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Rodriguez nominated for city council; Behn as police sergeant

Mayor Dave Reinecke has made his choice to replace David Johnson on the city council.

Reinecke nominated Antonio Rodriguez for the Ward 2 seat vacated by Johnson, who was forced to resign after moving outside the city limits.

Rodriguez ran for Sheryl Barry's city council seat in 2016, advancing from the primary election before losing by just 26 votes to Dan Baumert in the general election.

“Obviously a lot of people wanted him on the city council,” Reinecke said of Rodriguez, who would be the first Latino on the city council.

Rodriguez is a member of Comite Latino de Schuyler, an organization that promotes civic engagement among the Latino population.

“He’s somebody who’s stepping up,” said Reinecke. “I think he’s one of the up-and-coming young people in Schuyler, which we need.”

The nomination was scheduled to be voted on Tuesday during a special city council meeting.

The mayor's appointment of Drew Behn for the police sergeant position was also on the meeting agenda.

Behn served as the interim police chief after former Chief Lennie Hiltner resigned in July.

“He’s shown really good leadership,” Reinecke said of Behn.

Police Chief K.C. Bang said Behn has been serving as his de facto second-in-command since Bang joined the local police force in October.

“He’s been doing the job,” said Bang. “We’re excited to see a promotion.”

Bang said he looks forward to seeing what Behn can do in the new supervisory role.

“He’s been an asset to the department as a police officer,” Bang said. “He’s done everything he’s been asked and more.”

Behn is serving as the acting sergeant until he is confirmed by the council.

National park job 'natural fit' for former teacher

Schuyler residents visiting the Missouri National Recreational River this summer might see a familiar face.

Teresa Mentzer works as an educator at the national park, which runs along the Missouri River near Yankton, South Dakota.

Mentzer spent the majority of her life in Schuyler and taught English at Schuyler Central High School for 32 years before deciding in 2014 to pursue a passion that had slowly grown over the years.

“I thought, ‘Maybe this is the time when I have the energy and interest to get out of my comfort zone,'" she said of the decision to retire from SCHS and take a job with the National Park Service.

Mentzer has always been interested in nature. She and her husband Curt, who still lives in Schuyler, have visited many national parks with their children.

In 2007, she participated in a program through the National Park Service that allows educators to travel to national parks for professional development.

At Rocky Mountain National Park, Mentzer met a ranger who impressed her and learned she was a teacher in Denver. That educator was part of the Teacher-Ranger-Teacher program that allowed her to work for the park during summer break.

“That stuck in my mind for a few years,” Mentzer said. “It got to the point where I got more interested and started doing research in 2010.”

She discovered the closest national park was only two hours away along the Missouri River.

“I did not know there was a national park this close to where I live,” she said. “I became more interested in the idea that maybe this is something that I could try as a job other than teaching.”

After a few years working over the summer, a full-time education technician position opened at the park. Mentzer and her husband discussed the opportunity, and she decided to apply.

“It all just came together. It seemed a natural fit for me,” she said. “I wasn’t tired of teaching necessarily, I was trying to have an impact on young people about our environment and taking care of it for the future.”

There are things she misses about teaching in Schuyler, such as seeing several generations come through the classroom.

“There’s several families where I had all their children,” she said. “The relationships with families over the years, that was really fun.”

She also misses teaching writing, putting together the school paper and directing one-act plays.

“I miss the kids and their writing, their creativity,” she said. “Working and collaborating with the kids on different projects and having them produce something that’s theirs and take ownership of it. I really enjoyed that.”

But her current job has brought new experiences and she's learned new things about herself along the way. One time she was taking a group of children fishing, but didn’t really know how to bait a hook or cast the line.

“I just fished as a young girl and most of that was done for me,” she said. “Now I’m the dad-person putting their worm on the hooks.”

She’s also led groups on canoe trips and is undergoing official training for kayaking.

“If I hadn’t taken this job I don’t know if I would have learned kayaking,” she said.

Through canoeing, kayaking and hiking, the job has also given her the opportunity to stay active.

“At the age I’m at it's important to be healthy and stay active,” she said. “This gives me an outlet for that and gently persuades me to stay in shape and to stay active in order to still fulfill the duties of the job.”

Every summer she sees some familiar faces from Schuyler, but would like to see more.

“I think the national parks are something that we need to continue to protect and preserve for years to come,” she said. “See what’s in your backyard. We’ve got a lot of great parks here in Nebraska.”

There’s a quote by George Eliot she thinks of when sharing her story.

"It is never too late to be what you might have become," Mentzer said. “You can try something different no matter what age you are.”

Pressure on Richland business to remove equipment from road

The legal heat is on a Richland business to get moving on plans to do something about some rusting hulks of equipment parked illegally for years along an asphalt road on the northwest edge of the village.

Last week, Colfax County commissioners instructed County Attorney Denise Kracl and Sheriff Paul Kruse to begin issuing citations for violations of a state law that prohibits anyone from “depositing wood, stone or any other material on any part of any lawful public road in the state.”

The obsolete grain-drying equipment and other farm relics have been parked for years along the short strip of pavement that was an old stretch of U.S. Highway 30 before its expansion to four lanes from Columbus to Schuyler.

Vollbracht Inc. is the business responsible for the farm equipment along the road, where two businesses are now operating.

“You have to weave your way when driving down the road,” Kracl said.

The county attorney said violators, according to the law, are guilty of a Class III misdemeanor for a first offense, Class II misdemeanor for a second offense and Class I misdemeanor, punishable by a year in jail, for a third offense.

Kracl told the three-member board an initial citation is the first offense and, every day the material is not removed, a subsequent offense will be treated as a new violation.

Fines and court costs for not dealing with the removal of the aging farm equipment will add up quickly, Kracl said. The county attorney said she has notified the business owner, who has a mailing address in Wayne, of the county’s actions.

County Highway Superintendent Mark Arps issued multiple warnings to Vollbracht Inc., including one with a four-week deadline that has expired, seeking removal of the equipment.

The roads department needs some off-road space for the county to use as a staging area for a summer repaving project on the Richard spur, a 1/3-mile stretch of asphalt that connects the village to the four-lane highway.

Arps is hopeful that project, with a price tag of about $300,000, will get underway in June. He said the heavily traveled road would pose a hardship on local farmers if the repaving work continues into the harvest season in September.

Clogged ditches come up again at meeting

A weeklong spell of thunderstorms that dumped more than 5 inches of rain in mid-May gave Bernadine Baumert some drainage headaches on her property south of Howells.

The swampy conditions backed up water onto her property at the intersection of roads T and M, which Baumert blamed on roadside ditches and a culvert that's clogged by volunteer trees, brush and other vegetation.

Baumert knew the water was backing up on her property, but she didn’t realize Colfax County wasn’t responsible for keeping ditches clear of vegetation.

The county has been troubled in recent years by landowners and tenant farmers planting crops inside the county’s roadside right of way and allowing culverts to become silted in.

State law requires farmers to mow the right of way area at least twice a year.

A number of years ago, the county inked a permanent easement with Baumert for right-of-way maintenance, County Highway Superintendent Mark Arps reported during last week's board of commissioners meeting.

The county bought a permanent easement to go on the property to do routine maintenance on structures, including culverts, but didn’t buy the “physical ground,” Arps told Baumert, who remains the legal owner of the roadside ditch.

“You didn’t know how much land you had,” Arps said.

Baumert told the three-member board she kept her ditch free of trees and other vegetation, but a culvert was jammed and caused water to flow over Road 14.

Nearby ditches are so cluttered with cattails that the water is being blocked somewhere, Arps said.

“You need to contact a neighboring landowner (about cleaning up ditches) after this meeting,” he told Baumert.

The roads department doesn’t have the time or manpower to maintain roadside ditches for 1,100 property owners in the county, Arps said.

“I have to be consistent and treat everybody the same,” Arps said.

The highway superintendent said if the county cleaned out everybody’s ditches, they’d have to maintain a permanent ditch crew.