New Year’s Eve tornado in Sunset Hills No. 1 of newspaper’s top stories of 2010

News Analysis: Look for much more to come in 2011 from some of the top stories of 2010.

By MIKE ANTHONY

In some ways, 2010 could be considered the year to expect the unexpected.

For example, after we had finalized our list of the top 10 stories of 2010 and were ready to go to press, a category EF3 tornado with winds near 150 mph ripped through Sunset Hills on the last day of the year.

Citing less than a handful of minor injuries and no fatalities, Sunset Hills Mayor Bill Nolan called the tornado that ripped through his city on Friday a “New Year’s Eve miracle.”

Mehlville Fire Protection District Chief Tim White agreed, saying the lack of serious injuries as a result of the devastating tornado “was nothing short of miraculous.”

No. 2 — Lindbergh voters approve 65-cent tax-rate hike.

More than 53 percent of voters Nov. 2 approved Lindbergh Schools’ Proposition L, a 65-cent tax-rate increase proposal. The measure received 11,872 “yes” votes — 53.7 percent — and 10,239 “no” votes — 46.3 percent.

Prop L will increase Lindbergh’s operational tax rate to $3.40 per $100 of assessed valuation from the current rate of $2.75. The district’s total tax rate will increase to $3.81 per $100 from the current rate of $3.16. The owner of a $200,000 home will pay an additional $247 per year and the owner of a $100,000 home will pay an additional $124 per year.

The Board of Education’s decision in June to place the tax-rate increase before voters came after making $4.7 million in cuts for the 2010-2011 school year and roughly $2 million in cuts for the 2009-2010 school year. For the current school year, 60 positions were eliminated, including 45 teaching positions.

The Prop L revenue eventually will eliminate Lindbergh’s deficit spending, but it won’t do much in terms of adding or restoring staff and programs, district officials have stressed.

In voting to place Prop L on the ballot, the Board of Education decided to disregard the results of a telephone survey that found 58 percent of respondents would support a 25-cent tax-rate increase. The survey, which had a margin of error of plus or minus 5 percent, found 48 percent of respondents would support a 40-cent tax-rate increase and 43 percent of respondents would support a tax-rate increase of 55 cents. The survey cost $13,300.

During an interview, Superintendent Jim Simpson compared following the advice of the survey to “driving us off a cliff.”

“So it might be a great survey and accurate in its way, but we drown if we were to try to go for a 25-cent (tax-rate increase). It would only force us to go in two years or another year later for another 25 cents and then another year for another dime or another nickel,” he said. “We’ve got to get the revenue back to where it was a couple of years ago, three years ago. So we are with great respect saying: We believe our patrons can rise to the understanding and even with the survey not supporting the number, we’re just going to have that bonding with our community so that they understand as best they can and we make that effort to where they realize it’s pretty plain what we’re after and it’s pretty plain our necessity and it’s pretty plain that less money is driving us off a cliff the same as no money …”

Lindbergh’s gamble paid off, but the Mehlville School District did not fare so well.

No. 3 — Mehlville voters reject 88-cent tax-rate increase.

More than 62 percent of voters Nov. 2 rejected the Mehlville School District’s Proposition C, a proposed 88-cent tax-rate increase. The measure received 13,988 “yes” votes — 37.4 percent — and 23,369 “no” votes — 62.6 percent.

Official Nov. 2 election results show voter support for Prop C never reached 40 percent across the four applicable south county townships. In addition, Prop C did not carry any of the school district’s 45 polling places.

Prop C was promoted as the funding vehicle to make Mehlville a high-performing school district. The revenue was to fund roughly $106 million in improvements outlined in the first phase of the district’s long-range improvement plan, COMPASS II — Charting the Oakville-Mehlville Path to Advance Successful Schools.

The COMPASS II plan contains such capital projects as the construction of a new Margaret Buerkle Middle School on the Mehlville Senior High School campus; new performing arts and technology centers at the district’s two high schools and major renovations to Oakville and Washington middle schools and Bierbaum and Trautwein elementary schools. The plan also included such operational proposals as moving staff salaries closer to the county median; funding for Parents as Teachers and full-day kindergarten and updating curriculum and technology.

Prop C supporters cited Mehlville ranking next to last in per pupil spending among St. Louis County public schools as a primary reason for voters to rally behind the measure. The state and county average is roughly $10,000 per pupil. Mehlville spends about $7,500 per pupil.

No. 4 — Mehlville superintendent resigns; Eric Knost to lead district.

Mehlville Superintendent Terry Noble says he wants the school district to remember him after he retires this year as “someone who cared and gave his best.” Noble on June 30 will step down from his post, closing the book on four years serving as the district’s leader.

His deputy superintendent, Eric Knost, will take Noble’s place.

As Mehlville’s superintendent, Noble helped lead two installments of the district’s community-engagement program, COMPASS. During dozens of workshops, staff, students and community members brainstormed ways to make the district high-performing. Mehlville annually has received high marks on its academic report card from the state and annually has earned the state’s Distinction in Performance honor under Noble’s administration.

Last March, the school board voted unanimously to award Noble a new three-year contract that increased Noble’s base salary by $44,088, from $181,912 to $226,000 — a roughly 24-percent raise. While Noble and the board contended the decision was made with the best interest of the district in mind, Noble later agreed to relinquish the raise, saying it had become a distraction to COMPASS.

Board members in August rescinded Noble’s three-year contract and approved a new, one-year agreement that provides for a 6-percent base salary increase — to $192,798 from $181,912.

Knost will assume the school district’s top position next year, seizing what he believes is the “opportunity of a lifetime.”

The Board of Education voted 6-0 in closed session Dec. 1 to approve a three-year superintendent contract for Knost, who will begin his new job July 1.

“I’ve felt poised and ready to take the reins for a long time,” Knost told the Call in an interview. “I’ve wanted to be a superintendent and have aspired to do that for a long time.”

Knost’s contract stipulates he will be paid $185,000 a year for the next three years. His 2010-2011 salary as deputy superintendent is $139,444. Knost, 45, has more than two decades’ experience in education. He has been Mehlville’s deputy superintendent since November 2006, when he was promoted from the position of north area superintendent.

Before he was named north area superintendent, Knost had served as principal of Oakville High School since July 1, 2002.

No. 5 — Charlie Dooley beats back challenge from Bill Corrigan.

St. Louis County voters in the Nov. 2 election again put their confidence in Charlie Dooley.

The Democratic incumbent county executive captured 51 percent of the votes to win a second four-year term, defeating Republican challenger Bill Corrigan.

Dooley received 191,222 votes — 51.05 percent — compared to Corrigan’s 175,025 — 46.7 percent. Libertarian Theo “Ted” Brown captured 8,125 votes — 2.17 percent.

Dooley and Corrigan raised more than $4.3 million during the election period. Together their campaigns spent roughly $4 million. Overall the Dooley campaign raised $2,648,901.19 and spent $2,435,355.03 toward his re-election, with $37,141.68 cash on hand. Overall Corrigan raised $1,656,013.69 and spent $1,560,896.30 in his bid for the county’s top position. He reported having no remaining cash on hand.

No. 6 — Voters approve sales-tax increase for Metro; John Nations to lead transit agency.

While voters countywide overwhelmingly approved a sales tax-increase for mass transit last April, the ballot measure was narrowly rejected in south county.

Nearly 63 percent of county voters April 6 approved Proposition A, a half-cent sales tax-increase that’s expected to generate at least $75 million a year. But township reports reveal Prop A was rejected by roughly 51 percent of south county voters. Prop A’s passage also has triggered a quarter-cent sales tax in St. Louis city, which voters approved in 1997 but was contingent upon passage of a sales-tax increase in the county.

Late last summer, John Nations was named Metro’s new president and CEO, succeeding President and CEO Bob Baer.

Nations was a partner with the Armstrong Teasdale law firm. He also was serving his third term as Chesterfield mayor. He stepped down from both of those posts before becoming Metro’s chief executive. He is being paid $250,000 per year.

Nations served as chairman of Advance St. Louis, the campaign committee for Prop A, the half-cent sales-tax increase for Metro approved by voters earlier that year.

“John Nations’ recent leadership as head of the Proposition A campaign demonstrated his ability to bring people together to address the needs of Metro’s diverse stakeholders,” Metro Board of Commissioners Chairman Vince Schoemehl stated in the release. “We are excited to have him on board …”

No. 7 — Mehlville Fire Protection District continues to improve infrastructure.

The Mehlville Fire Protection District Board of Trustees voted unanimously in late July to spend $571,000 to purchase a roughly one-acre site on South Lindbergh Boulevard to relocate the district’s No. 3 firehouse.

The existing No. 3 firehouse, built in 1957 at 11625 Sappington Barracks Road is deteriorating and needs to be re-placed, according to Board of Directors Chairman Aaron Hilmer.

The purchase of the property to relocate the No. 3 firehouse comes as construction of the district’s new No. 4 firehouse at 13117 Tesson Ferry Road is under way. A $1,439,000 contract to construct the firehouse was awarded in April to the Diestelkamp Construction Co.

Archimages of Kirkwood, selected by the board in December 2009 to provide architectural and engineering services to design the new firehouse, recommended the contract be awarded to Diestelkamp.

The one-acre site, across the street from the existing No. 4 firehouse at 13106 Tesson Ferry Road, was purchased by the Board of Directors in September 2009 for $800,000.

No. 8 — Ex-Mehlville firefighter, Oakville man found guilty in murder-for-hire case.

It took a jury just over 90 minutes in June to reach a verdict in the nearly 18-year-old murder-for-hire case involving a former Mehlville Fire Protection District firefighter and a south county man.

Former MFPD firefighter James Kornhardt, 51, of Dittmer and former MFPD board candidate Steven Mueller, 50, of Oakville were found guilty June 14 in federal court of conspiring to commit murder-for-hire and of committing murder-for-hire in connection with the Oct. 22, 1992, death of St. Louis resident Danny Coleman. The jury of five men and seven women also found Kornhardt guilty of obstruction of justice.

Danny Coleman’s wife, Karen, 55, pleaded guilty four days before the trial began to the same conspiracy and murder-for-hire charges. In September, she was sentenced to 20 years in federal prison.

U.S. District Judge Charles Shaw on Sept. 23 sentenced Kornhardt and Mueller to life in federal prison on one count of conspiracy to commit murder-for-hire and on one count of murder-for-hire. Kornhardt also was sentenced to 20 years in federal prison on one count of obstruction of justice. Attorneys for the two maintained their clients’ innocence at the sentencing and since have filed notices of appeal with the federal court.

No. 9 — Contract awarded for long-awaited Green Park Road project.

Reconstruction of Green Park Road and its bridge over Gravois Creek will commence this year.

The Green Park Board of Aldermen voted Nov. 15 to name L. Krupp Construction Inc. of Ballwin the contractor for the Green Park Road improvement project and authorize the mayor to execute a contract with the company.

The board approved Krupp’s bid of $2,159,723.33 as the lowest and best bid of the seven submitted.

The East-West Gateway Council of Governments in 2003 approved a federal grant funding 80 percent of Green Park Road’s original reconstruction cost of $2.425 million. As projected then, the city’s share would have been roughly $485,000.

The city also plans to widen the Green Park Road bridge over Gravois Creek, work that likely will run concurrently with the road reconstruction, officials have said.

Aldermen voted unanimously last month to name Concrete Strategies of Overland the contractor for the bridge project. The company’s $739,596 bid was the lowest of seven submitted.

No. 10 — New $1.7 million program will bring all of Lindbergh’s classrooms into 21st century.

A more than $1.7 million program designed to bring all of Lindbergh Schools’ classrooms into the 21st century was approved in June by the Board of Education.

The Lindbergh INteractive Classroom, or LINC, program will be a “massive” undertaking, according to Superintendent Jim Simpson.

In a memo to the school board, Simpson wrote, “The interactive classroom led by a teacher who is highly skilled in the use of technology to increase student learning is the new standard nationwide. LINC is the program that can rapidly move Lindbergh Schools to this new standard.

“This proposed program designed by the in-house team trains all Lindbergh core classroom teachers in the use of interactive technology in the classroom. Further, this program instills in each of those core classrooms interactive technology equipment the teacher will use to enhance instruction.

“In short, LINC will move this district from our present stage of being behind in this critical area to a leader in the region,” the superintendent wrote.