The year that was

Wednesday, December 31, 2008 | 4:26 p.m. CST; updated 2:20 p.m. CST, Friday, January 2, 2009
Missouri tight end Chase Coffman leaps over a Southeast Missouri State defender during the Tigers home opener against the Redhawks on Sept. 6 at Faurot Field. The Tigers finished their season with a win over Northwestern at the Alamo Bowl on Dec. 29.

COLUMBIA — What a year.

Missouri’s shrinking state budget, a historic election, the resignations of three long-time public officials and a Missouri football team that fell short of lofty expectations all fluttered like confetti into news headlines.

Here are ten stories, in no particular order, to think about when you look back on the year that was.

UM budget crunch

Late in 2008, the University of Missouri System was forced to make a resolution to slim down its budget in the New Year.

The nation’s economic meltdown — rooted in lax home loan practices and risky investments on Wall Street — forced the state to tighten its belt in anticipation of a large budget shortfall.

The General Assembly asked state-funded universities and colleges to file reports in early December on how cuts of 15 percent, 20 percent and 25 percent in state funding would impact their operations. To make matters worse, the unprecedented state shortfall might require funds to be withheld from the current budget.

The UM System responded by submitting a report to the Missouri Department of Higher Education — at the request of the General Assembly — that listed layoffs and tuition increases as possible impacts of funding cuts.

But MU Chancellor Brady Deaton was confident that MU would withstand the current financial turmoil.

“The University of Missouri was founded in 1839, I have no doubt it’s going to be here in 2039 and 2139,” Deaton said during a press conference on Dec. 19.

Historic election

Dollars and cents also played a major role in a historic local election, and nationally, proved that the political axiom “It’s the economy, stupid” still holds water.

Columbia was home to the most expensive House race in Missouri history between Democrat Chris Kelly, who defeated incumbent Republican Ed Robb for the 24th Legislative District.

Negative campaign ads by the two candidates were fixtures on local airwaves, but representative-elect Kelly said in a Missourian article Dec. 28 that raising money isn’t something he enjoys.

“People say they need money to get their message out, but really they need more money so they can slander their opponent," he said.

Both he and Robb managed to raise a combined $426,000 in campaign contributions, according to reports filed with the Missouri Ethics Commission.

Barack Obama's visit

Missouri’s history as a bellwether state and tight polling numbers brought president-elect Barak Obama to MU on Oct. 30, just five days before his decisive win over Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.

A crowd of 40,000 gathered to watch the nation’s first African-American presidential candidate give a well-received speech that covered topics ranging from health care to Iraq.

Pundits cited a slumping economy and voters’ favorable response to Obama’s call for change as deciding factors in his victory. And though he received a little more than 55 percent of the vote in Boone County, Obama lost the state by a slim margin, making it the first time since 1821 that a Democrat was elected president without carrying Missouri.

Fire chief resigns

While Columbians saw a number of politicians elected to office for the first time in 2008, they also witnessed resignations of three prominent local officials.

With controversy swirling around him, Boone County Fire Protection District Chief Steve Paulsell retired the day before Thanksgiving. 

Paulsell had been no stranger to controversy in recent years, but Boone County Fire Protection District board member Shelly Dometrorch’s discovery that he had been paid $36,800 more than his official salary in 2004 was the beginning of the end.

A settlement was reached between Paulsell and the board that gave him a $300,000 severance package in exchange for his resignation.

Fire board members selected Scott Olson as an interim replacement for Paulsell on Dec 2.

Board Chairman John Gordon said members would meet Jan. 5 to discuss hiring a permanent replacement for Paulsell.

School superintendent exits

Under slightly less dramatic circumstances, Superintendent of Columbia Public Schools Phyllis Chase retired in August.

The announcement came days after the release of Missouri Assessment Program data that indicated only three schools out of 28 in the district met Missouri's state-level adequate yearly progress standard.

Former Superintendent Jim Ritter, whom Chase followed in 2003, was quickly named as an interim replacement. Assistant Superintendent Lynn Barnett said applications for a permanent superintendent would be accepted through Jan. 17.

Police chief steps down

Columbia Police Chief Randy Boehm stepped down on May 21.

His resignation came shortly after the newly formed Citizen Oversight Committee reviewed traffic stop data from 2004 through 2006 amid the committee's concerns about the way African-American drivers were treated.

Capt. Tom Dresner, a veteran of the Columbia Police Department, was named interim police chief on June 13.

High hopes for Tigers

Then there was the Tigers football season.

The year started with a victory over the Arkansas Razorbacks in the Cotton Bowl, and the Tigers narrowly missed a shot at the 2007 national title after losing the Big 12 Championship Game.

Commentators picked Missouri to fare equally well in its 2008 campaign, and the athletics department prepped to aggressively market Chase Daniel and Jeremy Maclin to Heisman Trophy voters.

But in the first game of the season, Illinois quarterback Isiah "Juice" Williams launched deep ball after deep ball into a leaky MU secondary, foreshadowing defensive problems that would haunt the team.

The Tigers barely escaped with a win in the Arch Rivalry game on Aug. 31, but they wouldn’t be so lucky against Oklahoma State. The Tigers lost to the Cowboys in nationally televised showdown at Faurot Field on Oct. 11.

The defeat was followed by a precipitous slip down the rankings, and the team was never able to climb back into the championship hunt. The season ended with a win over Northwestern at the Valero Alamo Bowl on Dec. 29.

Journalism School turns 100

Even if the football team fell short of some fans’ expectations, the school had a milestone birthday to celebrate. The Missouri School of Journalism turned 100 in the fall, the oldest journalism school in the world.

The school marked the milestone by hosting a centennial celebration and opening the ultramodern Reynolds School of Journalism.

Columbia closes in on 100,000

Columbia grew up. According to growth trends, the community's population – including students —  hit 100,000 this past year. Absolute verification of the milestone won't come until this year. 

Columbia also saw two new attractions added to the downtown area.

The Missouri Theatre opened its refinished doors with a gala featuring the legendary crooner Tony Bennett on May 21, and the YouZeum welcomed visitors for the first time on May 1.

A solution for the Missourian

And finally, the news even made a bit of news in 2008.

The MU Provost announced on Dec. 22 that the Columbia Missourian had reached an agreement with MU administrators to scale back the number of its weekly print editions in order to maintain its status as a community paper and teaching lab.

By the end of February, the Columbia Missourian will begin distributing a print edition five days a week, eliminating a weekday edition — likely Monday — and the Weekend Missourian.

Estimated savings from the reduction is about $350,000, a move faculty and administrators cited as necessary to ensure the Missourian’s financial stability.



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