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SPOTLIGHT
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Goodbye, 2013

Published on -12/31/2013, 8:20 AM

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Before the crystal ball drops in New York's Times Square signalling the end of 2013 -- a full hour early for us in the Central Time Zone, it's time to reflect on the year that was. Or wasn't, as the case may be.

The year will be recorded in history books for the incessant attempts to stop the Affordable Care Act -- and then perhaps the most-bungled rollout of a federal program in the nation's history. We will remember the passing of Nelson Mandela, the federal government shutting down for 16 days, the bombing at the Boston Marathon, and the twerking of Miley Cyrus.

Closer to home, 2013 was notable for a 200-megawatt wind farm being approved north of I-70 in Ellis County, the replacement of top administrators at Hays USD 489, a Union Pacific train being partially derailed in Hays after running into a parked train, and Fort Hays State University President Edward H. Hammond announcing he will retire in June after 27 years at the helm.

While those arguably were the region's biggest stories of the year, there was no shortage of news as the months passed by:

The Bickle-Schmidt Sports Complex came close to ending in the black, Monument Rocks and Pyramid Ranch in Gove County were purchased by Norman Nelson of Norton, former Rooks County Sheriff Randy Axelson was sentenced to 49 months for methamphetamine distribution, and the University Leader disappeared as a weekly student paper at FHSU.

Ellis County voters approved a 0.5 percent sales tax to pay for a new EMS/rural fire building and the expansion and renovation of the courthouse and the Law Enforcement Center to the tune of $14.5 million, a biking/hiking trail master plan was approved for Hays, a February blizzard dumped 16 inches on northwest Kansas, and former Hays bands The Tempests and the Playmate Blues Band were inducted into the Kansas Music Hall of Fame.

The Sunflower Spelling Bee moved to Hays, confusion reigned as newly elected USD 489 board member Josh Waddell was discovered not to be a registered voter, a $10 million school bond failed in Ellis, and T-Bone's owner Mike Butler pleaded no contest to burning down his own business.

Ellis County's first wind turbines went into operation at FHSU, Trego County voters approved a 1-cent sales tax to fund Trego County-Lemke Memorial Hospital, NASCAR star Clint Bowyer drove some laps at RPM Speedway, a 200-by-90-foot deep sinkhole appeared in Wallace County, and 11-year-old Rylee Werth of Ellis was in demand around the country to sing the national anthem.

Politicians Rick Santorum and Howard Dean had an armchair debate inside Beach/Schmidt Performing Arts Center, the Hays private-public school rivalry took a new twist with a road maintenance battle, and the community mourned the passing of Dr. Harry Watts.

David Kwiatkowski, the hospital technician suspected of purposefully infecting patients with hepatitis C at hospitals throughout the country including HaysMed, pleaded guilty to 14 federal drug theft and tampering charges. Former Hays city wastewater manager Charles Blair was charged with falsifying records of nitrogen levels in the water a few years ago. Hays Regional Airport opened a new 6,500-foot runway, with hopes of landing a new carrier to service the facility.

There is always a lot happening in this region, and The Hays Daily News remains committed to being the most trustworthy and complete source for all things local.

While we won't make any resolutions destined to be discarded by Jan. 31, we will offer a few predictions for 2014.

Some are easier than others, such as a new president being named for Fort Hays State University, the development of the second of Hays' three interstate interchanges, the local United Way organization meeting yet another fundraising goal, and Ellis County offices moving to the former Commerce Bank building.

More difficult tea leaves to read would begin at the Ellis County Courthouse. A simmering battle between elected department heads and the county administrator will boil over, forcing county commissioners to step in. Nobody will lose their job, but many an ego will be bruised as the commissioners vow to protect their investment to run the county professionally.

A plan to rectify decades of deferred and/or ignored maintenance on USD 489 school buildings will be greeted with sticker shock by a voting public. District patrons narrowly will defeat the bond issue, even though doing so will not diminish the needs one iota.

Property taxes will increase dramatically when the Kansas Supreme Court orders the Legislature to cough up another $440 million to fund public education adequately. The governor's house of cards will collapse, resulting in Sam Brownback's defeat at the ballot box, but not before state government-starving lawmakers pass the school costs down to local governmental units.

The tea party movement will reinvent itself after the grassroots populists finally recognize they've been fighting to protect the status quo of the 1 percent. The bid to capitalize the group's name results in third-party status, and regular Republicans go back to being regular Republicans.

Kansas Democrats will celebrate victories in the governor and secretary of state's races, but little else. The Kansas Senate would have welcomed Eber Phelps as its newest member, had only he decided to run.

Editorial by Patrick Lowry

plowry@dailynews.net

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