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2009 in review: Top local stories
Times file photos
MONROE - It's been times of hardship and renewal throughout 2009. From the new Justice Center, to the revamped Square, there have been many new, exciting things happening in the area. The year has brought some terrible tragedies; most recently the devastating fire in Blanchardville, Dec. 21, which claimed the lives of four people. Here are the top stories as voted on by the Times newsroom staff.

Completing the Square

With a little work left to do, the final concrete for the Monroe Courthouse Square was poured in November. The project was delayed three to four weeks, but a majority of the reconstruction was completed this year. The outer ring was opened completely Nov. 3, and was celebrated along with the illuminating of the new antique-style street lights.

Tragic fire

A fire in Blanchardville at the historic building that housed the Silver Dollar Saloon. Daniel Hardekopf, 45; Jelayne L. Hughes, 44; Cody D. Olson, 23; and Brian K. Monte, 34, all of Blanchardville died as a result of an early morning fire Dec. 21. The fire destroyed the bar, which was located in the century-old, three-story Ryan hotel building, 301 South Main St.

Second judge

A second branch for the Green County Circuit Court was created by the state Legislature in 2007 based on an increased caseload for the county. Monroe attorney Tom Vale was elected in April to fill the second branch position. Green County Circuit Court Judge James Beer was elected to another term in April.

New Walmart

On Sept. 2, Monroe became the home of the state's newest Walmart at the time. The 156,000-square-foot building took 55 weeks to build, and employs 340 people. The city also was the home of the state's first Walmart. The new store includes sporting goods, lawn and garden products, apparel and general merchandise, as well as a full array of groceries.

No action on administrator

In May 2008, the Monroe Common Council voted to hold off on hiring an administrator to replace Mark Vahlsing. However, in June the city began discussing the possibility of an administrator position that would include human resources obligations. In July, the city's Salary and Personnel Committee began creating a job description. By the end of July, the job description began to change to one that included legal duties and human resources functions. After advertising the position, the council received six applications. Of them, City Attorney Rex Ewald and James Mogen, of Rice, Minn., were chosen as the top candidates. After interviews by council and background checks performed by a Monroe police officer, the council voted 6-4, to not hire Ewald at a starting salary of $95,000. The council also determined to wait a few months before deciding how to proceed with the position.

Shelton sentenced

On Aug. 24, Casey Shelton, 33, Brodhead, was sentenced to 40 years in prison without a chance of early release by Green County Circuit Court Judge James Beer after he was convicted Jan. 17 of first-degree reckless homicide in the Feb. 28, 2007, death of his 2-month-old son, Christopher, at their Decatur township residence.

1158th ships out

Green County soldiers who are part of the 1158th Transportation Unit were deployed in February to serve in Operation Iraqi Freedom as part of the 32nd Brigade. The 1158th, also was mobilized for stateside duty in March 2003 and deployed to Kuwait and Iraq from October 2004 to December 2005. The 32nd Brigade is made up of about 3,500 Wisconsin National Guard troops from units in 36 Wisconsin communities.

Nursing homes' referendums pass

Both Lafayette and Green counties' nursing homes faced referendums to exceed property tax levy limits to stay operational. In November, about 81 percent of Lafayette County voters approved Thursday's referendum to allow the county to exceed the 2010 property tax levy limit in order to keep operating Lafayette Manor. The referendum allows Lafayette County to exceed the levy limit by $500,000 for the next three years for the sole purpose of providing funds for the nursing home. In October, Green County, residents voted 3 to 1 in favor of exceeding the property tax levy limit by $890,000 a year for the next five years to keep Pleasant View Nursing Home running.

Justice Center opens for business

The new Green County Justice Center opened for business Sept. 22. Construction of the project started in September 2008. The building houses the county's court system offices and also includes the University of Wisconsin-Extension office on the lower level. Some offices moved into the county's 64,700-square-foot facility earlier in September, including the Wisconsin Department of Corrections-Probation and Parole and the State Public Defender's office. The University of Wisconsin-Extension office moved in the following week. On Sept. 11, 2007, the Green County Board of Supervisors voted to build the $12.4 million justice center.

School threats

In March, two threats left in bathroom stalls within four days were the beginning of a series of threats that forced the evacuation of Monroe schools in 2009. Then, April 6, a third threat in eight school days was made at the High School, but no evacuation took place. A 15-year-old male confessed to one of the threats, which was made March 30 at the High School.

Fire at ethanol plant

On Jan., 19, a fire forced about 65 firefighters from eight area departments to battle frigid temperatures for about eight hours to put it out. In total, the blaze in the plant's corn protein drying area drew 77 emergency responders and 20 pieces of emergency equipment.