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Year in review: Top 10 Lewisboro headlines of 2012

Like its predecessor last year, 2012 packed a year’s worth of news into the last few months, as the fall and winter included tales of school district bickering and town budget battles, as well as tragic stories of storm destruction and an unfathomable shooting.

As this year comes to a close, it is time to look back at the top stories of 2012 and reflect on what those stories will carry into 2013.

10. Cell coverage

The Verizon cell tower is constructed above the Town Park in mid-December. (Charlie Duffy photo)

Cell phone users throughout Lewisboro have been pushing for better coverage in town, and 2012 brought them closer to that goal. The long-awaited Verizon tower at the Town Park in South Salem finally went up just more than a week ago, and the Planning Board recently approved a proposed tower off Harriet Lane in Goldens Bridge. The Goldens Bridge tower has been a source of contention among neighboring residents, but the mission of cellular connectivity has proven stronger.

9. Teacher gradesA number of school administrators and teachers spent part of the summer completing Katonah-Lewisboro’s teacher evaluation plan, which was needed to satisfy the state’s Annual Professional Performance Review (APPR) requirements. The district’s plan was approved in the fall and will be a developing initiative as the school community gets used to the evaluation and grading of teachers. Administrators must make time to conduct evaluations. Parents will be learning how to assess teachers’ scores. And teachers, of course, must get used to being graded just as their students are.

8. Michel murder

Lewisboro residents were stunned to learn that 25-year-old South Salem native Samuel Michel was brutally murdered in his Los Angeles apartment in April. The John Jay High School graduate, whose parents still live in South Salem, was the victim of a crime that has puzzled authorities, who have been unsuccessful searching for Mr. Michel’s killer. Without a suspect or a motive, Mr. Michel’s family and friends have been left with many questions and few answers about the circumstances surrounding this tragedy, but it is hoped the New Year will bring some closure.

7. School leaders depart

Four school district administrators left Katonah-Lewisboro as the 2011-12 school year came to a close. John Jay High School principal Ellen Doherty, John Jay guidance director Dr. Christopher Griffin and transportation supervisor Jim Minihan left for jobs in other districts, and Assistant Superintendent for Human Resources Carol Ann Lee settled with the district to retire. Ms. Doherty’s departure in particular left many parents and students wondering, What happened? The exodus could have been the result of the stark changing-of-the-guard under Superinetndent Dr. Paul Kreutzer.

6. Budget breaks cap

The 2013 town budget broke the property tax cap with a tax levy increase of 4.7% after a long process of whittling down a budget that had an initial tax levy increase of 17%. Supervisor Peter Parsons’ main budget component — road repaving — was eliminated and the highway department budget was cut to the bone, moves that pleased some and angered others. Members of the public weighed in on the proposal at Town Board meetings and at a public forum on the budget, and ultimately the board’s three Republicans got their wish of trimming the tax levy increase as much as possible. But those items that were cut — road paving and Highway Department equipment repairs — could end up being paid for anyway, in the form of bonds.

5. Freedom of speech

A pro-Palestinian advertisement at Metro-North train stations, including this one at Goldens Bridge, set off a debate this past summer over freedom of speech. (Matt Spillane photo)

The First Amendment was put to the test this summer when a pro-Palestinian ad was placed at a number of Metro-North train stations in New York and Connecticut, including the station at Goldens Bridge. The anti-Israeli sentiment that the ad promoted was criticized by many, and people around the area, as well as some from other parts of the country, called for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) to take down the ads, including outgoing state Assemblyman Robert Castelli. An Israeli organization countered by placing its own ads at the stations. Freedom of speech was also on display in a debate over a Confederate flag that was flown by a Cross River resident. And freedom of speech flexed its true muscle: Just days after The Ledgerwrote about the issue, the flag was down.

4. Elections bring new facesSomewhere in the mass of stories this fall was an election. President Barack Obama, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and state Sen. Greg Ball retained their seats to represent Lewisboro at the federal and state levels, but Sean Patrick Maloney toppled Congresswoman Nan Hayworth and David Buchwald beat state Assemblyman Robert Castelli of Goldens Bridge. At the local level, Janet Donohue held off Jeff Morris to keep her position as town clerk, which she stepped into after the retirement of longtime clerk Kathy Cory earlier this year. Last spring, the school board election brought in two new members: Marjorie Schiff and Stephanie Tobin. They took the places of Michael Gordon and Warren Schloat, who both decided not to run again.

3. Board vs. union

Tension has been building up in the Katonah-Lewisboro school district ever since Dr. Kreutzer was hired as superintendent in the spring of 2011. Dr. Kreutzer entered the picture with a reputation for union busting, and the battle lines were drawn then. As negotiations for a new contract between the district and the teachers’ union heated up, tensions boiled over in the last few weeks. Members of the union blindsided the school board at a mid-December meeting with a host of accusations about Dr. Kreutzer’s conduct, calling for an investigation into his behavior. Members of the public have spoken out on both sides, some saying that the union is simply trying to smear the character of a man who is trying to rein in the district’s ballooning spending on teacher salaries and benefits. The ugly conflict is sure to get even messier in 2013.

2. Hurricane Sandy

Downed power lines blocked part of the road on Route 121 North in Cross River after Hurricane Sandy in October. (Scott Mullin photo)

For the second year in a row, a lingering story is that of a historic storm that crushed the Northeast. Hurricane Sandy wiped out power across the north Atlantic Coast, destroying infrastructure and taking lives in the process. Even after two epic storms shocked people in the fall of 2011, New York was yet again overwhelmed by the force of a pre-winter storm. Some Lewisboro residents were left powerless for more than 10 days as they waited for the utility companies to scramble to repair downed power lines. An ongoing story in 2013 will be residents’ efforts to better prepare themselves for future mega-storms and prevent such widespread damage.

1. Newtown

The story that resonates the most in 2012 is the heartbreaking one that happened most recently — the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. People felt the tragedy across the country. The worst school shooting in our nation’s history took the lives of 20 children and six adults, resulting in unfathomable pain, including in Katonah, which lost native Anne Marie Murphy, a teacher at Sandy Hook. The incident has ignited a debate over gun control and the limits of the Second Amendment. How do we balance the safety of our citizens, particularly our children, while respecting the rights of Americans to own guns? How do we keep people safe? They are questions that are at the front of everyone’s minds as the New Year begins.

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