From Crook County Sheriff Rodd Clark being found innocent of undue influence, to the passing of long-time Prineville businessman Les Schwab, 2007 was a busy year. Here are the Central Oregonian's top seven stories for 2007 in order of impact and newsworthiness
1. Looking back on a year of significant changes, one is reminded of the death of Les Schwab on May 18.
At a memorial service honoring Schwab on May 31, friends and co-workers took the stage to publicly remember the man who lived his life with integrity and humility.
"We can laugh - we can cry," Pastor Paul Reynolds said at the service. "It's hard to be sad when a very, very full life has been lived, as Les Schwab lived his life."
The ease with which Schwab developed friendships, and retained employees and customers could simply be attributed to his charismatic personality.
"Les was the most humble, honest and regular guy I've ever met," Les Schwab Tire Centers Chairman and 42-year employee Phil Wick said. "I've always said that working for him was more than just a job, it was a career. But really, it was much more. It was a way of life. He showed us how life should be lived."
By all accounts, Schwab's life was well-lived and with his own success, he gave his employees an unmatched financial foundation that has made millionaires out of workers who started in the company changing tires.
"Les never treated employees like employees, they were part of the company and partners in his success," Wick continued. "He always strove to have the best for his employees."
In addition to providing for his employees' futures, Schwab became a loyal "family member" to many of his workers by retaining his modesty and candor.
"The greatest honor in my life, after marrying my wife and having our children, was being his prot‚g‚, being part of his family," Wick said. "This is an honor I will never forget. To be able to work side-by-side with someone like this is one of the greatest things. He is my teacher, my mentor and my friend."
2. Long-time serving Crook County Sheriff Rodd Clark was found not guilty of undue influence and first-degree official misconduct in late November.
The charges stemmed from allegations that in an August 2005 mandatory department meeting, Clark told employees that they would be fired if they ran against him in the May 2006 primary.
Clark's trial was held from Oct. 17 through Oct. 19, with Lincoln County Circuit Court Judge Robert Huckleberry presiding. He had been called in instead of Crook County Circuit Court Judge Gary Thompson so that there would be no intimation of unfairness or a biased trial. There was heavy media attention in Crook County during the trial.
"It's what I've maintained all along through this whole ordeal and we're looking forward to moving forward," Clark said after the judge's ruling. "It took a long time to get the decision made public and I'm just grateful that the decision was what we believed it should have been."
Being convicted of first-degree official misconduct, which is a Class A misdemeanor, has a maximum penalty of one year in jail and a fine of $6,250. For undue influence, the penalties are harsher, as it is a Class C felony. This crime is punishable by a maximum term of five years in prison and/or a maximum fine of $125,000.
Clark was represented by Prineville attorney Greg Lynch, who also has offices in Bend. The State of Oregon in the prosecution was represented by Oregon Department of Justice Assistant Attorney General Stephanie Tuttle.
After the Aug. 31, 2005 meeting, former sheriff's office marine deputy Sam Forney hired Portland attorney Adam Arms to represent him. Arms then filed an ethics complaint with the Oregon Elections Division on March 7, 2006, and division personnel later forwarded that complaint to the Oregon Department of Justice for review and investigation on Sept. 7, 2006. The primary was in May and Clark defeated opponents Forney, Marlein Hein, Jeff Coffman and Gary Robertson.
3. Showcasing some of the best teaching in the state, Crook County Middle School science teacher Mike Geisen was chosen as the Oregon Teacher of the Year for 2007-2008.
Geisen was recognized in a special assembly in early October by Oregon Schools Superintendent Susan Castillo, receiving a check for $3,000 from Morgan Anderson of the Intel Corporation.
As students got in their seats for the assembly, CCMS Principal Rocky Miner grinned to Castillo as the two walked down the hall, saying, "I feel like a little kid on Christmas Eve getting ready to open presents."
"I don't think I'm the best teacher in Oregon," Geisen said humbly. "I don't think I'm the best teacher in the building."
Instead, turning around to his fellow CCHS teachers, he said all of them are there for the students.
In addition to the $3,000 check, Geisen received $10,000 in technology from the company SMART Technologies.
"I guess my main philosophy is combining science and art and combining them into one whole package," the science teacher said. He noted that science can be a very dry topic, but if an educator can use creativity in teaching he can get more students interested.
"So basically I just want to get kids out of their seats as much as possible," Geisen said.
"Kind of the over-arching principle is if kids aren't having fun, they aren't going to learn as much," he said. Then with a grin, he added, "Fun or weird or gross."
In November, Geisen spoke at the Oregon School Boards Association's annual convention. In April, he will travel to Washington, D.C., meeting with President George W. Bush and others.
4. The turmoil faced by the Prineville city government last year was finally put to rest in November by the settling out of court of a lawsuit by former Public Works Director Jim Mole and associates.
Mole was dismissed last January, and in the uproar that ensued, citizens demanded the resignation of Mayor Mike Wendel, and Assistant City Manager Jerry Gilham actually stepped down.
A major issue of the debacle was failure to inform city councilors and the city at large of the decision to fire Mole. Citizens packed the council's chambers demanding vindication for Mole's dismissal. This led to a decision to re-organize the council's decision-making process.
Mole, who was widely popular, recently said he felt blindsided by the dismissal and was never given a reason why. However, he feels justified that city officials are working to right the wrongs and create a better system.
5. Good ol' Crook County turned 125 last October and citizens celebrated with fun-filled activities on the Crook County Courthouse lawn.
It was a great time to learn about the history of the county while spending time with family and friends.
Activities on the Saturday before the date included reenactments of the Hudson's Bay Company fur trades, a blacksmith demonstration and pioneer living displays.
Members of the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs demonstrated techniques and sold crafts and fry bread. They also performed traditional dances.
Of the dances, Judge Scott Cooper said, "When I was a child, the Warm Springs tribes would always come over about Roundup time and they would often demonstrate their dances. I don't remember it happening in the last 20 years, so this is a reconnection with our Native American past."
The official anniversary was Wednesday, Oct. 21, and local businesses offered several perks throughout the week. The Crook County Landfill offered free lawn debris disposal, the sheriff's office offered free document shredding and the Crook County Health Department provided free health screenings. Many local organizations also opened their doors to the public.
On Wednesday, Crook County's namesake General George Crook was honored and "Barney Prine" was on hand to meet residents. Fay Taylor's painting "Crook County Courthouse" was unveiled and local author Steve Lent presented "A Walk Thru History." To round out the week, the Crook County High School NJROTC performed a light show.
6. The Pine Theater opened its doors this month after more than 20 years since the last movie was shown.
"We are really excited," said owner Oniko Mehrabi. "It's taken a while to get here."
Oniko Merhabi and her husband, Ali, purchased the building in early 2006 from local attorney Jim Van Voorhees, and with determination, the Merhabis started the renovations.
"It had to be totally gutted," Oniko said. "Everything had to come out - the drywall, everything, because there were water leaks and electrical issues. So, we started over."
One of the challenges that almost halted the restoration was the inability to add an exit route in the back of the building. In the end, the Mehrabis resolved the issue by creating a fire-safe passage.
"The fire corridor takes up a lot of room because it comes all the way to the front so people can exit safely," Oniko said. "We've lost so much square footage, it's ridiculous."
By adding more bathrooms, a sprinkler system, a wheelchair accessible platform and updating the electricity, in addition to the fire-safe corridor, the number of seats was reduced to 177, from 400.
While setbacks delayed the intended opening of the Pine, the theater did open its newly refurbished doors on Dec. 19 offering free showings of "The Chronicles of Narnia" and "How the Grinch Stole Christmas". On Dec. 21, the theater featured "The Golden Compass" as its first official pay-movie in more than 20 years.
The Pine Theater has been welcomed by many local citizens, who have faithfully entered the pine tree shaped doors to witness the transformation and enjoy an inexpensive movie without leaving town.
"We have been contacted by so many people thanking us for finally opening it," Oniko said. "It has been wonderful to hear."
7. After approximately 18 months of deliberations, the Citizens Facilities Review and Recommendations Committee proposed a $66 million school bond to the Crook County School Board in December.
The Crook County School District is faced with aging school buildings, including Powell Butte Elementary, which was built in 1930.
The committee chopped $51 million in recommended repairs and school replacements from its original list, believing that voters would simply not support paying for a $117 million bond.
For the 2008 bond, taxpayers would pay $1.68 per $1,000 of assessed value. The existing 1995 bond, which paid for the current Crook County High School, has a rate of 82 cents per $1,000 currently. Originally, it was for $2.75 per $1,000 for the mid-1990s bond, but with higher than expected commercial and residential growth, that has decreased to 82 cents over time. The combined tax rate for the new bond plus the existing one would be $2.50.
The school board is scheduled to receive the committee's report at its Jan. 14, 2008, meeting. It is then up to the board to decide whether to go to voters in May or November 2008 for a bond.
The bond would provide:
$24 million to replace Ochoco Elementary with a new 600 student K-5 school. The school would have two buildings, one for K-2 and another for third through fifth grade.
$22.5 million to replace Powell Butte Elementary with a new 300-student kindergarten through eighth grade building that could be expanded to accommodate 600 youth.
$10 million for total repairs throughout the district, including work at Crook County Middle School, Cecil Sly Elementary, Crooked River Elementary, CCHS, Paulina Elementary, the former district office, Pioneer School, Crooked River annex building, the district maintenance building and the district's food storage and transportation building.
$4.5 million in contingency funds.
$5 million to expand instructional space at CCHS.
Stories compiled by Shelby Case, Kate Wennerstrom, and Kevin Gaboury.