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Junction City expo draws hundreds of attendees to Heritage Park

Multiple representatives from local businesses, nonprofits and other groups gathered in Heritage Park for the Junction City Chamber of Commerce’s annual Junction City Expo Sept. 1.

Members of the public filled the park, going from booth to booth talking with local business owners and learning more about what the community has to offer.

Above the loud music from a DJ hired to work at the event was the sound of chainsaws revving.

Witt’s Mowing and Tree Service of Junction City brought attention to its booth by showing off crew members’ tree pruning skills on a tree in Heritage Park.

Owner Rich Witt said he had talked with city officials and found a tree in the park that needed some dead branches trimmed from it. Witt said he felt the live-action demonstration would draw attention to them in a way nothing else would.

“We do tree trimming and stuff and it was a way to promote our tree work and stuff like that,” he said. “People will hear it and look at see.”

And it worked.

Early on, Witt said the display grabbed attention and garnered questions from attendees.

The 12th Street Community Center had a booth at the annual event.

Maddison Walsh represented the community center.

She said the event started slow, but picked up as time went on. Walsh said the community center’s booth drew a lot of positive attention from attendees.

“I think a lot of people didn’t know about us,” she said. “It’s kind of nice to get our face out there and our image kind of out there. So it seems to have at least helped spread it a little more.”

This was the community center’s first time having a presence at the annual expo.

“I think it’s going to let people know that we’re there and that there’’s other things out in the city just besides the main stuff,” Walsh said. “There’s little hidden gems everywhere.”

Tammy Sheaffer of Junction City, a Chamber member who sells Xyngular weight loss system out of her own home, also had a booth at the event. She attended as part of her membership with the Chamber. She used the event as a networking opportunity.

“I can go to the events and network with other businesses here,” Sheaffer said. “I’ve already met several people.”

Nate Butler represented Junction City Main Street at the expo, where he helped gather votes in the Main Street Logo contest.

He said hundreds of people had voted in the competition, online and at the expo.

“The turnout was really good tonight,” Butler said.

City recognizes first responders with simple gesture

The City of Junction City has decided to honor its local first responders by running streaks of red and blue paint down the middle of Washington Street.

The red represents the Junction City Fire Department and EMS and the blue represents law enforcement.

A pair of red lines have been painted on Washington between Sixth and Eighth Streets because the fire station is near there and the blue lines were painted two blocks down near the Junction City Police Department office and the Geary County Sheriff’s Office.

City Manager Allen Dinkel said it was the idea of Junction City Police Chief John Lamb, who saw the concept implemented in another community and wanted Junction City to implement it as well.

“He put it on Facebook,” Dinkel said. “He got tons of likes from people here in town.”

The city decided it was a nice, inexpensive way to say ‘thank you,’ he said. Dinkel said it cost the city next to nothing because the city already had the paint on hand.

“It’s just to honor them — maybe to show the community cares about our first responders,” he said.

The blue and red lines will remain on Washington Street indefinitely.

“I think this community supports law enforcement,” he said. “They really do.”

Neal hopes to represent young people if reelected to USD 475 board

Incumbent Rina Neal has filed for reelection to the USD 475 Board of Education.

Neal will finish her first term on the school board at the end of this year.

“I’m extremely passionate about young people,” she said. “I feel like they deserve a voice and their families deserve a voice as well. When I ran in 2017, it was based on my interaction with volunteering in the school with young schools. So I feel like I am a voice for young people. Oftentimes when decisions are being made, their voices are not brought to the table.”

Neal, who has children of her own in USD 475 and who spends time to this day volunteering in Geary County’s schools, routinely interacts with younger people and feels she is a good representative for them.

“i’m here for the kids,” she said.

Neal said she is “a strong supporter of education.”

“I believe it is a passport to the future and can change a family’s trajectory,” she said. “I feel like I am approachable, relatable, an advocate, and my work experience I think leads well to my service on the board.”

Neal has a Bachelor’s degree in business-administration-accounting and an MBA from Kansas State University and a background in finance. She is a first-generation college student.

She works as the City of Manhattan’s Finance Director. She believes her background in municipal government and her background in finance is something positive she brings to the board. Neal believes she has gained invaluable experience from her time on the school board, during which time she and other members have trained with the Kansas Association of School Boards.

“I pride myself on being a learner and wanting to learn more about the evolution of education,” Neal said.

She said she believes she still has more to learn and wants to continue working with the USD 475 administration and district leaders to change policy and “create an environment that students learn and are successful in.”

For her, the possibility of her reelection is about people — and especially students and their families.

“Making sure that we work through our strategic plan and focus on what’s best for our students and our staff — we want to make sure that we are focused on high student achievement and being accountable in that regard,” Neal said. “I think that’s important. I think it’s important that we explain to families where their students are and work with families to make sure their students understand where they are as well in terms of their academic achievement and getting them to a place where they can be successful.”

Neal believes education is under pressure across the United States due to achievement gaps and staff recruitment and retention.

“Education is not a highly-sought-after profession anymore,” she said. “Just finding avenues and ways to recruit staff and retain staff is something I think is a challenge and something that’s important.”

Neal believes hiring and keeping staff of color and men is important for students in USD 475’s diverse population because students need to see themselves and their community in role models such as teachers.

“Children cannot be what they do not see,” she said. “So if they’e not seeing people that look like them in positions of education, teaching — whether it is in the classroom, as a para, as a support person, as an administrator, as a board member, as a committee member on PTAs, PTOs, site councils, then there’s no voice and no representation for them.”

Neal said she has enjoyed the diversity of thought and experience she has seen from her fellow board members and that she sees them and herself as members of a team.

“I think that it’s important that the board understands that we’re just one of seven people and we come together to do what’s best for the entire district on behalf of students,” she said.

County’s COVID-19 numbers in triple digits

There are currently 122 known active cases of COVID-19 in Geary County, according to the Geary County Health Department.

No new cases of the delta variant have been identified by the health department — the delta count has remained flat at 124 — but a total of 103 new cases of COVID-19 were identified last week.

The health department also listed a total of 51 new recoveries from the virus.

The health department’s unofficial death count has remained flat at 35.

There have been a total of 19 known breakthrough cases of COVID-19 — cases where someone who was vaccinated contracted the virus nonetheless — in Geary County.

The health department lists the county as having experienced 2,336 cases of COVID-19 and 2,171 recoveries in total since the virus first arrived in the community ins spring 2020.

The Kansas Department of Health and the Environment lists the community as having had more cases of the virus than the health department does.

The KDHE lists Geary County as having had a total of 4,318 cases of the virus since the pandemic began.

This difference of 1,982 is accounted for by numbers from the Geary County side of Fort Riley according to the health department. Fort Riley does not report its numbers directly to the health department, but does report its numbers to the KDHE.

The KDHE lists Geary County as having a total of 130 cases of the delta variant and 17 cases of the alpha variant for a total of 147 variant cases and a total of 48 deaths from the virus.

While Geary County lags behind many other Kansas counties in terms of vaccination, the number of Geary County residents that have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine has gone up.

The KDHE now lists 420.1 per 1,000 people aged 12 and above have had at least one dose of the vaccine in Geary County — a total of about 10,106.

According to the KDHE, 8,286 people are fully-vaccinated against the virus in Geary County — 344.4 per 1,000 people.

Geary Community Hospital routinely releases its COVID-19-related numbers to the public.

According to the most recent update from the hospital, there are two COVID-19 patients in the ICU, one of whom is currently on a ventilator. There are three COVID-19 patients hospitalized at GCH at this time, all of whom are unvaccinated.

In total, GCH is serving 11 inpatients at this time, including those who are there for COVID-19-related treatments and those who are in the hospital for other reasons.

County will interview another candidate for CVB position after computer glitch caused application to go missing

Another candidate for Convention and Visitors Bureau Director will have a chance to interview for the open position after a glitch was discovered that prevented her resumé from showing up among the position’s initial candidates.

CVB board members had questioned why the candidate, who has CVB experience elsewhere in the state, seemed to have been passed over by the commission.

Board member Rick Dykstra knew the candidate in question and was in contact with her.

Dykstra was concerned initially that the candidate’s information had not come up in discussions and that the commission had offered someone the job without interviewing her.

“She did everything she was supposed to do,” Dykstra said of the candidate.

The Junction City Union reached out to CVB board President Florence Whitebread and board member Adam Wilkey last week about the matter after an anonymous source called with information about the director situation.

“We had the first interviews and we weren’t happy with any of them in that position,” Whitebread said of the initial candidates.

She said the CVB advisory board had requested the county’s HR department continue searching.

“There was a person we had heard from western Kansas who was interested in applying and she was going to apply,” Whitebread said.

But this candidate’s name did not come up in discussions — it would turn out her information was lost due to a computer glitch.

Whitebread said she was concerned because no one on the hiring board had approved the initial candidates.

Wilkey was as well.

“The only thing I know is that the deadline for the application was I believe the 27th — which was Friday — and (the candidate) had indicated to some people that were on the hiring committee that she was going to be putting in an application,” Wilkey said. “So it was a surprise on Monday at the commission meeting when the HR director indicated that no one had applied.”

He said the hiring committee followed up with the candidate, who supplied them with a timestamp from when she had submitted her application.

She had applied the afternoon of June 12.

“We want to find the best person for the job and we want everyone to have an equal opportunity to get an interview and to be considered,” Wilkey said.

Wilkey reached out to commissioners, including Commissioner Alex Tyson, who he said he had a somewhat tense initial conversation with.

Tyson admitted in a phone call last week that the conversation between himself and Wilkey had been tense.

“It didn’t go well,” Tyson said of the conversation. “He called. I told him that I had already had talked with our HR director and she’s looking into it.”

Tyson said he was uncomfortable with the fact that the candidate had reached out to board members instead of the county’s HR to ask questions about the application and said he did not feel it was the job of the CVB board to tell him as a commissioner what to do.

“I’m not going to do what a board member is telling me to do because of how they feel about a situation,” he said. “That’s not going to happen. That will never happen. So he got upset.”

According to County Commission Chair Trish Giordano, the CVB board is an advisory board not a board of directors. As an advisory board, the CVB board does not make the final decision on who is hired to fill the directorship.

That said, the candidate will have a chance to interview for the director position now that her information has been located and it has been determined that the candidate did submit her application on time.

“She looks like she’s got a lot of experience,” Giordano said of the candidate. “So does the guy that we offered the job to, but because there wasn’t anything set in stone we’re able to interview her. It wasn’t fair that there was a glitch in the system.”

JC Main Street logo contest winner announced

The votes are in and Jacob Keehn of Junction City is the winner of the Junction City Main Street logo competition.

Keehn, who works as a graphic designer for the Junction City Union, learned Thursday night that he’d won the contest.

“it was very exciting,” he said. “I was very happy because I did work pretty hard on it.”

Keehn said he had tried his best when crafting his design to follow what Main Street officials had asked for in an initial press release announcing the contest. He said he was surprised but pleased to learn that he had won.

“I guess when I entered I didn’t necessarily know how many entries there were going to be,” Keehn said.

But when he finally saw all the logos and the other finalists, he said he did want his to win.

The new logo was unveiled to the public at the JC Main Street meeting Thursday night.

It will be the organization’s logo for the foreseeable future, according to Nate Butler of JC Main Street.

“I think that’s pretty exciting,” Keehn said. “I’m pretty excited to see exactly what the final one will be because they did say there were going to be some revisions.”

What those revisions will be remain to be seen, Keehn said.

“It’s my understanding that it’s going to be basically the same design but just with some small tweaks,” he said. “So I’m kind of curious what that’s going to be, because they haven’t gotten back with me yet on exactly what those are. But it’s like any project — any design project you do — you’re going to have some revisions.”

Keehn is interested to know what the final version of the logo will be, he said.

“I’m just grateful for the opportunity,” he said. “I like that they have these opportunities for local artists and things. I’m just really glad I did go ahead and enter.”