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Students receiving scholarships include, from left above, Dusty Sell and Benton Grills I, both of West Plains; Brandi Myers, Rolla; Inna Yakovleva, Willow Springs; and Tellcy Osborn, West Plains.  Others receiving scholarships include Billie Brown, Winona; Deborah Fox, Benton Grills II and Brooke Mayfield, all of West Plains; Jacob George Lada, Mountain Grove; Bethany Parker, Springfield; and Mark Vizza, Thayer.  (Missouri State-West Plains Photo)

Students receiving scholarships include, from left above, Dusty Sell and Benton Grills I, both of West Plains; Brandi Myers, Rolla; Inna Yakovleva, Willow Springs; and Tellcy Osborn, West Plains. Others receiving scholarships include Billie Brown, Winona; Deborah Fox, Benton Grills II and Brooke Mayfield, all of West Plains; Jacob George Lada, Mountain Grove; Bethany Parker, Springfield; and Mark Vizza, Thayer. (Missouri State-West Plains Photo)

(West Plains) – Twelve students at Missouri State University-West Plains have been awarded TRiO Grant Scholarships for the 2014-15 academic year.

To be eligible for the scholarship, TRiO students must complete two semesters with a cumulative grade point average above 2.75 and participate in TRiO events. TRiO Student Support Services is a program that helps first generation and low income students make a successful transition to college and develop the skills and motivation to graduate.

Each year, $10,000 in scholarships are funded by the federal TRiO Grant Program to reward their progress.

(Mountain Home) – A chance occurrence led to the arrest of a Fayetteville resident Friday, April 11, on charges related to the theft of two motor vehicles and a boat and trailer from Baxter County.

A man who lives in Baxter County was driving along the highway in Izard County when he came up behind a truck that was pulling a trailer with a car on it. After several minutes, this man realized that the car on the trailer, a 1964 1/2 Ford Mustang that was being restored and valued at $38,000, was his car, which was supposed to be at a garage in Baxter County.

Once deputies arrived, the driver of the truck was identified as 58-year-old Danny Sturgis. Sturgis reportedly admitted to having stolen the vehicle from a garage on Highway 201 North in Baxter County, as well has having previously taken a 1969 Plymouth Satellite that was undergoing restoration and valued at $20,000, and a Celebrity boat and trailer valued at $10,000 from the same location.

Sturgis was booked into the Baxter County Detention Center on charges of three counts of theft of property and three counts of breaking or entering. At report time Sturgis was being held in lieu of $100,000 bond, and he will appear later this month in Circuit Court.

Sturgis was already out on bail awaiting trial from previous felony theft by receiving charges.

Mark Collins and Ozark Radio Network President and CEO Tom Marhefka. (ORN Photo)

Mark Collins and Ozark Radio Network President and CEO Tom Marhefka. (ORN Photo)

(West Plains) – Howell County Presiding Commissioner Mark Collins declared Friday, April 11 “Severe Weather Safety Education Event” day during a special broadcast between Howell-Oregon Electric Cooperative and the Ozark Radio Network.

Howell-Oregon Electric was celebrating their own Severe Weather Awareness Day by offering severe weather alert radios at a discounted price. Hot dogs and beverages were also offered.

The Ozark Radio Network also gave away a number of t-shirts and severe weather radios provided by Howell-Oregon Electric.

As always, when severe weather hits the region, tune in to your favorite Ozark Radio Network station (102.5 KDY, 96.9 The Fox, 93.9 JackFM, 100.3 KUKU, 1450 AM KWPM)

To view a photo gallery of the event, click here.

(BBC)

(BBC)

(Jefferson City) (AP) – Missouri House members have given first-round approval to legislation that seeks to prevent children and younger teens from buying electronic cigarettes and other devices.

E-cigarettes are battery-powered devices used to heat a liquid nicotine solution and create vapor that is inhaled.

Missouri’s legislation would prohibit sales to anyone younger than 18 years old. The bill was approved by voice vote on Tuesday and needs another affirmative vote before moving to the state Senate.

The federal Food and Drug Administration has said it plans to set marketing and product regulations for electronic cigarettes in the near future but hasn’t done so yet.

(Willow Springs) – On Tuesday and Wednesday, Troop G of the Missouri State Highway Patrol will be working with Missouri Operation Lifesaver volunteers in Howell, Wright, and Texas counties to raise awareness for railroad crossing safety and trespass prevention.

Troopers will be part of safety teams that visit with motorists briefly in advance of certain railroad crossings. Team members will be reminding drivers about railroad safety tips as they approach crossings throughout the counties. Additionally, the BNSF Railway will be offering two railroad crossing safety training classes to various law enforcement agencies within the troop on both days. Safety teams will consist of troopers with the Missouri State Highway Patrol; officers with the Mountain Grove Police, West Plains Police, and BNSF Railway; representatives from the Missouri Department of Transportation and Federal Railroad Administration; and Operation Lifesaver volunteers.

Operation Lifesaver has just launched a new safety campaign “See Tracks? Think Train” with the goal of encouraging drivers and pedestrians to always expect a train anytime they are near railroad tracks. While rail-involved incidents are down in Troop G over the past two years, one person has died from trespassing on railroad tracks in that time frame.

Opinion piece by Steve Booher, St. Joseph News-Press

One man’s guess about what happened to Beau

Solving a mystery can be a slow, painstaking process. For instance, nobody really knows what happened to Amelia Earhart or why a Malaysian Airlines jet veered off course and crashed somewhere near Australia.

And only a few people know for sure why Beau Musser is no longer performing his duties as the St. Joseph School District’s chief financial officer.

Mr. Musser’s fate remains a mystery because no one will talk on the record. District officials have repeatedly told reporters the standard line that he has been placed on paid administrative leave and they can’t comment on personnel matters. Mr. Musser himself is cooperating with an FBI investigation and may at some point file a lawsuit against the school district. He has been advised not to comment.

So, what’s a poor columnist to do?

Well, you talk to friends and relatives of Mr. Musser. You pick up hints from school district officials and board members. A copy of what appears to be a financial document pops up in a reporter’s inbox. You get phone calls from people who once served on a board or committee associated with the school district. Other callers tell you they know someone who knows someone who knows the inside scoop. And, yes, you actually can read a memo upside down while sitting in front of someone else’s desk.

It’s dirty, nasty business.

All this leads you to form an opinion, just like everybody else. It’s only your opinion, because you have nothing concrete on the record. But this is the page where we run opinions.

So here’s mine.

I believe that Mr. Musser did indeed blow the whistle on more than $330,000 in pay raises doled out to school district administrators. I think he knew that some of the raises were given without board approval and may be illegal because, even though the St. Joseph Board of Education approved them, they’re not legal until new contracts are issued and signed by everyone who received money outside of their original contract.

I think Mr. Musser knew that backroom deals were made to hire or promote family members of certain administrators and board members, and that these relatives were given huge salary increases, again without prior approval from the school board.

We’ve been told that Mr. Musser recently performed an internal audit that highlighted the problems with the stipends and nepotism. I believe this audit shows how other money is being spent improperly.

Some are small things, like an administrator who earns six figures but tries to pay for his Sam’s Club membership with his school credit card. Or another administrator who travels out of town to watch his son play in a recreational basketball tournament, then submits those trip costs on his expense report.

But there are big-ticket items. Aside from the stipends and “family jobs” program, the school district has paid an education consultant a huge amount of money for his services, again without school board approval.

M.B. “Flip” Flippen, introduced as a “close” friend of St. Joseph Superintendent Dr. Fred Czerwonka, was the keynote speaker at the school district’s convocation in August.

A copy of a school district “vendor activity report” shows that Mr. Flippen was paid $10,000 for that speech and, as of late March, the school district had written checks to the Flippen Group that total $134,900.

Other rumors say another consultant may have been paid as much as $37,000, also allegedly without board approval.

I think CFO Musser knew all about these transactions and knew that they would raise suspicions if the district were to undergo a state audit. I think he repeatedly tried to warn Dr. Czerwonka, and urged the superintendent to take these matters to the school board as soon as possible. When that failed, he consulted the school district’s attorney, Stephen Briggs, and tried to share the information with school board members.

I believe that a few days after the March 24 board meeting, when the furor over stipends and raises exploded, Mr. Musser was summoned to Dr. Czerwonka’s office and told by the superintendent and Human Resources Director Doug Flowers that he was being placed on administrative leave because they had received sexual harassment complaints about him. I’ll bet he was offered a nice sum of money — say, $40,000 — to go away quietly and not divulge the nefarious activities taking place in the offices above the Downtown branch of the St. Joseph Public Library.

While I believe that it’s possible that Mr. Musser may have told an off-color joke or made a politically incorrect remark, to date no victims have come forward and no evidence of harassment has surfaced.

It’s easy to believe that these allegations were manufactured to intimidate Mr. Musser into signing the exit deal and silence his whistle-blowing.

I’ve also heard that the FBI has interviewed Mr. Musser about these issues. And I’ve heard the bureau was already investigating the school district before this latest mess.

Well, there you have it.

Keep in mind that all these words are strictly the opinion of a simple-minded columnist, a person not nearly as smart as all the PhDs who are running our school district.

But, maybe some of my thinking is valid. Perhaps more information will come to light in the weeks and months to come.

 

Steve Booher has worked for the St. Joseph News-Press for 25 years. He began his career as a sportswriter and has served as business editor, city editor and his current position of multimedia news editor. Over the years, Steve’s news teams and individual reporters have won several state and national press association awards, especially for covering breaking news. He has also won a couple of column-writing awards. Steve attended two sessions at the American Press Institute and the Diversity Institute.

Ozark Radio News thanks Mr. Booher and the St. Joseph News-Press for allowing us to use this piece.

City Clerk Mallory Prewett, left, swearing Smith in during Monday's meeting. (ORN Photo)

City Clerk Mallory Prewett, left, swearing Smith in during Monday’s meeting. (ORN Photo)

(West Plains) – The West Plains City Council held a special meeting on Monday, April 14 and swore in councilwoman Brenda Smith into her position on the city council after accepting the voting results from the April 8 election.

Smith was also reelected by the council as Mayor Pro-Tem, after the council discussed the need for department heads after the adoption of the City Charter during the April 8 election. It was decided that the council would continue acting as department heads, citing involvement with the city and city residents.

Mayor Jack Pahlmann was named the head of the Department of Public Affairs and Public Safety, Smith was named to Accounts and Finance, Royce Fugate was named to Public Utilities, Bob Burtrum was named to Streets and Public Improvements, and Mike Topliff was named to the Department of Parks and Public Property. Royce Fugate was also renamed to the Planning and Zoning Committee.

The council also approved the reappointment of Dixie Williams as Finance Director, Tom Stehn as Administrator, and Mallory Prewett as City Clerk.

City Clerk Willa Kramer, left, swearing in Lindell, Reed and O'Brien. (ORN Photo)

City Clerk Willa Kramer, left, swearing in Lindell Vandevort, Mayor Patrick Reed and Paul O’Brien. (ORN Photo)

(Mountain View) – The newly elected and re-elected Mountain View City Council members were sworn in Monday night at the most recent Mountain View City Council meeting.

Mayor Patrick Reed and Councilman Paul O’Brien, who both ran unopposed, and Lindell Vandevort, who defeated Jeremy Burks for one of the West Ward Alderman positions, were sworn in Monday evening by City Clerk Willa Kramer. Alderman Larry David, who was not present at the meeting, was chosen as the Mayor Pro-Tem.

Outgoing alderman Jeremy Burks thanked those at city hall who voted for him and supported him before and during the election, and said he looks forward to continue serving the city in some capacity.

Also at the Monday meeting, Mike Wake was introduced as the new City Administrator. Wake told those in attendance that he is excited to take the new position, and looks forward to working with the city council and others in the position.

Jerry Hill with the Eminence Masonic Lodge #607 also addressed the council and presented certificates of appreciation from the Lodge to Jeremy Burks, Mayor Reed and Chamber of Commerce Director Linda Lewis for their assistance with the Lodge booth at Pioneer Days, which sells cotton candy and snow cones, and donates the proceeds to needy families.

Also at the meeting, the council approved a resolution supporting affordable electricity, which states that the city is against any restrictions on coal power that could raise electric rates. The council also discussed brush collection by city crews and repairs to the city pool.

Former Councilman Jeremy Burks accepting his certificate from Jerry Hill and the Masonic Lodge. (ORN Photo)

Former Councilman Jeremy Burks accepting his certificate from Jerry Hill and the Masonic Lodge. (ORN Photo)

Chamber Director Linda Lewis accepting her certificate from Jerry Hill and the Masonic Lodge. (ORN Photo)

Chamber Director Linda Lewis accepting her certificate from Jerry Hill and the Masonic Lodge. (ORN Photo)

Reed

Mayor Reed accepting his certificate from Jerry Hill and the Masonic Lodge. (ORN Photo)

(St. Joseph) (AP) – Federal investigators are looking into a northwest Missouri school district’s finances after questions were raised last month about stipends given to a number of top school officials without school board approval.

St. Joseph School District Superintendent Fred Czerwonka, who was hired last summer, apologized at a meeting Thursday night for not going to the Board of Education before awarding the stipends. He has said administrative salaries were low when he took over, as was morale, and the stipends were a temporary way to address those issues.

“I respectfully ask that you allow me to do the job that you hired me to do. Please allow me to be the superintendent, and we will be that premier school district,” he told board members.

Earlier Thursday, FBI agents met with Czerwonka, according to his assistant, Steve Huff, and later with Human Resources Director Doug Flowers, the St. Joseph News-Press reported.

FBI spokesman Kurt Lipanovich declined to confirm the investigation but said “the FBI is always interested in listening to allegations of financial fraud or misuse of funds involving the St. Joseph School District.”

School board member Chris Danford raised questions last month about $250,000 in stipends paid to administrators, principals and assistant principals at the beginning of the school year. She also questioned why Flowers had promoted five staff members—including his wife—to technical director status without board approval.

Danford said the stipends enhanced administrative salaries without going through the board, as required by district policy. A few days after the March 24 meeting where Danford raised her concerns, the district’s chief financial officer was placed on administrative leave.

District officials have declined to comment on his status or say why he was placed on leave.

Danford said she understood that Czerwonka has a job to do but reminded him that he is not the ultimate authority in the school district.

“Because when push comes to shove, the seven people up here are the ones who are responsible,” she said.

(Denlow) – A Norwood resident suffered serious injuries Monday night after a one-vehicle accident in Douglas County.

The accident happened a quarter mile east of Denlow on Highway 76, when the westbound sedan driven by 21-year-old Christopher Boyd ran off-road and overturned several times, ejecting Boyd from the vehicle.

Boyd was taken from the scene of the 9 PM accident to Cox Hospital in Springfield by air ambulance.