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Council appoints development services director

The city of Hastings’ new development services director didn’t have far to come for the job.

Members of the Hastings City Council voted 7-0 during their regular meeting Monday to appoint Lisa Parnell-Rowe to the position. Councilman Paul Hamelink was absent.

Parnell-Rowe will start with the city on Feb. 10.

Parnell-Rowe has lived in Hastings since 2016 to be closer to her parents and work at Royal Engineered Composites in Minden where she was contracts administrator.

“Who would’ve thought we’d have found someone right under our nose; it’s wonderful in terms of that,” City Administrator Dave Ptak said in an interview Monday afternoon. “She checks all the boxes as far as what we were hoping for. I’m excited to give her a chance to spread her wings and see what she can do.”

Parnell-Rowe grew up in Hastings and is a 1991 graduate of Hastings High School.

Her father owned and ran C.L. Wimer Construction in Hastings from the 1970s to late 1990s.

“He was known for being a quality carpenter, and I’m very proud of my dad,” she said in an interview after the meeting. “He has done a lot of things in the city of Hastings.”

She said it means a lot to now help shape development in her hometown.

“I really believe if you listen to the public they give you a sense of what needs to happen,” she said. “They are the driving force. We are doing this for them. Coming back and doing that and doing that in my hometown, it’s really like the cherry on top for me. It’s going to be challenging, obviously, but I’m up for a challenge, and I enjoy Hastings. I want to see it become its full potential and what everyone wants it to become, not just one group but collectively.”

She succeeds Don Threewitt, who was the city’s development services director from April 2017 until Dec. 20, 2019, when he left to become planning manager for Larimer County in Colorado with an office in Fort Collins and satellite office in Estes Park and be closer to family.

Parnell-Rowe has a diverse background in both the public and private sector.

Before Royal, she worked two years as city administrator/clerk/treasurer for the city of Creighton, Nebraska.

Before Creighton, she worked as a planning administrative assistant and then city planner for the city of Woodland Park, Colorado.

“So she’s got the background,” Ptak said.

She also was in the aeronautics industry previously, in Colorado, doing contract administration.

Through all of her professional stops, Parnell-Rowe developed a love for a specific aspect of public service.

“What I have loved the most that I’ve done in the past is city planning,” she told the council.

Ptak said the city received six applications for the development services director position and interviewed three people.

“She was head and shoulders the best candidate we talked to,” he said. “We didn’t know what we might get because we didn’t have a lot of applicants when Don was hired, but it only takes one good one. That’s what we were hoping for, and that’s what we found.”

Parnell-Rowe will start step 1 on the city’s eight-step salary schedule with an annual salary of $76,177.92.

She lives in Hastings with her husband Dale Rowe, daughter Summer Parnell and stepson Greyson Rowe.

Mayor Corey Stutte was confident Parnell-Rowe will fill her role with the city well.

“You always want to appoint the most qualified person to any role in any position and I know we’ve done this with Lisa,” he said. “Don took us a long way but I’m confident Lisa will take us even further.”

In other business, the council:

Voted 6-0 to approve Ordinance No. 4622, amending the zoning district map to rezone Hoagland Second Subdivision from agricultural to single-family large lot residential for Hoagland Second Subdivision. Councilman Scott Snell recused himself because he is a real estate agent participating in the property sale. Council members also unanimously suspended the requirement to read an ordinance three times for passage.

Unanimously approved Ordinance No. 4623, amending the zoning district map to rezone from single-family residential to multiple-family residential for the property at 509 S. Bellevue Ave. Council members also unanimously suspended the requirement to read an ordinance three times for passage.

Voted 6-0 to approve the final plat for Hoagland Second Subdivision. Snell recused himself.

Unanimously approved moving the Feb. 24 Hastings City Council meeting to Tuesday Feb. 25 to accommodate the annual Nebraska League of Municipalities conference.

Unanimously approved the Hastings Universal Mobility Study final report.

Unanimously approved Ordinance No. 4624, correcting the description of the alley vacated by Ordinance 4614 — the North-South alley between 16th Street and 17th Street, located in Block 2, Dawes and Foss First and Second Addition. Council members also unanimously suspended the requirement to read an ordinance three times for passage.

Unanimously approved a resolution awarding the $2.7 million contract to Werner Construction of Hastings — the lowest of two bids — for street improvement district 2019-3, street improvement district 2019-4, sewer extension district 2019-1, water extension district 2019-1 and site grading improvements at the Trail Ridge Addition in North Park Commons.


Hastings High alum breaking ground as Wyoming’s first chief data officer

When Drew Dilly looks at a data set or spreadsheet, he isn’t trying to solve a problem; he is looking to find an answer.

“I feel you make the best decisions you can with the information you have at the time. But I started to realize that isn’t how other people make their decisions. I was puzzled by decisions of others when the data so clearly pointed a different direction,” Dilly said. “The data already have the answers.”

Dilly, a Hastings High School graduate and onetime Tiger student-athlete, became Wyoming’s first Chief Data Officer Oct. 1, 2019, joining the Department of Enterprise Services as part of their information technology team.

Dilly, 49, grew up in Hastings, attending Alcott Elementary and participating in football, swimming, and as a thrower in track and field. He graduated from HHS in 1989 and went to to Colorado State University to study computer science.

Now, he oversees Wyoming’s large sets of data, including its over half-a-million residents’ addresses, driver licenses or anything someone shares with the state.

But Dilly isn’t focused on each individual’s information, he said. Instead, his job is to organize the data so that it can be used between different agencies.

“When agencies want to share data with another state agency, I help them do that,” Dilly said.

Dilly said that when a resident applies for a driver’s license, he or she must provide name, address, date of birth, etc. The same resident then can get a hunting license and must provide the same information. Dilly said this is inefficient and frustrating for a citizen in any state.

“The citizen of Wyoming doesn’t care that these are two separate agencies. All they know is the state already has this data, why do I have to provide it again?” Dilly said. “And I think that’s a valid point.”

While sharing data seems easily remedied with an email, Dilly said, it is more complicated in the public realm than in a business realm. Regulations like data protection and data privacy have to be followed to make sure the information stays protected, is stored efficiently and doesn’t get destroyed. Agencies also can’t share some information, and an email isn’t automatic.

“Agencies don’t want to end up on another page of this newspaper discussing a data violation, so they become hypersensitive to sharing it,” he said.

Because of its strong relation to data privacy, Dilly also is responsible for ensuring the government’s data policies are carried out, that data is protected and accurate, and that it is shared appropriately.

Dilly’s job role is a first for Wyoming. Data officer has been a position in the business world for over 15 years, Dilly said, but a relatively recent addition in government. About half the states have a data officer.

While Dilly works to make data organization and sharing easier in the public sector, he said people should be careful who they share their data with in the private sector. Disclosing information to social media websites or subscribing to services without reading data usage policies have made people care less about protecting personally identifiable information.

“Yesterday, data supported the product. Today, data is the product,” he said. “Companies like Google have monetized data, and the product is you.”

Dilly works with citizens data, geographic information system and systems inventory data. He said data from agencies that conduct criminal investigations or homeland security have a different classification and can’t be shared with anyone.

Dilly said he hopes to eventually create a centralized and authoritative data source for different government agencies. He hopes doing so will make Wyoming’s residents’ lives easier.

“With two different data sources, they will inevitably disagree with each other,” Dilly said. “Data has a way of doing that.”

Before Dilly took the chief data officer position, he worked for Data Transmission Network in Omaha and the Wyoming Department of Education’s director of technology.


GOP defends Trump as Bolton book adds pressure for witnesses

WASHINGTON — Senators faced mounting pressure Monday to summon John Bolton to testify at President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial even as Trump’s lawyers mostly brushed past extraordinary new allegations from the former national security adviser and focused instead on corruption in Ukraine and historical arguments for acquittal.

Outside the Senate chamber, Republicans grappled with claims in a forthcoming book from Bolton that Trump had wanted to withhold military aid from Ukraine until it helped with investigations into Democratic rival Joe Biden. That assertion could undercut a key defense argument — that Trump never tied the suspension of security aid to political investigations.

The revelation clouded White House hopes for a swift end to the impeachment trial, fueling Democratic demands for witnesses and possibly pushing more Republican lawmakers to agree. It also distracted from hours of arguments from Trump’s lawyers, who declared anew that no witness has testified to direct knowledge that Trump’s delivery of aid was contingent on investigations into Democrats. Bolton appeared poised to say exactly that if called on by the Senate to appear.

“We deal with transcript evidence, we deal with publicly available information,” Trump attorney Jay Sekulow said. “We do not deal with speculation.”

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.

Republicans are to conclude their arguments Tuesday.

On Monday, Trump’s attorneys, including high-profile lawyers Ken Starr and Alan Dershowitz, launched a historical, legal and political attack on the entire impeachment process. They said there was no basis to remove Trump from office, defended his actions as appropriate and assailed Biden, who is campaigning for the Democratic nomination to oppose Trump in November..

Former Florida Attorney Ggeneral Pam Bondi devoted her presentation to Biden and his son, Hunter, who served on the board of a Ukraine gas company at the same time his father was leading the Obama administration’s diplomatic dealings with Kyiv. The legal team argued that Trump had legitimate reasons to be suspicious of the younger Biden’s business dealings and concerned about corruption in Ukraine and that, in any event, he ultimately released the aid without Ukraine committing to investigations the president wanted.

Democrats say Trump released the money only after a whistleblower submitted a complaint about the situation.

Trump has sought, without providing evidence, to implicate the Bidens in the kind of corruption that has long plagued Ukraine. Though anti-corruption advocates have raised concerns, there has been no evidence of wrongdoing by either the former vice president or his son.

Starr, whose independent counsel investigation into President Bill Clinton resulted in his impeachment — he was acquitted by the Senate — bemoaned what he said was an “age of impeachment.” Impeachment, he said, requires an actual crime and a “genuine national consensus” that the president must go. Neither exists here, Starr said.

“It’s filled with acrimony and it divides the country like nothing else,” Starr said of impeachment. “Those of us who lived through the Clinton impeachment understand that in a deep and personal way.”

Dershowitz, the final speaker of the evening, argued that impeachable offenses require criminal-like conduct, though that view is largely rejected by legal scholars. He said “nothing in the Bolton revelations, even if true, would rise to the level of an abuse of power or an impeachable offense.”

“Purely non-criminal conduct, including abuse of power and obstruction of Congress, are outside the range of impeachable offenses,” Dershowitz said.

Elizabeth Warren, a presidential campaigner like Biden but also a Senate juror, told reporters she found Dershowitz’s arguments “nonsensical.”

Even as defense lawyers laid out their case as planned, it was clear Bolton’s book had scrambled the debate over whether to seek witnesses. Bolton writes that Trump told him he wanted to withhold security aid from Ukraine until it helped with investigations. Trump’s legal team has insisted otherwise, and Trump tweeted Monday that he never told Bolton such a thing.

“I NEVER told John Bolton that the aid to Ukraine was tied to investigations into Democrats, including the Bidens,” Trump said. “If John Bolton said this, it was only to sell a book.”

Republican senators face a pivotal moment. Pressure is mounting for at least four to buck GOP leaders and form a bipartisan majority to force the issue. Republicans hold a 53-47 majority.

“John Bolton’s relevance to our decision has become increasingly clear,” GOP Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah told reporters. Sen. Susan Collins of Maine said she has always wanted “the opportunity for witnesses” and the report about Bolton’s book “strengthens the case.”

At a private GOP lunch, Romney made the case for calling Bolton, according to a person unauthorized to discuss the meeting and granted anonymity.

Other Republicans, including Sen. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, said if Trump’s former national security adviser is called, they will demand reciprocity to hear from at least one of their witnesses. Some Republicans want to call the Bidens.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell appeared unmoved by news of the Bolton book. His message at the lunch, said Indiana GOP Sen. Mike Braun, was, “Take a deep breath, and let’s take one step at a time.”

Once the president’s team wraps its arguments, senators have 16 hours for questions to both sides. By late in the week, they are expected to hold a vote on whether or not to hear from any witnesses.

While Democrats say Bolton’s revelations are reminiscent of the Watergate drip of new information, Republicans are counting on concerns subsiding by the time senators are asked to vote. They are being told that if there is agreement to summon Bolton, the White House will resist, claiming executive privilege.

That would launch a weeks-long court battle that could drag out the impeachment trial, a scenario some GOP senators would rather avoid.

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.

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.

Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer said: “We’re all staring a White House cover-up in the face.”

Rep. Adam Schiff, who leads the House prosecution team, called Bolton’s account a test for the senators.

“I don’t know how you can explain that you wanted a search for the truth in this trial and say you don’t want to hear from a witness who had a direct conversation about the central allegation in the articles of impeachment,” Schiff said on CNN.

Bolton’s account was first reported by The New York Times and was confirmed to The Associated Press by a person familiar with the manuscript on the condition of anonymity. “The Room Where It Happened; A White House Memoir” is to be released March 17.

Joe Biden, campaigning in Iowa, said he sees no reason for testimony by him or his son.

“I have nothing to defend. This is all a game, even if they bring me up,” he told reporters. “What is there to defend? This is all — the reason he’s being impeached is because he tried to get a government to smear me and they wouldn’t. Come on.”

Trump said people could look at transcripts of his call with Ukrainian President Zelinskiy to see there was no pressure for investigations to get the aid. In that call, Trump asked Zelinskiy to “do us a favor” with the investigations as he was withholding nearly $400 million in military aid to the U.S. ally at war with Russia.

Democrats argued their side of the impeachment case last week, warning that Trump will persist in abusing his power and endangering American democracy unless Congress intervenes to remove him before the 2020 election.

Eventual acquittal is likely in a Senate where a two-thirds majority vote would be needed for conviction

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


Bryant helicopter tried to climb out of fog before crash

CALABASAS, Calif. — The pilot of the helicopter that crashed near Los Angeles, killing former NBA superstar Kobe Bryant and eight others, told air traffic controllers in his last radio message that he was climbing to avoid a cloud layer before plunging more than 1,000 feet into a hillside, an accident investigator said.

Radar indicated the helicopter reached a height of 2,300 feet Sunday morning before descending, and the wreckage was found at 1,085 feet, Jennifer Homendy of the National Transportation Safety Board said during a news conference Monday afternoon.

NTSB investigators went to the crash site in Calabasas on Monday to collect evidence.

“The debris field is pretty extensive,” Homendy said.

“A piece of the tail is down the hill,” she said. “The fuselage is on the other side of that hill. And then the main rotor is about 100 yards beyond that.”

Some experts suggested that the pilot might have gotten disoriented because of fog but Homendy said investigating teams would look at everything from the pilot’s history to the engines.

“We look at man, machine and the environment,” she said. “And weather is just a small portion of that.”

The pilot had asked for and received special clearance to fly in heavy fog just minutes before the crash and was flying at 1,400 feet when he went south and then west, Homendy said.

The pilot then asked for air traffic controllers to provide “flight following” radar assistance but was told the craft was too low for that assistance, Homendy said.

About four minutes later, “the pilot advised they were climbing to avoid a cloud layer,” she said. “When ATC asked what the pilot planned to do, there was no reply. Radar data indicates the helicopter climbed to 2,300 feet and then began a left descending turn. Last radar contact was around 9:45 a.m.”

Two minutes later, someone on the ground called 911 to report the crash.

Randy Waldman, a helicopter flight instructor who teaches at the nearby Van Nuys airport, said a disoriented pilot might have only moments to avoid a fatal dive.

“If you’re flying visually, if you get caught in a situation where you can’t see out the windshield, the life expectancy of the pilot and the aircraft is maybe 10, 15 seconds, and it happens all the time, and it’s really a shame,” Waldman said.

Some experts raised questions of whether the helicopter should have even been flying. The weather was so foggy that the Los Angeles Police Department and the county sheriff’s department had grounded their own choppers.

The Sikorsky S-76 killed the retired athlete along with his 13-year-old daughter Gianna and everyone else aboard and scattering debris over an area the size of a football field.

Crews recovered three bodies on Sunday and resumed the effort on Monday amid an outpouring of grief and shock around the world over the loss of the basketball great who helped lead the Los Angeles Lakers to five NBA titles during his dazzling 20-year career.

The pilot was identified as Ara Zobayan. He was the chief pilot for Island Express Helicopters, the aircraft’s owner, the company said in a statement.

“Ara has been with the company for over 10 years and has over 8,000 flight hours,” the company said, adding that it was working closely with the NTSB to investigate the crash.

Zobayan was commercially certified as a pilot and certified as a flight instructor, Homendy said.

Several aviation experts said it is not uncommon for helicopter pilots to be given such permission, though some thought it unusual that it would be granted in airspace as busy as that over Los Angeles.

But Kurt Deetz, who flew for Bryant dozens of times in the same chopper that went down, said permission is often granted in the area.

“It happened all the time in the winter months in LA,” Deetz said. “You get fog.”

The helicopter left Santa Ana in Orange County, south of Los Angeles, shortly after 9 a.m., heading north and then west. Bryant was believed to be headed for his youth sports academy in nearby Thousand Oaks, which was holding a basketball tournament Sunday in which Bryant’s daughter, known as Gigi, was competing.

Air traffic controllers noted poor visibility around Burbank to the north and Van Nuys to the northwest. At one point, the controllers instructed the chopper to circle because of other planes in the area before proceeding.

The aircraft crashed about 30 miles northwest of downtown Los Angeles. When it struck the ground, it was flying at about 184 mph and descending at a rate of more than 4,000 feet per minute, according to data from Flightradar24.

Waldman said the same thing happened to John F. Kennedy Jr. when his plane dropped out of the sky near Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts, in 1999.

“A lot of times somebody who’s doing it for a living is pressured to get their client to where they have to go,” Waldman said. “They take chances that maybe they shouldn’t take.”

Bryant had been known since his playing days for taking helicopters instead of braving the notoriously snarled Los Angeles traffic. “I’m not going into LA without the Mamba chopper,” he joked on “Jimmy Kimmel Live” in 2018, referring to his own nickname, Black Mamba.

David Hoeppner, an expert on helicopter design, said he won’t fly on helicopters.

“Part of it is the way they certify and design these things,” said Hoeppner, a retired engineering professor at the University of Utah. “But the other part is helicopter pilots often fly in conditions where they shouldn’t be flying.”

Jerry Kidrick, a retired Army colonel who flew helicopters in Iraq and now teaches at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Prescott, Arizona, said the helicopter’s rapid climb and fast descent suggest the pilot was disoriented.

When that happens, he said, pilots must instantly switch from visual cues to flying the aircraft using only the machine’s instruments.

“It’s one of the most dangerous conditions you can be in,” Kidrick said. “Oftentimes, your body is telling you something different than what the instruments are telling you. You can feel like you’re leaning to the left or the right when you’re not. If the pilot isn’t trained well enough to believe the instruments, you get in a panic situation.”

On Sunday, firefighters hiked in with medical equipment and hoses, and medical personnel rappelled to the site from a helicopter. About 20 investigators were on the site early Monday. The Los Angeles County medical examiner, Dr. Jonathan Lucas, said it could take at least a couple of days to to recover the remains.

Among those killed in the crash were John Altobelli, 56, longtime head coach of Southern California’s Orange Coast College baseball team; his wife, Keri; and daughter, Alyssa, who played on the same basketball team as Bryant’s daughter; and Christina Mauser, a girls’ basketball coach at a Southern California elementary school.

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Condon reported from New York and Koenig from Dallas. Associated Press writer Brian Melley also contributed to this story.