With the start of a new news year, the Record newsroom looked ahead at six storylines to watch in 2012.
New mayor takes over in the Village by the Sea
Don’t expect Langley to leave the headlines in 2012.
The Village by the Sea will stay center stage amid a wholesale changeover at city hall.
Mayor Larry Kwarsick has taken the helm at city hall, and the city will also be served by a city council that boasts only one council member who was on the board two years ago.
Joining Councilwoman Rene Neff on the council are Councilman Hal Seligson, a December 2010 appointee who was elected in November, as well as new appointee Councilman Doug Allderdice, and Councilman J. Bruce Allen and Councilman Jim Sundberg, who were also both elected late last year.
Kwarsick, the city’s former planning director, was sworn into office last week.
Before a standing-room-only crowd of friends, family and well-wishers, Kwarsick vowed to show residents who voted for him — and those who didn’t — that the city was in good hands.
“It’s an honor and a privilege to be the 26th mayor of the city of Langley, a year before its hundredth birthday,” he said.
“I’m fortunate because I’ve come into this office in an uncontested race. It’s nice in some ways, but I realize that I have to basically demonstrate my worthiness and my capability to be the mayor of Langley.
“I certainly fully intend to do that. But not with words, with actions,” Kwarsick told the crowd. “I’m more of an action person, some of you may know, than a words person. Sometimes you’ll have trouble getting words out of me, but not too much trouble getting work or action out of me.”
Despite a lifetime of public service, Kwarsick is entering his first term in elected office. He ran unopposed for mayor, as Paul Samuelson decided against seeking a second term and no other challengers emerged.
Kwarsick pulled in 400 votes on Election Day, though 54 voters in Langley wrote in someone else’s name for mayor on their ballots. Samuelson got 22 write-in votes, while other Langley notables, such as Bob Waterman, Robert Gilman and Mark Wahl, picked up a write-in vote or two here and there.
In his short speech after taking the oath of office, Kwarsick acknowledged he has a bit of work to do at city hall.
“I also know that not everybody supports me. And people have their doubts, maybe even people that support me,” he added.
“People should never doubt my commitment to the city and the community, and for the well-being of the community today and the future. They shouldn’t doubt my passion for good government and efficient government and an open government.”
Kwarsick vowed to improve transparency at city hall, which has been a trouble spot in recent years.
“Government shouldn’t have any secrets, especially a little city government like ours. It should be as open as possible.
“And for sure, if something goes wrong, I’ll make sure that I take responsibility for that. I’ll never look for somebody else to take responsibility,” Kwarsick said.
Justice coming for Russel Douglas
The mystery surrounding the murder of Russel Douglas will unfold in an Island County courtroom later this year.
The basics of the killing are well-known. Authorities have said that James “Jim” Huden gunned down Douglas as he sat in his car near Wahl Road on Dec. 26, 2003, while waiting to pick up a Christmas gift for his estranged wife.
Police arrested Huden last year in Mexico, where Huden had fled while on the run after detectives closed in on him in Florida and questioned him about the murder.
Huden has been charged with first-degree murder. Police also claim Huden’s former girlfriend, Peggy Sue Thomas, helped plan the murder and was instrumental in luring Douglas to the scene of his death.
Authorities haven’t said much about a motive in the case, however. Huden didn’t know Douglas before his death, and their connection comes through Thomas, who worked with Douglas’ wife in her Langley hair salon.
Brenna Douglas, the murder victim’s wife, was investigated as a suspect in the crime. But authorities have been tight-lipped about her status as a suspect.
Huden is currently in the Island County Jail, but Thomas was released on a bail bond late last year.
First up for trial is Huden, with a planned start date of March 13. Thomas is set to stand trial May 1.
Work to start at Langley Marina
The long-awaited makeover of the Langley Marina is expected to start this year.
The Port of South Whidbey’s current plan for improving the marina includes a $2.5 million first phase that would reposition its Bremerton breakwater just outside the existing harbor, a move that will create a protective perimeter for the existing marina while giving tour boats and walk-on ferries a place to moor.
Boat floats will also be installed near the existing boat ramp, and the revised project includes significant environmental clean-up in the harbor area.
While not all permits for the full expansion are expected to be in hand this year, the port expects to get the OK to move ahead with the start of the marina makeover in 2012, and have the expanded facility ready to operate in 2013.
Harbormaster Rick Brewer has said the phase one expansion would add another 400 feet of moorage dock space, which should pan out to 1,250 visits by vessels that are 40 feet or larger. The expansion is expected to bring an additional 3,750 overnight visitors to Langley.
School board looks at what’s next for LMS
The reversed decision to close Langley Middle School will lead to an evaluation of South Whidbey School District’s facilities.
Three years ago, the school board voted 4-1 to shutter LMS. As part of the plan, students were to relocate and combine campuses at the high school.
In December, a mostly new school board voted to rescind that decision, keeping LMS open for the coming school year.
Enrollment has steadily declined in the past 10 years, however. The drop in student population has led to less than full classrooms and declining funding, too. The district will need to examine its programs, facilities and needs before it takes action as how best to accommodate a changing student body.
The future of Freeland sewers
A new majority will take over the board of the Freeland Water & Sewer District this year — and the two new commissioners have promised to scale back the district’s earlier plan for a $40 million sewer system that would be mostly paid for by residential property owners.
District Commissioner Marilynn Abrahamson was sworn in Dec. 20, and she’ll be joined Jan. 9 by Lou Malzone. Both won seats on the three-member board via impressive landslide victories on Nov. 8.
The pair have promised to refocus the controversial sewer proposal on a system that would serve primarily the downtown Freeland area.
But there will also be more immediate problems to resolve, such as how to pay for the thousands of dollars in consultant fees that county officials have refused to cover on the sewer project.
Diking battle goes to ballot
Unhappy property owners in Diking District 1 will also find out, soon, if they can change the direction of the junior taxing district.
Diking District 1 has been beset by lawsuits since diking commissioners approved a controversial $430,000 pump project that was installed in December 2008. Some property owners in the district — which spans 743 acres and includes the neighborhoods of Sunlight Beach, Olympic View and Useless Bay Golf & Country Club — claim the costs of the pump have been unfairly assessed.
Longtime Diking District 1 Commissioner Ray Gabelein is facing a challenge from Thomas Kraft for a seat on the board; the election is set for Feb. 7.
Kraft, a Seattle resident, owns property at Sunlight Beach and is one of the property owners who is currently suing the diking district in Island County Superior Court over assessments that will help pay for the operation of the district.