Pray gets life
Andrew Pray, the Plover man who beat his stepfather to death with a baseball bat in their home last Memorial Day was sentenced to life in prison for the crime in Portage County Court. Pray, 33, attacked Christopher Bonnstetter, 77, while he slept on the floor of the home they shared with Pray’s mother, Jennifer.
Bonnstetter was struck in the head at least three times in what prosecutors called a “brutal, premeditated act.” The assault caused such violent damage that it left Bonnstetter in a coma. He died three days later in a Marshfield hospital of his injuries.
St. Stephen’s convent demolished
The Stevens Point Common Council Monday approved an appeal from St. Stephen’s Parish to tear down its convent building.
The parish, located at 1401 Clark Street, had previously been denied permission to tear down the 90 year-old structure by the Historic Preservation/Design Review Committee (HPDRC) in February. Parish leaders say they’d worked to find alternatives to the demolition, including donating the building, but it was too deteriorated and would require more money than the church could spend to refurbish.
The building, which was first constructed in 1923, has been unused for about ten years. Church leaders have already removed the plumbing, and say the roof is collapsing and the building is full of black mold and asbestos, and are unable to pay for repairs to make the building safe for potential tenants, or find any interested buyers.
Judge rules City Times protected
Wood County Circuit Court Judge Todd Wolf granted a motion for an order protecting the confidential sources of Brandi Makuski, editor-in-chief of the Stevens Point City Times.
On March 27, two Stevens Point School Board members, Kim Shirek and Lisa Totten, filed a defamation suit against Makuski and Multi Media Channels, LLC, publisher of the City Times.
Their civil complaint alleged that since November 2014, the City Times has published articles critical of the plaintiffs which contained false and inaccurate statements about the plaintiffs’ conduct at school board meetings. The complaint also alleged that a Feb. 6 article about a recall attempt against the plaintiffs implies that they “engaged in a coordinated campaign of criminal activity” including harassment of those involved in the recall.
Edgewater debate reheats
Following several emotional pleas from building residents and other community members, City Council members were unable to agree on how to move forward with Edgewater Manor.
The council was charged with approving borrowing a non-specific amount of money for repairs to Edgewater, the city’s senior-living facility located downtown. A recent architectural report for the building offered suggestions for safety and lifestyle improvements but did not prioritize them.
The City Council was left with little guidance on how to proceed in approving the funding, resulting in four failed votes following almost two hours of discussion- including one vote to send the issue back to the city’s Redevelopment Authority (RA), a body comprised of appointed members overseeing city redevelopment projects, seeking a prioritized list of repairs.
Eventually, the city took back full oversight of the manor from the RA, and opted to move forward with repairs.
Historic development on Main St. announced
A vacant downtown business is getting primed for a major face-lift. Stevens Point-based DB Green LLC purchased the storefront space on Main St., previously owned by Jim Laabs Music, earlier this year. The developer plans to rework the main floor into office and retail space. Luxury apartments are planned for the second floor and will include rooftop patio space.
City approves lower pot fines
City leaders gave a thumbs up to lowering the fine for possession of 5 grams or less of marijuana. The move is latest in lowering the penalty for possession, which was decriminalized by the city council last October in an effort to reduce demands on the over-stressed county jail. The fine associated with possession had been $300- a number that rose to $439 after court costs.
The city approved reducing the fine to $100, which rises to $187 with court costs included, and mirrors the fine for the first offense of underage drinking.
Guns & Hoses
While various vendors offering free S’mores, t-shirts and assistance with local veteran program lined a makeshift fairway at Bukolt Park, most of the attention was focused on the softball diamond. And rightly so. Hundreds turned out for the 2nd annual Guns’n Hoses charity softball game, which pitted the city’s police against city firefighters in an exhibition game designed for raise money for the Never Forgotten Honor Flight.
The event raise $29,000- $6,000 of which goes to the Honor Flight, which flies war veterans free of charge to Washington, D.C. for a day of site-seeing at nation’s memorials. Another $23,000 was presented to Michael Clements, the Portage Co. Veterans Services Officer. That money will stay local for use in the county’s Veterans Relief Fund.
Cooper Motor site eyes for new development
A long-vacant building on the city’s north side finally has another interested developer. Three years after the last proposal for developing the former Cooper Motors site, 544 Division St., yielded heavy objection and months of debate, a new plan could turn a few heads, according to city leaders.
Four new buildings are being proposed for a 4.2 acres on Division and Vincent streets. The conceptual plan calls for a four-story, 40-unit apartment complex aimed at housing UWSP students; a two-story office building; and two single-story buildings, one designed for retail space and another with a drive-thru with hopes of attracting a restaurant.
Southside sees growth
Signs of renewed life began to spring up along the south Bus. 51 corridor in Stevens Point, but an uncertain future over the roadway could be holding back a development boom along the arterial road between the city and Plover.
But city officials agree two main factors have a negative impact on the appearance of the southern corridor: the empty Copps building and uncertainty over the future of Bus. 51.
The former site of Copps Food Center, 3256 Church St., has been empty for almost three years. Both Wiza and Michael Ostrowski, director of community development, agree the space is prime real estate for a grocer, but the building’s owner hasn’t been able to attract interest in over two years.
Cultural Commons announced
A new addition to Pfiffner Pioneer Park has earned a final nod of approval from city leaders- but it has also brought up questions about transparency in local government.
The new Cultural Commons- a planned homage to the city’s Nicaraguan Partnership and relationships with sister cities- will feature multiple natural accents, sculpture work and an outdoor classroom in the park’s south end.
The project was first made public on Oct. 5 during a joint City Plan Commission/Park Board meeting, though it had been discussed privately for more than a year. The project also calls for a pergola, a labyrinth and “space for personal reflection”. Plants and flora would reflect the culture and landscape of sister cities; informational kiosks, an interactive Smartphone app and improving pedestrian access on Crosby Ave. is also part of the long-term plans.
County treasurer under investigation
County officials and Stevens Point police have begun an investigation into the the Portage Co. Treasurer’s Office.
Following the release of a routine audit of the office by an independent third-party accounting firm, an internal investigation by the county was undertaken, according to Corporation Council Mike McKenna.
Soon after, he said, the case was referred to the Stevens Point Police Dept., which is currently investigating to determine what, if any, crime has taken place.
County Treasurer Stephanie Stokes said she had no comment on the audit or investigation. Stokes’ longtime deputy treasurer, Amy Townsend, resigned from the office on Sept. 3. The investigation has since been taken over by the Dept. of Justice.
Body recovery search turns out to be hoax
The suspect in an Oct. 25 hoax is facing steep fines after causing local emergency crews to organize a large-scale search for victims of a boating accident that never happened.
Zachary V. Linzmeier, 20 of Wisconsin Rapids, is facing a bill of at least $2,650 to pay for emergency crews and equipment after allegedly reporting a fake emergency shortly after 4 AM on Sunday. Law enforcement officials say Linzmeier called 911 to report a boat had struck the north side of the Verso Corp. dam, telling dispatchers three people needed to be rescued from the Wisconsin River.
Crews from Portage County, Stevens Point, the Village of Plover and Town of Hull all responded to the scene. Stevens Point Assistant Police Chief Tom Zenner said some first responders were already in the water searching for bodies when it was discovered Linzmeier’s claim of a boating accident was fake.
Learn to Hunt program a success
More than 20 deer were harvested last weekend at Standing Rocks Park- but this wasn’t your average hunt. The Learn to Hunt program has been in existence throughout the state for more than a decade, but only just came to Portage Co. this year. If the excitement garnered Nov. 7 and 8 is any indication, it could become a public relations beacon for the county parks system and the Wisconsin Dept. of Natural Resources.
“It’s a beautiful weekend, the kids are excited, the adults are excited- it’s really a great way to learn about Wisconsin’s hunting culture, help cull the herd and maybe take home some stew meat,” said Jon Scharbarth, a conservation warden with the DNR.
New bus app announced for parents, students
The purchase of some new software for the school district’s transportation department is expected to save time and fuel costs- and help heal a bruised relationship with bus-riders’ parents.
The new software will be interactive, according to district leaders, with bus routes and real-time bus locations available to parents both online and via a Smartphone app.
Tom Owens, business director for the district, said the current software being used is only about two years old and cost the district about $10,000, but it’s not working well.
Owens said the new software will help bus drivers operate more efficiently, to include warnings about equipment failure.
Tibbetts trial set
A Stevens Point man arrested last year for multiple sexual assaults is now facing a jury trial. Stevens Tibbets, 34, was arrested in March of 2014 after allegedly drugging and sexually assaulting an 18-year-old woman at his Town of Linwood home.
At the time, Tibbets owned Energy Cafe, an internet cafe and coffee shop, in downtown Stevens Point. After news of his arrest went public, several other women came forward, some claiming to have been drugged and assaulted in the basement of the business. He faces over 100 years in prison if convicted.
Board members drop lawsuit against City Times
Two members of the Stevens Point school board have agreed to drop a defamation lawsuit against the Stevens Point City Times.
The lawsuit was filed in March by school board members Kim Shirek and Lisa Totten. The two alleged the City Times, along with Editor-in-Chief Brandi Makuski, knowingly reported inaccurate information regarding the behavior of Shirek and Totten both in and out of the board room. The stipulation is for an unconditional dismissal of all claims with no monetary awards for either party. The dismissal is with prejudice, which means the case cannot be brought back to court.
Discrimination suit filed against Dreier
A lawyer who represents Portage Co. on a full-time basis has filed a discrimination complaint against County Executive Patty Dreier.
Mike McKenna, Portage Co. corporate counsel, filed the complaint with state and federal entities in August. The complaints, filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and Dept. of Workforce Development allege Dreier violated state law by discriminating against McKenna due to his age and veteran status. McKenna is a retired colonel of the Wisconsin National Guard.
In his complaint, McKenna alleged Dreier attempted to force his resignation so he could be replaced with someone younger and less expensive. McKenna earns $97,215 a year in his position as the county’s lawyer.
The county’s human resources committee discussed the case during a closed session on Oct. 29 but so far have declined comment.
McKenna has been the county’s corp. counsel since 1998. He also is running for a full term as the city’s municipal court judge, a post to which he was appointed last April. That position is part-time and earns $12,000 a year.
In a copy of the complaint obtained by City Times staff this week, McKenna alleged Dreier “harasses, intimidates, and discriminates against certain employees she supervises over the age of 40 to replace them with younger and more inexpensive employees of her choice.”
The Stevens Point Airport has a new sign and a newly-dedicated field. Now called the “Stevens Point Municipal Airport/ Mattson Field”, the airport has been renamed to honor the Wisconsin’s first jet ace- a designation given to a military aviator with a high number of aerial victories- Conrad “Connie” Mattson.
The city council approved the renaming in January, though none of the council members attended the dedication ceremony on Dec. 11. Mattson was a native of Stevens Point.