Building the ultimate mudball

Mud dots the street in front of the Rucker house in Centralia, where 9-year-old Johnny Veazey works on his messy masterpiece. He and four of his friends crowd around a patch of dirt in a grassy ditch next to the street. Some sit crossed-legged; others lie down, propped up on their elbows.

Each boy is dressed in mud. Jacob Rucker, 7, has clumps stuck to his chin. Danny Beachy, 10, has a smudge in the middle of his forehead. And Johnny’s arms look like they have been dipped up to the elbow in brownie mix. But it doesn’t matter. The boys have a job to do.

The equations of education=?: Part Two

Major issues to address include tax reassessments, a special “hold-harmless” clause and the “proration factor.”

Holiday lights

Council OKs Beck for one more year

Ray Beck will continue as Columbia’s city manager for at least another year, but members of the Columbia City Council worry whether they’re paying him enough.

After giving Beck a stellar review for his performance over the past year, the council decided Wednesday night to extend his contract another year. Beck’s new salary will be $128,911, which includes a 2 percent merit increase and a 2 percent cost-of-living increase. The council also agreed to a one-time payment of $200 to defray the higher cost of medical insurance.

Holiday mission

Since Sept. 11, 2001, Hallsville Elementary School has had a world map hanging outside the principal’s office. The map has the names and locations of 31 Hallsville residents who are in active military service around the world.

This holiday season, Hallsville is trying to make sure its more than 1,200 residents stay in touch with the city’s service members. The city is preparing care packages to send to soldiers stationed overseas, particularly in Iraq and Kosovo.

Raises, insurance boosts county costs

Boone County government might have to dip into reserves to get through 2004, according to a preliminary budget prepared by County Auditor June Pitchford.

Principals rank building needs

This holiday season children won’t be the only ones making wish lists. Principals in the Columbia Public School District are hoping their most pressing school facility needs will be covered by a proposed $22.5 million bond issue.

In January, the school board will decide whether to put the proposal before voters on the April ballot. Deputy Superintendent Jacque Cowherd said the district’s financial adviser has determined that $22.5 million is the amount of money that could be issued without a tax increase.

King Memorial gets grant

In one fell swoop, a U.S. senator has done what a committee raising money for restoration of the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial worked nearly a year to achieve.

U.S. Sen. Kit Bond has landed $100,000 from the Save America’s Treasures program for the King Memorial project. The Save America’s Treasures program uses grants from the National Park Service and the National Endowment for the Arts to preserve national monuments and other places of interest.

The sharing season

Although she doesn’t have much to give besides her time, 78-year-old Margaret Hicks volunteers year-round for the New Life Evangelistic Center in Columbia.

Trade deal would open up markets for Missouri farmers

Some Missouri farm and livestock groups are confident their members will profit from the Free Trade Area of the Americas trading bloc, but the cheap costs of production in Central and South America have others worried that the playing field won’t be level for Missouri farmers.

Negotiations end today in Miami, where U.S. officials and representatives from 34 countries of Central and South America have been discussing the framework of an agreement that would remove trade barriers among member countries. If an agreement is reached, the FTAA would be the largest trading bloc in the world, stretching from Alaska to Argentina.

U.S. post office leading the way in use of E85 fuel

On weekday mornings, Leona Cotton, a cashier at the Tiger Conoco station on I-70 Drive Southwest, would watch U.S. mail trucks line up at the pumps for E85, a special fuel made from corn and soybeans.

School board split on joining lawsuit

The Columbia School Board failed to decide Thursday morning whether to join a lawsuit for equity and adequacy in school funding in Missouri. But the board did raise key issues that it said need to be researched before it votes on the matter in December.

The proposed lawsuit, which is being led by attorney Alex Bartlett of Jefferson City and so far involves 228 of the state’s 524 districts, would challenge Missouri’s formula for how districts receive money.

Commission rejects park road plan

Heeding the concerns of dozens of residents who turned out to make their voices heard, the Planning and Zoning Commission voted to maintain the Russell Property in west Columbia as its owner originally intended: as a nature preserve and recreational park.

Forum debates U.S. role

Attack countries that threaten the United States. Encourage dialogue and democracy. Promote free trade. These issues and more were addressed Thursday night during a public forum held at the Columbia Public Library.

The deliberation is part of the National Issues Forums, a nonpartisan network of meetings held nationally and locally to address issues of public policy. Nine Columbia residents led by two moderators expressed their views on four proposed approaches to America’s role in the world: international order through military action, democratic dialogue, promoting free trade and preserving the planet’s future.

Text messaging

Tired of talking on your cell phone in public and having complete strangers listen in on your personal life? Maybe it’s time you started text messaging.

At least that’s what your cellular carrier hopes. Text messaging, the act of sending written messages between cell phones, is being heavily marketed by U.S. cellular carriers who want customers to use their phones for more than just talk.

Making holiday weight-gain obsolete

Pile in the car with a 32 oz. soda. Start driving. Beware of the Thanksgiving traffic. Click on the radio. Oh, they’re already playing Christmas tunes. Drive, think about turkey, drive, eat a Snickers and a bag of Ruffles, drive.

Arrive at your parents,’ or brother’s or aunt-you-don’t-like’s house. Chat awhile. Eat a homemade grandma goodie. Unload bags into the drafty guest room that smells like an attic. Sit down. Think about exercising. Eat cookies instead. Sit. Eat. Sit. Eat. Walk to the fridge. Grab a beer. Sit. Drink. Sit. Drink. Go to bed tired, annoyed with your kin and five pounds heavier. Ah, the Thanksgiving holiday.

Enjoy all holiday treats in moderation

Here’s some scary food for thought: To gain five pounds from now to the end of January, all a person needs to do is eat an average of 300 calories more per day than normal. Even scarier: During the holiday months, everyone is apt to fall victim to overindulgence.

Lunch hours and evening will inevitably be spent shopping and running errands, without the actual physical motion of running.

Mercury advisories are rising

If you live near a lake or river in Missouri, chances are good that body of water is under a mercury advisory. Between May 2000 and 2002, mercury advisories for Missouri lakes and rivers increased from zero to 288, 315 acres.

The issue of mercury levels, and how quickly they should be reduced, has become a hot topic of debate since President Bush proposed his “Clear Skies Initiative” in 2002. The initiative, which is currently being heard by committees in both the U.S. House and Senate, is designed to significantly reduce emissions from sources of pollution, especially coal-fired power plants. Under the plan, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides and mercury would all be gradually reduced over next several decades.

Senators criticize sales tax proposal

JEFFERSON CITY — A proposal to automatically raise Missouri sales taxes when state revenue falls has been taken to task by leading Republicans.

The petition initiative, brought to Secretary of State Matt Blunt’s office this week by a team of lobbyists, ignores needed policy reforms, said Senate Majority Leader Michael Gibbons, R-Kirkwood. Changes to the taxing system need to be addressed before the state seeks new revenue sources, said Gibbons, who is chairman of the Joint Committee on Tax Policy.

Revisions to Philips plan filed

A contentious zoning proposal that would allow developers to build a mix of homes, offices and stores on the Philips farm — a 489-acre property southwest of Columbia — is back on the table after three months of behind-the-scenes analysis and planning.

Developer Elvin Sapp, who withdrew the proposal in September, resubmitted it Nov. 13 with a handful of restrictions and clarifications addressing concerns of residents and city staff. Sapp’s next step is the Columbia Planning and Zoning Commission, It will hold the first formal public hearing on the proposal Dec. 18.