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A commitment to downtown

Work began Monday rebuilding the storefronts of the Cameron Building at First Street and Hastings Avenue in what will include six first-floor commercial bays and 11 upper-level, one-bedroom apartments.

“That will be the progress that happens over the next several weeks here, working around the corner, coming back in with these new storefronts and then ultimately the new windows upstairs, as well,” said Dave Rippe, managing partner of development group THOAR LLC.

The addition of the residential units is consistent with the 2013 Downtown Revitalization Plan and the 2016 Hastings Housing Study priorities to add an additional 84 housing units downtown by 2021.

THOAR already has 19 apartment units at the Block 27 Lofts, southwest of the Cameron Building, also on the 700 block of West First Street. Rippe said the Block 27 Lofts routinely has a waiting list of prospective tenants.

The target is to have apartments ready in the Cameron Building by Aug. 1, 2021.

“We are seeing the demand from people who want to be part of the lifestyle downtown,” Rippe said. “That really occurs regardless of age. We see that kind of pre-family demographic, but we also see more and more of that empty-nest demographic — people who want to be able to walk to the coffee shop, walk to their favorite restaurants, people who really enjoy being part of the downtown community.”

The first phase of construction includes cleaning up the façade, replacing the windows upstairs and adding new storefronts along the main level.

The façade reconstruction is made possible through the Community Redevelopment Authority and a downtown revitalization grant.

Rippe expects construction to start inside the building in January 2021.

THOAR is actively looking for commercial tenants to go in the building. Potential tenants can contact the developers at block27lofts.com, or on social media pages for the Cameron Building.

Commercial spaces will be about 1,500 square feet for office use or retail. Rippe anticipates having those available by the middle of next year.

“For our ownership we have really viewed the project as a continuation of our commitment to First Street,” he said. “We would have never imagined that when we started here with the first building where Steeple (Brewing) and Wave (Pizza) are at. Obviously we’re committed to improving downtown Hastings. We’re invested in downtown Hastings. This is a continuation of that. A lot of credit to the Redevelopment Authority for the improvement of the parking lots here. Parking is key to the development of housing and commercial space. We’re anxious to follow the city’s progress and be a proponent for the city’s progress on quiet zones.”

The initial phase of demolition and discovery to figure out what needed to be done for architecture and engineering began in March and took about three months.

“Basically it was the gutting of the building,” Rippe said.

Cardinal Construction of Doniphan is the general contractor. Local subcontractors include Rutt’s Heating and Air Conditioning, Krieger Electric, Stefan Schneider Plumbing and Howard’s Glass. Products and materials have been purchased through the Dutton-Lainson Co., Big G Ace and Pauley Lumber.

“A lot of the fun with these projects is being able to use that local network of subcontractors and suppliers to be able to bring business to everyone and be able to utilize all that local talent,” Rippe said. “We’ve built a great team over the last several years here.”

According to the Adams County Historical Society, the brick Cameron Building was constructed in 1883. It is named for Charles Cameron, one of Hastings’ earliest merchants, who established a mercantile business in a frame building on that location in 1873.

Cameron built his new building, which was called the Cameron Block, after the earlier frame structure burned in the great downtown fire of Sept. 14, 1879. He died in 1893.

McKinley and Lanning, loan agents, established offices in the new building upon its completion. The business kept its offices there for 67 years.

Another original tenant was The Exchange Bank, later known as the Exchange National Bank, which operated out of the building from 1883 until it merged with the First National Bank in 1926.


Nebraska voters to decide slavery question on ballot

While Nebraskans may be surprised to see the subject of slavery appearing on their general election ballot this year, a proposed state constitutional amendment would eliminate language that historically allowed prisoners to be forced to work without pay.

Nebraska Amendment No. 1 would eliminate a caveat in the state constitution that allowed slavery or involuntary servitude to be imposed on an individual as punishment following his or her conviction of a crime.

A proposed resolution calling for the constitutional amendment was introduced in the Nebraska Legislature in January 2019 by state Sen. Justin Wayne of Omaha. Ten of Wayne’s legislative colleagues subsequently signed on as co-sponsors.

In March 2019, the resolution was approved by the Legislature on a final-reading vote of 44-0-5. All senators representing portions of Tribland voted yes.

As a result of that vote, the question now comes before the state’s voters.

Although slavery has been outlawed in Nebraska since territorial days and prohibited by the state Constitution since 1875, the subject nonetheless is woven like a bad thread through Nebraska history.

After all, the Kansas-Nebraska Act, which was approved by the U.S. Congress in 1854 and established the Kansas and Nebraska territories, left it to the settlers of each jurisdiction to decide whether slavery would be allowed within its boundaries.

Whereas the slavery issue became the subject of violent conflict in neighboring Kansas, slaveholding reportedly never occurred in Nebraska except in isolated cases. And in 1861, Nebraska’s territorial legislature banned slavery, in which human beings are treated as the property of others.

The slavery ban remained in place after Nebraska was admitted to the Union as the 37th U.S. state in 1867.

Now, voters are being asked to strike hedging language stating that neither slavery nor involuntary servitude shall be allowed in Nebraska, “otherwise than for punishment of crime, whereof the party shall have been duly convicted.”

According to the website Ballotpedia.org, Nebraska is one of 12 U.S. states in which the state constitution carves out an exception for slavery and involuntary servitude as punishment for crime. The other states are Arkansas, Indiana, Kentucky, Minnesota, Mississippi, Nevada, North Dakota, Oregon, Tennessee, Utah and Wisconsin.

A 13th state, Colorado, excised such an exception from its state constitution in 2018 through a vote of the people.

The 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, approved in 1865, also includes an exception clause permitting slavery or involuntary servitude as punishment for crimes.

Nine other states, including neighboring Kansas and Iowa, allow involuntary servitude, but not slavery, as punishment.

According to Ballotpedia, the punishment exceptions in state constitutions were enacted anywhere from the 1850s to the 1890s.

Arguing in favor of approving Amendment No. 1, the Omaha World-Herald Editorial Board states that in Nebraska the “involuntary servitude” exception was used for many years to allow the “leasing” of prisoners as farm laborers and road crew workers and for other projects.

The ballot question apparently has no formal opposition. It is being supported by a group called Vote FOR Eliminating Slavery in Nebraska.

The group includes Wayne, an Omaha lawyer who is chairman of the Legislature’s Urban Affairs Committee.

On its website, www.endslaveryne.org, the proponent group says eliminating the punishment exception wouldn’t interfere with courts’ ability to sentence individuals to community service.

Furthermore, the group says, inmates in Nebraska’s correctional system who hold jobs are paid nominal wages, and haven’t been forced into slavery or servitude.

On its website, the group offers the following answer to the “frequently asked question” of “why should I vote yes?”:

“Simple: Because slavery is a moral wrong.

“Nebraskans pride ourselves on being #NebraskaNice. We are people who value liberty and freedom.

“Nothing could be further from those values than slavery.”


League of Women Voters providing non-partisan voter information

As the general election date of Nov. 3 nears and more and more people are voting early, the League of Women Voters is there as a nonpartisan resource for voters.

The 2020 election cycle marks the first time the League voter resource website vote411.org has included information about local races throughout greater Nebraska.

Several deadlines pertaining to the general election are coming up.

Friday is the last day to register or update voter information online. The deadline for in-person registration at the county clerk’s office is Oct. 23.

Applications for early ballots must be turned in by 6 p.m. Oct. 23.

Nebraska League co-president Dianne Bystrom of Plattsmouth moved to Nebraska in 2018 after retiring from Iowa State University, where she directed the Carrie Chapman Catt Center for Women and Politics. Catt was the U.S. founder of the League of Women Voters.

A decision was made in 2019 in the Nebraska League of Women Voters organization to invest more funds into and build up the state infrastructure of vote411.org.

“It was not only looking forward to the 2020 election, but also the fact that we really just wanted to expand our education of voters in the state,” Bystrom said.

Douglas and Sarpy counties long have had a robust Vote411 program, Bystrom said. Meanwhile, the rest of the state only had a minimal Vote411 program that just looked at national and statewide races and issues.

The Nebraska League also has worked to boost the presence of its website and social media.

Bystrom credited voter services co-directors Caryl Guisinger and Toni Monette for development of the statewide Vote411 infrastructure.

Outside of Douglas and Sarpy counties, where the response rate is typically more than 70%, Bystrom said the statewide candidate response for the 2020 primary election was 54%.

She said while there is room to improve when it comes to candidate response, the national organization was pleased with that 54% response rate. In some states it was about 30% the first time the program went statewide.

“We had a really successful rollout prior to the primary, and of course it was complicated by the fact of COVID,” Bystrom said, referring to the novel coronavirus disease, COVID-19, pandemic. “The other thing that happened was because so many Nebraskans were voting by early absentee ballots prior to the primary we think there was just more of a reliance on nonpartisan voter guides.”

Based on feedback the League’s statewide and Omaha offices received, Bystrom said, there weren’t many concerns about early voting during the primary election.

The League offices have received quite a few calls recently about the mail, dropping off ballots and voter intimidation, however.

“I think we’re in a different narrative now that people are concerned about it,” she said.

The League is working to fight misinformation, Bystrom said.

In addition to information about candidates and ballot issues, Vote411.org includes many additional resources, including the voter check website available through the Nebraska Secretary of State website through which voters can track the processing of their ballot.

She said the League has worked well not only with the Secretary of State’s Office but also local election officials.

“They are public servants and want the process to work,” she said.


Webster County recall petition negated by resignation

RED CLOUD — A recall petition had been filed against Webster County Attorney Sara Bockstadter prior to her recent resignation, but she says it wasn’t the reason she decided to leave her post.

Andrew Alber of Blue Hill filed paperwork for the recall petition on July 24.

“Webster County Attorney Sara Bockstadter has miserably failed in her duties as an Attorney and should be recalled from office,” the petition stated. “She has failed to properly prosecute the guilty and persecuted the innocent. She has failed to investigate crimes before proceeding with trials costing the taxpayers thousands of dollars in unnecessary legal fees. She does not properly represent Webster County.”

Bockstadter had 20 days to respond with a statement of defense, which would have been included on the petition Alber circulated.

Bockstadter declined to file a response to the petition, and Alber started asking county voters to sign.

Alber, a truck driver by profession, said he was only able to go out to collect signatures on weekends. He said many in the community wanted to support the cause and called, texted or emailed to arrange times to sign. His wife, Vicki, also helped collect signatures while he was on the road.

Despite the limited time, Alber said, he collected 398 signatures — more than the 360 needed to successfully put the issue to a vote.

He turned the petition forms into the Webster County Clerk’s Office on Sept. 25.

Bockstadter submitted her letter of resignation on Sept. 23.

When contacted, Bockstadter said she had been considering the decision to leave the position for months due to several considerations like family life and career goals.

“His decision to pursue that recall wasn’t in and of itself a factor in my decision to resign,” she said. “Over the last year, I’ve been contemplating what the next stage of my career looks like. There was no one factor that played into my decision.”

Bockstadter was hired as Webster County Attorney in July 2012 to replace Jerry McDole, who retired. She was elected to the position in 2014 and was re-elected in 2018. She also served as Nuckolls County Attorney from 2015-18.

Bockstadter started her private practice in Hastings in 2018 and plans to focus her efforts on building that practice and serving residents in Adams County, where she resides.

The Webster County Board of Commissioners accepted Bockstadter’s resignation on Oct. 6, negating the need for the petition signatures to be verified.

Webster County District Judge Stephen Illingworth appointed Franklin County Attorney Henry Schenker to act as interim county attorney until the board can find a replacement.

Schenker also has a private law practice with offices in Franklin, Hildreth, Alma and Oxford.

The board will publish advertising for the position for two weeks and accept applications through Nov. 1. The board could approve a new attorney for the position at its Nov. 3 meeting.