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Planning commission to recommend Kenesaw blight study and general redevelopment plan

The Adams County Planning and Zoning Commission voted to recommend declaring the village of Kenesaw as blighted and approve a general redevelopment plan during its meeting Monday.

Bobbi Pettit, owner of Five Rule Rural Planning in Kearney and certified with the American Institute of Certified Planners, conducted a study to determine whether the village qualified as blighted and substandard, thus needing redevelopment. A portion of the village had received the designation in the 1990s, so this study examined the remaining parts of town.

If the study is approved, the entire village of Kenesaw would be designated as blighted and substandard.

Pettit said she doesn’t like to use the term “blighted.” She feels it would be more accurate to describe the area as “underdeveloped.” The purpose of declaring an area blighted and substandard is to make it qualify for tax increment financing.

Making outside observations of the village’s 226 properties with structures, she rated 17 as fair to excellent, 200 as having major wear, and nine as dilapidated. She explained that major wear means a structure is deteriorating in some way.

She also found that 64% of the structures are estimated to have been built before 1979, making most of the structures in town more than 40 years old.

Along with the structures, Pettit said the street layout in the village is inadequate with several areas lacking the proper platting to preserve the right-of-way that would enable these properties to be developed with street access. She noted that most of the roads in the village need maintenance. The sidewalk network also is inconsistent with a lack of accessible curb ramps that meet the standards of the Americans With Disabilities Act. Some areas still use 2-inch or 4-inch-diameter water mains when the standard minimum is 6 inches.

“The size of the water mains are obsolete,” she said. “We would not put those in that way today.”

Pettit also pointed to the annual flood chances in the area, which could hinder development. Much of the village is considered to have a 1% chance to flood, surrounded by areas with a 0.2% chance.

“There’s work that could be done to get the land out of the flood plain, but it’s going to be costly,” she said. “It’s going to be a factor for anybody who wants to build in Kenesaw, in those areas.”

She also pointed to a decrease in population from 570 in the 2000 census to 505 in 2010 as another factor in the blighted designation.

Bob Hansen, a member of the commission, said a similar blighted and substandard designation was approved in Juniata and that turned out well.

Mike Engelhardt, vice president of the Kenesaw Community Development Corp., said the designation helped make repairs on homes and redevelop buildings.

“They could apply for grant to save quite a few homes,” he said. “People couldn’t afford to do it, so it was a nice program to help.”

Neel Keiser, president of the Kenesaw Community Development Corp., said the designation would help the whole community of Kenesaw by promoting development where it might not otherwise be economically feasible.

“It will benefit anyone wanting to develop anything in Kenesaw,” he said.

The commission voted unanimously to recommend that the Adams County Board of Supervisors declare the proposed redevelopment area as blighted and substandard.

Pettit also made recommendations for general redevelopment plan, which the commission also voted unanimously to recommend.

“Once area is blighted and substandard, nothing can happen until a redevelopment plan is in place,” she said.

The general redevelopment plan offered by Pettit is only the bare essentials. As redevelopment projects are considered, she said the general plan would need to be amended to reflect the proposed changes.


Council tours museum, discusses tree-trimming bid

Hastings city officials hope a comprehensive, two-year tree-trimming surge will address overgrowth in the community’s canopy.

Members of the Hastings City Council discussed during their work session Monday the one tree-trimming bid received and establishing a trimming plan going forward.

Also, the work session occurred at the Hastings Museum, where staff gave a tour to council members following the meeting.

“It’s clearly an amazing place,” Council President Paul Hamelink said of the museum.

Discussion about a comprehensive tree-trimming plan is a response to the damages that occurred during windstorms in 2019.

Council members discussed last year possibly establishing a city forestry department to focus on tree trimming.

“It became very apparent we were not caught up on where we needed to be, especially on the utility side, as well as the street side,” Mayor Corey Stutte said Monday. “This is, I would call it a surge, to get out there and make sure we get these under control.”

He said that should the city establish a forestry department, that would be a long-term plan.

“We need to get to the point where we would even maintain it,” Stutte said.

Lee Vrooman, director of operations for Hastings Utilities, said Hastings Utilities has been hiring contractors to trim trees for more than 20 years.

“It’s just we haven’t been able to keep up with the way trees are growing,” he said.

The city Parks and Recreation Department takes care of terrace tree removal. Trimming is done on complaint basis, including feedback from Hastings Public Schools for bus routes.

Parks department staff members trim trees as they have time.

“We certainly would like to do a lot more, but we just don’t have the time or resources to do that,” Parks and Recreation Director Jeff Hassenstab said.

Vrooman, Hassenstab and Street Superintendent Steve Kostner divided the city into 13 utility tree zones and established five-year utility and two-year street tree trimming schedules.

The city went out for bids in November 2019, contacting larger companies in Nebraska and surrounding states, but received no bids.

The city went out for bids a second time in January, contacting 32 companies and received one bid back — from the Green Tree Co. in Red Oak, Iowa.

A second bid for the street portion was received late due to weather and was not opened.

The Green Tree Co. bid was for $1,079,000 for utility work and $543,820 for street work.

The plan is to split that work over the next two years, with $551,200 worth of utility work occurring in 2020 and $527,800 in 2021, and $423,590 worth of street work in 2020 and $120,230 in 2021.

The committee of Vrooman, Hassenstab and Kostner estimated that a four-person city trimming crew would cost $400,000 annually for labor with benefits and equipment maintenance, $420,000 in year one for equipment and $425,000 equipment in years three to five.

Contracting that work means the city doesn’t have to worry about salary, benefits, equipment maintenance or liability.

Green Tree would mulch the trimmings, making the mulch available to the public.

The contracted work is unbudgeted, so it would come out of the reserve capital.

Green Tree, which has certified arborists and utility line clearance certification, has 21 employees on staff.

Hassenstab was asked how many of those employees would be working in Hastings.

“They have a deadline of Sept. 15 of this year to do year one,” he said. “So however many people it takes to do that.”

Work is expected to start in May.

Utility and parks departments collectively spend about $420,000 each year on tree trimming.

The street department also spends $30,000 each year.

That trimming would largely be handled by The Green Tree Co. during 2020 and 2021.

The city would work to educate residents — through the use of local media, utility newsletter and social media — about impending tree-trimming efforts in specific areas of Hastings.

“Hopefully we’ll be ahead of the game and trying to make people aware we will have a contractor coming through doing this work,” Vrooman said.


Closing arguments in Trump trial aim at voters, history

WASHINGTON — Closing arguments Monday in President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial were directed more toward history than to sway the outcome, one final chance to influence public opinion and set the record ahead of his expected acquittal in the Republican-led Senate.

The House Democratic prosecutors drew on the Founding Fathers and common sense to urge senators — and Americans — to see that Trump’s actions are not isolated but a pattern of behavior that, left unchecked, will allow him to “cheat”’ in the 2020 election.

Democrat Rep. Adam Schiff implored those few Republican senators who have acknowledged Trump’s wrongdoing in the Ukraine matter to prevent a “runaway presidency” and stand up to say “enough.”

“For a man like Donald J. Trump, they gave you a remedy and meant for you to use it. They gave you an oath, and they meant for you to observe it,” Schiff said. “We have proven Donald Trump guilty. Now do impartial justice and convict him.”

The president’s defense countered the Democrats have been out to impeach Trump since the start of his presidency, nothing short of an effort to undo the 2016 election and to try to shape the next one, as early primary voting begins Monday in Iowa.

“Leave it to the voters to choose,” said White House counsel Pat Cipollone.

He called for an end to the partisan “era of impeachment.”

All that’s left, as the Senate prepares to acquit Trump on charges that he abused power and obstructed Congress, is for Americans to decide now and in the November election, as the third presidential impeachment trial in the nation’s history comes to a close.

Most senators acknowledge the House Democratic managers have essentially proven their case. Trump was impeached in December on two charges: that he abused his power like no other president in history when he pushed Ukraine to investigate rival Democrats, and he then obstructed Congress by instructing aides to defy House subpoenas.

But key Republicans have decided the president’s actions toward Ukraine do not rise to the level of impeachable offense that warrants the dramatic political upheaval of conviction and removal from office. His acquittal in Wednesday’s vote is all but assured.

GOP Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska called the president’s actions “shameful and wrong,” but in a powerful speech late Monday she also derided the highly partisan process. “I cannot vote to convict,” she said.

Republican Sens. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, Marco Rubio of Florida and Rob Portman of Ohio are among those who acknowledged the inappropriateness of Trump’s actions, but said they would not vote to hear more testimony or to convict.

“What message does that send? “ asked Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., a House prosecutor. He warned senators that for Trump, the ”past is prologue.” He urged the Senate to realize its failure to convict will “allow the president’s misconduct to stand.”

The Senate proceedings are set against a sweeping political backstop, as voters in Iowa on Monday are choosing presidential Democratic primary candidates and Trump is poised to deliver his State of the Union address Tuesday in his own victory lap before Congress.

It is unclear if any Republican or Democratic senators sworn to do “impartial justice’’ will break from party lines. One centrist Democrat, Sen. Joe Manchin, W-Va., said he was heavily weighing the vote ahead. He suggested censure may be a bipartisan alternative.

The House Democrats unveiled a striking case centered on Trump’s personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, running an alternative foreign policy that drew alarm at the highest levels. As part of the “scheme,” Trump held up $391 million in U.S. aid from Ukraine, a fragile ally battling Russia, for his personal political gain, they argued. The money was eventually released after Congress intervened.

As Chief Justice John Roberts presided, the House managers opened with a plea from Rep. Jason Crow, D-Colo., a freshman and former Army Ranger: “We cannot and should not leave our common sense at the door.”

One by one, the Democrats drew on their life experiences to remind senators, and Americans, of the simple difference between right and wrong in the case against Trump.

Rep. Val Demings, a former police chief, argued that the president is not behaving like someone who is innocent. She warned that if senators do not convict, Trump will try to “cheat” again ahead of 2020.

“You will send a terrible message to the nation that one can get away with abuse of power, cheating and spreading of false narratives,” she told them.

Before Trump’s celebrity defense mounted its closing argument, the president himself already registered his views on Twitter, where he decried the whole thing — as he often does — as a “hoax.”

Kenneth Starr, the former prosecutor whose investigation led to Bill Clinton’s impeachment, complained about the inadequacy of the House prosecutors’ “fast track” case.

Trump attorney Jay Sekulow showed political clips of Democrats calling for impeachment — with many lawmakers of color, including Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a top Republican foil — to argue this was the “first totally partisan presidential impeachment in our nation’s history, and it should be our last.”

One key Trump lawyer, Alan Dershowitz, who was forced to walk back a sweeping defense of presidential power in last week’s arguments, did not appear.

Trump wanted acquittal secured before he arrives at the Capitol for the State of the Union address Tuesday, but that will not happen.

Senators carrying the power of their votes to the history books wanted additional time to make their own arguments, in public speeches from the floor of the Senate. Those began Monday afternoon and were expected to continue until Wednesday’s vote.

The trial unfolded over nearly two weeks and reached a decisive moment last Friday when senators voted against calling witnesses and documents. Key Republicans said they had heard enough. It becomes the first impeachment trial in the nation’s more than 200-year history without any witnesses.

Even new revelations from John Bolton, the former White House national security adviser, whose forthcoming book discloses his firsthand account of Trump ordering the investigations, did not impress upon senators the need for more testimony.

Bolton said he would appear if he received a subpoena, but GOP senators said the House should have issued the summons and the Senate did not want to prolong the proceedings.

Prosecutors relied on a 28,000-page report compiled over three months of proceedings in the Democratic-controlled House, including public and private testimony from 17 witnesses, among them current and former ambassadors and national security officials with close proximity to the Ukraine dealings.

The case stems from Trump’s July 25 call with Ukraine that he maintains was “perfect.” A government whistleblower alarmed by the call filed a complaint that sparked the inquiry.

***

AP writers Mary Clare Jalonick, Matthew Daly, Laurie Kellman and Padmananda Rama contributed to the story.


Iowa tallies late for the party

DES MOINES, Iowa — The Iowa Democratic Party said Monday night that results from the state’s first-in-the-nation caucus were greatly delayed due to “quality checks” and new reporting rules, an embarrassing complication that added a new layer of doubt to an already uncertain presidential primary season.

The party said the problem was not a result of a “hack or an intrusion.”

The statement came after Iowa voters packed caucus sites across the state with at least four leading candidates battling to win the opening contest of the 2020 campaign, and ultimately, the opportunity to take on President Donald Trump this fall.

Long before any significant results were released, the candidates pressed ahead with post-election rallies claiming momentum.

“It looks like it’s going to be a long night, but we’re feeling good,” former Vice President Joe Biden said, suggesting the final results would “be close.” “We’re in this for the long haul.”

Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders said he had “a good feeling we’re going to be doing very, very well here in Iowa” once results were posted.

“Today marks the beginning of the end for Donald Trump,” he predicted.

Democrats hoped that Iowa’s caucuses would provide some clarity for what has been a muddled nomination fight for much of the past year. But apparent technology issues delayed the results as the state party suggested turnout was on track to match 2016 numbers.

Party officials held a call with campaigns as concerns were growing over the delays.

Charlie Neibergall/AP  

Local residents wait to enter an Iowa Democratic caucus at Hoover High School, Monday, Feb. 3, 2020, in Des Moines, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

Spokeswoman Mandy McClure said the party “found inconsistencies in the reporting of three sets of results.”

“In addition to the tech systems being used to tabulate results, we are also using photos of results and a paper trail to validate that all results match and ensure that we have confidence and accuracy in the numbers we report,” she said. “This is simply a reporting issue, the app did not go down and this is not a hack or an intrusion. The underlying data and paper trail is sound and will simply take time to further report the results.”

Des Moines County Democratic Chair Tom Courtney blamed technology issues in his county, relaying precinct reports that the app created for caucus organizers to report results was “a mess.” As a result, Courtney said precinct leaders were phoning in results to the state party headquarters, which was too busy to answer their calls in some cases.

Meanwhile, Iowa voters were balancing a strong preference for fundamental change with an overwhelming desire to defeat Trump as they sorted through nearly a dozen candidates in a contest that offered the opening test of who and what the party stands for in the turbulent age of Trump. It’s just the first in a primary season that will span all 50 states and several U.S. territories, ending only at the party’s national convention in mid-July.

For Democrats, the moment was thick with promise for a party that has seized major gains in states since Trump won the White House in 2016. But instead of clear optimism, a cloud of uncertainty and intraparty resentment hung over Monday’s election as the prospect of an unclear result raised fears of a long and divisive primary fight in the months ahead.

One unsurprising development: Trump won the Republican caucus, a largely symbolic victory given that he faced no significant opposition.

The president’s allies also seized on the Democrat’s problems.. Trump campaign manager Brad Parscale eagerly floated an unsupported conspiracy theory.

“Quality control = rigged?” Parscale tweeted, adding a emoji with furrowed brows.

Andrew Harnik/AP  

Caucus goers check in at a caucus at Roosevelt High School Monday in Des Moines, Iowa.

The president had already been seeking to sow divisions in the crowded Democratic field and incite Sanders supporters, who believe the Democratic National Committee worked against him in 2016.

Pre-caucus polls suggested that Sanders might have a narrow lead, but any of the top four candidates — Sanders, Biden, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren and former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg — could score a victory in Iowa’s unpredictable and quirky caucus system as organizers prepared for record turnout. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, who represents neighboring Minnesota, was also claiming momentum, while outsider candidates including entrepreneur Andrew Yang, billionaire activist Tom Steyer and Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard could be factors.

New voters played a significant role in shaping Iowa’s election.

About one quarter of all voters reported that they were caucusing for the first time, according to AP VoteCast, a survey of voters who said they planned to take part in Monday’s Democratic caucuses. The first-timers were slightly more likely to support Sanders, Warren or Buttigieg, compared with other candidates.

At the same time, VoteCast found that roughly two-thirds of caucusgoers said supporting a candidate who would fundamentally change how the system in Washington works was important to their vote. That compared to about a third of caucusgoers who said it was more important to support a candidate who would restore the political system to how it was before Trump’s election in 2016.

Not surprisingly, nearly every Iowa Democrat said the ability to beat Trump was an important quality for a presidential nominee. VoteCast found that measure outranked others as the most important quality for a nominee.

In Iowa, some 200,000 voters were expected.

Three senators in the field left Iowa late Sunday to return to the U.S. Capitol for Trump’s impeachment trial, but did what they could to keep their campaigns going from Washington. While Warren held her telephone town hall, Klobuchar’s husband and daughter appeared at a canvass launch in Des Moines.

In suburban Des Moines, Buttigieg delivered about 100 volunteers a last shot of encouragement before they stepped out into the chill to knock on doors for him around midday Monday.

“We are exactly where we need to be to astonish the political world,” he said, igniting cheers for the 38-year-old former midsize-city mayor, who was an asterisk a year ago and is now among the top candidates.

Meanwhile, Biden and his wife, Jill, delivered pizza Monday to a few dozen volunteers working the phones at his south Des Moines field office.

“I feel good,” he said as he walked in, sporting his signature aviator sunglasses.

Iowa offers just a tiny percentage of the delegates needed to win the nomination but plays an outsize role in culling primary fields. A poor showing in Iowa could cause a front-runner’s fundraising to slow and support in later states to dwindle, while a strong result can give a candidate much needed momentum.

The past several Democrats who won the Iowa caucuses went on to clinch the party’s nomination.

The 2020 fight has played out over myriad distractions, particularly congressional Democrats’ push to impeach Trump, which has often overshadowed the primary and effectively pinned several leading candidates to Washington at the pinnacle of the early campaign season.

Meanwhile, ultrabillionaire Mike Bloomberg, the former mayor of New York City, is running a parallel campaign that ignores Iowa as he prepares to pounce on any perceived weaknesses in the field come March.

The amalgam of oddities, including new rules for reporting the already complicated caucus results, was building toward what could be a murky Iowa finale before the race pivots quickly to New Hampshire, which votes just eight days later.

New party rules may give more than one candidate an opportunity to claim victory in Iowa, even if they aren’t the official winner.

For the first time, the Iowa Democratic Party reported three sets of results at the end of the state’s first-in-the-nation caucuses: a tally of caucus-goers’ initial candidate preference; vote totals from the “final alignment” after supporters of lower-ranking candidates were able to make a second choice, and the total number of State Delegate Equivalents each candidate receives.

There is no guarantee that all three will show the same winner.

The Associated Press will declare a winner based on the number of state delegates each candidate wins, which has been the traditional standard.

Many of the Democratic presidential candidates have possible weaknesses when challenging Trump, VoteCast found.

Some 4 in 10 Iowa voters said it would be harder for a woman to unseat the president. Almost 6 in 10 said a gay candidate would have more difficulty defeating Trump, a potential risk for Buttigieg. Roughly the same share said a nominee with “strongly liberal views” would also face a harder time, while close to half said a nominee older than 75 — Biden and Sanders — would have a tougher time versus Trump.