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Loss of 475 jobs named top local story of 2013

Loss of 475 jobs named top local story of 2013

News Tribune picks the year's top 10

January 1st, 2014 in News

Employees of RR Donnelley leave work at the end of the shift for the first time after hearing that the Jefferson City facility will close Oct. 1.

Photo by Julie Smith

The year 2013 was an eventful year for Jefferson City, with events such as the firing of a second city administrator in the past couple years and mold forcing the closure of the old Missouri State Penitentiary to tours. Last year, our newsroom picked the school district's plans for a new high school as our top story of the year. This year, we voted the failed vote to fund that plan as our No. 3 story.

But many in the newsroom agreed the top local story went to the story that was unquestionably bad news for our community: the closure of RR Donnelley and the loss of 475 jobs.

After reading these, let us know whether you agree or disagree. Did we miss or ignore something important? Let us know through comments on the online version of this story or on our Facebook page.

1. Donnelley ceases local operations, leaves 475 jobless

RR Donnelley, Jefferson City's 12th largest employer, shut down its Jefferson City operations in October, leaving 475 employees without jobs. Many of the workers scrambled to stay employed, while some of the old-timers at the plant used a benefits package to either retire early or take time off before job-seeking.

The loss of jobs caused the city to lower its revenue projections by $50,000 for the current fiscal year. Donnelley, which never returned calls from the media after making its closure announcement, left despite a joint statement from Sen. Mike Kehoe and state representatives Mike Bernskoetter and Jay Barnes, who vowed to see if they could persuade the company to stay.

The facility was established in Jefferson City in 1964, as a part of the Von Hoffmann Press company. It specializes in printing and related business services, including print and digital publications. It has operations around the world, including other Missouri plants in Owensville and Liberty.

2. Nickolaus fired

In mid-September, Nathan Nickolaus became the second city administrator to be fired by Jefferson City Mayor Eric Struemph.

In a closed session Sept. 16, the City Council voted 8-2 to fire Nickolaus after a standard evaluation of his performance, with 4th Ward Councilwoman Carrie Carroll and 3rd Ward Councilman Ken Hussey casting the opposing votes. Struemph had requested the motion to terminate Nickolaus' contract, later saying Nickolaus lacked the necessary experience and failed to meet goals that had been laid out by the council.

Nickolaus was promoted to the city administrator position on an interim basis in May 2011, after the city fired former City Administrator Steve Rasmussen. At that time, Struemph said the reason for Rasmussen's firing was that Struemph wanted his own management team on board. Prior to that, Nickolaus had served as city attorney since 2003. In December 2011, the council made the position permanent and, at the time, Struemph said Nickolaus had proven himself during the interim period.

Two weeks after being fired, Nickolaus began work as general counsel for Missouri's Economic Development department.

City Attorney Drew Hilpert has served as interim city administrator since Nickolaus' firing.

3. Voters defeat school bond issue

In April, Jefferson City Public School District voters overwhelmingly rejected a proposal to build a single new high school to replace the 1964-era Union Street campus that has served the community for decades.

In the election, 67.5 percent of voters rejected the Jefferson City Board of Education's request to issue $79 million in general obligation bonds to build the new facility and 64.3 percent voted to reject an increase in the school's operating levy.

The failure to pass both initiatives was stymied, in part, by the rise of a group that favored two high schools over one large, replacement facility. After the vote totals were announced, Dan Ortmeyer, leader of the two-schools initiative, said: "Essentially, the school board has wasted the taxpayers' time and money with this election. We tried to tell them the people of the school district want a second school option, but that is not what the people were allowed to vote on."

Today the district is in the middle of developing a new plan to address the district's long-range facilities needs. A work committee meets monthly to examine issues related to the districts' growth.

4. (tie) City budget shortfall

Throughout the spring, the Jefferson City Council had to make a series of cuts to make up for a $1.68 million shortfall that was made public Feb. 25.

In February, the city discovered its revenues would fall short of projections due to revenue from cellphone audits coming in about $1 million lower than budgeted and sales tax revenues falling. At the time, the city estimated the sales tax revenues would fall short by about $600,000.

The shortfall revelations led to a series of cuts to many city departments, including $121,000 to the Police Department, more than $478,000 to the Public Works Department and about $61,000 to the Fire Department. The city also instituted an early retirement program and a hiring freeze to help cut costs within City Hall.

4. (tie) Mold forces prison tours to stop

At long last, significant investment into the preservation of the designated historic buildings at the Missouri State Penitentiary site came by way of mold remediation.

At the end of September, the Jefferson City Convention and Visitors Bureau canceled more than 3,000 tickets held for the remainder of the site's tour season. After evaluation for health concerns, the state's Office of Administration suspended access to the site entirely.

Within a month, the state and city had agreed to split an estimated $2 million cost for repairs and mold remediation. The city's portion will be covered by money designated for the Jefferson City Parks, Recreation and Forestry Department's future multipurpose building, which should be restored in the 2015 budget.

Work to Housing Units 1, 3 and 4 will include sealing and repairing windows, replacing roofs, and cleaning up hazardous materials. The gas chamber will receive further repair to the roof and hazardous material cleanup. And the state will spend another $25,000 for further hazardous materials testing in these four buildings.

6. City negotiates for conference center

Jefferson City spent much of the year continuing its quest for a conference center.

Early this year, the City Council received three responses to its request for proposals for a conference center, but by the end of May, Drury Development Corporation pulled out of consideration, citing concerns that operating costs likely would exceed revenues, as well as concerns about the current hotel market in the area.

The two remaining developers, Ehrhardt Hospitality Group and Farmer Holding Co., then revealed their initial proposals in June. Those proposals were revised to meet council criteria, and each developer presented their final proposals in November. Farmer Holding Co. has proposed a $36 million hotel and conference center at the Capital Mall, while Ehrhardt Hospitality has proposed a $24.6 million hotel and conference center at the West McCarty Street site, which is owned by the state.

The Ehrhardt Groups' total cost does not include an estimated $2 million for land acquisition, which is expected to be paid by the city, or an estimated $7 million for a city built and operated parking garage.

In mid-November, the City Council voted 6-4 to move conference center proposals from both Jefferson City-based Farmer Holding Co. and Hannibal-based Ehrhardt Hospitality Group forward into the contract negotiation phase. There is no timeline for completing the next phase, with interim City Administrator Drew Hilpert saying it could take from two months to two years before contracts are ready to be presented.

7. CRMC announces expansion; St. Mary's moves up timetable

Capital Region Medical Center announced in May a $35 million expansion to its Madison Street facility, adding 115,000 square feet to the hospital's main campus, and increasing hospital space by a third. Hospital officials expect to break ground on the project around the first of the year.

The expansion-which will move the entrance of the hospital farther northeast-will add rooms for outpatient services, as well as two floors of medical offices.

St. Mary's Health Center is building a new $200 million facility at Mission Drive and Missouri 179. It's expected to open in November 2014, two months earlier than originally planned.

Sansone Group in St. Louis is marketing the hospital's current location at 100 St. Mary's Medical Plaza nationally to prospective buyers.

8. Legislature earmarks $50M for Capitol, Fulton State Hospital

The Missouri Legislature passed a capital improvements bill in May that includes $50 million for Capitol repairs, $2 million for a new state office building at the Missouri State Penitentiary site and $13 million for designing a new Fulton State Hospital.

Since the passage of the bill, the Missouri State Penitentiary has closed to tours because of mold.

In early December, Gov. Jay Nixon announced a proposal to build a new Fulton State Hospital, releasing the money for redesign. He said his budget proposal for fiscal year 2015 "will recommend moving forward with the strategic bond issuance that will make the resources available for this long-overdue project (to) finally get underway."

According to commissioned studies, the cost of the project, including planning and design, is about $211 million. Nixon said the remaining $200 million would come through appropriation bonds that would not require public vote.

9. Ike Skelton dies

Former U.S. Rep. Ike Skelton - a well-liked, longtime congressman and a friend of the military - died Oct. 28 at the age of 81 from pneumonia complications.

Skelton, an expert on national defense who served as chairman of the House Armed Services Committee from 2007 until losing his seat in Congress in 2010. He had served for 34 years. Missouri's Whiteman Air Force Base and Fort Leonard Wood were among the beneficiaries of his service.

More than 1,000 people stopped by the six-hour visitation to pay their respects to the family of Skelton, who was remembered as being kind and gracious as well as a statesman and a gentleman. President Barack Obama said Skelton "was beloved and respected by colleagues on both sides of the aisle."

10. Hosier convicted, sentenced to die

A nine-man, three-woman jury from St. Charles County deliberated for just more than an hour on Oct. 23 before convicting David Hosier, 58, of first-degree murder for killing Angela Gilpin, 45, on Sept. 28, 2009. The same jury spent about two hours and 45 minutes on Oct. 25 before recommending Hosier be executed for that murder.

Attorneys didn't find enough jurors in Clay County, northeast of Kansas City, to hear the trial in January, and an April trial date was also dropped when "the jury pool was insufficient" in Cass County, south of Kansas City, to select a jury.

Angela's estranged husband - Rodney Gilpin, 61 - was murdered during the same shooting, and his body was found underneath Angela's. Prosecutor's have not said whether or not they will pursue another death penalty case against Hosier for that killing.

The Gilpins had been married 21 years, but had separated, and Hosier and Angela had developed a relationship that Hosier's attorney described during the trial as "a good dating couple" who "loved each other."

Prosecutors argued Hosier killed the Gilpins because he was upset that Angela was leaving him to return to her husband and reconcile their marriage.