A judge's ruling on the transportation development district, closure of a murder case that rocked a small area community, educational expansions and changes, elections, and a presidential visit to the area cap the stories of 2012.
Following are the year's top 10 stories, in reverse order, as chosen by the editorial staff of the Neosho Daily News.
10. Neosho R-5 library expansion project — Neosho High School's library received a facelift in 2012 and reopened to rave reviews in September.
The completely redone space includes lounge seating areas, more than 60 desktop computers, high top tables with lamps, a planter area, an open layout, multi-level ceilings, two conference rooms, and a fireplace.
Work on the library started in May, shortly after the students had left campus for the summer. The space was completely gutted, and crews from Branco Enterprises spent the summer creating a modern library in its place.
With the library turned into a construction zone, its resources were relocated to a temporary library on the stage of the high school auditorium, and some items were placed in storage. It was not until the last week of August that librarian Don Bright was first able to start moving the library's 20,000 books into the updated library.
The library renovation cost the district $598,500, while the furniture and shelving cost an additional $148,667.
9. Crowder College breaks ground on McDonald County campus — Fifteen Crowder College administrators and board members broke ground on the new McDonald County campus in November.
The planned 250,000 square-foot facility will be constructed on 7.81 acres of land, purchased from Freeman Health System. The new site will be located in Jane, on Larry Neff Drive, just off of U.S. Highway 71.
Construction is expected to begin this spring and finish late this fall. Classes should begin in the fall of 2014.
Alan Marble, Crowder College president, said the new facility will be a two-story building, with eight classrooms, three labs and an upstairs community center that will seat approximately 250 people.
Funding for the new campus came in three parts, $1.5 million that was saved up in the Crowder building fund, $3 million that came from refinancing Crowder's bonds, and $1.5 million from fundraising.
8. President visits area — President Barack Obama came to Joplin a year after that community's devastating tornado to speak to the graduating class of 2012.
The president didn't focus on the events of May 21, 2011, but instead chose to speak on what the year since that storm has meant for Joplin residents.
"By now, most of you have probably relived those 32 minutes again and again," Obama said. "Where you were. What you saw. When you knew for sure that it was over. The first contact you had with someone you love. The first day you woke up in a world that would never be the same. And yet, the story of Joplin is the story of what happened the next day and the day after that."
Page 2 of 4 - Also speaking at the event were Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon and Dr. C.J. Huff, superintendent of the Joplin School District.
7. Library bond issue fails — A proposed 14.5-cent increase to the Newton County library's property tax levy failed at the polls June 5.
With only 7.3 percent of registered county voters casting their ballots, the issue was rejected by a 64 to 36 percent margin.
The increase, which was intended to add an additional 17,000 square feet to the Neosho-Newton County library, as well as fund several maintenance projects, was estimated to have cost someone with a $100,000 home about $29 per year.
The issue lost in nearly every precinct, with Neosho voters splitting 481 to 476 against the issue. In Seneca, the issue lost by a nearly 6-1 margin, with only 30 votes in favor of the increase and 175 against. In September, the Newton County Library Board voted to close the Seneca branch, citing financial constraints as the cause. However, the board later decided to fund the branch for six more months, and revisit the issue at a later date.
6. Water line improvements — Many city streets resembled dirt country lanes for a short period this spring and summer as Neosho made improvements to its water line system.
Crews from Rosetta Construction have been working for months to replace aged waterlines in the oldest parts of town, as well as in the Camp Crowder area, with the intention of increasing the water supply capacity, increasing pressure stability and reducing maintenance expenses associated with the old pipes.
The replacement is also intended to cut down on sediment in the water system, which had been a citizen complaint with the old lines.
The project consists of upgrading the city's treatment plant as well as wells and pump stations to stay in compliance with state and federal standards.
Mike Hightower, Neosho's public works director, said the plant was built in the early 1940s.
The third part of the project, the installation of a new 14,000-foot, 16-inch water transmission main on Kodiak Road, was also completed.
5. Changes in Neosho R-5 leadership — In April, Neosho R-5 Superintendent Dr. Richard Page announced plans he was stepping down. Page, who served as superintendent since 2005 and had been with the district since 2000, left to take a position as superintendent of the Gravette, Ark., school district.
The Neosho R-5 School Board voted to appoint former assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction, Alma Stipp, to serve as superintendent for a one-year term.
She spent the entire span of her education career in the Neosho R-5 School District, starting at Goodman Elementary School in 1985, serving as principal of Central Elementary, and then moving up to district administration.
The school board enlisted the help of the Missouri School Boards' Association in finding the district's next leader, and drew 28 applicants from six states.
Page 3 of 4 - In December, the board announced that they had selected Dan Decker, superintendent of the Aurora School District, to lead Neosho schools.
Decker, who is currently in his fourth year as superintendent at the Aurora R-8 School District, will begin his duties with the district on July 1, 2013.
Decker is a native of Lockwood, Mo. and has worked in education for 21 years, as a teacher, coach, principal and superintendent.
4. November elections — While millions of voters went to the polls nationally to cast their ballots in the presidential election, local elections also brought voters out.
Republicans Alan Cook and Jim Jackson were elected to District I and District II county commission seats, respectively.
McDonald County voters elected Mike Hall, a Republican, as their new sheriff, and chose to end a county planning commission.
3. April elections — A contentious city council race between three incumbents and three challengers ended with the incumbents sweeping the slate.
Mayor Richard Davidson and council members David Ruth and Steve Hart were re-elected on April 3. Davidson and Ruth outpaced challengers Mike Franks and Bill Crowe for the post, while Hart defeated Andrew Hamby. Another candidate who had earlier withdrawn from the race, former councilwoman Heather Bowers, garnered 154 votes.
In the school board election, voters chose newcomers Steve Douglas and Phil Wise to replace incumbents Tim Lewis and Cheryl Hawkins. Hawkins, who had served on the board for 18 years, elected not to seek re-election.
2. Guilty verdicts in Rowan Ford murder case — Two area men were convicted and sentenced this past year in connection with the November 2007 murder of 9-year-old Rowan Ford of Stella.
After less than an hour of deliberation, a five man, seven woman jury declared Christopher Collings should be put to death for his role in raping and killing the girl.
"He stole her innocence. He stole her body, ultimately, he stole her life," Barry County Prosecutor Johnnie Cox told jurors as he detailed why they should give Collings the death penalty.
Cox asked jurors to consider three mitigating circumstances in the case: that the murder of Rowan Ford involved torture, that the act was committed during the perpetration of rape, and that Rowan Ford was killed to keep her from not reporting the rape.
Collings, along with Ford's stepfather, David Spears, was accused of raping and killing the Triway Elementary student, then dumping her body in a sinkhole in eastern McDonald County.
In September, Spears pleaded guilty to reduced charges of child endangerment and hindering prosecution and was sentenced to 11 years in prison. He had originally been charged with first-degree murder and rape, but those counts were dropped because the physical evidence failed to implicate him or was inconsistent with statements he made to investigators, Cox said.
Page 4 of 4 - 1. TDD ruling — In late November, a Newton County judge ruled the transportation development district could continue.
The hearing in front of Division III Associate Circuit Court Judge Kevin Selby was in response to a petition filed by the City of Neosho this past August, which alleged that the TDD was improperly formed, based on the state statute it was formed under and on who acts as the voters within the district.
The judge's ruling was based on the doctrine of laches, meaning the city waited too long to bring the issue forward.
The court order said the TDD's defense using the doctrine of laches, was "highly appropriate in this case in view of the unquestionable delay on the part of the City in raising its claim as to the District's validity."
Richard Davidson, Neosho mayor, noted that the city only discovered a flaw with the TDD's formation one week prior to submitting their petition.
The TDD was created in February 2011 and stretches from Waldo Hatler Drive to Industrial Drive, and from Kodiak Road to just east of Laramie Lane.
The group has been collecting a half-cent sales tax within its borders since January 1, 2012.
The district was formed under subsection 2 of RSMo 238.207, which requires the petition of a single local transportation authority, which the City of Neosho acted as.
While both the city and the TDD board had discussed pursuing the formation of a community improvement district, to take the place of the TDD and avoid the legal questions that were surrounding the TDD, Ray Stipp, TDD board president, said following the judge's ruling, the TDD will now go on as planned.
Stipp said work on the district's first project, a stoplight at the intersection of Highway 60 and Kodiak Road, is expected to begin this March.