By Polly Keary, Editor
This week a new year begins, and we look back at the major news stories of 2012.
The city of Monroe got back on more stable financial footing following the sale of several city properties, and tourism increased.
However, the year was also marked by intense political debate over matters such as school impact mitigation fees, a proposed cable park at Lake Tye, a planned Walmart, a change to the city’s comprehensive plan, an ethics violation accusation brought against a city council member, a potential sign ordinance and a contentious rezone of an area of land in east Monroe.
Low income residents got a major hand up with a large expansion of Housing Hope properties in Monroe and the Sky Valley, as well as with the creation of a cold weather shelter for homeless people on cold winter nights.
Outdoor tourism increased with the addition of a third triathlon and more races to the summer season, and a new off-road park near the prison held a large first-ever event. In addition, attendance was strong at a wakeboard event at Lake Tye and crowds broke records at drift races at the Evergreen Speedway.
U.S. 2 continued to be a dangerous road, with several fatalities, including two in one week last summer. But SR 522 was on its way to greater safety as blasting commenced to make it a four-lane road.
Schools in the valley did fairly well on state tests scores, with Monroe showing well on SAT scores and Sultan scoring very high in state testing at Sultan Elementary and in certain other subjects in other grades. The Skykomish School District won $10,000 for its excellence on school scores.
And medical care showed promise of greatly expanding in Monroe, as Valley General Hospital entered a partnership with EvergreenHealth, Providence broke ground on a large new health services center, and Sea Mar Community Health continued to expand services.
The political landscape was literally altered when the legislature redrew the legislative maps, moving Monroe and the Sky Valley into Washington State District 1. That meant Rick Larsen would no longer represent the valley, and heralded the coming of a highly competitive race for the empty seat.
As the debate wore on over whether to allow a cable park on Lake Tye, the promoters of ESPN sports show X Games came to Monroe and announced they would be interested in filming there if the park was built.
A judge ruled that Walmart’s plans for a store on North Kelsey didn’t deviate from city design standards so egregiously that he could rule against it. The plaintiffs, who wanted to force Walmart to build something more in line with the upscale design standards in city code, appealed.
*Update: The court has heard the arguments in the appeal, and a decision is expected early this year. So far, the matter hasn’t appeared on the January docket, but the city hopes it will be resolved in February or early March.
The Hillbilly Hotties espresso stand near the Grocery Outlet was robbed midday on Monday, Jan. 2 by a man wielding a knife. No suspect was ever arrested.
The Western Heritage Center, a historical museum located on the fairgrounds, was outgrowing its space, said operator Jerry Senner. He set out to persuade the county to grant a piece of nearby county-owned land upon which he could build a much larger museum.
*Update: Snohomish County did designate the land for a museum, and now Senner has begun trying to raise about $900,000 for the construction of a new museum, which could house one of the largest collections of antique farm equipment on the West Coast, if he succeeds. In a meeting last Thursday, Senner and county officials discussed locating the space for a new museum somewhat closer to the current museum than the land Senner originally had in mind. Senner plans to build the new museum in $300,000 phases.
A major snowstorm struck the region, with snow reaching depths of 21 inches in places in Monroe. Roads were icy and many power lines were down, and school was out for four days.
Monroe lost part of a court case over a citizen’s initiative against traffic ticketing cameras. A judge ruled that Monroe, which sued to block the initiative from going to voters, didn’t have the right to keep one part of the three-part initiative off the ballot. That opened the city to being forced to pay damages of $10,000 plus court costs. The city, however, appealed.
*Update: The appeal was heard Nov. 1, and now the city is waiting for a decision. City attorney Zach Lell had hoped to get the decision by the end of 2012, but it didn’t materialize.
The East County Senior Center was given Honorable Mention in a National Institute of Senior Centers contest on special programs for the ECSC’s Senior to Senior program, in which high school seniors and senior citizen worked together to make emergency packs for the local food bank to disperse.
Monroe mayor Robert Zimmerman proposed scrapping the design standards and other development guidelines at North Kelsey to increase the ease of selling the city-owned land there. The city also proposed pushing a street through the former Monroe High School sports fields to ease traffic pressure on Blueberry Lane, which could facilitate development of that area.
*Update: The discussion of pushing Hill Street through the sports fields got a cool reception from the school district, but the city may revisit it during the process of updating the city’s transportation plan this year.
Monroe Deputy Police Chief Cherie Harris, a very active community volunteer, departed for a job on the Kirkland Police Force.
Graffiti, much of it apparently gang-related, appeared all over the downtown. Many of the images referenced the large international 18th Street Gang, which has been a growing presence in the area in the last couple of years, according to police.
The head of the downtown revitalization group DREAM, Vickie Mullen, resigned, citing concerns that the city was undermining the strength of rules guiding the revitalization of the downtown. Mullen remains an active citizen.
An incidence of pertussis, or whooping cough, appeared in Monroe as an epidemic spread county-wide.
David Jimenez came to Monroe to head Sea Mar Health Clinic, a community health clinic catering to low-income, uninsured or underinsured people. He planned to oversee an expansion of services and staff.
*Update: After implementing plans to add dental service to the clinic, as well as adding another doctor to the staff, Jimenez is leaving Sea Mar for another position.
An investigation into the overdose death of a developmentally disabled Monroe boy, 7, was interrupted when the boy’s body was cremated before an autopsy could be done. The boy apparently died of an overdose of salicylate, found most commonly in aspirin. The boy’s parents had a history of neglect.
*Update: In August, detectives forwarded the results of their investigation to the Snohomish County Prosecutor’s Office, seeking a charge of manslaughter against the child’s parents. The boy’s brother, also disabled, was placed in foster care. Prosecutor Adam Cornell said last week that he had been assigned the case and is still reviewing it, and that no charging decision has yet been made.
Jacqueline Rothenbuhler, 59, was found slain in the backyard of her Maple Street home. Her body was discovered there in the early morning hours, and she had been killed by a cut to her neck. Near her body were found scattered an assortment of pills, yet toxicology reports found none of them in her blood. Friends described her as a very active person with a history of working in health-related fields.
*Update: The investigation continues, with detectives still putting in hours every week on the case, but they are at a point in which they say they need a break in the case.
Scott Frakes, superintendent of the Monroe Correctional Complex, departed for a job overseeing half of the state’s prisons. He had been at the helm in Monroe since 2008. Taking his place was Robert Herzog, 54, a 30-year veteran of the corrections system.
Valley General Hospital CEO Mike Liepman resigned to take a job at a hospital in Mount Vernon. Liepman, who had been with the hospital for 2 1/2 years, got an unexpected offer to take a job as COO of the Mount Vernon Hospital and decided to take it.
Andy Werkhoven, along with brother and dairy partner Jim Werkhoven, were the recipients of the first-ever U.S. Dairy Sustainability Award, a national award given for their role in an unlikely collaboration of farmers and fish conservationists to create a unique generator that turns dairy and fishery waste into electricity.
The conservationists, the Tulalip Tribes and local farmers joined forces to create Qualco Energy, which burns the methane gas released by dairy and fish processing wastes and creates energy. Now the plant is producing so well that sometimes the operators have to “flare” or burn off the excess gas, and they say they could add another generator.
A man shot by Monroe police after approaching officers with a knife was released from the hospital and booked into jail. The man, Gerald A. Aney, 49, was shot March 26 after his mother, with whom he resided in her Calhoun Road-area home, called police for help, saying Aney had “gone crazy” and was breaking things in the home. When officers arrived, the man emerged from around the side of the house holding a knife, and kept closing in on the officers despite warnings to stop.
A partnership between Tennessee-based Capella Health and Valley General Hospital fell through. It was the second such partnership negotiation in a year to come to naught. The hospital has been seeking a partnership since February of 2011 in order to shore up the hospital’s finances and stabilize it. The deal fell through because the financial picture worsened for the hospital during negotiations, Capella said.
Dugouts from the Kingdome, which were stored in Monroe for years by their owner, were sold on eBay, drawing the attention of national media. One of the buyers was baseball legend Cal Ripken, who wanted the visitors’ dugout for a field his sports center design company was creating in Seattle.
The Monroe Ethics Board, after dropping to just two members, was full again in May after a number of volunteers came forward. That allowed the ethics board to once again function; in April there were too few members to legally conduct business.
Taylor, an 11-year-old Labrador retriever, retired from the Monroe Police Force after a nine-year career. In 2005, Taylor assisted in an arrest that resulted in the seizure of 149 kilos of cocaine with a street value of more than $5.8 million. Taylor received a plaque recognizing her as a “friend and partner” and thanking her for nine years of dedicated service.
Byron Scherf, an inmate who has admitted to killing Monroe Correctional Complex officer Jayme Biendl in January of 2011, made preliminary appearances in court as lawyers argued over what evidence to allow for consideration in the eventual trial. Scherf, who was serving life without parole for a series of rapes, is on trial for his life; the prosecution is seeking the death penalty.
*Update: Scherf’s trial date is currently scheduled for March 29.
Monroe Eagle Scout candidate Nick Martinoli completed his project of building a bell tower and replacing a bronze bell that had been stolen from St. Mary of the Valley Catholic Church the previous autumn. The bell, 98 years old, had been stolen and sold in pieces for scrap.
Martinoli, who had already been planning to build a housing for the bell, which previously had been mounted only on a low pedestal, added to his mission the goal of facilitating a replacement for the bell. Parishioners and well-wishers managed to raise $14,000 for a replacement bell nearly twice as big as the old one had been.
The Monroe Chamber of Commerce got new leadership when Annique Bennett, formerly the marketing and tourism director for the city of Bothell, took over the job of director. Previously, she had also served as the cultural arts coordinator for the city of Everett, working to coordinate movies, music festivals, public art and other cultural experiences for residents there.
An Arlington man was arrested after getting out of a truck, striking the passenger of the vehicle next to him at a light on Fryelands Boulevard, then speeding away with the driver of the other vehicle clinging to his truck. The entire incident took place right in front of police officers.
The City of Monroe, downtown revitalization organization DREAM and the Monroe Chamber of Commerce made common cause and set out among business owners to recruit enough board members to keep DREAM alive. The effort was successful, and the organization is still together.
The Monroe City Council approved plans for a cable park at Lake Tye that would tow water sports enthusiasts over the surface of the lake by means of a moving cable.
*Update: A group of Monroe citizens appealed the council’s decision to a city hearing examiner, who ruled on behalf of the city, but with the caveat that the developers should install measures to prevent flying birds from being entangled in the cables. The council Jan. 15 will have another hearing to vote whether to affirm or deny, remand or modify the hearing examiner’s ruling. Following that, the Department of Ecology will review the plan for 30 days. Then citizens will have a 21-day window to appeal the shoreline development permit.
The Department of Ecology will also take 30 days to review the conditional use permit that will allow the construction of the dock and the structures within 25 feet of the shoreline. If they affirm the permit, residents will have 21 days to appeal. Provided there are no appeals, the developers will have the go-ahead to begin the next phase of building in about the second or third week of March.
The newly-formed Sky Valley GLBTQ Alliance held Monroe’s first-ever Pride Picnic at Lake Tye Park. The event was well-attended and well-received by the community, according to organizers. In attendance were representatives from PFLAG, Washington United for Marriage, Pride, and the Washington State Obama campaign director paid an informal visit.
A group of investors approached the city with a tentative plan of turning the former ice plant building near the intersection of Fryelands Boulevard and U.S. 2 into an ice arena.
*Update: The developers weren’t able to make the financials pencil out, according to city officials, but are still interested in the possibility of bringing an ice arena to Monroe. In the meantime, the ice plant building remains for sale.
Investigators working on the Jacque Rothenbuhler murder case in Monroe reached out to the community to see if anyone could help explain the presence of the pills found near her body the night of her murder. The pills were of four types, and were too numerous to have been carried in someone’s hands, indicating someone had emptied a container of them near her. The drugs were loperamide hydrochloride, an anti-diarrheal; fluoxetine hydrochloride, a generic Prozac; amantadine hydrochloride, used for flu and for cocaine withdrawal, and an unknown non-prescription drug. All three known drugs are sometimes used in treatment of cocaine withdrawals. Anyone with any information, no matter how trivial it may seem, is still asked to call Detective Barry Hatch at (360) 863-4570.
Plans were unveiled for a $20 million sports park to occupy the site of a former golf course near Maltby. To be called Wellington Hills Park, it would occupy a 100-acre parcel of land near the junction of SR 522 and Highway 9. It would include a 50,000 square foot sports arena, possibly a 60,000 square foot indoor mountain biking facility, an off-leash dog park, paved trails, and four lighted fields of artificial turf, as well as four grass fields. The funding comes from mitigation fees paid by the developers of the Brightwater Treatment Plant and must be spent on a park near the plant.
*Update: The Snohomish County Parks Department and others working on the project hope to present the Snohomish County Council with a master plan in the next few weeks.
“We hope to see it open by end of 2013,” said Hal Gausman, deputy director of Snohomish County Parks. The indoor mountain bike park won’t arrive nearly so soon, as a private partner to create the park has not been found; although there is continued interest from several parties, according to Gausman.
Five families were given the keys to the new homes they helped build on Currie Road. The families had participated in the self-help housing program facilitated by Housing Hope, which plans 14 houses on Currie Road and 134 new housing units in the Sky Valley in the next few years.
The first ever IronHeart Race event was held in Monroe. More than 200 people turned out to the event, organized by the IronHeart Group as part of its mission to raise funds for heart charities, and increase awareness of congenital heart defects and heart-healthy living. The race is planned as an annual event.
More than 11,000 people came to the Evergreen Speedway for Formula D Drift Racing. A combination of traditional racing and extreme sports, drift racing started in Japan over 20 years ago and quickly spread to the United States and across the world. Though it appears as if the cars are spinning around out of control, the trick is control the car as it goes through a curve so that it oversteers until the car skids sideways. The Evergreen Speedway is one of eight tracks worldwide to host the Formula D Series last year.
A bobcat made regional news when it snuck into the Monroe Correctional Complex grounds. The animal had injured itself crossing the razor wire perimeter and was ensconced atop the roof of the Special Offenders Unit. A veterinarian was finally able to sedate the cat and remove it for treatment.
John Galt, the city hearing examiner, ruled against the city council in the matter of the potential rezone of a piece of land on the east edge of Monroe along U.S. 2. The examiner ruled that the city’s environmental impact statement was inadequate. That halted the rezone of the land from limited open space to general commercial. The city council ultimately voted to rescind the rezone.
Monroe’s Washington Federal Bank was robbed by a man who fled on a bicycle. The robber struck several other area banks in the same manner, earning the appellation of the “Tour de Banks Robber.”
*Update: In October, a 29-year-old Bothell man with a reported history of losing large sums in a Kirkland casino was arrested on eight counts of first-degree robbery. The man, a Romanian national, was caught after someone saw him putting a bike into the trunk of a Mercedes following a heist. When the car was identified, police were able to make the arrest. The man had a home business, operating an adult family home with his wife. All six residents were relocated. The suspect was held on $2 million bail.
Blasting began on SR 522 as part of the process of building an additional two lanes of traffic. The blasts require one-hour, twice-weekly midday road closures. Eventually crews will remove 300,000 cubic yards of rock, a process requiring 165 truck trips and 150 road closures. The process is expected to go on until about August of this year.
The entire project, including four new bridges, a new roundabout at 164th Street S.E. on the northwest side of SR 522, a noise wall near 171st. Avenue S.E. and a wildlife crossing, is slated for completion by the summer of 2014.
The newly minted Monroe Adventure Park, located on a piece of land near the Monroe Correctional Complex owned by local developer Dave Remlinger, held its inaugural sports event. The Prison Break Off-Road Challenge was a series of races for off-road vehicles, and drew large crowds for events such as the Sand Drags, Mud Race, Hill Climb, Rock Crawl, Obstacle Course and Mud Bog.
A Monroe correctional officer was attacked and seriously injured by a mentally ill offender. The attacker approached the officer, saying he wanted to lodge a complaint, then grew angry and attacked the officer, who suffered facial bone fractures. The offender was removed to the Snohomish County Jail to face charges for assault.
A 14-year-old Everett boy drowned while swimming in Lake Tye. He had been on a church trip to Monroe, and was swimming with friends when he slipped under the water and did not resurface.
Seven fires were set in dumpsters and garbage cans in an early-morning arson spree. All were in the downtown area, and several were set within minutes of each other.
The Monroe Chamber of Commerce closed its Main Street office and reopened in a second floor office, also on Main Street. The move was made in order to save the organization money. It also meant the closure of the Visitor Information Center, something deemed a luxury in difficult economic times. The chamber hopes to reopen the VIC at some point in the future, but is moving the focus of the chamber from bricks and mortar to internet-based area promotion.
*Update: The new website featuring area attractions and businesses is very close to complete, and is expected to roll out in the next few weeks.
Monroe Hearing Examiner John Galt resigned after being told that his contract would not be renewed. Galt had asked for an increase in pay in his next contract, and the city decided instead to put out a request for proposals and to retain a roster of hearing examiners. The city has chosen three, one of them Phil Olbrechts, who was the city attorney for many years.
The Monroe Police Department rallied to help make come true the wishes of a seriously ill young woman, the girlfriend of a Sultan man. Megan Penny, 21, the mother of a toddler, had told her boyfriend of several things she wanted to do in her life, among them things like owning a Chinese waving cat doll, getting a massage, singing karaoke, and petting a wolf. The police planned Megan’s Run, a race to help raise the money to help her realize some of those dreams. She did get to pet a wolf and meet some of her other goals.
*Update: Megan Penny died Dec. 3.
There were two fatal accidents in two days on U.S. 2; one near Index and another near Everett.
The city began a discussion with the school district about whether it would benefit the local economy if the city was to reduce the amount of school impact mitigation fees charged to developers when they construct housing in Monroe. The fees are charged to developers to offset the increased burden expected on local schools when new houses are filled. The amount charged fluctuates based on the need for additional space at the district’s schools, among other factors.
*Update: The discussion, which was very impassioned on both sides, has been tabled for now. A proposal to reduce fees in 2012 was abandoned, and instead the fee issue will appear on the 2013 planning commission agenda, to be discussed this spring or early summer.
The city began discussing the possibility of selling the land near Galaxy Theater that used to be the city dump. The land could need clean-up, leading the city to debate the merits of selling it “as-is” or making an attempt to discover what, if anything, needs to be cleaned up and then cleaning it up before putting it on the market. The land could be worth $3.2 million cleaned up, according to city economic development manager Jeff Sax.
Monroe School District teachers signed a new three-year contract that included modest pay raises and eliminated furlough time.
The city budget was reported to be still on track approaching the end of the year and will finish the year in the black.
Valley General Hospital announced plans to partner with EvergreenHealth of Kirkland. The hospital also announced plans to run a levy in 2013. Both measures are needed to shore up the hospital and ensure its continued existence as an inpatient care facility.
Baseball great Darryl Strawberry came to the Rock Church in Monroe to talk about how he rid himself of a drug habit and reckless behavior through his faith.
A popular dinosaur statue on the sign of Monroe orthodontist Dr. Ray Maxwell was badly damaged by vandals who apparently tried to steal it by tying it to a car and dragging it off. They only succeeded in destroying its feet. The dinosaur figure was returned to the manufacturer in Canada, and since has been returned to Main Street and dubbed “Chomper” by a young patient who won a name-the-dinosaur contest.
The preliminary 2013 budget called for no new layoffs of city staff and even funded a new position for a part-time city clerk. The city is finishing the year in the black for the first time in a number of years.
Monroe SAT scores outstripped the state, and the state outstripped the nation. Several Monroe students also scored high enough to qualify as semi-finalists in the National Merit Scholar program.
The Monroe Arts Council took over responsibility for Wagner Auditorium, the 1939 building on the Frank Wagner Elementary campus. The building will serve as a performance space for plays and concerts.
The 500-seat theater requires considerable renovation, and the Monroe Lion’s Club, which is rich in construction experience, is advising. The MAC will raise money to upgrade the building one step at a time, starting with improved handicap access to the restrooms.
Monroe City Councilwoman Patsy Cudaback was the subject of an ethics complaint brought by two other council members on grounds that she had revealed information from executive sessions during a Facebook exchange. The council members, Kurt Goering and Kevin Hanford, asked for a formal reprimand and a fine. Ultimately Cudaback, who had mentioned that a specific issue was discussed in executive session but hadn’t revealed anything of the discussion, apologized for unintentionally crossing what she said she had not known was a line.
A car flipped over on Fryelands Boulevard after two drivers engaged in road rage, racing each other and driving aggressively down the school zone street. One of the drivers swerved in front of the other, causing the vehicle to flip on its side in the median, where it knocked over a tree. The driver, a woman, 47, was extracted through the windshield, but was not injured. The other driver waited for police. Both were cited.
Everett Community College announced plans to expand their branch campus in Monroe to be capable of educating 1,000 people per year.
Voices Northwest, a women’s barbershop-quartet style chorus, moved rehearsals to Monroe and began looking for new members. The chorus immediately began appearing around the city at holiday and community events.
Mechelle Russell, a 2009 Monroe grad, got a huge surprise when visitors appeared at her family’s door early in the morning to inform her that, of 100,000 entries into the KOMO Best of Western Washington Contest Sweepstakes, she’d won the $5,000 grand prize. All who voted in the annual contest were entered into the sweepstakes.
A goose dubbed “Abby” by a Monroe family was spotted at Lake Tye with an apparently wounded wing. The goose appeared unable to fly and migrate with other geese, prompting the family to worry and try to get the goose rescued.
*Update: It was learned that Abby the Goose was a longtime area resident that had recently migrated from Lords Lake to Lake Tye. The bird does indeed have an injured wing and cannot fly, but has successfully wintered in Monroe several times.
Monroe closed a land deal with Providence Health and Services, selling five acres of North Kelsey land to the hospital organization for $2.5 million. The organization will construct a $22 million, 43,000 square foot multi-use ambulatory medical building on the site.
The money from the land sale will go in part to a reserve fund, in part to pay for a traffic study for Monroe, in part to fund the city’s sick leave reserve fund, and in part to pay interest on the bond the city took to buy that section of land from the county.
The elections handed victories to Kirk Pearson, who won a state senate seat, and Representatives Dan Kristiansen and newcomer Elizabeth Scott in the 39th District.
The battle to represent the newly-redrawn 1st Legislative District of Washington, which now includes the Sky Valley, was won by Democrat Suzan DelBene. Jay Inslee, who until last year represented the 1st District which included half of Monroe and all of the Maltby area, won the state governor’s seat. Monroe voted emphatically against the traffic camera program, with only 29 percent voting to keep the camera program in place.
And Roosevelt Ridge residents voted 92 percent against annexation.
Brandon Musto, 37, escaped from the Monroe Correctional Complex’s minimum security unit by climbing over razor wire and leaving the area with an accomplice. He was later arrested near North Bend after being recognized by a citizen.
The city of Monroe sold the land upon which Galaxy Theater rests to Beta-Kelsey Station, the company that owns the adjacent strip mall, for about $2 million. The money will be dispersed in the same manner as the proceeds from the Providence Health and Services sale at North Kelsey.
The sale ends a long-standing dispute between the theater and the neighboring strip mall over the use of “ecology blocks” to prevent cars from traveling between the parking lots. The theater defended the blocks as protecting their property from wear and tear. The ecology blocks have since been removed.
A Monroe man won a contest to design a Washington State Lotto ticket. His design, which included Martian rocks that, when scratched off, revealed figures of aliens, certain numbers of which indicated a winning ticket, will appear in stores later this year.
The Monroe High School Bearcats teams had a number of successes. Monroe’s Bearcat football team went to State Tournament as the #2 seed, ultimately losing to Rogers Rams. The Monroe volleyball team also went to State. And in State competition Monroe swimmer Cathryn Armstrong took 8th place in the 100 meter freestyle and Lavinya Yap got 12th place in the 100 meter backstroke, as well as 5th in the 200-meter.
The city began work on a new sign ordinance, hiring urban planner Tom Beckworth to consult on the new regulations. Beckworth said the goal is to simplify and clarify the current laws, while producing a less cluttered look for the city. Large product signs and sandwich board signs might both be the subject of revised regulations.
The Monroe School Board was named a Board of Distinction by the Washington State School Directors’ Association, one of 23 boards in the state so honored. The award was granted because the district met above 80 percent of the measurements of progress by which the association evaluates districts.
Brandon Harano, 17, became the first-ever student representative to the Monroe City Council, where he will have a chance to weigh in on issues important to youth, and to learn about the process of municipal government.
Monroe residents held a vigil at Lake Tye in support of the victims, families and community of Newtown, Conn., in the wake of the school shooting there that resulted in the death of 28.
A cold weather shelter, to open for the homeless when the temperature is projected to dip below freezing for four hours or more during the night, began service in Monroe. The shelter is located in different facilities on different nights. People can call a hotline to learn if the shelter will open that night, and where the shelter will be. The number is (360) 453-7622.