Politics from the Palouse to Puget Sound

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

The Top Ten Pullman News Stories of 2005, Part One

2005 was the long season of our discontent. All things considered, Pullman residents should be happy to see it torn off the calendar. The year began and ended with contentious and divisive debate over the future of our city, with unwanted negative national attention focused on WSU, protests, petitions, cries about "sprawl", press conferences, repression of free speech and artistic expression on campus, investigations, appeals, lawsuits, "heckler's vetoes", searches for "lost" cemeteries, SEPA comments, "dispositions", ideological litmus tests, name calling, dueling letters to the editor, city budget troubles, negative political campaigns and tragedy in between. And believe it or not, it was even worse over in Moscow. But thank goodness our economy is still going strong and our kids gave us some respite from all the bad news.

Over the next couple of days, I'm going to be counting what I saw as the Top Ten Pullman News Stories of 2005. Today, #10-#6:

10. "Racism" at WSU
A female Korean-American WSU student filed charges of racial harrassment in February against two male basketball players after they performed an attention-getting dance she found offensive. The two were exonerated following an investigation by the Office of Student Conduct. This led to inflammatory fliers being distributed around campus, heckling at a basketball game, and a raucous march on President V. Lane Rawlins' office that ended with students pounding on the locked door. The Washington State Human Rights Commission investigated the incident and concluded that it showed "...an undergraduate penchant for revolutionary drama more than anything else..." The report went further in its indictment of the protesters, "Some students and apparently some of their mentors ... acted in fairly extreme fashion, sometimes with a significant failure of civility..."
9. Double Murder-Suicide
Tragedy struck normally safe and quiet Pullman on December 10 as Pullman single mother of two Louissa Thompson and former WSU honor student Peter Zornes were found dead along with convicted rapist Trevor Saunders in a double murder-suicide. Pullman police reported that Thompson had been dating Saunders and wanted to break off the relationship. Saunders then began exhibiting stalking type behavior. ShopKo co-worker Zornes escorted Thompson home after work, where they were both shot in the head by Saunders, who then turned the gun on himself. Ironically, the same condominium complex, The Statesman, was the scene of Pullman's last murder back in 1996.
8. Building Boom
The white-hot Pullman real estate market got even hotter in 2005, which saw a record number of building permits issued. Population growth continues to outpace both the state and national average at 1.3% per year. The building boom should continue into 2006 as several new subdivisions had plats approved in the last few months of 2005. For all the activity, however, there is still a lack of affordable housing in Pullman. The average new home price, based on the building permits, was around $191,000
7. Budget Woes
The twin albatrosses of I-695 and I-747 came home to roost in 2005. Despite a record year for building construction, the city struggled finding enough tax revenue to balance its 2006 budget as required by law. No services will be cut, but there will be no growth and the reserve fund had to be tapped for almost three-quarters of a million dollars. Both the Pullman Fire and Police departments did not get all the funding they requested. Finance Director Troy Woo said back in July that the city's reserve fund would be drained within three years at the current pace. Mayor Glenn Johnson and City Administrator John Sherman called for increased retail growth to cover the revenue shortfalls. This revenue crisis was a major issue in both thr Ciy Council election and the debate over Wal-Mart.
6. City Council Election
The Pullman Alliance for Responsible Development turned the 2005 City Council election into a referendum on the proposed Wal-Mart Supercenter by running candidates Gary Johnson and Judy Krueger against incumbents Bill Paul and Ann Heath. As a result, the two contested council races were the most contentious in recent memory. On November 8, voters in Wards 1 and 3 returned Paul and Heath to office by resounding double-digit margins, refuting PARD's claim that the majority of Pullman citizens were opposed to Wal-Mart. WSU student and political newcomer Joshua Coke had a very respectable showing in the Ward 1 council race. Al Sorensen took over for departing Sue Hinz and Barney Waldrop was reelected in the two other unopposed council races.

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