Data center defeat, a heated treasurers race, and no Punkin Chunkin, here’s our recap of the top stories of the second half of 2014.
(If you missed the first half of this list, you can find it here: Delaware’s top stories of 2014, part 1.)
Opponents of a proposed data center at the University of Delaware’s STAR campus celebrated victory in July as UD terminated the project.
The longstanding debate primarily focused on the 279-megawatt co-generation power plant that would have provided power for the data center. Opponents objected to the power plant’s close proximity to Newark neighborhoods and the noise pollution that would impact those resident’s quality of life.
Other opponents highlighted the hazardous air pollutants like nitrogen oxide that would be emitted. Eventually, UD’s working group studying the project issued a report that stated: “The emplacement of a fossil-fuel based facility of this size does not appear consistent with UD’s vision of a first-class science and technology campus or its Path to Prominence.”
President Obama made an appearance in Delaware in July, using the backdrop of the damaged I-495 bridge to tout his call for improving American infrastructure.
Before delivering a speech at the Port of Wilmington, Pres. Obama greeted diners at the Charcoal Pit on Rt. 202 near Wilmington.
“Biden told me the burgers are pretty good,” Obama said, according to reports from the press pool.
Treasurer Chip Flowers quit his reelection campaign in mid-August. Flowers officially withdrew his candidacy Aug. 28, nearly two weeks after he held a tearful press conference announcing his exit from the primary.
The embattled treasurer faced controversy stemming from interactions with Erika Benner, his former deputy treasurer. The scandals started as an investigation of Benner’s misuse of state funds. She also accused Flowers of harassing her and her family. Flowers was cleared of any wrongdoing.
Flowers decision to end his campaign cleared the way for his Democratic primary opponent Sean Barney. Barney lost his race against Republican Ken Simpler, who won 53 percent of the vote.
As students prepared to head back to school, education leaders were working to accommodate at least 117 school-aged children who illegally entered the United States largely from Central America and have been placed with family members or sponsors throughout Delaware.
The school-aged children were part of a recent wave of 57,000 unaccompanied minors who crossed the Mexican border since October 2013. With close to 19,000 Hispanics and Latinos downstate, some of the 117 unaccompanied minors have connected with family members there. State leaders found out about the immigrant children’s presence in Delaware long after they arrived. In July, Gov. Jack Markell sent a letter to state lawmakers after learning about their plight.
Hundreds of University of Delaware students joined a protest calling for more transparency in the school’s harassment policy after a professor was accused of offering a student an “A” in exchange for sexual favors.
Vice Provost of Faculty Affairs Matthew Kinservick said the professor is on administrative leave and will resign at the end of the academic year. UD has declined to comment on how the matter was handled.
The latest black eye for the Delaware Medical Examiner’s office came in September when a bag of human remains were found. Dr. Richard Callery was removed from his position as Chief Medical Examiner on July 4 following his suspension in February.
Callery was accused of taking paid side jobs while ignoring problems in the office. The remains were found during the process of moving the now-shuttered medical examiner’s office to the homeland security department’s new Division of Forensic Science. Lawmakers abolished the medical examiner’s office after its chief was targeted in a criminal investigation and fired for misconduct amid an evidence-tampering scandal.
The year without a Punkin Chunkin. After announcing plans earlier this year to move the pumpkin launching tradition from Sussex County to the Woodlands at Dover International Speedway (home of Firefly), Punkin Chunkin organizers announced in early October that the event would be cancelled this year.
Held in Delaware since 1986, Punkin Chunkin has grown to a major event drawing thousands of spectators and a national broadcast of the event by the Discovery cable network. Because of the size of the event, organizers and officials at Dover International Speedway said they would be unable to get the grounds prepared in time. They hope to have Punkin Chunkin make a triumphant return in 2015.
Moyer Academy faces the axe again. The Delaware Board of Education voted unanimously to revoke the charter of Moyer Academy in October. Education Secretary Mark Murphy agreed with the Charter School Accountability Committee’s recommendation to shutter the Maurice J. Moyer Academic Institute due to poor academic performance.
The high school serves about 200 students in one of Wilmington’s economically deprived neighborhoods. A report released by the accountability committee in August showed only 23 percent of students passed the state’s reading exam and just 10 percent passed math.
The Wilmington-based charter school opened in 2006 as the Maurice J. Moyer Academy, but was closed by the state in 2010 because of poor performance and lack of qualified teachers. It received a new charter in 2012 and re-opened as the New Maurice J. Moyer Academy. The administration changed the school’s name again last year when it attempted a major overhaul. The school is set to close at the end of the academic year.
Republicans make gains in statewide elected office. Ken Simpler defeated Sean Barney in the treasurers race that had been the focus of so much attention because of accusations against current Treasurer Chip Flowers. Simpler’s win doubles the number of statewide elected Republicans. State Auditor Tom Wagner, who had been the only statewide elected member of the GOP, also won in his reelection bid.
Six new lawmakers joined the General Assembly’s ranks on Election Day. While Republicans still remain the minority, they did make gains picking up one seat in the Senate and two in the state House.
After little more than a year in operation at the New Castle County Airport, Frontier Airlines announced its plans to suspend all flights out of Delaware.
The November announcement stated that flights would end in April. It’s not clear when or if services will resume. Earlier this year, the airline announced that it would “seasonally suspend” flights from Delaware to Atlanta, Denver, Chicago and Fort Myers, Florida. Service to Orlando and Tampa has continued.
Delaware charter schools fuel segregation, according to the ACLU. Delaware’s charter policies contribute to racial segregation and violate federal law, according to a complaint filed in early December with the U.S. Department of Education by the American Civil Liberties Union and the Community Legal Aid Society.
The 40-page complaint says that 76 percent of Delaware charter schools are “racially identifiable,” and that high performing schools are largely white, while low-performing schools tend to serve lower-income students of color. The plaintiffs blame Delaware’s charter law for the disparity, arguing that it allows charter schools to create prohibitive requirements during the application process.
Charter advocates rejected the notion that their schools disadvantage students of color. “We have a number of charter schools that enroll a majority of African American and Hispanic students, and low-income students, and these schools are doing well and/or their test scores are improving,” said Kendall Massett, executive director of the Delaware Charter School Network.
After a decade long absence, the Slam Dunk to the Beach basketball tournament returned to Cape Henlopen High School this year. Drawing some of the top high school teams in the country, the revived tournament was spearheaded by the Delaware Sports Commission.
The reborn tournament exceeded expectations for ticket purchases and are optimistic that local businesses also got a boost from the tournament’s return. An study will be compiled and issued next month to provide exact data on the economic impact.