren.
On Jan. 17, the council approved a final reading of the candy ordinance, passing it 7-4.
“It’s a safety issue,” Mayor Bill Jenks said.
Councilman Steven Leonard returned to the smoking ban controversy later in the year, suggesting that the council take another look at the ban, because six bars are hurting financially.
He suggested a 9 p.m. exemption for bar patrons over 21 years of age and told the council the bar owners would support that. That set off Councilman Tony Bahr, who told Leonard he was overstepping his bounds by floating ideas to the bar owners without discussing them with the council first.
Two weeks later, the council declined to make any changes in the smoking ban.
6. LIBRARY RENOVATION/CHANGES: Retired UMR Dean Robert L. Davis began the year as the interim director of the Rolla Public Library, succeeding Jeffrey Courouleau who had served notice he was leaving at the end of 2011.
The library partially and temporarily closed starting Jan. 30 for renovation. The main wing closed for painting and recarpeting.
Cathy Smith, an educator for 32 years, started as the new library director on June 4.
Library Patron Appreciation Day and Open House was held in September. Plaques of appreciation were given to former library board member Larry Bowen, owner of The Reader’s Corner, and Robert L. Davis.
7. ISLAMIC STUDENT CENTER/MOSQUE DEDICATED: Rolla has changed much, and it continues to change, especially in the area of diversity. That diversity exists in all areas of life, race, creed, color, national origin and religion. Early in the year, those changes were exemplified in the opening of a new building.
A growing Muslim population in Rolla led to the construction of a new mosque and Islamic student center in Rolla. Grand opening was held Jan. 20.
A spokesman for the center noted that Rolla has for many years had a student center with a mosque for worship, but he said the new facility would help attract more Muslim students to Missouri S&T who are seeking engineering and technological education.
8. NEW S&T CHANCELLOR: Dr. Cheryl Schrader was announced as the new chancellor of Missouri S&T, the first female chancellor of the university in its 141-year history. She took over April 2.
Page 4 of 4 - She came to Rolla from Boise State University in Idaho where she was vice president for strategic research initiatives. She had also been the school’s dean of the College of Engineering for seven years.
In April, Schrader gave an interview to the paper about her busy new life in Rolla. She noted she is now proud to be a Miner.
She gave her first State of the University address Oct. 3, noting the accomplishments and challenges facing the campus.
“I proud to be leading a campus that’s on the move,” she said.
9. SOME HOPEFUL SIGNS IN BUSINESS: In January, Cyndra Lorey, executive director of the Rolla Regional Economic Commission, said a couple of companies were interested in building industrial facilities at the Rolla National Airport, bringing in at least 80 new jobs.
Dollar General said it had no plans to build a store in Doolittle, but later said it did.
Brewer Science is expanding at Hy Point Industrial Park by buying a former beer distribution building and converting it to the company’s Global Logistics Center.
Ground was broken for the Mo-Sci Precision Materials facility.
In September a 100-plus-acre piece of property located along Highway V near Rolla, which will become home to the future Hy Point West Industrial Park, received the state's designation as a Missouri Certified Site. The site is the 14th in the state to date to be called a Missouri Certified Site for industrial development.
10. PARKS AND RECREATION FISCAL CLIFF: Funding of the city’s parks and recreation department continues to loom as a future problem. It was talked about several times at council meetings, but no action was taken.
In March, the council talked about cutting back on park maintenance to save money. Later, several areas of parkland were left unmowed. Thanks to a hot, dry summer with little vegetative growth, the city got by with that.
The council recently approved using money from The Centre’s reserve account to subsidize its operation. Money will continue to be collected for that reserve account through the end of 2013.
Council members, notably Councilman Louis Magdits, have spoken about the need to come up with a sustainable plan to fund The Centre. So far, nothing has been done.