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Newsworthy Final Six Months Of Year
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Five-year-old Talan Abel of Oakdale was the real deal when he donned his favorite Kiss character ensemble for the annual Halloween parade, but according to his mom, its not a costume he truly loves Kiss and even goes to the concerts. Good thing his get-up also makes a great costume. - photo by Kim Van Meter/The Leader

A swift-running river, bad news for schools in terms of state funding, and an increase in gang activity all found their way on to the front pages of The Leader during the latter half of 2011. Following are some of the top stories, July to December.

Cloverland Elementary School will see a new Principal this year. Larry Bonds has officially taken over the role, effective July 1. He was the unanimous choice to fill the role of a seven-person interview panel.
Not seeing the need to use public money for educational material for the upcoming sales tax measure, the Oakdale City Council on Monday, July 5 declined to fund a $9,500 contract for a private consultant to handle informative services and materials.
Gregory Wellman has been appointed as interim city manager, starting on Aug. 1. The announcement came at Monday night’s Oakdale City Council meeting, July 18. Wellman, 64, who graduated as valedictorian from Brigham Young University, comes to the city with 43 years of experience in the public sector. He’s served 35 years in Merced County, including five years as county administrator, and as city manager of Atwater for eight years until his retirement in 2010.
The arrest of Valley Home Joint School District Superintendent/Principal Kevin Hart on suspicion of child molestation has been fraught with mystery and suppression of information, including to interested parties of the school system itself. On July 6, shortly after 3 p.m., Hart was arrested by the Oakdale Police Department when the investigating officer saw Hart leaving the Stanislaus County Superior Courthouse in Modesto. Since Hart was under investigation for child molestation accusations at that time, the decision was made to arrest him and take him into custody.

Oakdale fire and rural fire departments have been given $3,000 from Oakdale Irrigation District to use toward the purchase of 140 life jackets for a loaner program being implemented for use on Oakdale’s waterways and the Stanislaus River. Oakdale rural fire chief Lee Winton said that this has been a very busy rescue year and that the use of a life jacket loaner program will save lives and cut down on the near-drownings, too.
Longtime Oakdale Joint Unified School District Food Services Director Raymond Martinez abruptly resigned his position, effective Aug. 2 amidst allegations of possible theft, misappropriation of district property, and embezzlement of public funds. Earlier this year, the OJUSD initiated an audit into the petty cash fund of the Food Services Department concerning questions of inconsistencies regarding the record keeping for the account.
Laura and David Daley of Oakdale suffered an ugly shock Friday, Aug. 5 when they received a phone call at 6:15 in the morning from the people who lease cattle on the Daley’s 430 acres near Highway 108 — somehow their six horses had escaped the pasture and were running loose. Even worse, one was dead. A Storer bus traveling westbound, west of Tulloch Road, carrying 38 passengers from Black Oak Casino collided with one of the Daley’s horses around 11:30 p.m., killing it instantly. Five passengers reported a complaint of pain but there were no serious injuries on board the bus.
Oakdale Rural Fire Protection District Chief Lee Winton declined the rural fire board’s offer to extend his contract at the end of his two-year commitment, yet agreed to return as a part-time consultant. Winton’s contract expires Sept. 1 and he said he’s looking to his health as well as looking forward to spending more time with family.

Directors of Stanislaus Consolidated Fire Protection District (SCFPD) have agreed to help the depleted forces of the Oakdale City and Oakdale Rural fire departments by hiring a part-time Chief Officer to lead fire and rescue operations in the Oakdale area and providing some administrative help by the SCFPD Chief.
The body of the 31-year-old man suspected of drowning at Woodward Reservoir last week was recovered by divers during the day on Tuesday, Sept. 13. The Stanislaus County Sheriff’s Department recovered the body of James Remlinger of Vallejo after an exhaustive search of the “D” area of Woodward Reservoir on the south end, east of the main gates.
A federal plan to essentially drain New Melones when needed to protect salmon in the Delta has been tossed by U.S. District Court Judge Oliver Wagner. The decision essentially validates points that the South San Joaquin Irrigation District and the Oakdale irrigation District made that “bad science” was behind a biological opinion issued by the U.S. National Marine Fisheries that water flow was the main culprit behind lower levels of salmon and steelhead.

Oakdale City Council is taking steps to get every streetlight in Oakdale turned back on in the near future. Council voted 5-0 at their Monday night meeting, Oct. 3, to seek loans to replace 810 city-owned streetlights with more energy-efficient magnetic induction fixtures.
Oakdale voters will be faced with a decision on Nov. 8 that will help determine the city’s finances for the next three years. Measure O will ask voters if they want to fund a half-cent sales tax increase on most purchases made within the City of Oakdale. The sales tax increase will go to Oakdale City general funds, which pays most of the city’s expenses.
Although an email circulated recently by three fire agency chiefs hoping for a CalFIRE Schedule A contract reported that the state agency had declined support for the contract, CalFIRE Unit Chief Brian Kirk clarified the state’s position. “That’s not entirely true,” Kirk said, calling from his Wyoming vacation to explain. “The issue is the number of employees stated in the contract.” As in, between Stanislaus Consolidated, Oakdale City Fire, and Oakdale Rural Fire Protection District, there are 16 positions that the state is not willing to take on.
Discussion at the Oakdale City Council was heated on Monday night, Oct. 17 during a review of the proposed 2050 agricultural preservation map. The map is a countywide effort to prepare a growth plan through the year 2050 to present to the Local Agency Formation Committee by December. The map will potentially serve as a guideline for a ballot initiative taken to voters some time next year. Council members questioned why the map was being drawn and why it had to be done so quickly.
In an effort to rein in certain behaviors at public performances, the Oakdale Joint Unified School District is trying to educate students and adults about proper audience etiquette. District Superintendent Marc Malone said that over the years, they’ve become concerned about appropriate behavior at public student performances and graduations. Audience disruptions affect performers and other audience members alike. Notices with a few bullet points to keep in mind at the performances will now accompany the event programs.

The message was clear and direct and delivered with a flash bang on a cool, early Friday morning — there’s a zero tolerance policy in 95361 when it comes to gang activity. In light of the disturbing rash of drive-by shootings (11 since December 2010, five of those being in August of this year), the Oakdale Police Department coordinated a multi-agency gang suppression sweep of one particular street in Oakdale that has gained an unfortunate association by those running in a criminal street gang.
The Tuesday, Nov. 8 Consolidated District Election will see three local area school districts with contested elections as well as the City of Oakdale’s Measure O sales tax initiative on the ballot. Polls open at 7 a.m. and close at 8 p.m. on Election Day.
Upgrades and repairs to the Oakdale Wastewater Treatment Plant are almost complete, but Oakdale City Council members would like some assurance that the engineering and construction meets industry standards. Final costs for the entire upgrade are estimated between $12 million and $13 million. The peer review process will cost an additional $30,000 to the sewer enterprise funds.
Oakdale is hosting a unique pack of athletes this week for the National Retriever Championship. Eighty-nine of the country’s top retrieving dogs and around 300 owners, handlers and event coordinators are in Oakdale for the national championship event, which is held on the West Coast every four years.
Measure O, a ballot initiative to increase sales tax by .5 percent within Oakdale City limits, has passed in the preliminary election results. Just over 56 percent of voters approved the sales tax increase, which will add one half cent to every $1 purchase made in Oakdale. This tax will go into effect on April 1, 2012 and will end March 31, 2015. Revenue from the tax will go directly to Oakdale’s general fund.
It’s the end of an era for the Oakdale rodeo grounds as they finally cap the well that has historically provided the arena with water, and install the necessary piping to hook into the City of Oakdale’s supply. The decision was not made lightly as the Saddle Club has enjoyed their independence but recent issues with the well made it necessary to make the change.
Three irrigation districts are blaming the federal Bureau of Reclamation for failing to adjust water releases from New Melones Reservoir to protect spawning Chinook salmon in the Stanislaus River. The districts contend the federal agency failed to heed their repeated warnings to more aggressively reduce reservoir storage throughout the year. As a result of high flows during the fall spawning season, more than 10 percent of the salmon eggs appear to have been wiped out between the Knights Ferry and Orange Blossom (Honolulu Bar) area on the Stanislaus River based on work conducted by a team of fishery research scientists with the Oakdale-based FISHBIO firm.

Accusations of nepotism were not on the agenda at the Oakdale City Council meeting, but that did not stop members of the audience from throwing the word around at Monday night’s meeting, Dec. 5. The discussion was regarding an agenda item naming Ramona Howard, mother of Oakdale City Council member Jason Howard, to the Oakdale Tourism Business Improvement District Advisory Board.
Smiling faces filled with holiday cheer were plentiful at downtown Oakdale’s fourth annual Old-Fashioned Christmas on Dec. 2. Downtown merchants, decked out in their best Christmas décor, stayed open late and offered specials to holiday shoppers who flocked to Third Avenue to check out the open houses and start – or wrap up - their Christmas gift buying.
Driving along Yosemite Avenue past A street residents might notice the signs of construction. A bright yellow building is nearing completion and is visible from the road. This is a common sight across the country, even in a housing market where many find it cheaper to buy than to build. This is not a single family home, or even an apartment complex. This construction project is a senior housing complex, the one type of new building that is doing well despite the economy.
The discovery of mold has forced Oakdale Fire Protection District (ORFD) to temporarily shutter the Valley Home Fire Station until the problem has been abated, citing health concerns. A firefighter reported difficulties breathing back in November while at the station that didn’t occur anywhere else, prompting him to pull up the carpet where he found mold.
Police arrested a 23-year-old Oakdale man on Monday, Dec. 19 on charges of attempted murder and domestic violence after he beat, choked and restrained his 20-year-old fiancée, resulting in injuries sufficient enough to send her to the hospital.
California Governor Jerry Brown recently announced that trigger cuts will take place due to an over-projection of income for the state of $2.2 billion. Most of the cuts automatically take effect Jan. 1, with school cuts taking place Feb. 1. The state reductions total $1 billion in mid-year cuts that will be made to schools and social services. Approximately $328 million of those cuts are from K-12 education. California’s public schools will see a $79.6 million decrease, plus a reduction of $248 million to the school busing subsidy.
The third annual Because We Care toy drive gave away toys nearly 500 children, Wednesday, Dec. 21 at the Community Center for underprivileged local children.