You have to say this about 2016: It won’t be easily forgotten.
Tragedy and triumph dominated the news domestically and internationally, from the destruction of the Syrian city of Aleppo to the Chicago Cubs finally, finally winning the World Series again.
Oh, yeah, and some fellow named Trump got himself elected president.
It was no different closer to home, where the tragic, including the killing of Tacoma police Officer Reginald “Jake” Gutierrez, and the triumphant, including the election of Seattle Mariners great Ken Griffey Jr. to baseball’s Hall of Fame, made headlines.
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With 2017 fast approaching, the editors of The News Tribune looked back and chose the stories they think were the biggest of the past year, 16 for ’16, if you will.
On Nov. 30, the name of Jake Gutierrez was added to an already too-long list: That of Pierce County law enforcement officers “gone but not forgotten.”
Gutierrez, 45, a 17-year veteran of the Tacoma Police Department, was gunned down while responding to a domestic dispute on the city’s East Side. Gutierrez’s assailant later was shot dead by a sheriff’s marksman.
Gutierrez became the sixth Pierce County law enforcement officer fatally shot in the line of duty since 2009.
Nearly 5,000 people, including law enforcement officers from around the nation, attended his funeral at the Tacoma Dome.
“Jake had an inherent desire to serve and help others and a commitment to make a positive influence on the lives of everyone he came into contact with,” Police Chief Don Ramsdell said.
The dark side of viral
The death of a 33-year-old kindergarten teacher illuminated the sometimes dark consequences of viral online stories.
In June, Klara Bowman, who taught at Tacoma’s Larchmont Elementary School, killed herself at a Kent motel.
Bowman’s death came after the story of her being drunk in her classroom went viral, casting her as a pariah and sending her struggle with alcoholism into a downward spiral from which she didn’t recover.
“While her actions meant she could no longer teach for us, she didn’t deserve to be publicly shamed,” Tacoma schools spokesman Dan Voelpel told The News Tribune for an October story on Bowman’s death.
Stan the Man
“Icon” is a word often thrown around loosely in an overhyped media landscape.
But in history of T-town sports, no one comes closer to rising to that description than Stan Naccarato.
Alternately called “Stan the Man” or “Mr. Tacoma,” Naccarato is credited with almost single-handedly saving professional baseball in Tacoma back in the 1970s when its Triple-A franchise was threatened with relocation.
Naccarato, who also crusaded for the construction of the Tacoma Dome and boosted his hometown at every opportunity, died in May. He was 88.
“It saddens me to realize an entire generation of fans has no idea of who he was, or what he meant to keeping pro baseball in Tacoma,” friend and baseball associate Frank Colarusso told The News Tribune. “That’s life — we evolve and move along — but everybody in our community should know that this man was a true icon.”
Methanol plant denied
A three-year effort by a China-backed company to build on Tacoma’s Tideflats what would have been the world’s largest methanol plant ran aground in April, pushed onto the rocks by a wave of public opposition.
Northwest Innovation Works had hoped to build the $5 billion plant, with a promise of 500 new permanent jobs, on the former Kaiser smelter site.
But the plan ran into public opposition, much of which centered on environmental concerns and resource demands, and Northwest Innovation Works abandoned its Tacoma efforts. It now intends to build a plant in Kalama.
“As the process continued, it became increasingly clear the community was frustrated by the lack of answers on important questions,” said Jaime Smith, a spokeswoman for Gov. Jay Inslee. “Jobs matter, but so does our commitment to safety, clean air and clean water.”
Junior! Junior! Junior!
Ken Griffey Jr. won the devotion of Northwest baseball fans with a sweet swing and winning smile.
In July, Griffey was inducted into the baseball Hall of Fame with numbers befitting a once-in-a-generation talent: 630 home runs (sixth all time), 13 All-Star appearances, 10 Gold Gloves, seven Silver Slugger awards and a unanimous American League MVP award in 1997.
He also became the first Hall of Fame inductee whose bronze plaque shows him in a Mariners cap.
“I learned only one team will treat you the best,” The Kid said during his induction speech. “And that’s your first team. I’m (dang) proud to be a Seattle Mariner.”
Troy Kelley’s travails
After a five-week trial, federal jurors in April acquitted state Auditor Troy Kelley of one criminal charge but could not agree on 15 others, resulting in a hung jury on those counts.
Prosecutors had accused Kelley, a Democrat from Tacoma elected in 2012, of illegally pocketing millions of dollars in fees collected by his real estate services business a decade ago.
Kelley maintained his innocence throughout.
His indictment in 2015 marred his first and only term as auditor, and at one point he took a seven-month leave of absence.
Kelley appealed when federal prosecutors moved to re-try him on the felony charges on which the jury deadlocked.
A federal appeals court ruled this month that case could move forward. A retrial could come in spring 2017.
Big transit plan passes
In November, a majority of Pierce County voters rejected the massive transit measure known as Sound Transit 3, but they’ll still get to help pay for, and, ultimately, benefit from the plan.
That’s because voters in the urbanized areas of King and Snohomish counties supported the measure, giving it enough support to pass.
The plan will raise more than $54 billion — half of it from new taxes — to build the so-called “spine” of Sound Transit’s light-rail system, taking lines to Everett, Ballard, West Seattle, Issaquah, Redmond and, by 2030, Tacoma.
Money for the projects will come from increases in the sales and motor-vehicle excise taxes as well as the imposition, for the first time, of a property tax.
Said Tacoma Mayor Marilyn Strickland: “I think this is a game-changer for Tacoma and the South Sound.”
Tainted water in schools
A high-ranking Tacoma Schools employee lost his job after it came to light that he’d failed to act on reports of high lead levels in the water at two elementary schools.
The Tacoma School Board fired Ken Wilson in May. Wilson had worked in the district since 2002 and had served as safety and environmental health manager since 2006.
He came under fire in April after The News Tribune made a public records request for school water-testing records. While compiling those records, year-old reports were uncovered showing “concerning levels of lead” at Reed and Mann elementary schools, according to district records.
“We don’t know if he got them and filed them without reading them, or if he read them and chose not to do anything,” district attorney Shannon McMinimee said in May.
Wilson has appealed his firing. In court records, he contends the reports were buried in follow-up paperwork he received from the testing company.
The district eventually found high lead levels in more than a dozen schools and replaced more than 300 faulty fixtures to address lead-related problems.
Taxes to fix school funding?
Gov. Jay Inslee came to Tacoma earlier this month to drop a bit of a bomb: $4 billion in proposed new taxes to help address the state’s school-funding crisis.
That Inslee was thinking of taxes as a solution was not that big of a surprise, but the size of his proposal left some folks taken aback.
The “tax hikes he wants would go well beyond what is needed to fully fund education,” said state Sen. Ann Rivers, R-La Center.
But Inslee said it was time for the state to act to finally fix its education-funding mess and raise cash for teacher pay: “It’s time to get this done.”
His proposal would place new taxes on carbon emissions and capital gains and increase the business and occupation tax.
The state Supreme Court has declared the state to be in contempt of court for not fully funding K-12 education as required by the state constitution.
Trouble at Western State
While this seems like it could be a top story every year, 2016 was especially troublesome for the state psychiatric hospital in Lakewood.
April was a particularly bad month for Western State Hospital. That’s when two dangerous patients escaped through a window, prompting a statewide manhunt that made national news.
Both later were captured without much fuss, but the episode likely tolled the death knell for Ron Adler’s stint as CEO of the facility.
Inslee fired Adler and appointed Cheryl Strange to run the hospital, which has been under federal review for a variety of violations.
Strange joined a new operations chief, chief medical officer and interim chief nursing officer. Can they get Western State on the straight and narrow in 2017?
A human crisis
The simmering plight of people living without homes or suffering from untreated mental illness boiled over into a hot mess in Pierce County in 2016.
Flashpoints included the battle in Puyallup over the New Hope Resource Center, which has attracted the ire of some residents. City officials have struggled with what to do about the homeless resource program.
The federal Department of Justice waded into that fight earlier this month.
Meanwhile, government officials, law enforcement officers and medical experts bemoaned the human suffering and societal costs of what’s been called a mental-health crisis in the county.
Finding solutions proved difficult and were dealt a serious blow earlier this month when the County Council failed to pass a sales-tax increase that would have provided money for mental health and chemical dependency programs.
“The problem doesn’t go away,” said County Councilman Derek Young, D-Gig Harbor. “This is still a responsibility that we have to provide.”
Fight and win
In early July, the thought of the Seattle Sounders even making the Major League Soccer playoffs seemed fanciful.
The team carried a 5-10-2 record, and its play seemed uninspired and disorganized.
Then a coaching change and the addition of dynamo midfielder Nicolas Lodeiro sparked a run that ended earlier this month with an MLS Cup championship, the franchise’s first.
In the final, the Sounders absorbed a fusillade of shots on goal from favored Toronto, only to be rescued by a brilliant Stefan Frei save and a decisive penalty kick by Roman Torres.
They were rewarded with a parade through Seattle.
“You’ve got to enjoy this for a little bit, and it’s obviously awesome we got one,” star forward Jordan Morris said. “But when next year gets going, we’ve got to push for two. This one will then be in the past.”
Not quite yet, though, Jordan. Not quite yet.
Huskies reign again
With a tough defense, balanced offense and some truly special players, the University of Washington football team made purple cool again in 2016.
The Huskies rolled to a 12-1 record, their first Pac-12 title since 2000 and a spot in the national championship playoffs.
Along the way, they dominated Washington State in the Apple Cup and beat up Colorado in the Pac-12 championship game.
They are underdogs in their New Year’s Eve game against powerhouse Alabama, but regardless of what happens in that contest, the Huskies enjoyed a remarkable season.
“Honestly, we made history so far,” UW player Elijah Qualls said earlier this month.
No argument here.
Broadnax moves on
T.C. Broadnax, Tacoma’s city manager since 2012, decided to take his talents to Dallas.
The City Council in the nation’s third-largest city governed by a manager-council form of government voted earlier this month to hire Broadnax as city manager.
He will take over management of a city with a $3.1 billion budget and 13,000 employees, and get what appears to be a pay raise of about $150,000 annually.
Broadnax, who came to Tacoma from San Antonio, is credited with helping the city get its financial affairs in order during his four years on the job and has been widely praised for his steady hand.
Said Mayor Marilyn Strickland: “He’s very talented. They would not look at T.C. Broadnax if we were not doing good things in this city.”
A search for his replacement is underway.
The race for the White House detoured through Pierce County in March when Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton and her daughter, Chelsea, had campaign events ahead of the state’s caucuses.
Hillary Clinton, a former secretary of state and U.S. senator, met with tribal officials on the Puyallup Indian Reservation, while her daughter spoke twice in Tacoma: First at Bates Technical College’s Advanced Technology Building and then at the Seafarers International Union Office.
“I thought it was amazing we were able to meet a future president,” said Dan Gleason, a Chehalis tribal councilman after meeting with Hillary. “And a female president is going to be amazing.”
But Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders went on to win the state caucuses in a landslide. Hillary Clinton eventually won the Democratic nomination for president but lost the Electoral College vote to Republican Donald Trump.
Speaking of electors, four Democratic Party electors each face $1,000 fines after not casting their votes for Hillary Clinton as required by law after she won the general election vote in Washington.
TCC president ousted
Earlier this month, Shelia Ruhland submitted her resignation as president of Tacoma Community College, just 20 months after taking the job.
Under a deal approved by the school’s Board of Trustees, Ruhland will walk away next month with a $275,000 cash settlement plus pay for her accrued vacation and sick time.
Ruhland’s future at the school began to unravel in November when a majority of the school’s tenured faculty sent a letter highly critical of her leadership to the trustees.
The faculty accused her of racial insensitivity and showing a lack of communication on issues important to staff members and students.
“Dr. Ruhland was saddened to hear those allegations and respectfully but strongly disagrees with them,” her attorney, John R. Wilson, said.
A search for her replacement is underway.