The year 2016 began with tremors felt in Arkansas City.Web (512)

A group of more than 20 earthquakes in and around Fairview, Oklahoma, included two significant quakes that were felt right here at home.

The strongest of them topped out at 4.7 and 4.9 magnitude on the Richter scale, respectively.

The two quakes occurred only 30 seconds apart.

No major damage was experienced in Arkansas City, though.

Bald eagle in town

In March, citizens were asked to keep their distance from a nesting bald eagle near Veterans Memorial Lake.

“Some nature trails were created by a private group with the blessing of the city on the land that we own between the levee and the river,” said Public Information Officer Andrew Lawson.

The group already had put the trail in too closely to the nest before it was asked to divert from the area.

“We were notified by several members of the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks, and Tourism and a federal authority that some of the trails were too close to the nest,” Lawson said.

The trails were roped off with snow fencing and signs were put into place to warn citizens away from coming too close.

At the time, Ark City residents were warned that they could be ticketed by state authorities if they disobeyed the signs or came too close to the nests.

“They are the national bird and they are highly protected by law,” Lawson said.

The restrictions later were lifted after the trees leafed out and the eagles’ mating season came to a close.

Lindsay Abegg and Jacob Brickey

That same month, the trials stemming from the 2015 death of 16-month-old Astra Abegg finally came to an end.

While Lindsay Abegg, the mother of the late child, initially was arrested and charged with murder in the first degree, those charges were amended before her trial.

Cowley County Attorney Chris Smith indicated the original charges were not supported by the evidence collected in the investigation.

The amended charges, to which Lindsay Abegg later pleaded guilty, were possession of methamphetamine, possession of marijuana and aggravated endangerment of a child.

She currently is serving 18 months of probation.

Jacob Brickey, who was arrested for the same charge of murder in the first degree, was tried for alternate charges of voluntary manslaughter and aggravated endangerment of a child.

He entered a plea of guilty to the alternative charges and was sentenced to 7 1/2 years in jail. Brickey also must register as a violent offender for the next 15 years.

Nicolle Murphy

Arkansas City native Nicolle Murphy placed fifth in the 2016 Olympic Trials on July 9 in Eugene, Oregon.

She was only 1 foot, 7 inches away from qualifying for the Olympic track and field team. Only the top three placers advance to the Rio 2016 Olympics in Brazil.

Murphy’s longest throw during the trials was 184.10 feet, her second-highest throw of all time.

“My biggest source of support is definitely my family, friends and whole Minnesota family,” said Murphy, who attends the University of Minnesota.

“It’s been a huge blessing to have all these people in my life along this journey.”

Cowley College board breaks KOMA law

In July, the Cowley College Board of Trustees elected a new board member via secret ballot, breaking the Kansas Open Meetings Act.

Cowley County Attorney Christopher Smith confirmed the violation occurred during the July 18 board meeting.

In a letter addressed to the college’s legal counsel, David Andreas, Smith explained his findings.

“After reading contemporaneous news accounts, listening to a recording of the meeting and speaking to individuals who were present, I have determined that no investigation is necessary and no documentation will be needed from you or the board,” the letter states. “It is very clear that the Cowley College Board of Trustees violated the letter and spirit of the KOMA.”

In accordance with Kansas law, the college will have to take several actions to correct the illegal vote.

The college still has to abide by one mandate from Smith, that “each member of the Cowley College Board of Trustees must obtain at least one hour of KOMA training provided by the Kansas Attorney General’s Office at a time and place to be determined. This must be completed on or before the 15th day of September, 2016.” This deadline later was extended. It is unclear if the training has occurred.

Historic Burford Theatre opens

The historically renovated Burford Theatre finally opened to the public on Sept. 29, after being closed to the public since its doors shut in 2004.

The largest public donation of funds came from the V.J. Wilkins Memorial Foundation.

In 2014, the foundation awarded the Burford $2 million, to be distributed over the course of 10 years, in order to make the theater operational at last.

The theater’s new marquee, declaring the facility the “V.J. Wilkins Family Center for the Arts (at the) Burford Theatre,” was installed June 30.

The Burford opened its doors for the first time in 1924. When it was designed, it was a state-of-the-art theater for its time.

The theater’s official dedication occurred the same day the doors opened to the public.

County and state election results

The official results for the 2016 general election were posted Nov. 14.

House District 80 candidate Anita Judd-Jenkins maintained her lead over Democrat Michelle Schiltz, winning with 3,335 votes to Schiltz’s 973 in Cowley County.

Kasha Kelley, who had held the seat for 12 years, lost to Judd-Jenkins in the primary, but her supporters attempted to re-elect her in November via an ill-fated write-in campaign.

Republican Larry Alley, senator-elect for the 32nd District, won the vote in Cowley County by 1,107 votes, defeating Democrat Don Shimkus. He will replace longtime Sen. Steve Abrams, who retired.

On the Cowley County Commission front, Commissioner Alan Groom will maintain his seat, but Gary Wilson was defeated by Bob Voegele.

Voegele, who lost to Wilson several years ago by just a few votes, won handily this year with a margin of more than 300 votes.

Republicans David Falletti (county sheriff), Christopher Smith (district court judge) and Larry Schwartz (county attorney) all were elected to offices that seemed secured in the August primaries, as were current County Clerk Karen Madison, County Treasurer Maci DeCoudres and Register of Deeds Toni Long.

Both Jerry Moran and Mike Pompeo won their Congressional races in landslides, taking the lead by several thousand votes in Cowley County.

Ed Trimmer once again will be the representative of the 79th House District after running unopposed this year.

South Central Kansas Medical Center

South Central Kansas Medical Center has had a rough year in terms of finances.

After canceling its regularly scheduled January Board of Trustees meeting, the hospital’s administration announced a large deficit in a special meeting Feb. 2.

With a looming bond payment due less than a week later, SCKMC approached the City of Arkansas City to come up with the $275,000 it lacked to make the full payment.

During the City Commission meeting that same day, the commissioners approved a loan for the funds the hospital needed.

Several meetings between the city and the hospital were held in the following weeks.

Both entities voted to hold a special election for the purpose of instituting an additional sales tax to support the bond payment.

The mail-in ballot was sent out in early May and the vote showed a 4-to-1 margin in favor of the additional one-cent sales tax, which went into effect Oct. 1.

Among the other developments at the hospital were:

  • South Central Kansas Clinic (SCKC) began offering after-hours services.
  • SCKC was awarded federal Rural Health Clinic status in July, increasing its reimbursements.
  • Quorum Health Resources presented its assessment study of SCKMC in October after being hired as a contractual obligation of the bond documents created when the hospital was built.
  • The SCKMC Board of Trustees voted to create a Geriatric Psych Unit at a special meeting in December.

So far, the finances of the hospital have not shown as much improvement as CFO Holly Harper projected earlier this year.

City of Arkansas City

The City of Arkansas City has seen many changes in 2016 — including the beginning of road work on both Radio Lane and Summit Street.

Perhaps the most major move forward in infrastructure was the start of construction on the new Water Treatment Facility, located on West Madison Avenue.

After a drawn-out process, city commissioners approved a contract with Walters-Morgan Construction to build a brand-new, $16.4 million water treatment plant in a 3-1 vote April 6.

Commissioner Dan Jurkovich — who cast the dissenting vote — said he was pro-water treatment plant, but thought the financial timing could be better in light of the SCKMC financial issues.

“I’ve thought about it a long time … the decision we have to make is look down the road for some 12,000 citizens,” said Commissioner Duane Oestmann, explaining his yes vote.

“This plant should have been built 30 years ago or 20 years ago, and it’s not. We keep delaying it and delaying it,” said Commissioner Jay Warren. “I think we need to move forward on this thing.”

This discussion followed the sudden resignation of first-time commissioner Brandon Every, who stepped off the commission after serving less than half of his elected term.

Several citizens subsequently expressed a desire for the vote on the water treatment plant to be postponed.

Former Commissioner Charles Tweedy III filled the seat left by Every after being selected by the remaining commissioners during a commission meeting two weeks after the water plant vote.

This was not the last change in the commission roster in 2016, either. Commissioner Chad Giles tendered his resignation from the commission on May 25.

“I do not take this decision lightly, as I truly love this town and am honored to have served on the commission,” Giles said in an email to City Manager Nick Hernandez.

First-time Commissioner Karen Welch was appointed to fill the seat vacated by former mayor Giles in a 3-1 vote on June 7. Her term will last until January 2018, as will Tweedy’s.

Spring Hill Golf Course

Despite the financial woes at the city that were created by loans to SCKMC to cover bond payments, the municipal golf course twice approached the city for financial assistance in the latter half of 2016.

But representatives of Spring Hill Golf Course came away from the City Commission meeting Dec. 20 with far less assistance than they had requested.

The commissioners voted 4-0 to assist the golf course with its December and January 2017 bills, excluding costs related to employees, with the understanding that course officials would meet with Hernandez to discuss their continuing financial obligations.

However, when the golf course initially approached the city, it had requested for a total of $11,805.72 to continue operating at full strength through the end of February 2017.

To finish December with a positive balance, the golf course needed $479 — “give or take $10,” according to treasurer Dale Kuhn.

This was the second time Spring Hill had approached the commission for money. The commissioners in August gave the golf course $3,600 to keep it open and pay its bills through the end of the month.

Dr. Green leaves

Dr. Rhonda Green, who practices medicine at South Central Kansas Clinic, announced publicly that Dec. 16 would be her last day seeing patients in Arkansas City.

“I did not come to this decision lightly. I’ve thought about it long and hard,” Green posted to her Facebook page on Oct. 11.

“I will miss many of my patients. I, however, have to do what’s best for me and my family.”

Green, who is married to Darrin Green, owner of Double Eagle Firearms and Pawn, said the pawn shop will remain open and their family will not move away from the Arkansas City area.