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Altoona funds improvements

ALTOONA — The Altoona City Council passed a resolution Wednesday that allows the city to bypass a public bid process and spend up to $75,000 to fix a damaged holding pond on the east side of U.S. 53 near Clairemont Avenue.

A berm on the holding pond on Monday broke after heavy rains.

Normally, the city would have to go through a lengthy public bid process, explained public works director David Walter. The state bidding laws require the city to advertise the project twice, then have a bid opening, then go before the council for approval. That can take up to a month, but there isn’t time to wait, Walter said.

“If we get another heavy rainfall, I shudder to think about what it can do to what is left there,” Walter said.

The city sought two bids from area companies, and Haas Sons of Thorp had the lowest bid at $45,982. However, the emergency resolution calls for up to $75,000, to include other possible repairs, including cleaning up riprap and replacing an old drain gate. Walter said he doesn’t expect to spend the entire amount, but wanted to make sure there was enough money available for any overruns. The money will come from the city’s storm water utility fund, not from the general fund.

Haas Sons has already started bringing its machinery to the site, and the company will begin the project immediately this morning, Walter said. He didn’t have a timeframe of how long it will take to get fixed.

“They are bringing in heavy equipment to get it packed properly,” he said.

City Administrator Michael Golat said he isn’t sure if the city will be responsible for all the costs.

“It was built to spec. We’ll discuss how and why it happened,” Golat told council members. “There is no fault in how it was constructed.”

The storm water pond is on a city-owned, two-acre parcel, Golat said. It was constructed about nine years ago, and hadn’t been a problem before.

The damage was sudden and unexpected, Walter added.

“Public works arrived on scene, but by that time, it was already too late,” Walter said.

Walter said rain was a factor, but the culprit was sediment, grass clippings, and even debris like beer cans and bottles, which likely led to a drain being plugged, causing the backup. He showed pictures of a large drain, where the grate was heavily covered by material.

“It’s a little bit of everything. This pond will fill up and will float in the water,” Walter said. “What I believe is all this debris filled up and plugged the seven-foot grate. This is why people need to be mindful of what goes down the drain. It’s disgusting. Litter has to go somewhere.”

Walter said his office is going to make changes to make sure this doesn’t happen again, including more routine inspections. Walter said the goal is to build a second storm water pond in that area to handle volume.

Councilman Dale Stuber said this incident is a great example of why the city should keep reserve money available for exactly this type of emergency.


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North senior reaches out to others en route to becoming first-generation college student

The road hasn’t always been easy for Taylor Kegen.

But instead of dwelling on her personal challenges, the North High School senior prefers to focus on how she can make life a little better for others.

While Kegen downplayed a history of good deeds that would be impressive for anyone, much less an 18-year-old, North counselor Maureen Doughty was more than happy to share a few examples of Kegen reaching out to students and adults who needed a hand:

• Kegen bought a new prom dress for a classmate who wasn’t going to attend the traditional spring dance because she couldn’t afford a dress.

• She helped throw a surprise graduation party for a student last year whose parents weren’t planning one.

• Kegen organized a fundraising potluck at her workplace for the spouse of one of her middle school teachers who was diagnosed with cancer. It raised $500 for the family’s expenses.

• She bought a couple of backpacks last year and filled them with school supplies as a donation to a program organized by the Eau Claire school district to ensure all students have adequate supplies.

• Kegen still regularly visits an Eau Claire nursing home resident in her 90s with whom she made a connection while doing clinical training as part of a certified nursing assistant class she took two years ago through Chippewa Valley Technical College. Kegen grinned as she pointed out that the elderly woman, who struggles with dementia, always recognizes her.

“In some small way, I hope that I’m part of the reason she keeps getting up in the morning,” Kegen said. “I’m sure that me coming to visit makes her happy every single time, but just getting that opportunity, that makes my day.”

Kegen’s efforts have not gone unnoticed by the staff at North.

“Taylor is incredible. ... She spreads kindness everywhere,” Doughty said, noting that teachers routinely track her down to sing Kegen’s praises.

“In the last two weeks, I have had four teachers find me to say things like ‘She is exactly what I hope my daughter will grow up to be’ or ‘If I had a daughter, I’d want her to be like Taylor,’ “ Doughty said.

For her part, Kegen humbly expresses gratitude for such comments, saying simply, “I find great fulfillment in helping others and creating the happiness that they don’t believe they can find for themselves.”

Doughty described Kegen as exuding “so much wisdom for an 18-year-old,” and that maturity was on full display as she detailed in a recent interview the lessons she has learned about overcoming hardship.

“We all endure experiences and trauma that are significant to our individual lives, but we all have the option of deciding whether or not these circumstances determine who we become,” Kegen said. “A lot of people think the only way they can go through their lives is having their issues and surrounding things own them. But when you figure out how to conquer it, move on and better yourself, you own it. A lot of people don’t understand they are completely capable of creating their own happiness.”

She credits her grandparents, who she tries to visit biweekly even though they live in Knapp, for being a positive force in her life.

“They help me see the good in the world,” said Kegen, who also found time in high school to participate in Student Council, Key Club, Spanish Club and Art Club.

Unlike many high school students, Kegen didn’t have a college fund or family history of college to draw upon. But that didn’t stop her from taking seven Advanced Placement courses, ranking in the top 20 percent of her graduating class and pursuing her dream of attending college.

She independently navigated the college application process and has been putting away part of every paycheck this year from her job at Farm & Fleet, where she worked about 25 hours a week during the school year, to go toward college expenses.

In the fall, Kegen will attend UW-Green Bay, where she plans to pursue a degree in, no surprise, one of two helping professions: nursing or occupational therapy.

Undoubtedly, she also will continue spreading compassion.

“It just seems right,” she said when asked what motivates her.

Indeed.

IF YOU GO

What: North High School graduation.

When: 7 p.m. Friday.

Where: North High School gymnasium, 1801 Piedmont Road. 

Number of graduates: 275.


Washington
AP
Mueller declares his Russia report did not exonerate Trump

WASHINGTON (AP) — Special counsel Robert Mueller said Wednesday that charging President Donald Trump with a crime was “not an option” because of federal rules, but he used his first public remarks on the Russia investigation to emphasize he did not exonerate the president.

“If we had had confidence that the president clearly did not commit a crime, we would have said so,” Mueller declared.

The special counsel’s remarks stood as a pointed rebuttal to Trump’s repeated claims that he was cleared and that the two-year inquiry was merely a “witch hunt.”

They also marked a counter to criticism, including by Attorney General William Barr, that Mueller should have reached a determination on whether the president illegally tried to obstruct the probe by taking actions such as firing his FBI director.

Mueller made clear that his team never considered indicting Trump because the Justice Department prohibits the prosecution of a sitting president.

“Charging the president with a crime was therefore not an option we could consider,” Mueller said during a televised statement. He said he believed such an action would be unconstitutional.

Mueller did not use the word ‘impeachment” but said it was the job of Congress — not the criminal justice system — to hold the president accountable for any wrongdoing.

The special counsel’s statement largely echoed the central points of his 448-page report, which was released last month with some redactions. But his remarks, just under 10 minutes long and delivered from a Justice Department podium, were extraordinary given that he had never before discussed or characterized his findings and had stayed mute during two years of feverish public speculation.

Mueller, a former FBI director, said Wednesday that his work was complete and he was resigning to return to private life.

His remarks underscored the unsettled resolution, and revelations of behind-the-scenes discontent, that accompanied the end of his investigation. His refusal to reach a conclusion on criminal obstruction opened the door for Barr to clear the president, who in turn has cited the attorney general’s finding as proof of his innocence.

Trump, given notice Tuesday evening that Mueller would speak the next morning, watched on television. For weeks, he had been nervous about the possibility about the special counsel testifying before Congress, worried about the visual power of such a public appearance.

Shortly after Mueller concluded, the president who has repeatedly and falsely claimed that the report cleared him of obstruction of justice, tweeted a subdued yet still somewhat inaccurate reaction: “Nothing changes from the Mueller Report. There was insufficient evidence and therefore, in our Country, a person is innocent. The case is closed! Thank you”

While claiming victory, the tone of the president’s tweet was a far cry from the refrain of “total exoneration” that has dominated his declarations.

Mueller has privately vented to Barr about the attorney general’s handling of the report, while Barr has publicly said he was taken aback by the special counsel’s decision to neither exonerate nor incriminate the president.

Under pressure to testify before Congress, Mueller did not rule it out. But he seemed to warn lawmakers that they would not be pulling more detail out of him. His report is his testimony, he said.

“So beyond what I have said here today and what is contained in our written work,” Mueller said, “I do not believe it is appropriate for me to speak further about the investigation or to comment on the actions of the Justice Department or Congress.”

Mueller’s comments, one month after the public release of his report on Russian efforts to help Trump defeat Democrat Hillary Clinton, appeared intended to both justify the legitimacy of his investigation against complaints by the president and to explain his decision to not reach a conclusion on whether Trump had obstructed justice in the probe.

He described wide-ranging and criminal Russian efforts to interfere in the election, including by hacking and spreading disinformation — interference that Trump has said Putin rejected to his face in an “extremely strong and powerful” denial.

And Mueller called the question of later obstruction by Trump and his campaign a matter of “paramount importance.”

Mueller said the absence of a conclusion on obstruction should not be mistaken for exoneration.

A Justice Department legal opinion “says the Constitution requires a process other than the criminal justice system to formally accuse a sitting president of wrongdoing,” Mueller said. That would shift the next move, if any, to Congress, and the Democratic chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, which would investigate further or begin any impeachment effort, commented quickly.

New York Rep. Jerrold Nadler said it falls to Congress to respond to the “crimes, lies and other wrongdoing of President Trump — and we will do so.”

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has so far discouraged members of her caucus from demanding impeachment, believing it would only help Trump win re-election and arguing that Democrats need to follow a methodical, step by step approach to investigating the president. But she hasn’t ruled it out.

On the Republican side, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said that Mueller “has decided to move on and let the report speak for itself. Congress should follow his lead.”

Trump has blocked House committees’ subpoenas and other efforts to dig into the Trump-Russia issue, insisting Mueller’s report has settled everything.

The report found no criminal conspiracy between the Trump campaign and Russia to tip the outcome of the 2016 presidential election in Trump’s favor. But it also did not reach a conclusion on whether the president had obstructed justice.

Barr has said he was surprised Mueller did not reach a conclusion on obstruction, though Mueller in his report and again in his statement Wednesday said he had no choice. Barr and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein decided on their own that the evidence was not sufficient to support a criminal charge.

Barr, in Alaska for work and briefed ahead of time on Mueller’s statement, did not answer a question about the Mueller probe at the end of a roundtable discussion with Alaska native leaders. He has said he asked Mueller during a March conversation if he would have recommended charging Trump “but for” the Office of Legal Counsel opinion, and that Mueller said “no.”

“Under longstanding department policy, a president cannot be charged with a federal crime while he is in office,” Mueller said. “That is unconstitutional. Even if the charge is kept under seal and hidden from public view that, too, is prohibited.”

Mueller, for his part, earlier complained privately to Barr that he believed a four-page letter from the attorney general summarizing the report’s main conclusions did not adequately represent his findings. Barr has said he considered Mueller’s criticism to be a bit “snitty.”

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Associated Press writers Mary Clare Jalonick, Lisa Mascaro, Jonathan Lemire and Rachel D’Oro contributed to this report.