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Tiger leaders plan close COVID-19 watch
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The Atchison County Community Schools leaders agreed by consensus — until further notice — only unvaccinated students, staff members and guests will be subject to a mask recommendation at this point in the school year inside district-owned buildings and properties.

Mask requirements for all on buses and school transportation vehicles will remain in place in accordance with Center for Disease Control’s COVID-19 guidelines and recommendations.

Dr. Andrew Gaddis, superintendent of USD 377 schools, said because all protocols put into place for the previous school year have been removed, board members needed to put protocols in place for the new 2021-2022 schoolyear. Since the removal of the previous schoolyear’s plan, that area has experienced a rise of COVID-19 cases in the area communities, Gaddis said. Before the start of school one staff member and two parents from separate households had tested positive for coronavirus, but all have since been cleared to release from isolation.

During recent weeks the local statistics reflected 58 cases that quickly rose to 140 within a matter of days to an average of about 13 new positive cases a day.

Board members reviewed the “USD 377 American Rescue Plan Safe Return to In-Person Instruction and Continuity of Services Plan” drafted by Gaddis that only recommends masks for the unvaccinated persons, and emphasizes recommendation for all to be diligent about hygiene practices related handwashing and sanitizing.

Board President Lori Lanter asked about the quarantine and isolation protocols as it relating to the Tiger and visiting teams. Gaddis said that is remains unknown.

Board Member Nancy Keith said she worries about the youngsters who aren’t old enough yet to get a vaccination.

Board members agreed these very young pupils are recommended to wear a mask for their protection because they are unvaccinated.

Lanter suggested surveying the teachers in all the schools to get their opinions and comfort levels about the masks. The administrators present agreed there are some staff members and students who are wearing masks throughout the day in representing all grade levels.

“It’s our job to make sure everyone is safe,” Lanter said. “It’s a tough situation.”

Board Members Corey Neill said he felt comfortable with the way the protocol reads at this time, and the other board members agreed.

Gaddis reassured board members the protocols can be reviewed on a regular basis and be adapted to comply with changes to CDC recommendations and guidelines and local area case statistics.

Board members did take action concerning two other matters related to the coronavirus pandemic:

Unanimously authorized clarification that teachers and staff members be able to utilize accrued sick leave time if needed for quarantines from close contact with COVID-19 positive individuals throughout the current school year.

Unanimously approved participation in the Keystone Learning Services group to apply for grant funding administered by the Kansas Department of Health. If successful Keystone group members the grant funding will provide necessary supplies and resources that would offer schools ability to conduct daily testing for COVID at no cost, and possibly for influenza and strep free of charge at school that will likely eliminate some time associated with quarantines.

In other matters, board members:

Approved the proposed 2022-21 budget and Revenue Neutral Tax Rate for publication of the respective dates for public hearings. The hearing for exceeding the Revenue Neutral Tax rate is scheduled for 6 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 1 at the Central Office, 306 Main Street in Effingham. The budget hearing will follow at 6:15 p.m.

Heard from Gaddis that it is important parents fill out the applications concerning criteria for free and reduced meals. Gaddis explained the information about income obtained from the applications is confidential. However, whether or not family income fits the criteria for eligibility, the information gathered has an impact the federal funding the district receives for certain educational programs.

Heard a reminder from Board Clerk Melissa Gormley that the insurance rates will be increasing in January 2022.

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Senior Village management at county's forefront
  • Updated

Eric Noll

Along the quest to determine leadership for the county-run residential care facility Atchison County Commission is taking steps to ensure management of operations continues.

Vice-chairman Eric Noll and Commissioner Casey Quinn took action during a special meeting on Wednesday, Aug. 18, and directed County Counselor Patrick Henderson to negotiate details of a management contract with Anew Healthcare, based on pending terms being $5,000 a month or 6 percent of the total gross revenue, whichever is the greater amount. Following the negotiation of the details and presentation of the contract for review, the commissioners will take action.

Mark Hastings, representing Anew Healthcare, owns and operates the residential care facilities in Nortonville, Easton and Savannah, Missouri. Hastings told commissioners that Anew’s current resources in place would also be immediately available for Atchison Senior Village according to the pending agreement.

Also present for the meeting representing the county were Mark Wilson, the county’s special project manager, Facility and Maintenance Director Brian Oswalt, and Human Resource Director Jodi Moore. Representing Atchison Sr. Village were the following employees, Assistant Director of Nursing Stephanie Zacharias and Administration Assistant Jeanne Durkin.

Former Sr. Village Administrator Haley Tinch resigned from her position that became effective immediately Aug. 10 after about eight months on the job.

Tinch resigned amid an outbreak of 26 positive cases of COVID-19 among 20 residents and six staff members at the facility. Currently, the facility is not listed as a cluster site according to the Kansas Department of Health and Environment website.

Commissioner Quinn reported that residents have been released from quarantine and have returned to their own rooms in the facility.

County Chairman Jack Bower was absent from the meeting.

All parties gathered at the Atchison County Emergency Operations Center located at 10443 U.S. Highway 59.

Concerning the regular commission meeting on Tuesday, Aug. 17 commissioners were all present at Emergency Operations Center unanimously agreed to issue an engagement letter to the McPherson-based Swindoll, Janzen, Hawk & Lloyd, LLC Accounting firm to serves as consultants for the county regarding the administration of the $3.1 million grant funding awarded by way of the American Rescue Plan Act. The funding is to be expended within a 5-year period for about 5 percent of the funding total. The firm will handle the required reporting process in accordance with the regulations and guidelines.

Commissioners excused themselves from the open session to discuss matters of non-elected personnel for 30 minutes in an executive session that was extended for an additional 30 minutes In the presence of Henderson, Moore, Oswalt, Wilson, and County Clerk Michelle Phillips. After the public meeting resumed, commissioners unanimously voted to adjourn the meeting.

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Pregont named Interim City Manager
  • Updated

City Commissioners unanimously approved a contract with Assistant City Manager Justin Pregont to serve as City Manager on an interim basis effective immediately. The contract was approved following a 15-minute executive session during Monday’s regular commission meeting and comes on the heels of Becky Berger’s resignation from the top role a week ago.

Pregont, who was attending a professional development conference and was not at the meeting, is an Atchison native and has served as Assistant City Manager since 2018. Prior to that he oversaw Public Works and Utilities and has been with the City since 2013. Pregont is a Benedictine College graduate with a Master’s in Public Administration from the University of Kansas.

During the meeting, commissioners were also presented the 2022 City Manager’s Recommended Budget, which will now be published on Saturday with the public hearing for the budget on Tuesday, Sept. 7, after which the commission will consider officially adopting the document.

Another action Monday, commissioners approved a show cause hearing for the demolition of property at 437 S. 5th Street, with that hearing scheduled for Monday, Oct. 4.

Commissioners also approved a topographical survey for Unity Street, which is a step taken to help improve future grant requests for a streetscape project on the street – similar to what was done on 2nd Street.

Commissioners also appointed Dana Ober-Watts to the Planning and Zoning Commission, Travis Grossman and Matt Lacey to the Economic Development Advisory Group (EDAG), Angie Cairo to the Parks and Forestry Board and Jake Hawk to the Board of Code Review. County Commissioner Casey Quinn was also appointed an ex-officio role (non-voting) on the Economic Development Advisory Group.

Commissioners also approved an extra $10,000 in façade grants as part of the 500-600 Commercial Street renovation project. Those grants are scheduled to be decided during Wednesday’s EDAG meeting.

Prior to the meeting Mayor Abby Bartlett proclaimed September as Childhood Cancer Awareness Month.

The next regular city commission meeting is scheduled for 4:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Sept. 7, in the commission room – moved from Monday because of Labor Day. That meeting will include public hearings for intent to exceed the revenue neutral rate and for the 2022 budget.

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South Atchison standoff stirs local man's arrest
  • Updated

Formal charges were pending Friday morning against a 57-year-old Atchison man after a 47-year-old man suffered a non-life-threatening gunshot wound late Wednesday afternoon outside a residence in the southern part of Atchison city limits.

Porter Webb was apprehended soon after midnight Thursday morning at his residence following a seven-hour standoff between himself and authorities from multiple law enforcement agencies and the execution of a search warrant. Atchison police arrested Webb for an alleged aggravated battery with a deadly weapon in a manner that could inflict great bodily harm, disfigurement, or death. Immediately following his apprehension, Webb was transported to Amberwell Atchison emergency care unit by Atchison County EMS ambulance for an examination and was subsequently taken to Atchison County Jail.

Friday morning, Webb, the prosecutor and the judge were all present via Zoom platform for the Atchison County District Court docket. Atchison County Attorney Sherri Becker announced she is awaiting for information before she makes a decision concerning filing charges against Webb. Becker requested the 48 hours, which is the statutory maximum time limit a person can be in custody without formal charges on file.

District Court Judge John J. Bryant set a deadline at 4 p.m. Friday for Becker to have the formal complaint on file against Porter. 

"You are to be released if no charges are on file yet," Bryant said to Webb. "But that does not mean there won't be any charges filed at some point."

Webb indicated he understood.

Atchison Police Chief Mike Wilson said via press release that Webb’s arrest culminated from police officers in response to a dispatch about 5:50 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 18 to Amberwell Atchison after the male victim was taken to the emergency care unit by private vehicle. Police officers then determined the gunshot injury arose from a dispute between the victim and Webb outside a residence in the 1100 block of South Seventh Street. It was during the dispute when Webb allegedly fired one shot from a handgun in a vehicle occupied by the victim. The victim was able to drive away from the scene and sought help from a family member who was at a residence a few blocks away, according to Wilson. The family member then took the victim to the hospital.

Police officers subsequently focused attention on Porter Webb’s residence located at 1122 South Seventh Street and a search warrant was obtained for the residence Wilson said. The investigation at the South Seventh Street residence determined that Webb was inside the residence. After receiving no response from Webb at the residence officers maintained a secure perimeter around the residence as repeated attempts were made to get Webb to come out of the residence. Communication by loudspeakers, chemical agents deployed into the residence, and the use of a Kansas Highway Patrol robot were all utilized in the effort to take Porter into custody with no injuries to him or the officers.

The KHP robot entered the residence and it was determined that Webb was not in the main area of the residence. Officers with the Atchison Police Department’s Special Response Team entered the residence and located Webb hiding in a crawl space below the residence and he was taken into custody without injury to him or any officers.

Wilson said he expected police to submit the initial investigation reports Thursday to the Atchison County Attorney’s Office for prosecution.

Atchison Police were assisted on Wednesday evening by the Kansas Highway Patrol and the Atchison County Sheriff’s Office, and Atchison County EMS remained on standby at the scene throughout the evening.

The two men were known to each other prior to the incident, Wilson said.