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Hastings Woman Accused in Toddler's Death Arraigned

The Hastings woman accused in the death of her great niece entered a not guilty plea at her arraignment hearing Thursday afternoon and waived her right to a speedy trial.

A request to have 33-year-old Azudany Serrano-Contreras' trial moved out of Adams County was overruled. Attorney Mark Porto suggested his client would be unable to get a fair trial because many in the jury pool have already prejudged his client. He cited inflammatory comments posted by onto a local news outlet's Facebook page. He suggested the court move the trial to either Lancaster or Douglas County.

But Adams County Attorney Donna Daiss said the argument lies with public opinion and that those comments could've been made in any of the surrounding counties which the news outlet serves. The judge agreed and said it was premature to decide on moving the case, but that a request could be made closer to trial.

A request by the defense for a Brady motion was approved. A Brady motion is made when the prosecution suppresses evidence that could be favorable for the defense.

A progression hearing is set for December 7th at 9:30. The judge also set a pretrial date of January 7th. The jury trial will begin on January 25.

Death Penalty Advocates Ask Judge to Drop Lawsuit

The group that led a petition drive to reinstate Nebraska's death penalty is asking a judge to dismiss a lawsuit that could keep the issue off the 2016 ballot.

Attorneys for Nebraskans for the Death Penalty filed a motion to dismiss the case earlier this week, arguing that the death penalty opponents who sued failed to state a legitimate claim.

The lawsuit filed last month argues that the death penalty ballot measure is invalid because Gov. Pete Ricketts wasn't listed as a sponsor even though he was a major donor.

Nebraskans for the Death Penalty is also seeking an order to halt discovery in the case until the judge rules on the motion to dismiss.

A second lawsuit challenging the proposed ballot language is also pending.

Hall County One Step Closer to Changing Zoning Regulations for Adult Businesses

The Hall County Regional Planning Commission voted 10-0 yesterday to advance some new regulations surrounding adult-oriented businesses.

If approved by the county's Board of Supervisors later this month, the amount of land zoned for those types of businesses would be expanded to about 9,000 acres instead of the current 300 acres. The new regulations also make adult-oriented businesses a permitted use in those zoned areas, meaning that those business owners would no longer be subject to public hearings and conditional use permits.

Regional Planning Director Chad Nabity says that does not include property within city limits in Grand Island, Wood River, Alda, Doniphan or Cairo. Only land out in the county would be available for these uses.

But those businesses will have to follow some rules. Alcohol will be prohibited from those establishments and they cannot be constructed within 1,000 feet of houses, churches, schools, parks and recreation facilities. They also must be closed from Midnight until 6 a.m. and full nudity will not be allowed. Semi-nude employees will be required to be at least six feet away from all patrons.

A public hearing on the matter is set for October 20.

Consulting Group to City of Hastings: Abolish the Board of Public Works

An Ohio consulting group is recommending the City of Hastings abolish its Board of Public Works as one of 79 suggested changes to the city.

At a special meeting last night with the city council, Ron Norris, the Public Works and Facilities Specialist with the Novak Consulting Group said a recent organizational study found "clear, deep division between what is perceived as City of Hastings and Hastings Utilities."

"On one side there's resentment toward Hastings Utilities in terms of pay differential, the differential in resourcing and differential in equipment. On the other side, there's a perceived superiority on the other side that makes it extremely difficult," he said.

Under their suggestion, Hastings Utilities would be reorganized under the authority and direction of the city administrator.

But some council members weren't convinced that abolishing the city's Board of Public Works is necessary because it could jeopardize the city's low utility rates.

John Harrington questioned the recommendation saying "if it ain't broke don't fix it." But Norris countered Harrington's view saying not doing anything could be more disastrous.

"You don't have to be sick to get better. I think that's really what we're looking at. I think you can get better. I think there are improvements that can be made without jeopardizing reliability or rates, which are very important," Norris said.

Councilmen Everett Goebel (Gay-ble) and Phil Odom both suggested the transition would be a challenge for the council to oversee, citing the Board's $99 million budget. Mayor Vern Powers said the city has a great utility and reminded the public that it is owned by the city and that means the two sides must work together.

"We have one opportunity to march as one. When our city has four percent growth and our neighbors have 18 and 19 percent growth, there are things we can do to make our city a better city," he said.

The organizational study was the first undertaken by the City of Hastings since 1976.

Other recommendations weren't quite as controversial. It was recommended that the city address staffing concerns with the Hastings Police Department.

Those include staffing a minimum three officers per shift, adopting a power shift to manage peak workload periods and staffing the 911 center with two dispatchers at all times.

They also recommended a transitioning the role of the museum and library's boards from administrative to advisory. Councilman Chuck Niemeyer took that a step further…

"I would like to see some serious 'what if' conversation on if we could combine those two organizations under one roof. I can't help but think that as we're spending $5.2 million renovating the old library we could bring their services and staff together.

The Hastings Library will move into the museum's east gallery by the end of this year as they prepare for a major renovation project.

The entire 155-page study, approved 8-0 by the council, can be viewed on the City of Hastings website at

Hastings Utilities Warns of New Scam

Hastings Utilities is warning its customers against a new scam going around.

The scammers are primarily targeting restaurants and bars saying that money must be wired for an overdue utility bill. Businesses are usually targeted because their monthly bills are higher than those of a residential customer. Spokesman Steve Cogley with Hastings Utilities says the calls are completely bogus and that the company would never use that method with customers.

Customers who are behind on a bill will receive written notice in the mail. The delinquency will also be noted on a customer's bill. Hastings Utilities says they will never solicit phone calls nor pressure someone to make a quick payment.

If your business receives a similar call, hang up and make your employes aware.

State Fair Recognized for Sustainability Efforts

The Nebraska State Fair was recently honored for its sustainability efforts.

At a ceremony in Lincoln this week the fair received the Zero Waste Award from WasteCap Nebraska. The award recognizes an entity that has made significant strides to reduce inputs, reduce waste, recycle and/or use reuse byproducts. Zero Waste means having a landfill diversion rate of at least 90 percent.

In addition, the State Fair earned a Recycling Equipment Grant from the Nebraska State Recycling Association through funds from the Nebraska Environmental Trust. The grant allowed them to purchase 12 four-yard recycling containers which helped them in their efforts.

The state fair was able to collect about 7.8 tons of cardboard, more than 3 tons of plastic, more than 1,400 pounds of aluminum cans, 900 gallons of used fryer oil and 517 tons of livestock bedding.

Facilities Director Jamie Parr says guests can expect more sustainability projects at future fairs and an increased focus on educating fairgoers to reuse or repurpose items.

Bold Nebraska to Challenge Governor to Make Energy Policy

The organization that has been the most vocal opponent of the pipeline, Bold Nebraska is planning to take on current Governor Pete Ricketts next week.

Members are planning to protest outside the governor's mansion for a game of what they're dubbing "kick the can" to tell Ricketts to submit a Nebraska energy plan. President Obama's plan aims to reduce carbon emissions nationwide by 40% from 2005 levels. Supporters say it would save billions of dollars from the negative impacts of pollution.

The proposal allows states to develop their own state-specific plans to meet their goals through a mix of cutting wasted energy, improving efficiency, reducing pollution, and investing in clean, renewable energy sources. If Gov. Ricketts refuses to submit a Nebraska state energy plan, the federal government will step in and impose its own plan to ensure our state meets the new reduced carbon emissions goals.

Bold Nebraska's "Kick the Can" rally will take place Wednesday, Oct. 14 at 5:30 p.m. outside the governor's mansion.

Lexington Police Seek Second Shooter

Lexington police are searching for a second suspect believed to be involved in a Sept. 24th shooting incident.

An arrest warrant has been issued for 23-year-old Gustavo Alvarado-Guerrero on one count of accessory to a felony and one count of possession of a firearm by a prohibited person. 23-year-old Ciro Cortez Jr. of Lexington was arrested last week on charges of attempted first degree murder, use of a firearm to commit a felony and possession of a firearm by a prohibited person.

Both men are accused of shooting at an occupied vehicle on Sept. 24. Anyone with information is asked to contact Lexington Police.

Re-Entry Center Awarded One Year Contract

The Federal Bureau of Prisons has awarded a one year, $594,750 contract to Kentucky-based Dismas Charities Inc. to operate a re-entry center to house federal prisoners in Kearney.

The facility is currently under construction and is set to open November 1. The building will house about 25 residents. The center is designed to help allow a smooth transition between prison and real-world responsibilities.

The contract will run for one year instead of the five year, $6.7 million contract awarded a year ago. That award was vacated when the Bristol Station in Hastings objected.

Dog Park Set for Dedication Oct. 15

Workers are finishing up a brand new Grand Island dog park ahead of its dedication later this month.

Parks workers will spend the next week installing a dog teeter-totter, climbing ramp, jumping hoop, an agility training table, hitching post and plastic fire hydrants, all of which are made from recycled plastic water bottles.

The dog park, located at L.E. Ray Lake near Hwy 34 and Blaine Street will be dedicated on Oct. 15. Anyone planning to attend the dedication ceremony is encouraged to bring a dog toy to be donated to the Central Nebraska Humane Society.

Students Selected for Smith's Youth Advisory Council

Congressman Adrian Smith recently named 21 students in the third district to serve on his Youth Advisory Council for the 2015-2016 school year.

They include Hastings High students Macie Clawson, Grace Clawson and Andrew Moritz. Also named to the council was Maverick Widdowson of Kearney High and Katelyn Piper of Harvard.

The council is a forum for high school students to discuss opinions, thoughts and concerns about local and federal issues with Smith throughout the school year and is open to high school juniors and seniors.

A complete list can be found on the Congressman's web page.

Biker Riding Cross Country for Cancer Awareness

A San Francisco man is riding his motorcycle across the country in an effort to raise awareness about breast cancer.

Mike Nelson, began his journey Thursday in honor of his wife's breast cancer fight. On Sunday, he arrived at Kearney's CHI Good Samaritan Hospital where he met with other breast cancer survivors who had the opportunity to sign his motorcycle. Alexandra Dillon from the Good Samaritan Breast Center of Excellence presented Nelson with a poster signed by local survivors which he took with him for the remainder of his tour.

Nelson will travel approximately 2,900 miles on his way to New York City while making stops along the way to raise breast cancer awareness and encourage survivors. Because one in eight women will be diagnosed with some form of breast cancer, Nelson's journey is called the "1 in 8 ride." For further information, you can visit his website at

Pro-Life Supporters Rally in Hastings, Kearney

Supporters of a national movement aimed at ending abortion gathered in Hastings and Kearney Sunday to share their message with an organized walk through the business community.

In Hastings, supporters lined the sidewalks of Burlington and 2nd Street to form a "life chain" in the shape of a cross. Dozens of pro-life supporters also walked along 2nd Avenue in Kearney carrying signs as part of the local campaign to end abortion.

Officials with the group say recent events involving Planned Parenthood have helped strengthen their cause.

Portion of Avenue N in Kearney to Close

Kearney residents are advised that a 500 foot section of Avenue N, just south of 78th Street will be closed to thru traffic, beginning later this week.

The contractor will be removing existing concrete pavement and grade and replacing it with new concrete which will intersect with the new bypass roadway. It's part of phase III of the Kearney East Bypass project.

Northbound thru traffic will be detoured from 56th Street and Avenue N over to Highway 10. Avenue N will remain open to local traffic just beyond the north entrance leading into Buffalo Ridge Golf Course. 78th Street will remain open while construction work is in progress. Southbound traffic along Avenue N will follow a detour route heading east and west at 78th Street.

It is anticipated to take approximately 30 days to complete construction. Motorists are urged to use an alternate route if possible.

Driver Who Fled Phelps County Rollover Crash Apprehended

The Phelps County Sheriff's Office says they've apprehended a 36-year-old man who left the scene of an injury rollover accident yesterday afternoon.

According to the sheriff, the driver ran a stop sign causing both pickups to roll. It happened about eight miles northeast of Bertrand. The other pickup driver was life flighted to Good Samaritan Hospital in Kearney. That person's condition is unknown, but the sheriff did confirm they are still alive.

Investigators say the pickup that left the scene was pulling a trailer with an estimated 1,600 gallons of diesel which spilled onto the ground. The Phelps County Sheriff's Office and the Nebraska State Patrol continue to investigate.

CCC Designing Energy Efficient House

On Thursday, Central Community College began the foundation of a Living Building Challenge/Net Zero Energy House with its Sustainability Leadership Presentation Series.

Featured speakers Brad Liljequist and Kathleen Smith from the International Living Future Institute discussed the LBC, which calls for building projects that operate cleanly and efficiently. To be LBC-certified, projects must meet rigorous performance requirements. The two will guide CCC through the next step of the LBC/Net Zero Energy House project.

Two learning and design sessions for the house will take place on Oct. 12 and Oct. 13 at CCC's Hastings campus. Attendees also are getting an opportunity to be part of potentially the first LBC project in Nebraska.

The final house design will go to the college's Board of Governors for approval in the spring of 2016. If approved, students in construction-related programs on the Hastings Campus will build the house as part of their course learning experiences.

Hicks-Sorensen Out As Economic Development Director

Nebraska's new economic development director is out after a little more than eight months on the job.

Gov. Pete Ricketts announced Thursday that Brenda Hicks-Sorensen no longer holds the position. Ricketts says in a statement that it became clear to him that Nebraska needs to do more to market the state both nationally and globally.

Nebraska Watchdog reporter Deena Winter reported earlier this summer that Hicks-Sorensen was planning a major overhaul of Nebraska business incentives. Hicks-Sorensen had consulted with an Illionis company whose report led her former boss, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker to create a public-private economic development agency that's come under scrutiny for not properly reviewing some bad loans.

The announcement of her removal comes on the heels of ConAgra announcing it is relocating its headquarters from Omaha to Chicago and cutting 1,500 jobs. Ricketts says an interim director will be named shortly and that a new search will start right away.

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