Elk City, KS boil water advisory rescinded

ELK CITY, Kan. – The Kansas Department of Health and Environment (KDHE) rescinds a boil water advisory for the City of Elk City, Kansas. KDHE issued the advisory because of a line break resulting in a loss of pressure in the distribution system.

Laboratory testing samples collected from the Elk City indicated no evidence of bacteriological contamination and KDHE officials deemed all other conditions that placed the system at risk of contamination to be resolved.

For consumer questions, you can contact the water system or you may call KDHE at 785-296-5514. For consumer information please visit KDHE’s PWS Consumer Information webpage.


The Cherokee Nation acknowledges that descendants of people once enslaved by the tribe should also qualify as Cherokee

TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – A longstanding dispute over who can be considered a citizen of the Cherokee Nation finally came to a conclusion this week.

The Cherokee Nation Supreme Court ruled on Monday that the tribal nation remove the phrase “by blood” from its constitution and other tribal laws. That change formally acknowledges that the descendants of Black people once enslaved by the tribe — known as the Cherokee Freedmen — have the right to tribal citizenship, which means they are eligible to run for tribal office and access resources such as tribal health care.

The recent decision by the Cherokee Nation Supreme Court is a response to a 2017 ruling by a US district court, which determined that the descendants of the Cherokee Freedmen are entitled to full tribal citizenship rights under a treaty the Cherokee Nation made with the US in 1866.

“Freedmen rights are inherent,” Cherokee Nation Supreme Court Justice Shawna S. Baker wrote in the opinion. “They extend to descendents of Freedmen as a birthright springing from their ancestors’ oppression and displacement as people of color recorded and memorialized in Article 9 of the 1866 Treaty.”

Enslaved Black people journeyed on the Trail of Tears

The history of the Cherokee Freedmen is an example of just how complex and layered issues of race, inequality and marginalization are in the US.

Many Native Americans were enslaved alongside African Americans during the colonial period — Brown University historian Linford D. Fisher estimates that 2 million to 5.5 million Native people were enslaved from the time of Christopher Columbus to around 1880.

But some wealthier tribal citizens, particularly in tribes in the Southeast that had adopted certain norms of White settlers, also practiced slavery themselves. That includes the Cherokee people, some of whom in the early 1800s had started to enslave African Americans.

Then in the late 1830s, the US government forcibly expelled the Cherokee from their homeland and ordered them to relocate to present-day Oklahoma — an exodus known as the Trail of Tears. What’s not as widely known, though, is that enslaved African Americans made the journey along with the Cherokee citizens who enslaved them.

About 4,000 enslaved Black people were living among the Cherokee people by 1861, according to the National Museum of the American Indian.

The tribe abolished slavery in 1863. And shortly after the Civil War ended, the Cherokee Nation signed a treaty with the US government that granted full citizenship rights to those formerly enslaved by Cherokee citizens.

But in practice, Freedmen were often denied those rights and excluded from the tribe, wrote Lolita Buckner Inniss in a 2015 article published in the Columbia Journal of Race and Law. Over the past several decades, Cherokee Freedmen have fought to protect those rights through various legal proceedings.

Freedmen have long been fighting to protect their rights

In 2007, the Cherokee Nation amended its constitution to restrict tribal citizenship to those with “Indian blood.” That expelled about 2,800 descendants of Cherokee Freedmen from the tribe, the website for the National Museum of the American Indian states.

Chad Smith, the principal chief of the Cherokee Nation at the time, argued that the tribe was a sovereign nation and should therefore have the right to determine who qualifies for tribal citizenship. But the Freedmen pushed back, resulting in a series of legal battles over the next decade.

In 2017, a federal district court ruled in favor of the Freedmen — a decision that the Cherokee Nation Supreme Court has now reaffirmed.

“The ‘by blood’ language found within the Cherokee Nation Constitution, and any laws which flow from that language, is illegal, obsolete, and repugnant to the ideal of liberty,” Baker wrote in the recent opinion. “These words insult and degrade the descendants of the Freedman much like the Jim Crow laws found lingering on the books in Southern states some fifty-seven years after the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.”

Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. commended the decision.

“Cherokee Nation is stronger when we move forward as citizens together and on an equal basis under the law,” he said in a statement on Monday. “…The court has acknowledged, in the strongest terms, our ancestors’ commitment to equality 155 years ago in the Treaty of 1866. My hope is that we all share in that same commitment going forward.”

About 8,500 descendants of Freedmen are currently enrolled as citizens of the Cherokee Nation, according to a news release from the tribe.


Oronogo woman killed in head-on collision north of Joplin

JOPLIN, MO – An Oronogo, Missouri woman is dead after a head-on collision.

On Highway 43 two miles north of Joplin, Missouri Thursday evening a little after 5:30 P.M.

According to Missouri Highway Patrol 44-year-old Ryan O’Neal of Liberal, Missouri crossed the center line and struck 23-year-old Seveie Davison of Oronogo, Missouri head-on.

Both were taken to Mercy Hospital where Davison was pronounced dead. O’Neal was last reported in serious condition.


News to Know (2/26/21)

ORONOGO, Mo. – An Oronogo, Missouri women is dead after a head on collision. It happened on Highway 43 two miles north of Joplin Thursday evening a little after 5:30pm. Crash reports show 44-year old Ryan O’Neal of Liberal, Missouri crossed the center line and struck 23-year old Seveie Davison of Oronogo, Missouri head on. Both were taken to Mercy Hospital where Davison was pronounced dead and O’Neal is in serious condition.

JOPLIN, Mo. – The city of Joplin’s mask ordinance will expire at the end of the month. Joplin Mayor Ryan Stanley made the announcement Thursday. The ordinance was established last November and will expire this Sunday, February 28th. The city reminds people that businesses can still set their own mask policies.

JOPLIN, Mo. – Joplin police Thursday morning respond to a 911 call of an active shooter situation at the Northpark Mall, but say no threat was found. When officers arrived they evacuated the mall as they searched for any threats. Officials say they didn’t find any evidence of an active threat to the mall. JPD is investigating the 911 call.

ALTAMONT, Kan. – Now that the temperatures are increasing, the price for natural gas and electricity has gone back to normal and some southeast Kansas cities are being left with massive bills. One of them is Altamont. Last week, the city asked residents to conserve natural gas because the price per unit had jumped by a hundred times. The city recently received an estimate for its bill — and it totals one million dollars — for just February alone. $800,000 of that is for natural gas.

Should the next COVID relief bill include a minimum wage increase?  http://koamnewsnow.com/vote


SEK cities looking for ways to cover extremely large energy bills

ALTAMONT, Kan. – Cities in southeast Kansas are trying to find ways to pay utility bills that are hundreds of thousands of dollars higher than they normally are.

Last week, we told you how officials in Altamont were trying to avoid a crisis — as natural gas prices skyrocketed during the winter storm.

You can read more about that here: https://www.koamnewsnow.com/southeast-kansas-city-working-to-avoid-gas-crisis-as-prices-skyrocket/

Altamont saw natural gas prices as high as $622 per MMbtu. The normal price is closer to $3 per MMbtu.

Now that the temperatures have increased, officials with the city say the prices have gone back down. But they aren’t out of the woods yet because they’re about to get hit with massive utility bills.

“They’re estimating our financial impact for both electric and gas to be about a million dollars,” says Altamont City Administrator Audree Aguilera.

That price includes only the usage from the month of February, and breaks down to $200 thousand for electricity and $800 thousand for natural gas. The city’s normal budget for natural gas for an entire year is just over $500 thousand dollars. Normally the price for gas and electricity for a month is around $40 thousand altogether.

“We have the capitol to cover that $200 thousand bill. We might have to do an inter-fund loan, where we just borrow from another fund and pay that fund back. We just… $800 thousand, that one we don’t. That one would drain pretty much all of our funds,” explains Aguilera.

And Altamont isn’t the only southeast Kansas city in this dire situation.

According to the Iola Register, the City of Humbolt, Kansas has declared an “extraordinary financial emergency.” The Register reports the city’s gas bill could total close to a million, when their annual gas budget is only $375 thousand. That could mean an 80 percent increase in per unit usage charges for residents.

Officials in Altamont are currently discussing what they can do to lessen the financial impacts that their residents will feel. But at the time we spoke to Aguilera on Thursday morning a plan was not yet set in stone. She says the Altamont City Council plans to discuss options at a Thursday evening city council meeting.

“In that case where it’s passed down to the consumer, I don’t want monthly bills increased any more than like 50, 60 dollars. I know that’s gonna be hard on some people even 50 dollars,” says Aguilera. “But it’ll have to be spread out over several years. Probably six or seven.”

The city hopes there will be some kind of state or federal relief to help cities struggling with the massive bills.

Sam Mills with the Kansas Municipal Energy Agency, the co-op that both Altamont and Humbolt purchase gas and electricity from, says they want to see the same.

“We’re hoping for some kind of assistance, whether it be short term or long term. But the immediate impact is we need to mitigate the costs to the cities of this huge burden,” says Mills. “These cities are struggling anyway with reduced sales tax and reduced business and so forth because of the pandemic. This couldn’t have hit at a worse time.”

Mills explains the prices came as a huge shock to KMEA.

“Two weeks ago tomorrow we bought gas for the weekend. The markets aren’t open on the weekend, so we had to buy gas for Saturday, Sunday and Monday. That’s normal. And then it was a holiday, Presidents Day, so the markets weren’t open on Monday. So we ended up buying four days worth of gas. Late in the day (on Friday) we heard rumblings that the gas prices were going to post extremely high. When we learned of the posting of over 350 dollars per MMbtu, that was devastating,” explains Mills. “We immediately went to work with our legal team in both Washington and Topeka to get a plan in place.”

Mills says KMEA was forced to purchase natural gas at the high rates, or they would have faced huge penalties that would be passed down to municipalities for imbalances on the gas pipeline. The immediate response was to encourage cities to reduce their usage, and encourage cities to use natural gas from their reserves. Natural gas in reserves was purchased at a low rate during the summer of last year.

Now KMEA’s attorneys are currently at work in both Topeka and Washington, trying to find a solution for cities that are facing record breaking high bills, says Mills.

“That effort has been met with a lot of empathy. I know there are a number of cities have declared a financial emergency, and many counties have as well. That leads to the Governor declaring a financial disaster, which my understanding is she has done. And that is necessary for the Biden administration to declare a national disaster to mobilize FEMA, and give us any help they can,” says Mills.

KMEA has also joined the American Public Gas Association and other municipal utilities in the Midwest to push the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and the U.S. Department of Energy to conduct investigations into the price increases during the winter storm.

On Monday, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission announced an investigation to see if markets were manipulated.

You can read that release here: https://www.ferc.gov/news-events/news/ferc-examine-potential-wrongdoing-markets-during-recent-cold-snap

“We hope, or our thought is, it was due to the reduced production and reduced volumes, reduced pressure on the gas lines. But we don’t know,” says Mills.

Once the City of Altamont has a plan set in stone, Aguilera plans to share the details on the city’s Facebook page.


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Two Joplin organizations hosting joint event to support Leffen Center

JOPLIN, Mo. — The 14th Annual Walk For Autism and Freeman’s Family 5K are joining forces this year. The two events will happen together on April 24 at the Leffen Center in Joplin. Funds raised between the two events will go toward supporting program development and scholarship assistance at the Bill and Virginia Leffen Center for Autism.


New Missouri scholarship program could allow tuition at private schools to be paid

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – Education has been a big topic in Missouri’s Capitol this week as the Senate debated a large education reform bill overnight Tuesday and the House perfected legislation creating a new scholarship program.

The Senate spent nearly 12 hours debating and failing to vote on a bill that included this scholarship program Tuesday, but on Wednesday, it was the House’s turn. Lawmakers say it’s a conversation that’s been going on in the statehouse for years.

Rep. Phil Christofanelli (R-St. Peters) is the sponsor of House Bill 349, better known at the “Missouri Empowerment Scholarship Accounts Program.” This program would allow students in Missouri to attend a school of their choice with tuition paid for.

“It’s not a silver bullet,” Christofanelli said. “We will still have problems in our education system after we pass this, but for a lot of children, it will make a real difference.”

The program would allow certain nonprofits to raise funds and in exchange for their donations, give tax credits up to 100% of their donation amount.

“Nonprofit groups, known as education assistance organizations, those organizations will register with our state treasurer’s office and they will be able to raise money for the purpose of issuing scholarship accounts to children in need across Missouri,” Christofanelli said.

Democrats pushed against the bill, saying there were no negotiations from Republicans on this legislation.

“We all, all 163 of us want to help kids the best way we can and sometimes we have different way to go about it,” Rep. Ian Mackey (R-St. Louis) said. “We’ve got to do better at working together in a meaningful and productive way.”

Tax credits would be capped at $75 million under the proposal. During Wednesday’s debate, Christofanelli added an amendment that would limit who’s eligible for the scholarship. Only students living in a city with a population of 30,000 or more would be able to apply.

“Unfortunately, in many rural districts, unfortunately the public school is the only place to go,” Christofanelli said. “There may not be a private school that you can send your kid too.”

That addition to the bill did not sit well with others.

“How do I now go back to them [my district] and say, ‘Well, I voted for it, some of you liked it, some of you didn’t, but the bottom line, you get no advantage of it,’” Rep. Rudy Veit (R-Wardsville) said.

Rep. Raychel Proudie (D-Ferguson) called the bill an experiment, with the target being urban areas.

“If it’s good enough for your children, then you do it where you live, but don’t sit here on your high horse and say you’re going to help the poor kids,” Proudie said. “If it’s not good for your community and your kids, it’s not good for mine. So, stop using poor kids and black kids to experiment on. We pay taxes too.”

St. Louis Democrat Rep. LaKeySha Bosley offered an amendment the tied the scholarship program to the K-12 transportation line item in the state budget. Her proposal requires 40 percent of the line item to be funded by the state, giving her votes from both sides of the aisle.

The scholarship could be used for other things than tuition, like transportation, tutors and school supplies. Christofanelli said the measure would also put students who live at the poverty level to be at the front of the line for the scholarship.

The bill needs final approval from the House before moving to the Senate.


Flu case numbers plummet amid coronavirus pandemic

SOUTHWEST MISSOURI — Coronavirus is at the forefront of everyone’s minds — but a different virus has been seeing a drop in cases.

How does the flu compare this year to year’s past? Doctors say the flu numbers have been non-existent this year. Freeman Health System doctors say they have been treating less flu and patients.

Joel Dermott, Administrator Barton County Health Dept., said, “The flu is nonexistent more and less not only in this part of the state and statewide if you look at national trends it’s very much the same.”

The Barton County Health Department says there have been only 1,200 cases of the flu in the state of Missouri from the 2020 to 2021 flu season, which is a dramatic drop.

“Compared to this time last year there was 44,000 so we are seeing dramatic decreases of flu not just in Southwest Missouri, but statewide and if you look at national numbers. If you look at numbers for other states and they are very much the same as what we are experiencing.”

Doctors at Freeman Health System say people changing their behavior is helping lower flu cases.

Rob McNab, Director of Covid Services, said, “The things we can point to are human behaviors. I think the masking, I think the social distancing, and I think the real emphasis on hand hygiene has made the biggest difference. I don’t think the flu patterns the way that it spreads across the world has changed.”

Doctor McNab says he and other physicians have also noticed a drop in other respiratory issues.

“The number of emphysema flare ups and other respiratory issues that typically we deal with in Fall and Winter long have also been extremely light.”

Doctor McNab says he has only admitted one flu patient this season compared to 10 to 20 during a normal flu season. He says to keep flu numbers low in the future — at risk patients with chronic bronchitis or emphysema should wear masks throughout the flu season.


Joplin Board of Education voices disapproval of school funding bills to lawmakers

JOPLIN, Mo. — The Joplin Board of Education is speaking out against various house and senate bills that would redirect public school funding.

During Tuesday’s school board meeting the board voted four to three to send a letter to legislators about education bills. The school board is telling legislators they want to keep local property, sales, and income tax in Joplin.

The Joplin Public Schools Superintendent Doctor Melinda Moss says she wants public funds to be held to high accountability standards if they are being given to private entities.