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Year in review: Federal Way's top headlines of 2009
A look back at Federal Way's top stories of 2009.
• Inauguration of President Barack Obama: Students from across the country and throughout the Federal Way School District watched the inauguration live during the school day Jan. 20. A local student attended the inauguration.
• Homicide suspect freed: Following the shooting death of 38-year-old Darrel Miller at the Federal Way Transit Center on Jan. 18, 2008, police launched a hunt for the killer. An eyewitness placed 21-year-old Glenn Proctor at the scene and identified him as the shooter. He was released from custody Jan. 15, after nearly a year behind bars. Using video forensics, an electronics engineer proved Proctor’s innocence by reviewing muddled footage of the shooting.
• Dual language immersion: The Federal Way School Board moved forward with a plan to bring a dual language, English and Spanish-speaking program to Sunnycrest Elementary. In the class, the students would consist of half Spanish speakers and half English speakers. Textbooks would also be split 50-50 so the students would learn in both English and Spanish. The program is slated to start in fall 2010.
• Library construction: Federal Way Regional Library, 34200 1st Way S., shut down for bond-approved construction, which began in March. Library users have been channeled to other permanent and temporary locations. The 25,000-square-foot library is home to more than 180,000 items and 40 computers. An $8.1 million expansion plan calls for a 10,000-square-foot addition. The plan is part of a $172 million capital bond measure that calls for construction, renovation or expansion of 44 county libraries.
• Highline closes Federal Way campus: Highline Community College announced it would close the Federal Way branch of its campus in October 2009, as a result of a $2.1 million budget cut from the state. The school was leasing the campus space at 33320 1st Way S., but opted not to renew that lease. The Federal Way campus offered basic skills and non-credit business courses as well as the Puget Sound Early College (PSEC), a dual-enrollment credit cohort program for high school juniors and seniors. The college closed the Early Childhood Learning Center, which had been in operation for over 30 years.
• SKFR buys 20 acres: South King Fire and Rescue bought 20 acres of land from Weyerhaeuser. The land had been planned as a housing community by Quadrant Homes. The property, near 320th Street and Interstate 5 in Federal Way, costs about $4.8 million. SKFR plans to build a new training station on the property, as well as move administrative offices back to the Federal Way area. The current training facility on 312th Street is about 50 years old.
• Weyerhaeuser struggles: Federal Way-based timber giant Weyerhaeuser continues to struggle, closing mills around the country as the company's earnings decline.
• Police chief apologizes: Federal Way Police Chief Brian Wilson issued a public apology for causing a traffic accident March 18. Wilson was stopped at a red light at South 324th Street when he glanced at his BlackBerry to view newspaper headlines. He took his foot off the brake, thinking traffic had begun moving, and rear-ended the car in front of him. Neither of the vehicle’s occupants were injured. City manager Neal Beets issued the police chief a verbal reprimand — as is policy for officers involved in a collision that causes less than $700 in damage. It is a secondary offense for citizens to text or talk on their cell phones while driving, but drivers of emergency vehicles and police are exempt to the state laws.
• D.C. connection: The city council hired a federal lobbyist to represent Federal Way’s needs. Seattle-based firm Strategies360 is contracted for 18 months at a price not to exceed $105,000 plus travel and other expenses. Some council members said that without a lobbyist, Federal Way has little chance of securing federal funding. Strategies360 represents about 50 clients, such as the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP), City of Sea-Tac, City of Spokane, Stevens Hospital and Tulalip Tribes.
• Infant death: A 14-year-old Federal Way teen who gave birth April 9 could now face second-degree homicide charges in connection with her infant’s death. The young mother was arrested April 10. When police responded to a call at the home the teen shared with her family in the 2200 block of South Star Lake Road, they found the newborn deceased. The juvenile later told police she gave birth around 7:25 a.m. April 9; the infant was alive but not crying when it arrived, according to court documents. About two hours later, the teen allegedly suffocated the newborn when her mother came home and attempted to enter the locked room where the juvenile and infant were located, according to documents. It is unclear if the juvenile’s family knew she was pregnant. Police do not believe the mother planned to kill the newborn before she gave birth, police spokesman Ray Bunk said.
• Centerstage wins management contract: After several requests, Centerstage Theatre was awarded the contract of managing the Knutzen Family Theatre by the City of Federal Way. Centerstage had requested the management contract in the past and the city decided to then put out a request for proposals. After heated debates and forums, Tacoma Musical Playhouse withdrew its proposal, citing an inability to work with Centerstage. The council voted unanimously to give Centerstage the management contract rather than operate the property under city control.
• Council rejects City Center Access Project: The City Center Access Project and its proposed infrastructure upgrades were abandoned April 21 during two separate city council votes. The decisions come at the cost of six years of labor and $2 million. But pieces of the larger approximately $280 million enterprise, which would have given commuters another access point to the city, thus cutting traffic congestion, could resurface in the future. The council rejected three different proposed solutions.
• Flu scare: After finding out one student had a highly probable case of H1N1 flu (“swine flu”), Woodmont Elementary School was automatically shut down on April 30 to prevent the spread. The school was expected to be closed for a week. However, it opened on May 5 after the King County Public Health Department realized that closing schools for seven days was no longer reasonable.
• City manager fired: The Federal Way City Council, in an unforeseen 5-2 vote May 5, parted ways with city manager Neal Beets. Council members said they wished to see the city travel in a direction Beets was not capable of leading it. A separation agreement awarded Beets six months severance pay — roughly $76,014 — on top of compensation through July. This amounts to roughly $114,021 total and does not include benefits.
• Federal Way grad shakes up British politics: Heather Brooke, a graduate of Federal Way High School, caused an international sensation at the heart of a British Parliament scandal. Brooke requested the members of Parliament’s expenses in 2005. After a lengthy court battle, Brooke won and the records were ordered disclosed. The documents were then leaked and published early. A scandal erupted after it was shown that members had misused public funds for their own private expenses for years. The biggest impact was on May 19, as the Speaker of the House of Commons, Michael Martin, was ousted for lack of confidence in his management. It was the first time in 300 years a speaker had been ousted.
• Health care incubator: The city council is considering building Federal Way from the ground up as a leader in the health care industry. The council heard a presentation May 5 from the Seattle-based enterpriseSeattle. The company proposes to capture innovative ideas in the health care field, assist in the patenting and licensing of new health care products, and help locate businesses centered on the inventions in Federal Way. In July, the council approved $75,000 for a feasibility study.
• School district loses millions in state funding: Schools were hit hard statewide, and Federal Way was no exception. The district had about $12 million less this year in state funding, but the was able to offset some of that through local levies, I-728 funding and other sources, bringing the net loss down to $6.9 million. That money was then balanced through staff reductions and a lower pension contribution as ordered by the state. The district, along with all school districts, was also the beneficiary of some federal stimulus funding, to the tune of $8.7 million. The district was forced to cut teaching positions. By not replacing retiring or leaving teachers and moving some positions around, the district sent layoff notices to 10 teachers.
• Fatal stabbing: Federal Way police responded to a report of suspicious circumstances at 1:05 p.m. June 3 at the Cascade Ridge Apartments, 1900 SW Campus Drive. The first arriving officers located Jose Alfredo Jiminez Lara, age 24, unconscious and suffering from several knife wounds. The male was pronounced dead at the scene by medics. Adan Rodriguez-Sarinana, 21, has since been charged with second-degree murder.
• Court’s work atmosphere made public: A report on the Federal Way Municipal Court’s work environment was released for public viewing June 12 by the State Supreme Court. The decision follows a little more than a year’s worth of debate and more than $100,000 in attorney’s fees paid by the city in defense of its wishes to release the document. Presiding Judge Michael Morgan sued the city to keep the report confidential. The February 2008 “Stephson report,” an investigation of the court and its employees, is a 14-page document that provides glimpses into the court’s operations and management. The document is named after Amy J. Stephson, the attorney hired by the City of Federal Way to conduct the investigation. The investigation was initiated after a court employee alleged a hostile workplace. Morgan agreed to take part in the investigation, as did the court’s 10 clerks and then-administrator. Before the investigation was finished, Morgan demanded it ceased. The city ordered it continued. The media requested public records and the city prepared to release the document in accordance with the Public Disclosure Act. Morgan sued, citing separation of powers between the legislative and judicial branches of city government. After appeals, the Supreme Court release the document. According to the report, “...while (presiding) Judge (Michael) Morgan apparently runs his courtroom well, he has engaged in numerous inappropriate behaviors. The result of Judge Morgan’s behaviors is a staff that is stressed, fearful and unhappy.”
• Emergencies: The city handed out nearly $50,000 to community groups with plans to better Federal Way's emergency preparedness. The money was allocated as part of a $1.5 million pool approved by the city council in 2007. Of this, $100,000 was set aside as matching funds to organizations that will expand the city's emergency shelter operations, overall emergency preparedness efforts and emergency communications systems. Ten projects were submitted and five were selected.
• Near perfect: At Federal Way Public Academy, soon to be eighth-grader Audrey Li, age 13, scored a perfect 800 on the reading section of the SATs. She also got a 720 on the math section, bringing her total to 1520 — and putting her in the top 10 for all 13-year-olds in the country. She took the test when she was 12.
• Minorities in schools: In the last school year, minority students — those of African American, American Indian, Alaska Native, Asian, Hispanic, Hawaiian Pacific, Latino or a mixed race background — were the majority of the student population at 56 percent. White students were 43 percent, and 1 percent of students were unidentified. Federal Way, the seventh largest district in the state, has now joined other large school districts where the minority is now the majority, including Tukwila, Seattle, Highline, Renton, Kent and Tacoma.
• Crime rate: Federal Way saw a jump in violent crime last year, but experienced an overall decrease in its crime rate. In 2008, Federal Way’s crime rate dropped 5 percent, according to the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs. Federal Way experienced significant increases in some crimes and notable decreases in other areas.
• Dumas Bay Centre: The city is seeking creative new uses for the revenue-losing facility. Each year, Dumas Bay Centre requires a large subsidy to maintain. After a recommendation that the city close the structure, it was decided the facility on Dash Point Road would remain open.
• Performing arts center: On July 21, the city council heard results confirming that a performing arts, cultural and conference center could prosper in Federal Way. Webb Management Services Inc. of New York was hired to present a picture of how a performing arts and cultural center (PACC), with an adjoining or adjacent conference center and hotel, would fit into Federal Way's economic development plans. The consultants demonstrated how well Federal Way and its regional neighbors would respond, the possible uses, long-standing operational structures and a pro-forma operating budget for such a venue. "(The consultants) felt there is definitely a niche that is not being fulfilled in the greater Federal Way market," said Patrick Doherty, Federal Way economic development director.
• City keeps municipal court: In a 5-to-1 vote, the council chose to keep the city’s municipal court rather than contract with King County District Court for services. Costs, management structure and the range of court services, as they apply to the municipal and district courts, were considerations in the decision. In 2008, the municipal court accrued $126,000 in liability costs, including those stemming from Morgan’s lawsuit against the city, according to a presentation given Aug. 4 by Bryant Enge, the city’s chief financial officer. An additional $66,511 had been amassed in 2009, according to the presentation.
• Jail breaks ground: In an Aug. 10 ceremony, Federal Way and regional partners celebrated the groundbreaking of a South King County jail known as South Correctional Entity (SCORE), at the future jail’s location, 1801 S. 200th St. in Des Moines. The 164,000-square-foot facility will sit on approximately 14 acres of land that is now heavily wooded and fenced. The $94 million project is scheduled for completion July 2011.
• Homicide: At approximately 4:42 a.m. Aug. 2, police were dispatched to the 7-Eleven store in the 31200 block of 1st Avenue South for a call about shots fired. A 32-year-old male victim suffered a fatal gunshot wound to the neck. The initial investigation indicated there were several witnesses. The suspects were identified as three Hispanic males. A getaway vehicle was later located abandoned in Federal Way.
• City loses out on Camp Kilworth: Federal Way’s four-year pursuit to purchase Camp Kilworth came to an abrupt end Sept. 8, when the state Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal by the Pacific Harbors Council Boy Scouts of America. The court’s decision upholds a prior ruling in favor of the camp property’s two trusts. It also eliminates the city’s hopes of converting the 25-acre slice of Federal Way — which overlooks the Puget Sound — to a public park.
• Transit Center shooting: At 3:25 p.m. Sept. 17 at the Federal Way Transit Center, at 23rd Avenue South and South 317th St., police responded to a shooting in which a 19-year-old male was killed. A suspect and De’Von Winston-Parks were involved in a verbal altercation on the transit center platform, police spokeswoman Cathy Schrock said. The suspect then fired shots at Winston-Parks. Winston-Parks was transported to Harborview Medical Center with serious wounds and was later pronounced dead.
• Sand castles: Fall 2010 will bring several breathtaking castles — made of sand — to Federal Way. Bob Hitchcock of Northeast Tacoma and Doc Reiss of Port Angeles have proposed the city become the new host of the World Championship of Sand Sculpture competition. The attraction would bring tourists’ dollars to Federal Way and replace the city’s now-defunct Festival Days. The sand castle competition could bring an estimated 80,000 tourists to the city.
• End of the Murphy era: Longtime Federal Way School District Superintendent Tom Murphy announced his retirement on Oct. 13. Murphy has spent 42 years in the education field and the past decade as the head of the district. A new superintendent will be selected this spring and Murphy will retire in June.
• Business incubator: Federal Way is investing in its small businesses with the hope they will revitalize the city. On Oct. 6, the city council approved a $100,000 contribution in 2010 and another of equal value in 2011 to a business incubator established by the Federal Way Chamber of Commerce and partners. The program is designed to assist in the development of small businesses in the city.
• Transit center security: An agreement between local police, Sound Transit and King County Metro is expected to provide long-term heightened security at the Federal Way Transit Center. Several high-profile cases, including homicides and assaults, spurred the joint policing agreement. Starting Nov. 2, Sound Transit police will be on duty at the center from 2 p.m. to midnight Monday through Friday. A private security company, contracted by Sound Transit, will remain on duty at all times and will patrol the parking lot. Federal Way police will frequent the center at random times throughout the weekdays. The force will also offer coverage on weekends. The cooperative policing agreement is a one-year pilot plan.
• Fair funding lawsuit: The Federal Way School District was dealt a blow when the State Supreme Court ruled against the district and sided with the state, overturning a lower court’s decision. The case began more than three years ago when the Federal Way School Board voted to sue the state over unequal funding. The district won its case, but the state appealed the decision. Federal Way sought funding on the same level as other school districts.
• Elected mayor: Proposition 1, an initiative to change Federal Way’s form of government, passed with nearly 52 percent of the vote. The proposal to replace the city manager with an elected mayor became one of Federal Way’s most contested issues. Federal Way City Council member Jim Ferrell stepped forward to lead the effort, hired a campaign manager and announced he would run for mayor if the initiative passed. The campaign sent nearly 28,000 pieces of mail, a strategy that helped shape the public debate. The city council voted unanimously to hold the mayoral election in November 2010. The cost of the election was the driving factor in the decision.
• Candidate elections: Several public positions were up for election in 2009. Roger Freeman was elected as the Federal Way City Council’s newest member, replacing Eric Faison. Council members Linda Kochmar and Jeanne Burbidge won re-election, as did Federal Way School Board members Ed Barney and Angela Griffin. John Rickert was elected to the South King Fire and Rescue board of commissioners, and Len Englund retained his seat on the Lakehaven Utility District board. At the Federal Way Municipal Court, Rebecca Robertson defeated embattled judge Michael Morgan, while Judge David Larson retained his seat on the bench.
• Fallen police officers: After Lakewood police officers Greg Richards, Mark Renninger, Tina Griswold and Ronald Owens were shot by Maurice Clemmons as they drank coffee before their shift, the state pulled together to cope. Over 20,000 people, mostly law enforcement and firefighters from around North America, gathered in the Tacoma Dome. Christian Faith Center in Federal Way served as an alternative viewing location for the memorial. More than 100 citizens came to the church, many arriving hours early to watch the procession. Blue lights were displayed in windows, and proceeds from thousands of orders of Papa John’s Pizza went to the officers’ families. Panther Lake Elementary collected money to go to the families.
• Red light, green light: A 30-day warning period for two speed zone and three red-light enforcement cameras ended Dec. 31. The cameras will begin issuing citations. The three new red-light enforcement cameras bring Federal Way’s total up to seven. The speed-detecting cameras were placed at their locations based on the number of speeding violations documented in the school zones. The registered owner of vehicles caught on camera speeding in school zones or running a red light will receive a ticket by mail. The ticket includes information that allows the owner to review a short clip of the violation online.