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— As 2009 draws to a close, it’s interesting to look back and see just how much has happened in Decatur over the past year. Following are some highlights taken from the headlines of The Decatur Herald during the first half of 2009.

During the first week of January, city utilities director James Boston reported that construction of the new wastewater treatment plant was back on schedule after some delays in the fall of 2008.

Senior Jessica Anderson was crowned the Decatur High School colors day queen on Jan. 9. Cameron Murray and Hunter Beal were named team captains.

Bud Lovitt retired from the city council after three terms of service. James Jessen ran uncontested to fill his position and took office in early January. Sandy Duncan was nominated to fill Charles Linam’s seat on the council and also took office during the first part of January.

On Jan. 12, Arkansas State Board of Education members met and were pleased with reports of the Decatur School District’s progress. After attending the meeting, superintendent LeRoy Ortman announced the Decatur School District would stay open for the 2009-2010 school year and gave a timeline for annexation or removal from fiscal distress. The deadline for the decision to annex the district is January 2010. If the school is removed from fiscal distress, by law the state must make a decision by June 2010, he said.

On Jan. 20, Northside Elementary School children celebrated the historic inauguration of president Barack Obama with class activities and red, white and blue cake before gathering to watch Obama be sworn in as 56th president of the United States over live Internet feed.

On Jan. 20 Christopher Beisly was arrested for allegedly raping a 7-year-old girl and holding several people at gun point.

An ice storm hit northwest Arkansas on Jan. 26, 27 and 28. Although other parts of Benton and Washington counties sustained heavy damage, Decatur escaped much of the devastation the storm brought to the surrounding area. There were only a few brief power outages in the city and little damage to trees and power lines. Decatur students had nearly a week off school due to slippery roads.

Alderman David Cook submitted a letter of resignation to the city council in early February, saying he stepped down from office for health reasons at the request of his doctors.

At a Feb. 9 meeting, city council members considered closing the city swimming pool after it lost a considerable amount of money in 2008. The council decided to take a closer look at the pool’s finances at the next meeting.

In mid-February, two Decatur residents, Rachel Hernandez and Juan Jose Garcia, faced felony charges after allegedly taking more than $1,200 from a disabled woman’s bank account.

TNT Dirt Works, owned by Tim Witcher, was one of four contractors hired by Benton County to clean up icestorm damage. In February, county judge Dave Bisbee realized the contractors would earn $45,000 to $65,000 a day under the FEMA approved contract.Bisbee re-negotiated the contract for $4,500 a day with three of the contractors, but Witcher refused to enter the new contract and was released from working for the county.

On March 2, the Chamber of Commerce announced that country singer John Conlee would be the entertainer for the 56th Annual Decatur Barbecue. Conlee is known for a long list of hits, including “Rose Colored Glasses.”

At the March 9 city council meeting, council members decided to leave the city pool open for one more year on a trial bases. Financial reports showed the pool lost more than $8,000 in 2008.

On March 12, former Decatur School District Treasurer Tina Murray, was sentenced to 15 years in prison. Murray pleaded guilty to theft of property and admitted to stealing $41,471 from the school between August 2006 and May 2008. Upon Murray’s guilty plea, the Decatur School District’s insurance company repaid the money, minus a $1,000 deductible.

On March 14, Ray Ferdig of Decatur, and his beagle Miss Piggie won the Professional Kennel Club World Championship in Hartford Kentucky.

On March 16 and 17, Crossland Heavy Construction completed the final major pour of concrete on the new wastewater treatment plant. City utilities director James Boston said he hoped to have the plant operational by the end of June.

On March 17, FAIP, LLC, an Elk Grove, Ill., company specializing in manufacturing pressure washers, bought the Decatur Black & Decker pressure washer plant with plans to relocate its Siloam Springs manufacturing facility to Decatur. The Decatur plant had been closed since August of 2008, leaving 82 employees without jobs.

Kristina Steen-Haugen was crowed queen of the Decatur High School prom on April 4, and Anthony Robbins was crowned King. The prom was held in the Northside Elementary School.

Rob Hopkins celebrated his retirement from the Decatur Fire Department on April 7, after 28 years of service.

On April 13, David Sutton began his duties as alderman for Ward 3, Position 1.Sutton was nominated to fill David Cook’s seat on the city council.

In April, TNT Dirt Works filed a suit against Benton County for the $1.5 million worth of work the company performed cleaning up after the January ice storm. In turn, County Judge Dave Bisbee offered the company $324,000.

In April, the Decatur School District was allotted $459,041 in federal stimulus money through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. The school must spend the money in three specific categories by December of 2011.

On April 24, two railroad photographers, Robert Conway and Phil Dohmen traveled from Chicago, Ill., and Memphis, Tenn., to capture a photograph of the vintage Southern Belle engine in Decatur next to a passing modern freight locomotive with the same paint scheme.

The Decatur High School softball team won its first district championship in 10 years on April 25. They went on to compete in the state tournament the following weekend but lost to Melbourn on May 4.

The Chamber of Commerce held an annual awards banquet on May 11 at the Gallery Cafe for three graduating high school seniors - honor students Kaleb Gregory, Paula Lor and Tessa Foreman.

Thirty-five students graduated from the Decatur High School on May 15. Superintendent LeRoy Ortman called the ceremony a milestone event, considering that less than a year before itwasn’t even known if the school would still exist. Kaleb Gregory was class valedictorian and Paula Lor was salutatorian.

The city council passed an animal control ordinance in May requiring all dogs to be licensed.

The last day of school was June 5. An “end-of-schoolbash pool party” was held on June 13 at the city swimming pool to kick off the summer season.

Rather than ending the 2008-2009 school year $510,000 in the red, as the Arkansas Department of Education predicted when in took over the Decatur School District in July of 2008, the school district ended the year with more than $500,000 in the bank.

“As far as I’m concerned, this district is now financially stable,” Superintendent LeRoy Ortman said at the June 15 townhall meeting.

At the same meeting, Ortman and athletic director Bobby King warned that the high school football program was in trouble because of lack of participation.

A lightening strike during a June 12 thunderstorm forced the city of Decatur to open its new wastewater treatment plant two days ahead of schedule. The strike damaged several pieces of key equipment in the old plant, and rather than spend several thousand dollars fixing the old plant for two days of operation, officials decided to open the new plant early.

The year-end review will continue with the second half of 2009 in next week’s issue.

News, Pages 1 on 12/23/2009

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