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A look back at 2008
The year 2008 brought many changes and community firsts to the Island. The year began with the appointment of a new mayor and two city Councilmembers. The Island later hosted its first Tent City and a Farmer’s Market, in addition to electing three Democrats to represent residents in Olympia for the first time since the Great Depression.
The month began with the selection of City Councilman Jim Pearman, an Island native and father of two, as the new mayor. Newly elected citizens, Bruce Bassett and Mike Cero, were sworn in as the city’s two newest Councilmembers. The city released a study of the availability of Island ballfields, determining that Islander athletics have a sufficient number of fields but some are in poor condition, which makes it difficult to accommodate everybody.
Another report issued by the county showed that the Island could accommodate an additional 850 homes before it reaches maximum capacity. The report stated that there were 269 acres of vacant and redevelopable land where new homes could be built.
A controversy involving the top three city administrators began when the city attorney abruptly resigned in late January. City Attorney Bob Sterbank was paid a settlement of $135,000 to vacate his position and later joined a private law firm based in Issaquah.
An investigation of city documents and e-mails exchanged between administrators revealed issues with Sterbank’s job performance. Documents also showed a private and in-house inquiries of city personnel took place. Assistant City Attorney Katie Knight was appointed as the interim lead attorney and was named to the position permanently later in the year.
The City Council reversed its Dec. 2007 vote cut the city’s subsidy to the Mary Wayte Pool. The new City Council reversed the action and restored the previous annual contribution of $100,000 for the year.
The Island’s homegrown fire chief, Walt Mauldin, retired after serving more than 30 years with the Mercer Island Fire Department. Mauldin served eight years as the chief and began his career as a volunteer auxiliary firefighter in 1977. Mauldin’s deputy chief, Chris Tubbs, another Island native and career firefighter in the department, was named as the next chief later in the year.
The police department received more than $500,000 for its participation and work in a string of drug busts with the Eastside Narcotics Task Force. The additional money allowed police to purchase about $175,000 worth of new technology and equipment for patrol cars and officers.
The Planning Commission, approved a conditional use permit for the Mercer Island Boys & Girls Club to construct PEAK project, a youth center and field house project, on school district property near the high school. They also denied two appeals from project opponents. As a result of the conditional use permit, the club, district and city were required to reduce the negative impacts that the 41,000-square-foot youth facility would have on the neighborhood. Conditions approved in the permit require a shared-parking agreement and a unified scheduling system to prevent multiple events from taking place on the campus around the same times.
The police department decided to designate an officer as the city’s Emergency Preparedness coordinator, naming former D.A.R.E. Officer Jennifer Franklin to the position.
Several Islanders spent the past winter taking advantage of the rare opportunity to get permission from the State Ecology Department to irrigate their properties with waters pumped from Lake Washington. The irrigation season officially began in April, but most issues of the Reporter during the previous six months contained Islanders’ notices of application for water rights.
In early April, the deputy city manager and former city attorney, Londi Lindell, was fired for undisclosed reasons.
Lindell said that her termination from the city was unfair, and she filed a claim for damages of $1 million. Lindell stated that she was going to sue the city and a lawsuit may be filed in 2009. Lindell also claimed her termination was connected to former city attorney Bob Sterbank’s departure.
Thanks to the good work and investigation by a city maintenance employee, the city received a $110,000 refund from Puget Sound Energy as the utility was charging for street light services that ended some years ago.
Islander Phil Flash, received an award from the Museum of Science and Industry in Seattle for his work preserving the Island’s past.
In the First Hill neighborhood, many residents voiced opposition to the idea of using a vacant city-utility owned property as a pilot project for small-scale, affordable housing. The City Council responded by establishing a public-input process to determine the fate of the lot.
The Reporter ran a story about an Islander recovering from a memorable surgery. South-end resident Julie Gardner had donated one of her kidneys to her lifelong friend, Theresa Luhman, in late February. Luhman was ailing from a genetic disorder called Polycystic Kidney Disease. The two 53-year-olds went into surgery together on Feb. 25 to prevent Luhman from going on dialysis.
The City Council approved the use of Tasers, devices that immobilize a person with an electric shock, by Island patrol officers following the required training and purchasing of the new weapons. Councilmembers Mike Cero and Steve Litzow offered to “take the Taser for a ride” during a public safety committee meeting. Even after experiencing the Taser, both Councilmembers supported the alternative use of force.
The city hired three new firefighters and acquired two new red fire trucks. The city paid about $1 million to replace the 24-year-old green trucks.
Years after planning and debating the future of the dangerous intersection at Island Crest Way and Merrimount Drive, the City Council approved a final revision only to renege it weeks later. The Council then established a 17-member panel of citizens and Councilmembers to devise a permanent solution. The panel began meeting in November, and the Council is expected to approve the final modifications during its annual road planning meetings by June of 2009.
The organized opposition to the Boys & Girls Club PEAK project officially ended in exchange for a reduction in the size of the facility by a couple thousand square feet and a promise that a master plan for the high school and district campus would be devised.
The City Council was brought into Islander living rooms when its first televised meeting was shown on MI-TV Channel 21 in late July. Repeats are televised daily at 10 a.m. and 7 p.m. The meetings became available for online viewing on the city’s Web site in December.
A house fire destroyed the roof and much of the upper level of Island resident and Bennett’s Pure Food Bistro owner Kurt Dammeirer’s waterfront home on the Fourth of July. After a lengthy investigation, firefighters were unable to determine the exact cause of the fire because of the extent of the damage.
An Island resident and former owner of a downtown Seattle pawn shop, Martin Levy, was sentenced to two years in prison for his involvement in an organized theft ring. Police accused Levy, his daughter and her husband of using street drug addicts to steal expensive glass artwork, clothing, gold clubs and other items to supply the pawn shop and sell on eBay.
The roving Eastside homeless encampment called Tent City 4 came to the Island for the first time. A county judge denied a legal request in late July to stop the camp from moving to the Island. It stayed through October and moved on to a church in Kirkland.
The Mercer Island SWAT team arrested a wanted sex offender at an Island home after a brief standoff on Saturday, Aug. 9. The twice-convicted sex offender was arrested for violating his Department of Corrections parole and immediately returned to prison.
An Island resident and career bus driver was honored as one of two Metro drivers of the year. Richard Boehmer received the award in a rare tie vote.
The inaugural Farmer’s Market began on the Island and continued every Sunday through October. Islanders enjoyed the food, flowers, music and crafts. Vendors claimed that business was good for them while on the Island.
Mercer Island police and city administrators finally negotiated a labor contract that included a new drug and alcohol policy and higher wages and benefit packages for the next three years. Island officers worked seven months without a contract.
Two recent Mercer Island High School graduates, a married couple, were the suspect and victim in a murder-suicide that occurred in Virginia. According to Virginia police, a 2004 MIHS grad and Army soldier shot and killed his 19-year-old wife hours before shooting a police officer and then himself.
Education advocates urged the City Council to fully fund non-academic school counselors who work in Island schools. The Council approved the funding after Superintendent Gary Plano assured the them in a letter that the district would work to improve field availability; long an issue between the two entities and sports advocates.
Finance Director Chip Corder notified the city’s Utility Board that water shut-offs were at an all-time high. The utility billing department experienced three times the usual amount of past-due bills for Island homes. Typically, the city sends out tags or shut-off notices to about 30 homeowners each month to warn them of coming shut-offs for a late payment. But that number increased from 30 to 45 to 90 in September.
Former Youth Theatre Northwest Executive Director Ben Keylin pleaded guilty to two assault charges in an alleged rape case. He was accused of inappropriately touching both daughters of his then-girlfriend and raping one at his Island condo. Keylin was later sentenced to six months in the county jail in early December. Keylin was also ordered to avoid contact with minors, including his own teenage daughter, during the two years of probation following his release.
Reporter staff members were among the first riders of Sound Transit’s Link light rail when members of the press were invited to attend a test ride.
The City Council formerly ended the state’s longest running D.A.R.E. drug and alcohol prevention program as it looks to a different approach. The police department, school district and Youth & Family Services decided that such prevention messages should be taught at the middle school. Components of D.A.R.E. will be incorporated into current curriculums and programs such as Communities That Care, a new approach to preventing risky behaviors such as drug and alcohol use by minors.
Nearly all registered Island voters cast their ballots in an election that was historic for the entire nation. A 15-year parks levy to maintain Luther Burbank Park and many others passed while a capital improvement bond failed to get the necessary 60 percent supermajority to pass. Voters in the state’s 41st Legislative District elected three Democrats as representatives for the first time since the Great Depression. Islanders also supported the expansion of light rail across I-90 and I-1000, the Death with Dignity Act.
The Washington State Department of Transportation announced in early December that it was planning major closures on I-90 in May and July of 2009. In May, WSDOT plans to close the center roadway, or reversible lanes, for three weeks. In July, the westbound outer roadway will be closed to all traffic for three weeks. The closures are required in order to replace deteriorating expansion joints that connect the floating span to the landlocked portions of the bridge.
The City Council approved a two-year budget that trimmed $1 million from the general fund, a 2.2 percent decrease for 2009 compared to the 2008 budget. The general fund will spend $23.4 million in 2009 and $24.7 million in 2010. The Council also approved a utility rate increase of just below 10 percent across the City’s four utilities for the average single-family residence.
A huge snow storm hits the Puget Sound region and dumps several inches of snow over several days. School is cancelled for two days before the holiday break. Roadways were dangerous as maintenance trucks plowed to clear them. The Mercer Island SWAT team arrested a wanted sex offender at an Island home after a brief standoff on Saturday, Aug. 9. The twice-convicted sex offender was arrested for violating his Department of Corrections parole and immediately returned to prison.