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Meal-packing volunteers have a 'day on' for MLK

Jim Krebsbach, logistics manager for Hearts and Hands against Hunger of Hastings, rarely stopped moving Monday morning as he replenished supplies during a meal-packing event at the First Presbyterian Church PEACE Center.

The packing of meals — a nutritious rice-soy casserole that contains 21 essential vitamins and minerals, dehydrated vegetables, chicken flavoring, rice and soy protein — was scheduled in conjunction with Martin Luther King Jr. Day. This was the third year volunteers had a “day on” instead of a day off on the holiday helping with a Hearts and Hands against Hunger of Hastings meal-packing event.

“I think we started with 30 or 40 people at the most (two years ago), and we’re well over 80 people today, and 11 different organizations represented by those people working on the lines,” Krebsbach said. “I think the response has been very good. People have bought into the service aspect with Martin Luther King.”

Hearts and Hands against Hunger of Hastings is run by Hastings Noon Kiwanis.

The YWCA of Adams County helped plan Monday’s event.

“We want to make sure people are giving back to the community on a daily basis, but especially when they aren’t working we want to make sure they are having a day on versus a day off,” YWCA Executive Director Laura Stutte said.

She was pouring rice into meal bags at a table where she was joined by Anne Cannon, director of the Hastings Literacy Program; Sonia Klouse, assistant director of the YWCA of Adams County; and Kim Wilder, who works with the Adams County Veterans Office Service.

“It’s just a win-win,” said Cannon as she poured soy protein. “We’re doing something good for other people; you’re visiting with your friends from other service agencies.”

Wilder, who was pouring dehydrated vegetables, said volunteers also were counting their blessings to be living in the United States of America.

Some of the packaged meals stay in the United States, but most of the food is shipped to other countries. Meals packed in 2019 were shipped to more than 20 countries.

aroh / Amy Roh/Tribune  

Melodee Spady, 9, catches a meal packet tossed to her by Ashley Fitzgerald (right) while they volunteer at Hearts and Hands Against Hunger Monday in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

According to Hearts and Hands against Hunger of Hastings, meals packaged Monday probably will go to Haiti or the Philippines, but could go to countries in Africa, Asia or Central America. The food is shipped by Orphan Grain Train of Norfolk to designated locations in these countries.

“Our goal is to feed hungry children around the world,” Krebsbach said. “Today will be somewhere between 20,000 and 25,000 meals. That’s that many less starving children. It does make a difference. (Volunteers) all seem to be very engaged and enjoying themselves. That’s a plus, too.”

Organizations represented Monday include Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd, Good Samaritan Society-Hastings Village, Hastings Literacy Program, Daughters of the American Revolution, Hastings Utilities, Roman L. Hruska U.S. Meat Animal Research Center, city employees, YWCA, AmeriCorps and Hastings College students.

With Hastings Public Schools out of class for the holiday, like many local employers, several volunteers brought their children or grandchildren to also help pack meals.

aroh / Amy Roh/Tribune  

Hazel Ashton volunteers at Hearts and Hands Against Hunger Monday in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

“It’s very humbling to know what Hearts and Hands as an organization stands for,” Krebsbach said. “People know it’s a good, viable option to volunteer. The heart part has hit these people very much because they are using their hands and their hearts today to help out.”


Faith, politics mix on day to honor civil rights icon

ATLANTA — Ag-ainst the backdrop of a presidential election year, Monday’s Martin Luther King Jr. holiday found leaders still wrestling over how to best embody the slain civil rights leader.

In Atlanta, Republicans told a sometimes cool crowd at Ebenezer Baptist Church, King’s onetime church, that they were honoring King’s legacy of service and political empowerment. But Democrats found more favor by highlighting the ways they said the current political and social order calls for more radical action in line with King’s principles.

Monday’s speeches at Ebenezer Baptist were just one slice of the political struggle in Georgia, where Democrats believe they can make further inroads in the Republican-controlled state, aided by diverse in-migration and a suburban backlash against President Donald Trump.

Up for re-election this year, Trump sought to stamp his own mark on the commemoration. He and Vice President Mike Pence made a brief visit to the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial in Washington. Earlier in the day, Trump sent a tweet noting that it was the third anniversary of his inauguration: “So appropriate that today is also MLK jr DAY. African-American Unemployment is the LOWEST in the history of our Country, by far. Also, best Poverty, Youth, and Employment numbers, ever. Great!”

Black unemployment has reached a record low during the Trump administration, but many economists note economic growth since 2009 has driven hiring. The most dramatic drop in black unemployment came under President Barack Obama. Despite economic success, polls find most African American voters regard Trump with distaste.

In Atlanta, Republican U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler, appointed last month by Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp, said her upbringing on an Illinois farm was touched by King.

“Dr. King’s call to service, to sacrifice, to put others first, it shaped our home and inspired us to ask what Dr. King asked the world. ‘What are you doing for others?’” Loeffler said.

One of Loeffler’s Democratic opponents in a November special election could be the Rev. Raphael Warnock, the current pastor at Ebenezer, which King and his father once led. Warnock, without mentioning Loeffler by name, said that honoring King means more than just voicing “lip service” on one weekend a year.

“Everyone wants to be seen standing where Dr. King stood. That’s fine, you’re welcome,” said Warnock, who could soon announce a Senate run. “But if today you would stand in this holy place, where Dr. King stood, make sure, that come tomorrow, we’ll find you standing where Dr. King stood.”

Of King, Warnock said that “too many people like to remember him and dismember him at the same time,” calling Georgia “ground zero for voter suppression” and citing the failure of the state’s Republican leadership to fully expand the Medicaid health insurance program.

Others agreed with him, with keynote speaker Rev. Howard-John Wesley of Alexandria, Virginia, telling attendees that “we have lost the radicality” of King’s vision, talking about how King attacked the Vietnam War and the unequal American economy at the end of his career.

Loeffler made no mention of Trump or the Senate impeachment trial, but Democratic U.S. Rep Hank Johnson did, drawing applause when he mentioned impeachment and saying American democracy is “in grave danger.”

“Our communities are once again finding themselves on the front lines of fighting to protect our very republic,” Johnson said. “And it can be easy, brothers and sisters, in moments like these to despair. But even in our darkest hours, the legacy of Dr. King is a hope that dawn will come.”

Georgia’s Republican Secretary of State, Brad Raffensperger took the stage, seeking to build confidence that his office supports broad voter participation and that the state’s new voting machines will guarantee a fair vote. Democrats led by former gubernatorial nominee Stacey Abrams have attacked his actions, including a mass purge of inactive voters from the state’s voting rolls.

“Every voter gets one vote. We all have a voice. We all count,” Raffensperger said.

King’s daughter Bernice spoke about the King holiday becoming a day of service, “a day on, not a day off.” She said the holiday needs a broader vision.

“A day on is not enough. What we need is a light on, committed to working vigilantly to build the beloved community,” she said. “A light on encompasses a commitment not just to service but to systemic change as well.”

The same kind of wrestling over what King means in the present moment was taking place elsewhere, with Pence speaking Sunday at a church service in Memphis, Tennessee.

Pence spoke at the Holy City Church of God in Christ about King’s religion and how he “challenged the conscience of a nation to live up to our highest ideals by speaking to our common foundation of faith.”

Acknowledging the nation’s divisions, Pence said that if Americans rededicate themselves to the ideals that King advanced while striving to open opportunities for everyone, “we’ll see our way through these divided times and we’ll do our part in our time to form a more perfect union.”

As a presidential election looms this fall, divisions rankle, according to recent opinion polls.

Among black Americans, more than 80% said last year that President Donald Trump’s actions in office have made things worse for people like them, while only 4% said they thought Trump’s actions have been good for African Americans in general. That’s according to a poll conducted by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.

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This story has been corrected to show that U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler was appointed by Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp last month, not this month.

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Associated Press writer Corey Williams in Detroit contributed to this report.{/div}


HPS board sends Morton bond issue to public vote

Hastings residents will be voting May 12 on a $6 million bond issue to repurpose the Morton Elementary building into a preschool center and administrative offices.

The Hastings Public Schools Board of Education approved the motion 8-0 during its Monday evening meeting. All members except Brady Rhodes were in attendance. Rhodes is on a trip outside of the country and is not expected back until May.

Voters will be asked a two-part question on their May ballot: whether or not to approve the district issuing general obligation bonds, and whether or not to collect a special levy of taxes for the purpose of improving the Morton building.

Voters can vote for the bonds and tax or against the bonds and tax.

During the meeting, Superintendent Jeff Schneider emphasized that repurposing the Morton building at 731 N. Baltimore Ave. is not a new idea. The board closed Morton Elementary School as an educational institution in 2016 as part of a multi-year plan for elementary facility improvements, and two other HPS elementary schools have used the Morton campus since then as temporary quarters while their own buildings have undergone remodeling. Alcott Elementary School used the building during the 2016-17 and 2017-18 academic years. Longfellow has been using the Morton building since 2018-19 and is expected to move back onto its own campus this summer.

A vote on the bond and levy that would fund the Morton project was held off until now, because the board thought the previous $21.5 million bond passed in 2014 for elementary improvements already was asking a lot from taxpayers.

“At the time, we weren’t sure that we could attain all the money necessary to do this project, along with the $21.5 million that we did,” Schneider said. “We wanted to stay levy-neutral. Our community is already hit with high property taxes; we didn’t want to increase that.”

The renovation at Longfellow Elementary used up the last of the $21.5 million in proceeds from the 2014 bond issue and is funded partially be the district’s cooperative fund.

Schneider said the new proposed bond issue would be levy-neutral in that the school’s property tax levy rate would stay the same as previous’ years.

Schneider said previously that the Morton project would be partially funded by $2 million that was saved during a bond refinance that passed in September 2019.

At the beginning of the meeting, the school board took several start-of-the-year actions. Board President Jim Boeve and Vice President John Bonham will keep their respective positions for the next year.

The board heard from Longfellow Elementary Principal Irina Erickson for the monthly Spotlight on Learning presentation. Erickson’s presentation focused on teacher climate and culture at Longfellow, emphasising personal well-being and support.

Erickson started the presentation by drawing attention to studies and Time’s magazine’s three-edition series about challenges teachers face due to physical, emotional and financial challenges of teaching.

Erickson said she noticed that when a student has a bad day and becomes destructive, it affects every staff member.

“Teachers (are) trying to understand, trying to help students take the pain that the student has, and it becomes their pain,” Erickson said.

Erickson explained the ways that she tries to help teachers keep a work-life balance and stay mentally well.

After Spotlight on Learning, the school board approved the 2020-21 district calendar. Boeve made the point that the calendar for next year has several weeks without a break near the end of the year, due to the timing of Easter.

“I know in 2021, Easter is relatively late,” Boeve said. “Moving forward, beyond next year, I think we need to be sensitive to where Easter is and loading up the Fridays in March with days off and having the long haul at the end.”

Erickson said the end of the school year can be one of the more stressful times of the year for teachers.

Schneider said that teachers do provide feedback on the calendar during its planning process. One calendar option that solved the continuous block of school days would have made the year go longer, and it was not a popular choice.

The board also approved 2.0 full-time equivalent teaching positions for the 2020-21 school year, in order to stay on top of hiring teachers as the student population grows. The positions are expected to cost $150,000 together.

Last year, the board approved $800,000 in budget cuts, cutting 16 teaching positions, in order to avoid a $2.5 million shortfall.

The board passed two financial resolutions, one pertaining to investments and the other to borrowing. Schneider told the board the investment resolutions mean any interest made from investments has to go back into original purpose of the investment.

The borrowing resolution says that the school can borrow money from their own funds, but the money must be paid back with interest.

In other business, the board:

Approved David Essink, director of human resources and operations, to be the board secretary and treasurer.

Approved Diana Reiner, superintendent secretary, to be the assistant secretary.

Approved Erin Cafferty, HPS accountant, to be the assistant treasurer.

Approved Perry Law firms to be counsel.

Approved Dr. Curtis Reimer to be the school physician.

Approved Rhodes to be the Greater Nebraska School Association representative.

Approved $3,775,896.75 in payments for the month.

Approved a kitchen equipment purchase for $130,365.58 and furniture purchase for $92,930.64 at Longfellow Elementary.


McConnell proposes swift impeachment trial with long days

WASHINGTON

On the eve of President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial, the Senate leader proposed a compressed calendar for opening statements, White House lawyers argued for swift rejection of the “flimsy” charges and the Capitol braced for the contentious proceedings unfolding in an election year.

Final trial preparations were underway Monday on a tense day of plodding developments with Trump’s legacy — and the judgment of both parties in Congress — at stake.

The president’s legal team, in its first full filing for the impeachment court, argued that Trump did “absolutely nothing wrong” and urged the Senate to swiftly reject the “flawed’’ case against him.

“All of this is a dangerous perversion of the Constitution that the Senate should swiftly and roundly condemn,” the president’s lawyers wrote. “The articles should be rejected and the president should immediately be acquitted.”

The brief from the White House, and the House Democratic response, comes as the Senate could be facing 12-hour sessions for the rare Senate trial, with some of the very senators running to replace Trump as president sitting as jurors.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell proposed a condensed, two-day calendar for each side to give opening statements, ground rules that Democrats immediately rejected.

Voting on the Republican leader’s resolution will be one of the first orders of business when senators convene Tuesday. It also pushes off any votes on witnesses until later in the process, rather than up front, as Democrats had demanded.

The Senate Democratic leader, Chuck Schumer, called the GOP leader’s proposed rules package a “national disgrace.”

Senators are poised for only the third presidential impeachment trial in U.S. history, coming just weeks before the first primaries of the 2020 election season and as voters are assessing Trump’s first term and weighing the candidates who want to challenge him in the fall.

House Democrats impeached the president last month on two charges: abuse of power by withholding U.S. military aid to Ukraine as he pressed the country to investigate Democratic rival Joe Biden, and obstruction of Congress by refusing to comply with their investigation.

The Constitution gives the House the sole power to impeach a president and the Senate the final verdict by convening as the impeachment court for a trial.

McConnell is angling for a speedy trial toward acquittal, and with Republicans holding the Senate majority, the proposal is likely to be approved by senators in the president’s party.

“It’s clear Sen. McConnell is hell-bent on making it much more difficult to get witnesses and documents and intent on rushing the trial through,” Schumer said. He vowed to propose votes Tuesday to try to amend the rules package. He called it a “cover-up.”

The first several days of the trial are now almost certain to be tangled in procedural motions playing out on the Senate floor or, more likely, behind closed doors, since senators must refrain from speaking during the trial proceedings.

At the White House, where the president was embarking for an overseas trip to the global leaders conference in Davos, Switzerland, officials welcomed the Republican trial proposal.

“We are gratified that the draft resolution protects the President’s rights to a fair trial, and look forward to presenting a vigorous defense on the facts and the process as quickly as possible, and seeking an acquittal as swiftly as possible,” said White House Legislative Affairs Director Eric Ueland.

After the four days of opening arguments — two days per side — senators will be allowed up to 16 hours for questions to the prosecution and defense, followed by four hours of debate. Only then will there be votes on calling other witnesses.

At the end of deliberations, the Senate would then vote on each impeachment article.

McConnell had promised to set rules similar to the last trial, of President Bill Clinton in 1999, but his resolution diverged in key ways, which may leave some senators from both parties uneasy.

Republican Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah said in an email message to his constituents Monday night that the resolution put forth by McConnell “overall, aligns closely with the rules package approved 100-0 during the Clinton trial.” He is among a small number of Republican senators who want to consider witness testimony and documents that weren’t part of the House impeachment investigation.

With security tightening at the Capitol, the House prosecutors led by Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff made their way through crowds of tourists in the Rotunda to tour the Senate chamber. The White House legal team led by Pat Cipollone and Jay Sekulow soon followed. Both sides were under instructions to keep the chamber doors closed to onlookers and the media.

Four TV monitors were set up inside the Senate chamber, which will be used to show testimony, exhibits and potentially tweets or other social media, according to a person familiar with the matter but unauthorized to discuss it who spoke on condition of anonymity.

In their own filing Monday, House prosecutors issued fresh demands for a fair trial in the Senate.

“President Trump asserts that his impeachment is a partisan ‘hoax.’ He is wrong,” the prosecutors wrote.

The House Democrats said the president can’t have it both ways — rejecting the facts of the House case but also stonewalling congressional subpoenas for witnesses and testimony. “Senators must honor their own oaths by holding a fair trial with all relevant evidence,” they wrote.

The White House document released Monday says the two charges against the president don’t amount to impeachable offenses. It asserts that the impeachment inquiry, centered on Trump’s request that Ukraine’s president open an investigation into Democratic rival Biden, was never about finding the truth.

House Democrats in their initial court filing over the weekend called Trump’s conduct the “worst nightmare” of the framers of the Constitution.

“President Donald J. Trump used his official powers to pressure a foreign government to interfere in a United States election for his personal political gain,” the House prosecutors wrote, “and then attempted to cover up his scheme by obstructing Congress’s investigation into his misconduct.”

But Trump’s team contended Monday that even if Trump were to have abused his power in withholding the Ukraine military assistance, it would not be impeachable because it did not violate a specific criminal statute.

No president has ever been removed by the Senate. The current Senate, with a 53-47 Republican majority, is not expected to mount the two-thirds voted needed for conviction. Even if it did, the White House team argues it would be an “’unconstitutional conviction’’ because the articles of impeachment were too broad.

Administration officials have argued that similar imprecision applied to the perjury case in Clinton’s impeachment trial.

The White House also suggests the House inquiry was lacking because it failed to investigate Biden or his son Hunter, who served on the board of a gas company in Ukraine while his father was vice president. There is no evidence of wrongdoing by either Biden.

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Associated Press writer Laurie Kellman contributed to this report.