WASHINGTON (AP) - As congressional leaders raced to seal a deal that would reopen the government, lawmakers from both parties jabbed at one another Wednesday over who was to blame for the most high-profile casualties of the 16-day shutdown: the national parks.
At a House hearing, members of Congress focused on the World War II Memorial on the National Mall, where veterans were initially denied access after the government closed on Oct. 1. A crowd that included Republican lawmakers converged on the memorial Sunday, pushing past barriers to protest the site's closure.
The memorial and other national park units have become a political symbol as lawmakers bicker over blame for the park closings.
Republicans say many parks and open-air monuments did not need to be closed, but Democrats said the GOP had only itself to blame for the shutdown, after Republicans demanded that measures to defund the new health care law be included in bills to keep the government open.
Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., held up a mirror at the hearing and invited Republicans to look at it to find the cause of the shutdown.
Governors in at least five states have reopened national parks such as the Grand Canyon and Statue of Liberty in recent days, but Republicans say the measures were too little, too late.
Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Wash., said the National Park Service appears to have intentionally made the shutdown "as painful and visible as possible."
Park Service Director Jonathan Jarvis denied that, saying that turning away visitors "is not in our DNA."
Jarvis called the agreements with governors that have allowed some parks to reopen "a practical and temporary solution that will lessen the pain for some businesses and communities - a Band-Aid until Congress passes an appropriations bill."
Jarvis, who appeared at the hearing only after being issued a subpoena, urged Congress to reopen the government so his agency can reopen all 401 national park units.
Republicans, including Hastings and Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., said the Park Service acted in a political and provocative manner when it set up barricades at open-air monuments such as the World War II Memorial and placed traffic cones along highway viewing areas outside Mount Rushmore and other parks.
Hastings heads the House Natural Resources Committee, while Issa leads the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. The committees held the joint hearing.
Jarvis defended placement of barricades at the World War II Memorial and other sites, saying that all but a dozen park service employees who work at the National Mall have been furloughed. Given the limited staff resources during the shutdown, "prudent and practical steps were taken to secure life and property at these national icons where security has become increasingly complex in a post-9/11 world," he said.
Contrary to the assertion of several Republican lawmakers, Jarvis said the Park Service allowed veterans and their families to visit the World War II Memorial.
"We know that visits of America's World War II veterans to the memorial are pilgrimages that many of them will only make once," he said. "Throughout the shutdown, we have worked diligently to try and ensure that no Honor Flight group, veteran, or their family has been turned away from visiting the veterans' memorials."
An organization called the Honor Flight Network brings World War II veterans to Washington.
Other visitors also are allowed at the memorial under an exception that allows First Amendment activities, Jarvis said.
Rep. Doug Lamborn, R-Colo., was not impressed. He said Jarvis's decision to set up barricades at the Lincoln and World War II memorials was "wrong" and mean-spirited.
"You besmirched (the Park Service's) reputation and soured relations with Congress," Lamborn told Jarvis. "In my opinion you have failed."
Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va., denounced Lamborn's comment and called Jarvis an "exemplary" public servant. Connolly called the hearing a "theater of the absurd" and "an audacious attempt by the majority to deflect responsibility and blame for the real-world consequences of a government shutdown."
GOP Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas and Mike Lee of Utah, along with former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, were among those at the World War II Memorial on Sunday. Cruz, Lee and other tea party-backed lawmakers refused to keep the government operating unless President Barack Obama agreed to defund the nation's health care overhaul.
JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) - A federal lawsuit accuses the Jefferson City school district and two administrators of not doing enough to prevent a band teacher from having an affair with a student.
The band teacher, Christopher Knehans, pleaded guilty in 2012 to two felony counts of sexual contact with a student.
The Jefferson City News-Tribune reported Tuesday the lawsuit alleges that high school Principal Paul Dodson and Assistant Principal Tammy Ridgeway were warned several times that Knehans and the student were involved. It alleges that the administrators did not intervene to stop the relationship.
Knehans is also named in the lawsuit.
The district's attorney, Chris Rackers, said district officials would not comment on the lawsuit, which was filed earlier this year but amended this month.
The online site, Nextdoor, plans to announce a partnership with the city of St. Louis Wednesday that would enable several city departments to begin using the social networking site as an informational and crime-fighting tool.
Nextdoor looks to link neighbor to neighbor as a way to keep people posted as to what is happening in their area.
The St. Louis Post Dispatch reports that the police department could use the site to post crime alerts and crime trends that could be targeted citywide or to specific neighborhoods.
The city’s Emergency Management Authority will use it to share information about storm warnings, disaster preparations and heat advisories.
Michael Powers, legislative director for Aldermanic President Lewis Reed, says it is a unified way for officials to communicate with neighborhoods. Powers says 70 of the 79 neighborhoods in the city have established Nextdoor sites with about 54-hundred residents using the network.
Nextdoor is a San Francisco-based, private social network which launched in October 2011. Nearly 22-thousand neighborhoods are participating across the United States.
The site is free and the company says it will remain free to the neighbors who use it. Currently, businesses can’t be a part of the site, just residents.
Nextdoor also has teamed with police departments in several cities, but St. Louis is unique because the departments taking part extend beyond just police.
EAST ST. LOUIS, Ill. (AP) - East St. Louis officials and a local firefighters union say they've reached a deal that will avert layoffs of nearly one-third of the city's fire department.
Terms of the deal reached Tuesday between the city and the International Association of Firefighters Union Local 23 weren't disclosed.
But Mayor Alvin Parks Jr. tells the Belleville News-Democrat (http://bit.ly/1gKk3L2 ) that it spares having to lay off 16 of the city's more than 50 firefighters, at least through the end of the year. He says it's commendable that both sides worked out a creative solution.
The union local's president, Brandon Walls, wouldn't discuss the details but says he's glad no one will be laid off.
The layoffs were expected because of the city's budget issues.