The Ottumwa Courier

December 26, 2013

2013 Year in Review

By MATT MILNER
Courier staff writer

---- — OTTUMWA — Here's part one of the year in review as taken from Courier headlines.

January

Gas prices dropped below $3 per gallon for the first time in a couple years. They would end the year below that mark as well.

Maria Valencialiono was the New Year’s Baby for Ottumwa.

The Iowa Department of Education said Ottumwa student numbers were up, reversing a long-term decline.

Ottumwa High School’s Victory Bell was stolen. The theft, thought to be related to scrap metal prices, has not yet been solved.

Volunteers put in work on getting some of Ottumwa’s public clocks working again, including the clock on Ottumwa High School.

Former Ottumwa Transit Authority director Pam Ward was indicted on federal charges related to her tenure. Her trial resulted in a hung jury, and prosecutors declined to pursue the case further.

The annual eagle watch in Ottumwa drew people downtown on a cold Saturday in hopes of spotting Ottumwa’s most popular winter visitors.

The 833rd Engineer Company was called up for service in Afghanistan. The announcement was made only a couple weeks before their third deployment in the past 12 years.

An Ottumwa police officer badly damaged a patrol car when he hit a garbage truck, sparking a community-wide discussion on how officers handle the vehicles.

Ottumwa Police Chief Jim Clark announced his retirement. Tom McAndrew, a longtime officer in the department, was selected as his successor.

Construction of Ottumwa’s new elementary school was on schedule, though officials had yet to pick a name for the building.

Oskaloosa and Fairfield were announced as overnight stops for RAGBRAI. The Fairfield stop eventually wound up in the Guinness Book of World Records.

Lightning was blamed for a house fire, the first of what would become a very busy year for Ottumwa firefighters. By year’s end, 40 structure fires took place within city limits.

The search committee announced Dave Silverio as its pick for the new Ottumwa Transit director. His selection was later confirmed by the City Council.

Iowa announced a second round of Blue Zone communities. Again, Ottumwa fell short. But Oskaloosa made the cut.

February

John Hunolt was named recipient of the Gene Schultz Community Service Award.

Crime in 2012 was down, according to the Ottumwa Police Department’s annual report.

Officials started talking about the need for expanding broadband access in Ottumwa and how to do it. High-speed Internet access was a theme through the course of the year, with both government and business leaders highlighting it as a key to economic growth.

Retired teachers donated a bulldog statue to Evans Middle School. The dog was installed at the west entrance to the school.

Ottumwa’s government was blasted for its secrecy during the hiring of the new transit director. Despite the efforts to limit what the public knew, the Iowa League of Cities said the search was conducted legally.

The city continued its efforts to change the way Ottumwa Transit does business. New rules were put into place for how the authority could handle contracts.

Seth Techel went on trial, charged with killing his wife, Lisa, in 2012. The trial ended after jurors deadlocked. Unable to reach a verdict, the jury left the judge little choice but to declare a mistrial. Prosecutors immediately said they would seek a new trial.

River Hills suggested it could leave downtown and seek space elsewhere in Ottumwa.

Naming Ottumwa’s new elementary school came down to two final choices: Liberty or Fahrney. The Ottumwa school board eventually selected Liberty.

Conservationists took a look at Chief Wapello for ideas on how to preserve the statue, which was dislodged from its perch atop the Wapello County Courthouse by a violent storm in 2012. The statue had yet to regain its place by year’s end.

March

Ottumwa High School claimed a graduation rate of 81 percent. While this was up from a rate of 70-75 percent several years ago, it still lagged well behind the state average.

Students in Ottumwa faced a school shuffle with the opening of the newly named Liberty Elementary School. The changes in where students attended classes went into effect with the start of the 2013-14 academic year.

Ottumwa firefighters and police officers played dodgeball in a combination team-building exercise and fundraiser.

A leak at the Wapello County Law Center destroyed equipment used by the county’s 911 dispatchers. The leak, caused by a frozen pipe, forced calls to be routed through other counties for a time.

The Des Moines River at Ottumwa was rising, but fears of possible flooding were downplayed as experts thought the drought that began in the summer of 2012 would continue. It became a strange weather year, though. The state saw its wettest spring in history, followed by a summer drought that was even worse than 2012 in some places.

A grease fire at Cargill drew Ottumwa firefighters, but the fire was quickly contained with minimal damage.

The Ottumwa High School show choir returned from competition as grand champions for the first time. The season was the choir’s most successful in more than a decade of competitions, with multiple finishes in the top three.

One final resident of St. Joseph Hospital was discovered: Mr. Bones. The fully articulated skeleton was found as the building was cleared in preparation for demolition.

A federal lawsuit against the Environmental Protection Agency included Ottumwa. The suit successfully contended the EPA ignored rule-making procedures and implemented regulations illegally.

Ottumwa firefighters participated in the “Fight for Air Climb,” a combination competition and fundraiser that tested their ability to do move up several stories while wearing full firefighting gear.

Ottumwa Regional Health Center announced it was closing its day care. The decision worried parents who had used the center and sparked efforts to expand day care access in Ottumwa.

The city’s newest affordable housing complex opened.

The Today Show spotlighted Ottumwa as part of a series on immigration and how it affects communities nationwide.

April

The American Gothic House’s Easter egg roll was forced inside as rain continued.

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources restocked the pond at Ottumwa Park with trout. Anglers were waiting, rods in hand, and hoping the trout were hungry after their trip.

Two people were killed when a train struck a van at Batavia.

John Deere employees spent part of the day at Evans Middle School in a program designed to help bring girls into engineering careers. It was one of several efforts in recent years to draw more girls into science and technology fields.

Ottumwa’s City Council debated whether to change the rules governing the city administrator’s job security. The move shifted the required number of votes to fire an administrator from three, a bare majority of the council, to four members.

El Rancho Grande, a popular Mexican restaurant in downtown Ottumwa, burned. Investigators blamed the fire on an electrical fault.

A wet spring delayed planting for area farmers, creating frustration after the drought in 2012 hurt the yields from their previous year.

Multiple locations in downtown Ottumwa lost power, including City Hall. The outage wasn’t long-lived or particularly damaging, but the reason was unusual. Officials blamed it on a curious rodent who got into the wrong place.

Rains went from a nuisance to a threat as the Des Moines River approached flood stage. A single night brought several inches, tipping the balance. The rain washed out several spots in Wapello County, most spectacularly 90th Street.

Job Corps was allowed to reopen enrollment in Ottumwa, but the welcome news came with a bitter twist. The total enrollment cap for Ottumwa was lowered from the original levels.

A new hog confinement near Batavia received approval.

Dustin Armstrong was arrested and charged in the case of an Ottumwa toddler who was severely injured while in his care. The case remained pending at the end of the year.

Henry County was selected for the Seth Techel retrial. The defense had pushed for a location farther from Wapello County, though prosecutors said Mt. Pleasant was far enough.