Grays Harbor saw debate swirl over the potential oil trains that could cross our homes and divide our cities, plus a murder of a little 2-year-old boy gripped several families in East County, while victims’ families saw the sentencing of a murderer from Central Park as well as courthouse attacker Steven Daniel Kravetz. Meantime, many families continued to cope without a job.
And then there was the agony that became Montesano city government.
At his last city council meeting, one-time mayoral hopeful and then-councilman Doug Streeter pointed out, “Raising a family here, I’ve always been proud to say I live in Montesano when I travel and work. The last year and a half has been an utter embarrassment to me, getting phone calls from friends that don’t live in the state but I went to college with, pitching me crap about all the stuff going on. I want to level a challenge to citizens, staff, council, everybody — we have a lot of healing to do. There’s a lot of work that needs to be done.”
Here’s our look at our Top 10 stories, as decided on by the staff of The Vidette.
Havoc at Monte City Hall
First, there was a hostile work investigation into the city’s Public Works Department stemming from a complaint from one of the workers that he was being mistreated by his co-workers. The incident was investigated, but nothing solid turned up. From that investigation, the city launched another one into whether or not employees had intentionally dropped a bucket from heavy machinery to intimidate an employee. The mayor issued a discipline notice to one employee, but then retracted it when it looked like the union would take the issue to arbitration. Then, the city started looking into allegations that Public Works Lead Russell Burke used city-owned paint for personal use. A police investigation found some evidence, but nothing solid enough for the Prosecutor to charge Burke with any crimes. Meantime, Burke and his attorney refused to answer questions from the city and Burke was terminated. He’s now suing the city. The termination and the issues spurred hundreds of people to attend City Council meetings for three months in a row until summer came and the mayor abandoned the use of the upstairs meeting room in favor of an overflow room and the City Council chambers. Attendance dwindled, but interest remained high. The mayor launched an investigation into city employees leaking documents to The Vidette. Nothing came from it. Several Public Works employees and clerical staff issued harassment complaints against City Administrator Kristy Powell. The mayor came under fire for refusing to put Powell on administrative leave. A city investigation found isolated incidents, but nothing that constituted a trend. The city received an anonymous complaint that city employees were looking at porn on city computers. The city investigation found some truth to that as well as thousands of hours of employees all throughout the city wasting time. The mayor issued suspensions to three employees. During the porn investigation, one potential child porn image was found and handed over to the State Patrol, which continues to investigate the issue.
New hospital and goodbye to Mark Reed
East County residents welcomed the new Summit Pacific Medical Center in Elma and bid farewell to Mark E. Reed Memorial Hospital in McCleary in February. To finance the hospital, the public hospital district had to take out a $21.1 million loan from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. CEO Renee Jensen then worked out a deal with the county commissioners to acquire the property in Elma. The hospital has beaten patient projections and its budget is doing better than expected. Many staff members have received acclaim and honors for their participation in the creation of a brand new hospital.
Fresh blood for the county commissioners
The Republicans took control of the Board of County Commissioners for the first time in about 80 years. Republican County Commissioner Wes Cormier was sworn into office, joining incumbent Republican Herb Welch to make up the new majority. Joining them was Democratic County Commissioner Frank Gordon. As a bit of trivia, all three of the commissioners had beaten incumbents when they ran for public office.
As a candidate, Gordon had always said (somewhat) in jest that he’d be ready to take over as chairman of the county commissioners. In June, he got his chance when Welch was hospitalized. Welch is now better, but Gordon’s position as chairman was solidifed.
In October, the county commissioners and the Democrats started their months-long battle over the future of the Prosecutor’s Office. The Democrats want them to appoint Deputy Prosecutor Katie Svoboda to the seat of retired prosecutor Stew Menefee. The commissioners, led by Gordon, have refused because they disagree with the appointment process. The matter is still in limbo with the state Attorney General weighing in with a pending legal opinion. Gordon has faced stiff criticism by the Democrats for not going along with their decision.
If Svoboda is ever appointed or wins the election outright, she would be the first female prosecutor in county history.
Meantime, Gordon demanded Assessor Rick Hole’s resignation for personnel issues in his office, laying claims of mismanagement. Hole has refused and the issue is dragging into next year.
Courthouse attacker sentenced
Steven Daniel Kravetz was sentenced to 26 years in prison after a jury convicted Kravetz of first-degree assault against Deputy Polly Davin and second-degree assault against Judge David Edwards, who was stabbed in the neck when he came to Davin’s aid. They also found Kravetz guilty of disarming a law enforcement officer. The incident happened in March of last year, which shook the city of Montesano and forced the county to work on its security issues at the courthouse.
“Quite frankly, if it wasn’t for the intervention of Judge Edwards, I think you would have killed her,” Lewis County Superior Court Judge Richard Brosey told Kravetz, referring to Davin. “In my view, Judge Edwards, quite frankly, saved her life. And I think that’s commendable on his part.”
However, the jury found Kravetz not guilty of attempted murder mainly because one juror said he didn’t trust law enforcement and refused to go along with the majority. Rather than face a hung jury, jurors compromised on the conviction.
Edwards, Deputy Court Administrator Rita Zastrow and District Court Clerk Linda Foster were also honored by the state for their roles in saving Davin’s life.
To see full video of the judge’s decision, view the video here: http://youtu.be/4JuegNQwtPI
Debate over the oil trains
Although the state Shorelines Hearings Board revoked the permits for two crude oil export facilities at the Port of Grays Harbor, both applicants — Imperium Renewables and Westway Terminals — have said they would re-apply. Opponents of the facilities won their initial appeal with questions now in place as to whether an extensive Environmental Impact Statement is needed to complete the proposals. That’s the next likely legal battle. There’s also a third proposal by U.S. Development that has not yet been finalized. Meantime, more and more community members have raised questions about the proposals. Elma city officials have concerns that their town could be cut in half by a railroad. Residents in Montesano joined by County Commissioner Frank Gordon raised questions about the condition of nearby Devonshire Bridge. Aberdeen officials have been working on access issues to Olympic Gateway Mall. Plus, there’s the environmental ramifications on what would happen if an oil spill were to happen on the Harbor. Ron Figlar-Barnes made it the central issue of his campaign to unseat incumbent Port Commissioner Chuck Caldwell, but Caldwell came out with 70 percent of the vote to win the election.
The murder of 2-year-old Chayson Colley
A 19-year-old in Tacoma was convicted of the savage murder and rape of 2-year-old Chayson Colley of McCleary. Jake Musga was sentenced to 50 years to life in prison. Because of the state’s sex offense laws, the state’s Indeterminate Sentence Review Board will decide when, if ever, Musga would qualify for release. At about 4 a.m. on March 30, a 911 caller reported that the defendant was in the lobby of the Commencement Terrace apartment complex in Tacoma holding a badly bruised young boy who was not breathing. A witness called 911. The toddler died later that night with a blood alcohol level of at least .11 — nearly one and a half times the legal limit for an adult. Before moving to Tacoma, Chayson was living at the home of his grandparents in McCleary. Other members of the family live in Elma.
Mobile home murderer
Despite a plea for mercy from convicted murderer Eugene V. Elkins, Grays Harbor Superior Court Judge Gordon Godfrey sentenced Elkins to the maximum sentence he was allowed to under law and then told him he wished he could do more.
“The bad news with this job is they won’t let me do what I want to do,” Godfrey said.
Eugene V. Elkins was sentenced to 19 1/2 years in prison in May for the savage, brutal beating that led to the death of his girlfriend, Kornelia Englemann, in the summer of 2012 at their mobile home on Clemons Road near Montesano. A jury convicted Elkins of the crime of second degree murder.
“This was a brutal beating to say the least,” Deputy Prosecutor Katie Svoboda said. “When the pathologist is able to remove the quantity of blood that was removed when she did from Ms. Engelmann and it almost totals what you would expect to find in the human body, it’s clear the severity of the injury.”
To see full video of the judge’s decision, view the video here: http://youtu.be/bxh51N1T1Rw
Potential steel manufacturer coming to McCleary
A potential manufacturer of steel pipes purchased seven parcels in McCleary making up 350.7 acres were sold to Bellevue-based USA Investment Group LLC for a combined $2.695 million. The large swath of land could take up as much as a quarter of all the land within the McCleary city limits. Public records turned over to The Vidette say that the firm has a “sister plant” in China and could build a new facility with several buildings up to five stories high. The company is called Halo Steel Pipe Co., LLC. In a press release on Jan. 15, a Bellevue law firm for USA Investment Group LLC announced the company would invest $200 million into a new steel pipe manufacturing facility with the possibility of creating hundreds of new jobs. The company’s press release states they want to “be operational in late 2014.” However, no dirt on the site has been turned and not much activity has been seen on the site since the initial announcement.
Double digit unemployment continues for sixth year
Grays Harbor County has continued to deal with double digit unemployment since 2008 and 2013 was no different. The highest unemployment was recorded at 13.6 percent in January and February. The lowest came in September with 10.4 percent. In September, BMT Northwest announced it would lay off its 47 employees at Satsop Business Park. Briggs Nursery near Elma also announced they would lay off 75 employees. The good news with Briggs, however, is that a court-appointed receiver was able to find a buyer for the business to keep some people employed. The Port of Grays Harbor also took over the NewWood facility at Satsop Business Park and hope to find someone to operate the facility there.
Ambulance service for Fire District 12, new ambulances for Fire District 5
Voters in Fire District 12 approved a property tax hike to continue to provide ambulance service for their region. Without it, there remained a big question as to what would happen if someone calls 911 in a medical emergency and unclear answers as to who would actually respond. Meantime, in November, voters in Fire Distrtict 5 approved a property tax hike to pay for two brand new ambulances. Both East County fire districts had grappled with repeated bond and levy failures over the years.