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Public input needed for Hastings housing study

The city of Hastings wants the public’s help to identify key housing needs for the future.

Keith Marvin, principal community planner with Marvin Planning Consultants of David City, and Aaron Sorrell with Community Planning Insights of Dayton, Ohio, currently are conducting a housing study in Hastings for that reason.

The project is funded by a grant from the Nebraska Investment Finance Authority, the city of Hastings, the Hastings Community Redevelopment Authority, Hastings Area Chamber of Commerce and Hastings Economic Development Corp.

Marvin and Sorrell are meeting with focus groups representing specific groups such as real estate agents, developers, bankers and nonprofit organizations from Tuesday morning through Thursday afternoon.

“We want to make sure we address the needs of the entire community and not just focus in on one specific cohort,” Sorrell said.

They will take the feedback received during those meetings to develop recommendations for a final report.

“We want to make sure we talk to the affordable housing advocates and those grounds that represent low- to moderate-income individuals,” Sorrell said. “This housing study is trying to take a wide swath of the community.”

The planners will play host to a public kick-off meeting 4:45-6:15 p.m. on Wednesday, Jan. 29, at The Lark, 809 W. Second St., where Marvin and Sorrell will introduce themselves, provide a quick PowerPoint explaining the housing study and be be there to answer questions.

“It’s not going to be a real formal situation,” Marvin said. “I like to keep it low-key.”

Also included in the final report will be data analyzed from a public survey at www.surveymonkey.com/r/Hastings2020.

A quick QR code link will be available on posters, post cards and the city’s website. The city and team are interested in knowing the public’s thoughts and desires during the process.

The survey questionnaire, which has around 30 questions and takes about five minutes to complete, asks the participant about housing needs in Hastings.

The questionnaire includes a page each of questions specifically directed to individuals looking to own, looking to rent or looking to upgrade homes.

Hard copies of the questionnaire are available in the development services office of the Hastings City Building at 220 N. Hastings Ave., Hastings Area Chamber of Commerce at 301 S. Burlington Ave., Hastings Museum at 1330 N. Burlington Ave., Hastings Public Library at 314 N. Denver Ave. and Adams County Courthouse at 500 W. Fourth St.

“The survey will get at a lot of the needs questions,” Sorrell said. “With the focus groups we’re really trying to drill down on those people who are doing the work.”

Hastings is the third Nebraska community where Marvin and Sorrell have conducted a housing study.

Marvin and Sorrell spoke during their focus groups Tuesday about their experience with the study conducted in 2018 in North Platte.

“We were amazed at how fast we found out how many people were actually living in RVs or out of their car,” Marvin said. “Those groups can be important to identify if we have that kind of situation happening in the community that’s maybe not seen very well.”

Marvin said the survey, which opened last week and had 26 responses as of 11 a.m. Tuesday, will be available for about a month.

He and Sorrell then will work on data analysis and community mapping to complete a final report to be presented in about six months.

For the North Platte study, the final report included a public presentation at North Platte Community College’s South Campus with recommendations that went through the data in detail.

Information and recommendations included the biggest housing demands of that community and how to fill that demand.

“What public policy issues can we address to affect that? Sorrell said. “It’s not just a numbers game.”

He presented a national financing program as a recommendation that North Platte officials were not familiar with.

There was also a recommendation for the city and county to step up code enforcement.

Another recommendation was to enact a food and beverage occupation sales tax with the idea that money could help build affordable housing.

“Some people liked what they heard, and some people didn’t like what they heard.” Sorrell said. “It’s an unvarnished approach.”

Willa Cather announces Campaign for the Future

RED CLOUD — For years, visitors have only been able to look at the exterior of the Pavelka farmstead, which served as an inspiration for Willa Cather’s book “My Ántonia.” But tourists soon could be walking into the building between Red Cloud and Bladen that Anna and John Pavelka — prototypes for Ántonia Cuzak and John Cuzak — lived in, restored to its 1916 floor plan.

Restoring the Pavelka farmstead will be one result of the Willa Cather Foundation’s “Campaign for the Future,” a campaign to raise $6.5 million, that entered its public phase Tuesday.

Funds from the integrated campaign will be used to restore eight Cather-related properties in or near Red Cloud, expand the Willa Cather Foundation’s education and curriculum program, add a boutique hotel in the Potter’s Block in Red Cloud, and double the foundation’s endowment.

The campaign began in early 2018, and 72% of the money has been raised. The foundation hopes to raise the rest of the campaign funds by its 65th annual Spring Conference in Red Cloud in June.

The campaign follows the foundation’s previous project: getting back six properties, including Cather’s childhood home, Burlington Depot and the Pavelka farmhouse and receiving over 8,000 archival pieces from History Nebraska, formerly known as the Nebraska State Historical Society.

“The marvelous thing about going to Red Cloud, Nebraska, is you can walk right into Willa Cather’s world. There’s the house she lived in, the bank, the opera house, the railroad depot and the landscape,” said David McCullough, a Pulitzer Prize-winning author, in

the announcement.

About $3.9 million from the campaign will go to restoring eight properties owned by the Willa Cather Foundation: Cather’s childhood home, Farmers and Merchants Bank, Burlington Depot, Grace Episcopal Church, J.L. Miner House, Pavelka farmstead, St. Juliana Catholic Church and First Baptist Church.

The foundation has the largest single collection of nationally designated buildings devoted to an American author. Each building was either a part of Cather’s childhood, is referenced in her literature, or both.

Restoration will range from electrical and heating, ventilation and air conditioning improvements to structural renovation. Most of the sites were built in the late 1890s and have received more foot traffic than they were built for, said Ashley Olson, Willa Cather Foundation executive director.

“The sites themselves, I believe, have been kept, from the curb, looking very sharp over the years. We’ve tried to maintain that curb appeal,” Olson said. “Some of them have some pretty serious structural issues that need to be addressed.”

A boutique hotel will be built at the Potter’s Block, which is directly south of the Farmers and Merchants Bank in Red Cloud. The hotel on Potter’s Block has been planned for four years, along with a market feasibility study for Red Cloud. Olson said the current motel and bed and breakfast in Red Cloud are usually enough, but they are at capacity during some events.

Adding the hotel goes hand-in-hand with previous restoration projects, including the Moon Block and Opera House restoration, Olson said. The Potter’s Block is part of the Main Street Historic District, which is on the National Register of Historic Places.

The Willa Cather Foundation also will use funds donated from the campaign to expand its educational and curriculum resources. Olson said the foundation has been successful in hosting academic conferences at the collegiate level, but hopes to expand on the high school and elementary programs.

The foundation will add a full-time education coordinator who will be responsible for working with teachers in the state and encourage field trips to Red Cloud.

“We think that visiting Red Cloud and experiencing the Cather sites firsthand really adds a lot to someone, whether they are reading Cather at the high school level or they’re fourth-grade students who are just learning about Nebraska history and the settlement experience,” Olson said. “Coming to Red Cloud really adds a lot to the learning that takes place in both arena.”

The campaign also will double the foundation’s endowment, adding $1.5 million.

The foundation previously received $75,000 per year to compensate for maintenance and basic operations of the sites. After six sites and thousands of archival pieces transferred from History Nebraska, the compensation ended.

The additional endowment will make up for the lost compensation.

The campaign already has raised $4.7 million through private donors and several grants for historic site restoration. The National Park service provided the Save America’s Treasures grant for $415,000 to restore Cather’s childhood home.

GOP lacks votes to block trial witnesses, McConnell concedes

WASHINGTON — Republicans lack the votes to block witnesses at President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell conceded late Tuesday, a potentially major hurdle for Trump’s hopes to end the trial with a quick acquittal. Earlier, Trump’s lawyers concluded his defense with a plea to move on.

Even after sitting through days and late nights of argument, several Republicans apparently are ready to join Democrats in considering in-person testimony from former National Security Adviser John Bolton and perhaps others.

Trump’s lawyers made their closing case for a speedy acquittal Tuesday, but to no avail.

McConnell told colleagues in a private meeting that he did not yet have the votes to block Democrats from summoning witnesses. That outcome would prolong an election-year trial that Trump and his legal team had hoped was on track, as one lawyer said, to “end now, as soon as possible.”

McConnnell’s statement, in a closed-door meeting of senators, was an acknowledgment of the extent to which revelations from Bolton have scrambled the trial’s schedule and the desire for testimony. Bolton writes in a forthcoming book that Trump told him he wanted to withhold military aid from Ukraine until it helped with investigations into Democratic rival Joe Biden. That assertion, if true, would undercut a key defense argument and go to the heart of one major article of impeachment against the president.

Trump complained anew at a rally in Wildwood, New Jersey, focusing on Democrats rather than Republican senators.

“While we are creating jobs and killing terrorists, the congressional Democrats are obsessed with demented hoaxes, crazy witch hunts and deranged partisan crusades,” he said.

There are still several days before any potential witness vote would be taken. A decision to call more witnesses would require 51 votes to pass. With a 53-47 majority, Republicans can only afford to lose three. If senators agree they want more witnesses they would then have to vote again on who to call.

McConnell convened the private meeting shortly after Trump’s legal team concluded their arguments in the trial, arguing forcefully against the relevance of testimony from Bolton and insisting that nothing Trump had done amounted to an impeachable offense.

While scoffing at Bolton’s book manuscript, Trump and the Republicans have strongly resisted summoning him to testify in person about what he saw and heard as Trump’s top national security adviser.

A day after the defense team largely brushed past Bolton, attorney Jay Sekulow addressed the controversy head-on by dismissing the book — said to contradict a key defense argument about Trump’s dealings with Ukraine — as “inadmissible.”

“It is not a game of leaks and unsourced manuscripts,” Sekulow said.

A night earlier Trump attorney Alan Dershowitz said that nothing in the manuscript — even if true — rises to the level of an impeachable offense. Sekulow also sought to undermine the credibility of Bolton’s book by noting that Attorney General William Barr has disputed comments attributed to him by Bolton.

Senate Republicans spent considerable time in private discussing how to deal with Bolton’s manuscript without extending the proceedings or jeopardizing the president’s expected acquittal. Those lost steam, and Democrats showed no interest.

Chuck Schumer, the Senate’s top Democrat, called a proposal for senators to be shown the manuscript in private, keeping Bolton out of public testimony, “absurd.”

“We’re not bargaining with them. We want four witnesses, and four sets of documents, then the truth will come out,” Schumer said.

‘Senators are being warned that if they agree to call Bolton to testify or try to access his book manuscript, the White House will block him, beginning a weeks-long court battle over executive privilege and national security. That had seemed to leave the few senators, including Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah, Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, who have expressed a desire to hear new testimony without strong backing.

Also, other Republicans including Sen. Pat Toomey want reciprocity — bring in Bolton or another Democratic witness in exchange for one from the GOP side. Some Republicans want to hear from Biden and his son, Hunter, who was on the board of a Ukrainian gas company when his father was vice president.

The Bidens were a focus of Trump defense arguments though no evidence of wrongdoing has emerged. The lawyers also delved into areas that Democrats see as outside the scope of impeachment, chastising former FBI Director James Comey and seizing on surveillance errors the FBI has acknowledged making in its Russian election interference probe.

Trump’s attorneys argued that the Founding Fathers took care to make sure that impeachment was narrowly defined, with offenses clearly enumerated.

“The bar for impeachment cannot be set this low,” Sekulow said. “Danger. Danger. Danger. These articles must be rejected. The Constitution requires it. Justice demands it.”

Before consideration of witnesses, the case now moves toward written questions, with senators on both sides getting 16 hours to pose queries. By late in the week, they are expected to hold a vote on whether or not to hear from any witnesses.

“I don’t know that the manuscript would make any difference in the outcome of the trial,” said Roy Blunt of Missouri, a member of GOP leadership. And some Republicans said they simply don’t trust Bolton’s word. Rand Paul of Kentucky called Bolton “disgruntled”’ and seeking to make money off his time at the White house.

But John Kelly, Trump’s former White House chief of staff, told an audience in Sarasota, Florida, that he believes Bolton.

White House officials privately acknowledge that they are essentially powerless to block the book’s publication, but could sue after the fact if they believe it violated the confidentiality agreement Bolton signed against disclosing classified information.

Trump is charged with abusing his presidential power by asking Ukraine’s leader to help investigate Biden at the same time his administration was withholding hundreds of millions of dollars in security aid. A second charge accuses Trump of obstructing Congress in its probe.

Trump and his lawyers have argued repeatedly that Democrats are using impeachment to try to undo the results of the last presidential election and drive Trump from office.

“What they are asking you to do is to throw out a successful president on the eve of an election, with no basis, and in violation of the Constitution,” said White House Counsel Pat Cipollone. “Why not trust the American people with this decision? Why tear up their ballots?”

Democrats, meanwhile, say Trump’s refusal to allow administration officials to testify only reinforces that the White House is hiding evidence. The White House has had Bolton’s manuscript for about a month, according to a letter from Bolton’s attorney.

No matter the vote on witnesses, acquittal still seems likely given that Republicans hold a majority in the Senate and conviction would require a two-thirds majority against Trump.

According to data compiled by C-SPAN, the House managers used just under 22 of their 24 hours over three days, while the White House team used almost 12 hours, or half their time.


Associated Press writers Alan Fram, Mary Clare Jalonick, Andrew Taylor, Matthew Daly, Laurie Kellman and Padmananda Rama contributed to this report.

Kleeb promotes rural involvement for Democrats

The rural-urban divide wouldn’t have to fall along Republican-Democratic party lines if Democrats would just show up in rural towns and listen, according to Jane Kleeb, chair of the Nebraska Democratic Party, in her new book, “Harvest the Vote.”

“Harvest the Vote” was released Jan. 21 to elevate rural people as heroes, reform the Democratic Party and regain Democratic support in rural America, Kleeb said.

Kleeb, who grew up in Florida, moved to Nebraska about 15 years ago. She is a former executive director of Young Democrats of America and has been involved in political activism for many years.

She lives in Hastings with her husband, Scott, and family and served one term on the Hastings Public Schools Board of Education. She founded Bold Nebraska, a progressive political group that advocates on issues facing Nebraskans.

Scott Kleeb was the unsuccessful Democratic nominee for the 3rd District seat in the U.S. House of Representatives in 2006 and for the U.S. Senate in 2008.

Historically, the Democratic Party stood with rural voters, Kleeb wrote in the book, citing the Rural Electrification Act and the Shelterbelt Project in the 1930s. In more recent years, the party has shifted its focus toward large cities and coastal areas and away from “red” (where Republicans dominate) and rural areas.

“We have structural issues in the Democratic Party,” Kleeb said in an interview. ‘We continue to invest in this old model of coastal states and swing states rather than going where we have lost ground.”

Kleeb said the Democratic Party should return attention to rural Americans by investing time and financial resources in supporting Democratic candidates. The easiest way to do that, she said: Show up, listen, and find common ground.

“The muscles we had in rural America have long since atrophied. But it doesn’t need to be this way. We can win again. We just need to listen and find the common ground,” Kleeb wrote in the book.

Kleeb relies heavily on stories of Democratic-affiliated groups and rural Americans who found common ground in several “David versus Goliath battles,” where large corporations have pressed issues that would affect rural


“We all do better when we all do better. It’s like the fundamental bedrock of the Democratic Party,” Kleeb said in an interview.

The most prominent example in the book is the Keystone and Keystone XL Pipeline, which she frames as a big corporation harming the livelihoods of farmers and ranchers. Kleeb worked with farmers and ranchers during talks about the pipeline.

In her book, Kleeb focuses on a diverse group of farmers, ranchers, Native Americans and environmentalists who worked together in the effort to stop the Keystone Pipeline.

Randy Thompson, a cattleman from Martell and one of the people to whom the book is dedicated, is an example of a Republican who became an independent after the Keystone Pipeline controversy. Thompson became the face of the Stand with Randy campaign, and Kleeb exemplifies him as a rural American who bridged the gap between environmentalists and stewards of the land.

“The organizers believe climate change,” Kleeb wrote. “But that’s not the lead message. People are literally here to protect their livelihoods because this pipeline could destroy the family farm.”

Kleeb said that without people like Thompson environmentalist groups aligned with the Democratic Party would not have been as successful with their efforts.

“If they (environmentalist groups) would have fought that in the halls of Congress, they would have lost,” Kleeb said. “Nobody believed that the farmers and rancher and tribe would be the heroes in that story.”

In addition to talking about her experiences with the Keystone Pipeline, Kleeb proposes that the Democratic Party stand with rural America on issues like ending eminent domain for private companies or leveling the agricultural playing field. Mental health and declining rural hospitals also are featured prominently in the book.

Kleeb also suggests reforms in the party, focusing on rejecting rural stereotypes and investing money into grassroots campaigns or local Democratic leadership.

“I really wanted to break open people’s preconceived notions of how Democrats can talk about those issues in rural America,” Kleeb said.

But her key recommendation to the Democratic Party is be present and listen to rural problems, then work on rural-focused solutions. Kleeb wrote that rural areas should be involved in solutions to climate change, like using biofuels that produce less greenhouse gases or planting cover crops to reduce erosion and serve as a carbon sink — examples of environmentally conscious actions farms and ranchers already take.

“The Democratic Party needs rural voters because they are part of the American fabric; they can contribute ideas and solutions that will help us confront the many issues facing our country today,” she wrote.

Kleeb will make an appearance at the Hastings Public Library, 314 N. Denver Ave., at 5:30 p.m. Thursday as part of a tour promoting the new book.