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Council to act on personnel policy changes

In a project that has taken more than two years, Hastings city staff members have crafted comprehensive personnel rules that reflect changes following the passage of the ordinance that merged the operations of city government and Hastings Utilities.

City Administrator Dave Ptak and Lori Hartman, director of human resources for the city, presented during the Hastings City Council work session on Monday to revise the personnel chapter of the city code to become the Civil Service Act, applying only to police and fire. The employee handbook will apply to all other employees, as well as police and fire, except where the collective bargaining agreements for those two departments would differ.Council members will act on the proposed changes during their Oct. 14 meeting.

Councilwoman Ginny Skutnik, who is council vice president and presided at the work session in the absence of Council President Paul Hamelink, commended staff for their work.

The proposed policy changes come after the council passed Ordinance No. 4473 following a third reading on April 24, 2017. Ordinance No. 4473 amends city code dealing with department heads, duties and responsibilities of the city administrator and outlines the duties of the utility manager.

“You’ve been working on this for a long time,” Skutnik said. “To me, it does not leave a question of who, what, where, when, how or why. It was very thorough.”

Department heads including Ptak, Hartman, Utilities Manager Kevin Johnson, former City Administrator Joe Patterson and previous finance directors worked on the new policies over time. City Attorney Clint Schukei, who was appointed in May, also helped finalize the drafting.

Those officials collaborated on the policy with an employee committee composed of six non-supervisory representatives from Hastings Utilities and six from the city.

The groups each met several times during the last two-plus years.

Ptak said the policy amendments address personnel inconsistencies between city departments such as holidays and other benefits, providing the best of both options between Hastings Utilities and the rest of the city.

“It was somewhat of a challenge, if you will, to meld these two together,” he said.

The policy changes will come before the council as a resolution, as opposed to an ordinance, making it easy to make amendments in the future.

Ptak said there is no such thing as a perfect handbook.

“It’s been vetted many, many times, but I’m not going to tell you it’s perfect,” he said. “That’s why we put it on paper, because we’re committed to tweak it as need be as necessary and as we find things in here that we didn’t think about as much as we tried to initially.”

Hartman said members of the employee committee want to stay engaged in the process, keeping the policies current and making changes as necessary.

Skutnik said a comprehensive personnel rules overhaul has been talked about since 1999, when she started working as the city’s administrative secretary.

Ptak and Hartman plan to meet with each department to discuss the changes and will review the changes again in 90 days.

“This has been a great process,” Ptak said. “I would certainly recommend it as far as anytime you have such a project like that as to involve our employees because they are our most important resource.”

Like Skutnik, Mayor Corey Stutte commended staff members for their work on the changes.

“It’s been two years and five months now since we enacted this,” he said, referring to Ordinance No 4473. “The hard work that you all put into this is very evident. It’s nice to see how far we’ve come.

“It’s very easy for us to sit back and say ‘we should be farther with the ERP or we could be farther with this or that.’ We knew this was going to take time. It’s vey nice to see this handbook. It’s time to move forward. You’ve done so much work over the past couple years, whether it was bringing holiday schedules together or bringing health care plans together. None of that is easy, and you’ve done a great job of educating the staff on it. You’ve done a great job of putting this in writing.”


Superior hospital launches behavioral health program for older adults

SUPERIOR — The Brodstone Memorial Hospital here has launched a new program to demonstrate compassion for area residents who may need a helping hand in their mid to older years.

The program is called the Brodstone Thrive Center and serves south central Nebraska and north central Kansas, focusing on behavioral health services for older adults.

“The reason behind the addition of mental health services,” said Treg Vyzourek, CEO, “came from the Strategic Plan, established by local input, that was implemented January 2019. The community and the region reported a high need for mental health services. We believe that providing these services to those 55 years and older is a good start.

“Our plan calls for a full range of mental health care for all in our area. It is very important for the wellness of our community because mental health services help the patient and their families.”

The program provides intensive outpatient treatment Monday through Friday with the patients returning home each evening.

There will be three groups a day, Monday through Friday. Each participant will attend all three group sessions. Each will have a different topic related to group needs. They will be held at 10 a.m., 11 a.m., and 12:30 p.m. A free lunch and snacks will be provided by Brodstone.

A patient may start with two or three times a week and taper off to just once a week. This also depends on a patient’s physical limitations and transportation arrangements. Most of the therapy sessions are within a group format of six to eight participants, but individual sessions also will be available.

Krista Holeman has accepted a leadership role at Brodstone as the Thrive Center director. She holds a master’s degree in counseling from Doane University in Grand Island, a Bachelor of Science degree in Psychology and criminal justice from Peru State College, and certifications including Licensed Independent Mental Health Practitioner and Licensed Alcohol and Drug Counselor. Her special interest is in geriatrics, adolescents, family relationships and substance use. She has been working in the older adult group environment for five years.

Brodstone Thrive Center is accepting referrals. Those who know someone who is experiencing mental health challenges can call 402-207-1542 to arrange for a free, confidential behavioral health initial screening. Calls may also be made by health care providers, nurses or social workers.

The program is assessing patients and will begin group sessions this month.


U.S., China call trade truce, but conflicts remain

WASHINGTON — The Trump administration and China declared a temporary truce Friday in their 15-month trade war. Yet the grievances that led them to impose tariffs on hundreds of billions of dollars of each other’s goods remain largely unresolved.

The administration agreed to suspend a tariff hike on $250 billion worth of Chinese imports that was set to take effect Tuesday. And China agreed to buy up to $50 billion in U.S. farm products.

The de-escalation in tension between the world’s two largest economies was welcomed by financial markets. The U.S.-China hostilities have alarmed investors and escalated costs and uncertainties for many businesses.

President Donald Trump announced the cease-fire in a White House meeting with the top Chinese negotiator, Vice Premier Liu He. The news followed two days of talks in Washington, the 13th round of negotiations between the two countries’ delegations.

“It took us a long time to get here, but it’s something that’s going to be great for China and great for the USA,” Trump said.

Many of the details, though, remained to be worked out. And some of the thorniest issues — such as U.S. allegations that China forces foreign companies to hand over trade secrets — were dealt with only partially, or not at all, and will require further talks.

“The president is acting as if a lot of Chinese concessions have been nailed down, and they just haven’t,” said Derek Scissors, a China specialist at the conservative American Enterprise Institute.

The negotiators have so far reached their tentative agreement only in principle. No documents have been signed.

And the threat of escalation still hangs over the two countries: Trump has yet to drop plans to impose tariffs that are set to take effect Dec. 15 on an additional $160 billion in Chinese products — a move that would extend the sanctions to just about everything China ships to the United States.

While providing scant details of what was agreed to Friday, the White House said Beijing pledged to be more transparent about how it sets the value of its currency, the yuan. The administration has long accused China of manipulating the yuan lower to give its exporters a competitive edge in foreign markets.

China has also agreed to open its markets to U.S. banks and other financial services providers, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said.

The trade war has inflicted an economic toll on both countries. U.S. manufacturers have been deeply hurt by rising costs from the tariffs and by uncertainty over when and how the trade hostilities may end. Friday’s truce at least opens the door to progress.

“They’re trying to de-escalate,” said Timothy Keeler, a former chief of staff at the Office of the U.S. Trade Representatives. “I think it serves both sides’ interests because both sides were feeling pain.”

Stock prices had been up substantially all day, mainly in anticipation of a significant trade agreement. But once the White House announced the contours of the tentative accord, the market shed some of its gains. The Dow Jones industrial average, which had risen more than 500 points at its high, closed up 319.

“This is an encouraging first phase,” said Craig Allen, president of the U.S.-China Business Council. “We await word on how implementation will be measured and in what timeframe, as well as details on scheduling subsequent phases.”

The U.S. and Chinese negotiators didn’t deal this week with a major dispute over the Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei. The U.S. has imposed sanctions on Huawei, saying it poses a threat to national security because its equipment can be used for espionage. Trump has said he was willing to use Huawei as a bargaining chip in the trade talks.

The administration still has in place tariffs on more than $360 billion worth of Chinese imports. What changed Friday was that Trump suspended plans to raise existing tariffs on $250 billion in Chinese products from 25% to 30% next week.

Beijing has lashed back by taxing about $120 billion in U.S. goods, focusing on soybeans and other agricultural products in a shot at Trump supporters in rural America.

Last year, U.S. farm exports to China plummeted 53% to less than $9.2 billion. The additional Chinese purchases that were promised Friday could provide an economic boost to hard-hit U.S. farmers. Mnuchin said the $40 billion to $50 billion in agricultural sales cited by Trump is an annual amount that would be ramped up to “within the second year” of the agreement.

The two sides were close to a more comprehensive deal in early May. But talks stalled after the administration accused China of reneging on earlier commitments. Trump acknowledged that Friday’s deal has yet to be put down on paper but said that wouldn’t be a problem.

“China wants it badly, and we want it also,” the president said. “We should be able to get that done over the next four weeks.”

Myron Brilliant, executive vice president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, drew encouragement from Friday’s developments.

“Finally, a ray of hope for the U.S.-China trade relationship,” he said. “While there remains significant work ahead to address many of the most important U.S. trade and investment priorities, we will continue to lend our full support.”

Still, Gregory Daco, an economist at Oxford Economics, suggested that the partial nature of the deal won’t relieve much of the uncertainty surrounding trade policy that has discouraged many American companies from investing in new equipment and expanding.

“For businesses this will mean less damage, not greater certainty ... “Beyond the promises and niceties, the deal doesn’t address key underlying issues,” Daco said in a research note.

The two countries are deadlocked primarily over the Trump administration’s assertions that China deploys predatory tactics — including outright theft — in a sharp-elbowed drive to become the global leader in robotics, self-driving cars and other advanced technology.

Beijing has been reluctant to make the kind of substantive policy reforms that would satisfy the administration. Doing so would likely require scaling back China’s aspirations for technological supremacy, which it sees as crucial to its prosperity.

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AP Business Writers Christopher Rugaber and Bani Sapra contributed to this report.


Man behind wheel of Car 62 earns HOF nod

The man behind the wheel of Car 62 will go down in Nebraska history as one of the state’s premier drivers and advocates of the sport of racing.

Wayne Huntley of Hastings will be inducted into the Nebraska Auto Racing Hall of Fame at this year’s 22nd annual induction ceremony today at Courtside Banquet Hall in Lincoln. Huntley is one of seven inductees who will be recognized for contributions to the sport, joining driver Ray Lipsey, driver-journalist Bob Mays, and driver and car owner Ed Smith of Lincoln, Kenny McCarty, North Platte, driver-track owner Terry Richards Sr., David City, and drag racer Don Stephenson, Omaha.

The talented driver, whose number 62 was chosen because it represented the year he and his racing team teammates Denny Smidt and Terry Klatt graduated from Hastings High School, attained near-celebrity status locally, amassing a racing record that included more than 100 victories in feature races and seven track championships over a nine-year span from 1966-74. His body of work included races in Hastings, Kearney, Broken Bow, Red Cloud, Doniphan, and Smith Center, Kansas.

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The first of three Car 62 cars driven by Wayne Huntley, a 1937 Chevrolet Coupe stock car, is shown in this 1966 photograph. The crew is (from left) Denny Smidt, Ron Schwabauer, Wayne Huntley and Terry Klatt.

Locally, he was perhaps best known for his head-to-head “grudge” races with fellow Hastings driver Lanny Hajny, races that spawned strict allegiances by fans of both drivers. His races were known to draw as many as 3,000 people.

Huntley’s son, Steve, was only 4 years old when his dad retired from racing in 1974 following a serious on-track accident in 1973. And though he would later enjoy success on the track alongside his dad on the competitive go-cart racing scene locally, his understanding of just how well known his father had become on the track wasn’t fully realized until his freshman year in his Hastings High School typing class.

“On roll call the first day, my teacher looks up and says, “Huntley, are you related to Wayne Huntley?’ ” he said. “I said, ‘Yeah, that’s my father.’ ‘Well, I was a Hajny fan.’

“Then I got an unsatisfactory report sent home from that class and my dad says, ‘What’s this?’ and I said, ‘It’s your fault.’ ‘Why?’ ‘Hajny fan.’ End of discussion.”

A humble man who rarely speaks of his accomplishments on the track, Huntley is recovering from health-related issues and declined comment for an interview. His wife, Lois, and son Steve were all-too-happy to take up his cause, however.

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Flagman and Nebraska Racing Hall of Famer Charles Sears and trophy girl Carol Sealock are photographed with Wayne Huntley in 1966.

“When Wayne got behind the wheel, he just had a knack and an instinct for driving and the concentration that made him a good driver,” Lois said. “He didn’t try to cause wrecks; he would try to stay out of them. You could always tell when a new car came on the track because they were driving to get Wayne.

“They would try to hit Wayne a lot of times, which made it a little more exciting. There was a constant competition between the big cars and little cars. Wayne drove a full body 1955-56 Chevy and his (top) competitor (Hajny) drove a small car and they would run very close together and the crowd would cheer for one or the other. Everyone thought they were real enemies, but that was only the track. Off the track they were friends.”

It wasn’t unusual for Wayne to be recognized whenever the family would vacation regionally, Steve said. Photos published in local publications made him easily recognizable to fans of dirt track racing.

“People all over knew him,” Steve said. “I remember we were checking in on a road trip and the guy behind the counter looks at my dad and says, ‘How did you do last night? You are Wayne Huntley, right?’ He said he recognized him from a picture in the paper.”

Wayne maintained his longstanding affiliation with the automobile at Central Community College, where he taught part sales and management courses for 17 years. He received several awards during his teaching career, including the Nebraska Vocational Education Outstanding Member Award and Outstanding Service Award from the college.

While at CCC, he founded the school’s College Drag Race Team in 1994 and served as team sponsor and coach. He oversaw the student construction of a series of drag cars that were raced at Kearney Raceway Park by members of the team. One of his students, Shannon Brown (Bird) won a class elimination trophy in 2001 and served as club president for one year.

Now an associate appraiser at the Adams County Assessor’s Office, she recalls fondly her time spent learning from Huntley during her run with the team.

“I enjoyed racing with him,” she said. “He was a great and very honorable man who always held up the highest standards.”

Despite Huntley’s lengthy run of success on the track, Brown said, he was humble about his accomplishments, rarely sharing details of his time behind the wheel.

“I don’t think as a group we knew how important his racing career was,” she said. “He didn’t wear it on his sleeve. It was private to him and something he kept in his back pocket.

“He was a great mentor who led by example and would encourage you to take the high road. I know he is very proud of what he has accomplished — though he might not show it — but I know he is grateful for what God has put into his path.”