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Messiah sing-along invites community spirit

What do you get when you bring together singers of various abilities to perform beloved and highly technical sacred music without rehearsal?

Hastings Symphony Orchestra conductor Byron Jensen isn’t sure, to be honest. But regardless of how the first “Messiah” Sing-Along hosted by Hastings Symphony Orchestra sounds, Jensen is sure it will be a joyful noise to all present, both performers and audience members alike.

“There’s a pretty strong tradition of singing ‘Messiah’ around here, and I figured it would be a good time to try it here,” Jensen said of the performance, which is slated for 2 p.m. Sunday at Hastings Masonic Center Auditorium, 411 N. Hastings Ave. The production is open to anyone possessing a vocal score of the oratorio and a heart for Handel’s most beloved work.

Jensen said he hopes singers who have always wanted to tackle the Christmas-themed portions of “Messiah” but were either too busy or shy to participate in the college’s regularly visited production will see the performance as an opportunity to finally be heard.

“I expect there are lots of singers out there who have always wanted to sing the arias but never had the chance,” he said. “Now’s the chance. Most people who are familiar with this music have performed it several times in the past, so it’s pretty familiar to scores and scores of people.

“There is no pretense in making this a polished performance. At 2 p.m, we’ll begin the downbeat for the Overture and we’re going to start singing. What this music does is bring us closer as a community. It makes us understand there is somebody/something out there much larger than we are, and it’s a lovely idea to think there’s a guiding spirit and music we can sing that helps bring this all to life for us.”

There is no charge for the event, but participants and attendees are asked to make a free-will donation to help defray costs associated with the production, Jensen said.

While he has sung and conducted many a performance of “Messiah,” Jansen said he has never tackled a project quite like this one. Just how it may turn out is anyone’s guess, he said. That said, he is hoping the event is well received and becomes part of HSO’s annual tradition going forward.

“It’s a little scary going into it without any kind of rehearsals,” he said. “I expect there’s probably going to be a few laughs here and there and who knows? There could be a total breakdown. If that’s the case, we’ll stop and pick it up where we left off and keep going.

“I think it’s going to be exhilarating. For the singers, it’s going to be exhilarating to be delving into this great masterwork and lifting their voices to something that means a lot to so many of us.”

Too many drivers not stopping for school buses

After hearing concerns from school bus drivers, Hastings Public Schools once again is asking drivers to obey the law by observing buses’ outstretched stop sign arms.

David Essink, HPS director of human resources and operations, said he has gotten reports about motorists putting the safety of students at risk by disregarding the stop sign arm of a school bus.

Essink said the majority of people ignoring the stop sign usually are going in the opposite direction of a school bus, which in most cases is just as illegal as passing that same school bus from behind on the left.

For example, if a bus stops on Burlington Avenue, drivers going both north and south are required to stop.

“The people in the far lanes, pretty much nobody is stopping. But there are also people riding on their (bus driver’s) own side, going around the stop sign, which they feel is the more dangerous part,” Essink said.

Essink said one bus driver counted 200 cars ignoring the bus stop sign in one day.

Driving around a stopped school bus that is loading or unloading is a safety risk, because drivers cannot see around the bus easily and children may run into the street suddenly.

“Once a student leaves that bus, or even before they’re going to get on, you don’t know for sure what they are going to do,” Essink said. “They might run somewhere, they might dart out.”

Nebraska law requires drivers going the same direction as the school bus to stop when red lights flash and the arm with the stop sign is extended, regardless of the number of lanes, said Hastings Police Department Capt. Mike Doremus.

Drivers going the opposite direction of the school bus also are required to stop if there is a painted median or no median. If a raised median divides the roadway, drivers are not required to stop.

“The law is pretty easy to understand,” Doremus said. “I don’t think it’s necessarily people that are intentionally doing it. Some just aren’t as well informed or they see somebody else doing it.”

State law does not set a distance to stop away from the bus, but Doremus recommends at least a car length either behind or in front of the bus.

Drivers also must be cautious and slow down to at least 25 mph when yellow lights flash, regardless of the direction of travel.

In addition to putting students at risk, not stopping for a school bus can be a $500 fine, with additional court costs. Doremus said authorities would rather educate the driver with a warning than issue a citation.

“If its a blatant violation and they can benefit more from a citation, they might get a citation. The goal is to educate more than punish or fine,” Doremus said. “These days, if one person gets a $500 fine, a lot of people are going to know about it.”

Just over 100 students use the 13 school buses available at Hastings Public Schools. The majority of those students are preschoolers ages 3 and 4. Other students using the school buses are special-needs students, or students riding to and from activities.

Doremus said the police department started a campaign about two years ago to remind people about stopping for the school buses. For about two weeks, officers were assigned to follow school buses and issue warnings or citations.

Some school districts in the United States have begun to put cameras on the stop sign arm to record violations. Hastings Public Schools does not do this, but a local district has a camera for monitoring children on the school bus that can be turned to record people ignoring stop signs on school buses.

Democrats move toward impeachment, with scant grumbling

WASHINGTON — House Democrats are charging toward impeaching President Donald Trump but not without pockets of division, as lawmakers who began the summer divided largely rallied Thursday behind Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s cry that his actions leave them “no choice but to act.”

The California Democrat’s announcement that she was asking committee chairs to begin crafting articles of impeachment hardly staunched grumbling that the effort was risky for swing district lawmakers whose 2018 victories gave the party House control. But the strong consensus among Democrats was that the time had come to plunge forward.

“’There’s certainly some anxiety among the more vulnerable members about how this cuts, but a broad acceptance that this moment has found us,” said Rep. Jared Huffman, D-Calif. “It’s not something we could avoid.”

Oregon Rep. Kurt Schrader, one of Congress’ more moderate Democrats, said testimony at last month’s impeachment hearings left it clear that impeachment was the proper move. He said waiting would accomplish nothing because each side’s positions have only hardened in recent weeks.

“Back home they’re tired of this,” said Schrader, who voted against Pelosi’s becoming speaker in January but praised her handling of impeachment. “They want us to move on.”

That’s not to say there weren’t dissidents.

Freshman Democratic Rep. Jeff Van Drew, an impeachment skeptic all year, said he remained opposed to the effort unless new evidence emerged. He said that should the Democratic-led House vote to impeach Trump — effectively charge him with offenses, which seems all but certain — the Republican-controlled Senate will refuse to oust him from office. That would let Trump claim vindication and result in “tearing the country apart,” said Van Drew, a freshman whose southern New Jersey district narrowly favored Trump in 2016.

“People are going to be angry at each other. I mean constituents,” said Van Drew, who is one of his party’s more endangered lawmakers in next November’s elections.

Also keeping his distance was Rep. Max Rose, D-N.Y., another freshman whose Staten Island-centered district backed Trump in 2016 and who won his own seat by a thin margin” last year.

‘’I’m uncomfortable until I see the articles” of impeachment, said Rose, referring to the formal charges that House Democrats will craft in coming days. “That’s the most important things. When you can see the articles, that’s when one can entertain whether one’s comfortable or not.”

Republicans were already playing offense on an issue their leaders say will help them gain congressional seats in next November’s voting.

Trump 2020 presidential campaign manager Brad Pascale tweeted what he said was internal GOP polling data showing that the impeachment drive was hurting the reelection prospects of freshman Rep. Kendra Horn, D-Okla., who won a seat in that deeply red seat last year.

‘’Say goodbye to your majority, Nancy!’” he tweeted, promising he’d release figures on other vulnerable candidates soon.

And the American Action Network, a big-spending GOP group that aids House Republicans, added Rep. Susie Lee, D-Nev., on Thursday to the nearly 40 House districts where it’s run $7 million worth of impeachment-themed TV or digital ads. The announcer says Lee should abandon the impeachment drive “and get to work on the issues that matter.”

Rep. Ami Bera, D-Calif., a leader of House Democrats’ efforts to protect vulnerable lawmakers, said that wouldn’t stop them from backing impeachment. Most of the more than 40 so-called “Frontline” members are freshmen from closely divided districts.

‘’I suspect the vast majority of folks” will support impeachment, Bera said, “’and then they’ll have to articulate that in the best way possible for that particular district.” He said party leaders are urging lawmakers to emphasize “helping our constituents, doing things back home” like getting “grant funding for this off-ramp or this project.”’

In a brief morning address to television cameras, Pelosi said Trump “abused his power for his own personal, political benefit at the expense of our national security.” She cited Trump’s pressuring Ukraine to seek dirt on his Democratic political rivals while he withheld military aid and a White House meeting sought by that country’s new president.

In a later news conference, Pelosi said a whisteblower’s late summer revelation of a threatening phone call Trump made to the Ukrainian leader was “the aha moment for the country.” Until then, special counsel Robert Mueller’s revelations about Russia’s attempts to help Trump win the 2016 election had left Democrats divided but ultimately deciding against using those findings to seek impeachment.

‘There is an urgency with Ukraine,” said Rep. Veronica Escobar. ‘’We have elections coming up just next year.”

Even so, Escobar said some of her fellow freshmen from Trump-won districts were worried that Democrats’ impeachment articles would be too broad and include Mueller’s Russia findings, alienating some voters. Other Democrats from deeply blue areas were concerned about a “missed opportunity” by keeping the allegations too narrow, angering liberal constituents.

Another worry, according to freshman Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, D-Fla., is that voters “haven’t really paid attention to all of the work” Democrats have done on bills addressing health care and other concerns because of “the loud microphone that the president has.”

Still, she said, “We have to move ahead.”


AP reporters Jill Colvin and Matthew Daly contributed.

Routes, options discussed for Tri-City bus service

Options for the proposed bus service that would connect the Tri-Cities include an intercity flex route that travels through each city or a demand response zone with optional curbside pickup by shuttles that takes the rider to one of just a few bus stops.

Representatives from the Nebraska Department of Transportation’s Mobility Management Project discussed those options during three presentations on Thursday at the Adams County Fairgrounds. The Mobility Management team was in Kearney on Wednesday and will be in Grand Island on Friday with similar presentations.

Presentations this week took into account feedback the Mobility Management team received at visits to the three cities in September.

More than 300 people completed a survey in September and October about a possible intercity bus service. Representatives from 100 Tri-City employers also took a similar survey.

Corinne Donahue, senior transportation planner for engineering firm Olsson who facilitated the discussion Thursday at the Adams County Fairgrounds, said more than 65% of survey participants responded they would use public transportation.

Reliability was the most desired feature.

“We heard loud and clear the riders wanted a guaranteed connection,” Donahue said. “If I go to Grand Island, if I go to Hastings or if I go to Kearney don’t leave me there.”

About half of the businesses that participated in the survey responded they may be willing to support employees who use public transit through options such as flexible shift hours or providing a bus pass.

Other desired features included in the survey responses were wi-fi and charging units, convenient schedules and affordable fares.

Mobility Management would work with existing transit services such as RYDE Transit in Hastings and Kearney, CRANE Public Transit in Grand Island and Navigator Motorcoaches, which connects the Tri-Cities to other parts of the state.

“Our goal is to not duplicate that service,” Donahue said. “We want to coordinate with them however we can.”

Lucinda Wall of Hastings was in attendance at Thursday’s meeting. She said she uses RYDE and CRANE transit services within Hastings and Grand Island, but would like to see an inexpensive public transportation option between the cities as well as to Kearney.

“The people who don’t live in Kearney, they need a way to get to the VA that isn’t driving,” she said. “It’s just a long trip in the winter.”

The Mobility Management team is using similar, successful intercity bus programs in Wisconsin and Colorado as models.

The Scenic Mississippi Regional Transit service in the La Crosse, Wisconsin, area has a $3 one-way fare. Bustang Outrider is a statewide service in Colorado with fares that range from $2 to $30 depending on the distance.

Proposed stops in Hastings for the flex route include Central Community College, Elm Avenue and South Street, the Amtrak station, Baltimore Avenue and Second Street, Seventh Street and Baltimore Avenue, Hastings College (on demand) and Walmart.

Proposed stops in Hastings for the more centralized demand response zone route include Burlington and West D Street, Amtrak and Walmart.

Proposed service frequency included a base level with six round trips between Hastings and Grand Island with a stop in Doniphan, one departing every two hours; and an enhanced level with eight round trips and service for more hours of the day.

The Hastings and Kearney route has fewer round trips in Hastings — three for the base level and four for the enhanced level — and is planned to stop at smaller communities along U.S. Highway 6 and Nebraska Highway 10.

Kearney and Grand Island would connect along U.S. Highway 30 with stops at smaller communities along the way; and would have an express route along Interstate 80.

The first round trip is scheduled to start at 5:30 a.m. with the last arrival at 9:15 p.m.

There was some concern expressed Thursday about needing later hours for shift workers.

Initial routes also are only scheduled for Monday through Friday.

Mobility Management team members said they will strive to make the service work for riders.

The flex route option with more stops would be more expensive than the demand response zone option with curbside shuttle service.

Proposed annual operating costs range from $1,441,700 for the basic demand response zone option to $2,086,933 for the enhanced flex route option.

“Our job is to make sure we’re real with the cost,” Donahue said.

The operating costs would be offset by fare revenue.

There is also outside funding available.

Nebraska receives federal intercity bus funds. The state also has funds specifically earmarked for intercity bus service.

Kari Ruse, Nebraska Department of Transportation transit manager, said if fairs could offset operating costs for the enhanced demand response zone option from $1.788 to $1 million, Mobility Management already has in hand $500,000 in federal dollars to help cover the cost of the operating deficit.

Leah Wagoner, who lives in Grand Island and works in the sustainability department at the Central Community College-Hastings campus, was among those in attendance Thursday and was enthusiastic about the potential of a Tri-City bus service both for herself as well as for CCC students.

“I do often hear about students who struggle to get to class because of being able to get in the car and get there whether it be weather or just not even having the service of having your own vehicle,” she said. “If our students were able to have a bus service I see them being able to get to class, which would get them their degrees and have more success. I can see so many people being able to use this it’s just incredible.”

The Mobility Management team is scheduled to return to the Tri-Cities in March with preferred routes. Team members are also working with local stakeholders such as employers and educational institutions to help provide local matches.

The Tri-City bus service could be in operation by the end of 2021.