Top stories of 2009

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Boys & Girls Clubs survives ups and downs
The year started the same way as it ended for the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Olympic Peninsula — short of cash.
The club started 2009 with a budget shortfall and saw donations down by tens-of-thousands of dollars at its biggest fundraisers, the annual auction and Campaign for Kids.
Volunteers and the board of directors determined it no longer was economically feasible to recycle aluminum cans with declining metal resale prices.
Sequim’s city council debated funding and eventually approved $60,000 for the Teen Club.  
Executive director Bob Schilling answered Sequim Gazette questions on the clubs’ recent $100,000 line of credit with First Federal, the Port Angeles club and various “what if” scenarios.  Schilling said the clubs’ 2010 budget is below $1 million, the lowest it’s been since he started.
As of Jan. 5, no staff positions or hours had been cut and the clubs will remain open as regularly scheduled.
The Sequim Boys & Girls Club can be reached at 683-8095 and visited at 400 W. Fir St.

Bug worries peninsula to health
H1N1, the swine flu, worried people on the peninsula and across the country.
Initial outbreaks in the spring brought awareness cam-paigns on how to avoid the flu.
People relearned proper hand washing and sneeze guard techniques and were encouraged to stay home from work and school if sick or near someone who was sick.
Vaccinations were offered through shot or nasal spray but in limited supply until Dec. 14, when the federal government lifted restrictions on who could receive them.
Those most susceptible to H1N1 are 6 months to 24 years old; those with chronic conditions ages 25-64; pregnant women; health care and emergency personnel; and those who live or work with children younger than 6 months. Those older than 65 seem to have residual immunity because of a 1957-1958 pandemic.
Three people died of H1N1 in Clallam County and more than 10,000 people nationally. Dr. Tom Locke, Clallam and Jefferson counties’ health officer, said 21,500 residents have received H1N1 vaccinations, about 30 percent of the local population. He wants half the population to be vaccinated before a potential third wave of H1N1 hits at the peak of flu season.  
More information can be found at, and

First Death with Dignity
Sequim’s Linda Fleming was the first to die under Washington’s “Death with Dignity” act by using prescribed drugs on May 21.
The Washington Death with Dignity Act, Initiative 1000, was approved by 57 percent of voters in November 2008. It allows terminally ill adults in unbearable pain who seek to end their lives to request lethal doses of medication from medical and osteopathic physicians.
Fleming, who had Stage IV pancreatic cancer, wrote before her death that “the pain became unbearable and it was only going to get worse.”
She developed abdominal pain in late March, received the cancer diagnosis April 24 and had less than six months to live.
“She experienced a peaceful death,” said Robb Miller, executive director of Compassion & Choices, Seattle-based group that advocates assisted suicide.
Since the law was enacted, 60 people have requested lethal medications, and 39 have used them to die.

Sequim Food Bank wins some and loses some
Sequim Food Bank saw its usage go up but lost co-founders Bill and Nina Fatherson and some longtime volunteers in the process.
On Halloween, Nina Fatherson resigned as food bank executive director saying in a letter to the food bank’s board of directors that board president Stephen Rosales made her and others’ jobs “almost impossible and certainly unbearable.”  
This came more than eight months after Rosales helped rename the food bank’s main building after the couple.
Fatherson said her decision had built up over time due to changes in the board and policies that were difficult for her.
The directors and Rosales voted to open the facility for a third day, one night a week, to accommodate users. Later, it switched to Saturday mornings.  
Rosales said he hopes to have a new executive director hired by spring.
For inquiries on the position or receiving or donating food, the Sequim Food Bank is open 9 a.m.-noon Monday, Friday and Saturday, and can be reached at 683-1205 or 461-6038.

City manager finally hired after misstep
The city manager position that had been open since Bill Elliott was fired in May 2008 finally was filled but not without some fits and starts.
Police Chief Robert Spinks served as interim city manager from Elliott’s firing until Linda Herzog, a former interim city manager at Mercer Island and Renton, was hired in December 2008.
In August, the council voted to hire Vernon Stoner of Olympia, former deputy director to state Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler. Then sexual harassment allegations arose against Stoner, and the offer was withdrawn.
The council unanimously selected Steve Burkett of San Jose Calif., who began work on Oct. 19. He had held city manager positions in Oregon, Colorado and Florida as well as the Seattle suburb of Shoreline.

Hood Canal bridge reopens after almost 5 weeks
Sequim survived the almost five-week Hood Canal bridge closure in May and June although businesses were overjoyed when traffic began flowing again across the 1.5-mile span.
The bridge between Jefferson and Kitsap counties closed May 1 so transition spans and roadway-topped pontoons for the 47-year-old span’s east half could be replaced. The $471 million project included trusses that are 30 feet wider, allowing expansion to four lanes in the future.
The final stage of pontoon installation was completed
June 3 and the bridge reopened that night, more than a week ahead of schedule.
After the bridge reopened, upgrading the west half’s mechanical and electrical systems required nighttime closures and test openings into January 2010.

2009 elections continue trend from 2007
The changing of the guard that began with the 2007 election continued in 2009 with the departure of longtime councilors Paul McHugh and Walt Schubert. Incumbent Bill Huizinga, who ran unopposed, was re-elected.
McHugh announced in May he would not run for re-election because he felt he’d done enough public service and had other things he wanted to do.
He was elected to the council in 2001 and 2005, running unopposed both times.
McHugh’s council seat was taken by former planning commissioner and councilor Don Hall, who defeated planning commissioner Mike East.
Schubert was unseated by planning commissioner Ted Miller. He had served 10 years on the council, including as mayor from 2002-2007.
After the election, Schubert announced he was stepping out of public life.
Miller and Hall will take office at the Jan. 11 council meeting, which is projected to usher in calmer times since the election of Laura Dubois, Ken Hays, Erik Erichsen and Susan Lorenzen.
Sequim voters also approved a 10-year two-tenths of
1-percent sales tax increase for the Transportation Benefit District.
It is projected to yield $600,000 annually to fix the city’s streets and sidewalks with an estimated two-thirds coming from non-Sequim residents.

Engre Brown sentenced for vehicular homicide
Engre Brown pleaded guilty May 20 to vehicular homicide for the death of 25-year-old Benjamin Merscher of Sequim. The agreement was reached after prosecutor Deb Kelly withdrew a first-degree murder charge because key evidence was excluded by Clallam County Superior Court Judge Ken Williams.
Brown will serve an exceptional sentence of 12 years in prison.
As part of the agreement, the 28-year-old Brown admitted complete responsibility for her actions in the early morning of Oct. 7, 2008, when Merscher died in a head-on collision at U.S. Highway 101 and Kitchen-Dick Road.
In district court, Brown also had her deferred DUI prosecution revoked. She was sentenced to 365 days in jail with 95 days suspended to run concurrently with her vehicular homicide sentence.
“Gentle Ben,” as he was known by family and friends, was the oldest of three children. Mitzi Sanders, Ben’s mother, told Brown in Clallam County Superior Court she never will be the same after her son’s death.

With economy, education takes a hit
Financial woes hit organizations across the Olympic Peninsula, particularly the Sequim School District and North Olympic Library System.
With an $8 billion shortfall at the state level, Sequim’s
schools were forced in May to approve a budget that trimmed about $1.4 million from its programs, included staff cuts, a hiring freeze, few upgrades in curriculum and technology, and other cost-cutting measures.
Some federal funding has helped the district restore some staffers and programs, but with federal stimulus dollars going away in the near future, the school board voted to ask for more local support with the district’s next maintenance and operations levy proposal; voting on it will end Feb. 9.
North Olympic Library System trustees passed a budget expected to be about $175,000 less than the previous year. Library employees voted to take one-week furloughs (and close library branches), once in the spring and once in the fall, to soften the blow.

SHS football team makes its mark
For the first time in its 95-year history, Sequim High School’s football squad ran onto a field at the state tournament game and walked away the winning team.
Ending a five-year stretch of postseason heartbreak, the Wolves ran away with the Olympic/Nisqually League championship, then posted a thrilling, 34-32 win against Burlington-Edison.
The win marked a high point in the popular sport’s history; the team had been to the state tourney just once (1978) before the 2004 campaign.

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