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(West Plains) – Today is Christmas, and city, county, state and federal offices, as well as banks and a number of other businesses, are closed in observance of the holiday.

Some offices, such as West Plains City Hall and Howell County offices, will not open on Friday, and will instead open on Monday, December 29.

From all of us here at the Ozark Radio Network, Merry Christmas!

(Little Rock) (AP) – Arkansas attorney general Dustin McDaniel says he will appeal a federal judge’s ruling that found voters were wrong to ban gay marriage during a referendum 10 years ago.

McDaniel said he file a notice of appeal with the 8th U.S. Supreme Court of Appeals in St. Louis.

U.S. District Judge Kristine Baker ruled last month that a voter-approved gay-marriage ban and a separate state law are unconstitutional.

A decision in a similar case before the Arkansas Supreme Court is pending. McDaniel says he had hoped justices would have decided the case by now, but that he had to proceed because of a Friday deadline to appeal the federal case.

McDaniel has said he supports legalizing same-sex marriage but is obligated to defend the state constitution.

(Jefferson City) (AP) – Missouri agriculture officials are looking for ways to boost exports to Cuba following President Barack Obama’s announcement that he plans to ease trade restrictions with the Communist country.

Gov. Jay Nixon says he has asked the state Department of Agriculture to explore additional economic opportunities with Cuba.

The governor says he also is inquiring of federal officials about opportunities for trade missions to Cuba involving Missouri business, agriculture and government officials.

The U.S. already exports about $350 million of farm products annually to Cuba, including corn, soybeans and rice. Those exports could surge if the U.S. eases restrictions on financial transactions and allows Cubans to pay for products on credit instead of with cash up front.

(Little Rock) (AP) – The FBI wants law officers assigned to areas around the Mississippi River bridges at Memphis, Tennessee, to keep an eye on the spans after a vague threat that one would be blown up.

FBI spokesmen said Tuesday the threat was unsubstantiated but that local police were still notified.

Two cross-country routes traverse the Mississippi River at Memphis – Interstates 40 and 55. They remained open. The FBI said Tuesday it notified police of “potential danger” from an Islamic State cell in Memphis and that both bridges needed to be monitored.

Highway officials reviewed plans for rerouting traffic.

The Arkansas Department of Emergency Management said the threat had not reached a level requiring it to put anyone on stand-by. Spokesman Rick Fahr said threats that include specifics are rare.

(Little Rock) (AP) – Gov.-elect Asa Hutchinson has named Stacy Hurst director at the Department of Arkansas Heritage.

Hutchinson said Tuesday he has also decided to retain Dr. Nate Smith as director and state health officer at the Arkansas Department of Health.

Hutchinson says understands the importance of protecting and preserving the state’s rich history and culture. She is currently a Little Rock city director, a position she has held since 2003, and a former vice mayor of Little Rock.

Hutchinson says Smith has done an exceptional job in his current role as director of the Arkansas Department of Health. He says Smith has worked effectively with both state and national resources to protect the lives of Arkansans while further improving health and well-being. Smith has served in the positions since 2013.

(Mountain Home) – Join the Donald W. Reynolds Library on Tuesday, January 6, 4 PM for a Cell Phone Question and Answer Session.

Attendees can learn how to take and send pictures and video, maintain a list of contacts, access the Internet, and more on your cell phone. Bring your phone to get some hands-on help from tech-savvy Teen Library Council volunteers. Any variety of cell phone is welcome and all questions are welcome. In the event that area schools are closed due to winter weather, this event will be cancelled.

For additional information, contact Teen Librarian John Dyer at john.d@baxlib.org or 870-580-0703 or visit www.baxlib.org. The Donald W. Reynolds Library is located at 300 Library Hill, Mountain Home, AR.

(Columbia) – The USDA is soliciting applications for Fiscal Year (FY) 2015 Community Connect Program grants, which will help establish essential broadband services in rural communities where it is currently not available.

The minimum amount of grants awarded will be $100,000; the maximum is $3,000,000. The deadline for applications to be submitted is February 17. Since its inception, the Community Connect program has funded 237 projects with investments of $149 million.

In Missouri, a $727,388 Community Connect Grant assisted the Texas County Rural Area Informational Network (TRAIN) install and operate a Fiber-to-the-Home network in Raymondville, which helped provide residents access to computers and printers in the Public Access Community Room, increased access to economic opportunities and offered online educational opportunities.

Further information on other rural programs in Missouri is available by visiting the USDA Missouri Rural Development web site at rurdev.usda.gov/mo.

(Jefferson City) – The Missouri Governor’s Conference on Agriculture benefit auction, supporting the future of Missouri agriculture, raised more than $11,000 this past Friday.

The auction proceeds benefit programs for youth and young professionals in agriculture including Missouri 4-H, Missouri FFA and Agriculture Leadership of Tomorrow (ALOT).

Auction attendees enjoyed a BBQ buffet, sponsored by FCS Financial, and musical entertainment by the famous St. Louis dueling pianos of Spanky Entertainment. Tony Clayton, of Clayton Agri-Marketing served as the auctioneer, and Missouri State 4-H Council members, Missouri State FFA Officer Team members, ALOT classes and commodity leaders assisted the conference emcee, Tom Brand, and Clayton with hosting the benefit auction.

The Conference was held at Tan-Tar-A Resort at the Lake of the Ozarks, and also included a performance from country act Sawyer Brown.

(Jefferson City) – The Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) and the Missouri Department of Transportation (MoDOT) invite Missouri public, private, and home-school students in grades K-8 to help fight litter in the Show-Me State, and to have creative and educational fun, by participating in the 2015 “Yes You CAN Make Missouri Litter-Free” trash-can-decorating contest.

The annual trash-can contest encourages school classes and groups to join in the fight against litter by decorating and displaying a large trash can with the “No MOre Trash!” logo and a litter-prevention message using a variety of creative media.

The annual contest is sponsored by MDC and MoDOT as part of the state’s “No More Trash!” (NMT) statewide litter campaign.

Schools may submit one entry in each competition category: K-2, 3-5, and 6-8. Entries are judged based on creativity, adherence to contest rules, and effective use of theme and logo. First-place winners from each competition category receive $200 awarded to the sponsoring schools. All first-place winners are then eligible for a grand prize of a trophy and $600 awarded to the sponsoring school.

There is no entry fee for the contest. Participating school groups must submit a completed entry form online with up to three photos to nomoretrash.org by Friday, March 13. Contest rules, entry forms, logo, past contest entries and winners, and educational information can also be found at nomoretrash.org.

(Van Buren) – Richard Shockley will be retiring at the end of December after almost nine years working at Ozark National Scenic Riverways as an Engineering Equipment Operator.

Richard has worked at the Shawnee Shop maintenance facility and been primarily responsible for maintaining roads and trails throughout the park. In that role, he has been an expert operator of heavy machinery and equipment. In addition, he has assisted with a variety of other projects and tasks.

Prior to being employed at Ozark National Scenic Riverways, Richard held several different positions in the local area, where he honed the skills that later benefitted the National Park Service. He served in the U.S. Army until 1970, when he began an 18-year career with the Summersville School District as a bus driver and mechanic. In 1988, Richard began working for Kirkman Farms as a machinery operator and farm assistant. He began working seasonally at Ozark National Scenic Riverways in 2000 and was hired into a permanent, full-time position in 2006.

Richard has lived in the Summersville area his entire life and has been married to his wife Vicki for 42 years. They have raised three children and are enjoying watching their four grandchildren grow. Richard loves hunting and being outdoors. He plans to spend some of his much-deserved free time relaxing and cutting firewood.

A retirement celebration that included family, community members and coworkers was held in Richard’s honor on December 16 at Shawnee Shop. His last day “in the driver’s seat” will be December 31.