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by Summer Ballentine, AP

(Jefferson City) (AP) – Missouri’s Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon on Friday appointed one of his senior advisers to temporarily serve as state auditor following the death of Republican Auditor Tom Schweich, who police say died of an apparent suicide.

John Watson will serve as auditor until a permanent replacement is found, at which point he will resign, according to a release from Nixon’s office.

“I have tremendous respect for the state auditor’s office, and I will carry out these duties in service to the people of Missouri,” Watson said in the statement. “I continue to keep Tom Schweich’s family and friends in my thoughts and prayers, and join them in mourning this loss.”

Missouri law requires the governor to immediately appoint a replacement if there’s a vacancy in the office, which Nixon in a statement said provides “a critical public service.”

Nixon’s final appointee will serve the remainder of Schweich’s term until a new auditor is elected. Schweich was sworn in for a second, four-year term in late January.

For years, Watson was only person to have served as chief of staff for Nixon throughout his time in state government.

Watson had been Nixon’s chief of staff since he became governor in 2009 and held the same role since 1997 when Nixon was attorney general. He stepped down to act as one of the governor’s senior advisers in December.

The governor said Watson will act with the “professionalism, integrity and independence the citizens of Missouri expect and deserve” during his time as auditor.

The office, which under Schweich cranked out about 570 audits, continued working Friday and released an annual report bearing Schweich’s name about property seizures by law enforcement agencies.

Auditor’s spokesman Spence Jackson said the office also plans to go ahead with a scheduled release of an audit about the Joplin School District next week.

by David A. Lieb, AP

FILE - In this Jan. 28, 2015 file photo, Missouri Auditor Tom Schweich announces his candidacy for governor in St. Louis. Schweich's spokesman said he was taken to a hospital Thursday, Feb. 26, 2015 after experiencing what his staff described as a "medical situation" at his home in Clayton, Mo. No other details were released. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson, File)

FILE – In this Jan. 28, 2015 file photo, Missouri Auditor Tom Schweich announces his candidacy for governor in St. Louis. Schweich’s spokesman said he was taken to a hospital Thursday, Feb. 26, 2015 after experiencing what his staff described as a “medical situation” at his home in Clayton, Mo. No other details were released. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson, File)

(Jefferson City) (AP) – Missouri’s auditor, who fatally shot himself in an apparent suicide, had vowed to take down the state’s most powerful politicians and donors, including his fellow Republicans, when he launched an anti-corruption campaign for governor last month.

But in his final days, Tom Schweich described having knots in his stomach over what he thought was an anti-Semitic whisper campaign by a GOP consultant who now runs the state party.

His intensity had served him well in the past – he was proud of exposing corruption in his four years as auditor. But his tendency to fixate on issues also sometimes made it hard for him to get over political attacks, say some of his advisers and colleagues.

Schweich left behind a wife and two children – and a seemingly rising political career – when he died Thursday at age 54.

He said his audits exposed more than 30 “corrupt government officials” who allegedly stole taxpayer money. But his promised gubernatorial campaign against corruption had barely begun.

Announcing his candidacy last month, Schweich had vowed to bring a never-before-seen “level of intensity, tenacity, transparency, and rigor” in a quest to root out “rampant corruption in Jefferson City.”

As evidence of his grit, Schweich touted his work in the U.S. State Department coordinating an anti-drug initiative in Afghanistan.

“Negotiating with Afghan warlords prepared me well for Missouri politics,” he said.

He took specific aim at the state’s top political donor, retired investment mogul Rex Sinquefield, who largely bankrolled the campaign of his GOP gubernatorial rival Catherine Hanaway, a former state House speaker and federal prosecutor.

Schweich said the $900,000 Hanaway accepted from her “billionaire patron” made her “bought and paid for” by Sinquefield, who employs an “army of mercenaries” to exert his influence over elected officials.

“Nothing is too dishonest for them, and apparently nothing is too petty for them, either,” Schweich said last month. “It’s corrupt, and there’s a lot more corruption going on in that camp that we’ll be talking about in the days to come.”

Hanaway generally deflected Schweich’s accusations, and Sinquefield has defended his political endeavors.

“Undoubtedly, rooting out corruption is a very good thing,” Hanaway told reporters and editors at the Capitol in mid-February. “But I have a question: Isn’t that his job now?”

In the ensuing days, Schweich became increasingly focused on another man – John Hancock, a consultant who did opposition research for Hanaway last year and was elected Feb. 21 as chairman of the Missouri Republican Party.

Schweich, an Episcopalian, told The Associated Press he believed Hancock had been telling Republican donors and activists that Schweich was Jewish, which he perceived as an anti-Semitic statement.

Schweich told the AP that he has some Jewish ancestry, but said he had become increasingly firm in his Christian faith.

Hancock told the AP after Schweich’s death that it’s possible he may have told some people Schweich was Jewish, “but I wouldn’t have said it in a derogatory or demeaning fashion,” he said.

Schweich confronted Hancock in November about the alleged comments, but their tension was not resolved. As the date approached for the party chairman’s election, Schweich reached out to other Republicans – including U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt and some state party committee members – to try to rally people against electing Hancock.

Some Republicans declined to get involved in what they viewed as personal spat.

Eventually, Hancock’s alleged comments “became some kind of a hurdle” to Schweich, said state Republican Party Secretary Pat Thomas, who was among those to whom Schweich had appealed.

On Monday, Schweich outlined the whole ordeal to an AP reporter, saying he planned to hold a press conference about it the next day – even though his advisers said it was a poor political move. Schweich described having knots in his stomach for the past week, because he was so worked up over it. He didn’t follow through on the press conference, telling the AP he was still trying to get a prominent Jewish person to stand with him first.

Then, on Thursday morning, Schweich talked twice over the phone with the AP to invite a reporter to his suburban St. Louis home for an afternoon interview, saying he was ready to go public with his accusations. He said he was also inviting a reporter from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

Police say authorities received an emergency call about the shooting just minutes after those phone calls.

Hancock emailed state Republican Party officials Friday saying he was “sad to have learned that some of (Schweich’s) final moments were spent thinking of an ongoing disagreement with me.”

Hancock said he had “mistakenly believed that Tom Schweich was Jewish,” and that Schweich “had mistakenly believed that I had attacked his religion.”

“We may never know what drove Tom to take his own life -but it seems clear that there were deeper and more profound issues than a minor political squabble,” Hancock said.

A memorial service is scheduled for Tuesday at the Episcopal church Schweich attended.

On Friday, Gov. Jay Nixon appointed one of his own longtime aides – John Watson – to serve as auditor until Nixon chooses a permanent replacement.

by Andrew DiMillo, AP

(Little Rock0 (AP) – An Arkansas House panel has advanced a pair of measures aimed at forcing a constitutional convention to take up a federal balanced budget amendment.

The House State Agencies and Governmental Affairs Committee on Friday endorsed two proposals being backed by conservatives, who say the move is needed to rein in the federal government’s spending and debt. One of the proposals would have Arkansas join a compact with other states calling for a constitutional convention.

Under the proposal, the application for a constitutional convention would be submitted once 38 states have joined the compact. Supporters say two states have already joined and the legislation is pending before several others.

The panel also approved a separate resolution calling for a constitutional convention to impose fiscal restraints on the federal government.

(Missouri) – Despite beliefs and party lines, Missouri politicians are pouring their hearts out for Texas County and the community of Tyrone, after seven victims were shot dead before the gunman reportedly killed himself.

Missouri Governor Jay Nixon says that mental health professionals will be made available for area residents:

“This is a horrific tragedy, and our hearts go out to the victims of these senseless acts and their families,” Gov. Nixon said. “The Missouri State Highway Patrol has been on site and assisting local law enforcement since the initial call late last night and will continue to assist local law enforcement agencies. Our Department of Mental Health has also contacted the local community mental health center to ensure that crisis intervention services will be provided to students in the area, and that counseling and other services will continue to be available to citizens in need. I ask all Missourians to join us in sending thoughts and prayers to the victims, their families and loved ones.”

Senator Claire McCaskill also released the following statement:

“The details coming out of Tyrone are deeply sad and shocking, and I’m in grief for the community there. Even as we learn more about what happened, nothing could ever make sense of such a tragedy. I know the people of Texas County—folks like my Dad—to be strong, and kind. I know they’ll pull together in the face of these tragic events, and I’ll be joining all Missourians in praying for the people of Tyrone tonight.”

Congressman Jason Smith also released a statement:

“I am horrified by news of the shootings in Texas and Shannon Counties and ask you to keep the families of the victims in your prayers. The Missouri State Highway Patrol and local law enforcement have my complete confidence as they work through their investigation into these tragic killings.”

 

(Houston) – Police say a 36-year-old man from the Texas County community of Tyrone shot and killed seven people, including members of his family, before turning the gun on himself.

Police say around 10:15 PM, a 911 call came in from a young female, who said that she had heard shots in her home, and that she ran to a neighbor’s house to call 911. Police say that on arrival, they found two bodies in the home, and soon found the bodies of six other people. The suspect was found later in a car in Shannon County, dead from an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound.

Some of the victims have been identified in the case:

52-year-old Garold Aldridge, 47-year-old Julie Aldridge, 50-year-old Harold Aldridge, and 48-year-old Janell Aldridge. Three victims’ names are not being released pending notification of next of kin.

An elderly woman who is believed to have died at one of the scenes has been identified as 74-year-old Alice Aldridge. Although her cause of death appears to be of natural causes, the Highway Patrol says an autopsy will be performed on Saturday, February 28.

The shooter has been identified as 36-year-old Joseph Aldridge of Tyrone, who is the son of Alice Aldridge. At this time he is believed to be a cousin of the previously named victims. All of the victims’ residences are within a three-mile radius in Tyrone, according to the Highway Patrol.

A motive for the killings has yet to be determined, however, police have cleared all of the crime scenes.

The investigation continues by the Missouri State Highway Patrol and the Texas County Sheriff’s Department.

Continue to visit www.ozarkareanetwork.com for the latest on this story.

Mike Downing

Mike Downing

(West Plains) – The city of West Plains hosted a number of officials with groups including the Missouri Department of Economic Development, the Missouri Community Betterment group, and other state and regional offices to tour the city of West Plains and hear from businesses, community and education leaders, and others about their needs in the city and what hurdles they face.

Ozark Radio News had the chance to speak with the director of the Missouri Department of Economic Development, Mike Downing, who told us the one thing they heard the most during their visit was the need for reliable, affordable broadband internet:

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He also talked about the need for skilled workers in technology-related fields:

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Downing also talked about some other hurdles the city faces, and some ways they can overcome those problems:

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The group also had praise for the city of West Plains:

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West Plains Economic Development Director Bob Case also spoke with Ozark Radio News and said that the meetings were productive:

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Bob Case

Bob Case

Case also recognized the issues, and knows that the city has some work ahead:

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He also added that the city is more determined than ever to seek out affordable, reliable broadband internet access after today’s meetings. Case says that the informational meeting on broadband internet held earlier this month was a step in the right direction:

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Downing said that after hearing complaints about broadband access in other rural communities, the Department of Economic Development will be looking into holding a rural broadband summit in the near future.

(West Plains) – A man accused of assaulting people at a homeless shelter has pleaded not guilty.

58-year-old Ron Schrader of West Plains was charged in January with two counts of 3rd degree assault and two counts of harassment by offensive physical contact. He pleaded not guilty on February 17.

Schrader is accused of unwanted sexual contact with two people at the Martha Vance Samaritan Outreach Center in West Plains. Police say security video recorded one of the incidents.

Schrader will appear in court at 1 PM March 19.

(Jefferson City) (AP) – Missouri House Speaker John Diehl says the state will strip $4.5 million in funding for membership to a group that makes tests for the national Common Core education standards.

Diehl said Wednesday that cutting the money will ensure Missouri’s partnership with the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium ends.

Common Core guidelines for educating children in K-12 schools have attracted critics, who say they were adopted without enough local input.

Supporters say they create consistent, rigorous standards across state lines.

Diehl’s proposal follows a Tuesday ruling by a Cole County circuit judge that Missouri’s partnership with the Common Core testing group is unconstitutional. But the education department says that doesn’t prevent them from buying the tests.

A spokeswoman for the state attorney general’s office, which represents Missouri, says they’re reviewing the ruling.

(Willow Springs) – With the news coming this past November that the retail chain Alco would be closing all of its 198 stores, many were wondering what would become of the location in Willow Springs.

City administrator Bob Pollard told Ozark Radio News that the city is busy trying to find a replacement for the town’s largest department store:

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The store, located off of E. Main Street, closed this past Tuesday. The company filed for bankruptcy in October 2014.

(West Plains) – At the West Plains City Council meeting on Monday, the council approved an ordinance that will allow a traffic evaluation study around the West Plains schools on Howell Ave. and Business 63.

City clerk Mallory Hawkins says that the study will look to relieve traffic congestion:

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The project will cost $12,000, with the city paying roughly $4000 of that thanks to the transportation funding provided by the Missouri Department of Transportation. A condition of the funding is that the city must finish the study by September 1, which should not be a problem, according to city administrator Tom Stehn.