Big issues in 2013: Boeing union, trial, pot and more

A strike brewing for Boeing. Turmoil in Olympia. A high-profile, death-penalty trial for an inmate accused of killing a corrections officer.

Major news is on the horizon for 2013.

Just as Boeing begins to settle its problems with building the 787, the biggest employer in Snohomish County faces a new challenge: a potential strike from its engineers and technical workers.

In the capital, new Gov. Jay Inslee will face in January the prospect of a divided government — a coalition of Republicans and conservative Democrats are seizing control of the Senate while the House remains firmly in Democratic control. He’ll need to work with both chambers to come up with billions needed to fund education.

Closer to home, hundreds of jurors are expected to be called in the trial of Byron Scherf, accused of killing Monroe corrections officer Jayme Biendl in 2011 at her post in the prison’s chapel.

And there’s more. Questions still need to be answered about Snohomish County Executive Aaron Reardon, who is being investigated by the state Public Disclosure Commission for using county staff and offices for political campaigning.

A controversial school administration building for the Everett School District is expected to open. A resolution could emerge in the long-standing fight over whether airlines will use Paine Field for regular commercial service.

And the state might become the largest legal producer and retailer of marijuana in the world.

Here are seven big news events expected to make headlines this coming year:

1. A Boeing strike looms

The county’s aerospace industry, which has been on overdrive the past few years, could come to a screeching halt if the union representing 23,000 Boeing Co. engineers and technical workers goes on strike.

Members of Society of Professional Engineering Employees in Aerospace overwhelmingly rejected the company’s contract offer in October. Negotiations between the union and Boeing have been in a downward spiral since then. In early December, a federal mediator suggested the two take a month-long break from negotiations to cool down.

But SPEEA leaders are gearing up for a strike by training picket captains, ordering supplies and preparing members for a potential work stoppage. The last time the engineers and technical workers went on strike, in 2000, Boeing delivered 50 fewer jets that year. A lengthy strike could affect other aerospace suppliers in the county as well local businesses such as restaurants, bars and retailers.

SPEEA and Boeing are scheduled to resume contract talks Jan. 9.

2. New governor, divided government

When state lawmakers arrive in Olympia for the 2013 session they’ll find a new governor, a new alliance in the state Senate and an old problem with the budget.

They’ll also face pressure to come up with more resources for public schools and new money for fixing roads.

Democrat Jay Inslee, a former congressman, is moving into the governor’s mansion. His inaugural speech Jan. 16 will be an opportunity to lay out his goals for the upcoming 105-day legislative session and paint a vision for his administration’s first term.

When Inslee takes office, he’ll be dealing with a Democratic majority in the House and a coalition in the Senate comprised of all 23 Republicans and two Democrats led by Sen. Rodney Tom, D-Medina.

Leaders of this alliance vow to focus on two goals championed by Inslee on the campaign trail — reforming the way state government runs and writing a balanced budget without new taxes,

Inslee and the Senate coalition will be severely tested to keep their respective no-new-taxes pledges because right now there is a predicted shortfall of $900 million in the next two-year budget.

As they work to plug the gap, the governor and lawmakers are under order of the state Supreme Court to amply fund public schools. Complying will require billions of additional dollars to pay the full freight of all-day kindergarten, smaller class sizes, school bus service and the materials and supplies needed in classrooms.

3. Trial in the Jayme Biendl slaying

The trial of a prison inmate accused of killing Monroe corrections officer Jayme Biendl in 2011 is scheduled to begin at the end of March.

Hundreds of people could be called as potential jurors in the death penalty case against Byron Scherf.

Dozens of witnesses are expected to testify, including the detectives who obtained a confession from Scherf during a series of interviews after he was moved from the prison to the Snohomish County Jail.

Scherf, a rapist who is serving a life sentence without the chance of release, is accused of killing Biendl inside the prison chapel at the Washington State Reformatory. Biendl, 34, worked alone at her post inside the chapel.

Scherf told investigators that Biendl said something disrespectful about his wife. He allegedly ambushed the Granite Falls woman after all the other inmates had left the chapel. Biendl fought off the much-larger inmate until he allegedly was able to wrap an amplifier cord around her neck.

Other corrections officers found Biendl’s body two hours after Scherf was discovered sitting outside the chapel.

Meanwhile, the second annual Jayme Biendl Memorial Run is planned for Jan. 27 at Sky River Park in Monroe. Proceeds benefit the Behind the Badge Foundation. To register or for more information, go to the city of Monroe’s website at

4. Reardon faces fresh questions

Snohomish County Executive Aaron Reardon’s political career remains in freefall, with 2013 promising continued scrutiny of his campaign practices in the form of a state investigation and a potential recall effort.

Reardon in June avoided criminal charges after a Washington State Patrol probe into allegations that the married county executive improperly spent taxpayer money on a mistress who accompanied him on county business trips.

As an outgrowth of the State Patrol investigation, the state Public Disclosure Commission is looking into evidence that Reardon used county staff and offices for political fundraising and other campaign activity, something forbidden under state election law.

The investigation by election watchdogs benefits from nearly 14,000 pages of reports and supporting documents gathered by patrol detectives. Island County Prosecutor Greg Banks forwarded that information to the PDC. He did so after deciding there was insufficient information to pursue a criminal case against Reardon for his extramarital travel, much of which occurred years earlier. Banks made a point of saying he didn’t condone Reardon’s conduct.

Documents show the PDC is investigating Reardon’s interactions with a campaign fundraising consultant. State regulators also have sought records regarding a low-level executive’s office staffer who spent considerable time in 2011 digging up information later used in Reardon campaign hit pieces.

Meanwhile, a Gold Bar attorney who runs a political blog has been attempting to start a recall effort against Reardon. A judge in early December decided to put that process on hold until the PDC reaches a decision about Reardon.

Beyond the executive’s office, 2013 promises to reveal big political changes on the Snohomish County Council. Two of the five council members are term-limited in 2013, meaning their seats are up for grabs by year’s end. A third council colleague is up for re-election.

Democrat Dave Gossett of Mountlake Terrace and Republican John Koster of Arlington will have completed their third four-year term, the maximum allowed. Democrat Dave Somers, of Monroe, is in his second consecutive term and is eligible to run for a third.

5. Controversial Everett school’s administration building to open

The Everett School District’s new administration building is expected to open, in phases, beginning in October and continuing through November.

The 66,365-square-foot building is on the corner of Broadway and 41st Street SE, adjacent to the Everett AquaSox baseball field.

The basic construction is expected to cost $16.96 million. The total amount will be higher; sales tax, inspections, furniture and equipment, design fees and change orders are expected to increase the price to $23.8 million.

The issue of whether to approve a new administration building had been discussed and debated on and off for more than two decades. A 4-1 majority of the Everett School Board approved the construction in summer 2011.

While some supported replacing the two older administration buildings, others at the time objected to building administrative offices at a time of budget cuts and while other needs at schools around the district were unmet.

6. Fight continues over Paine Field

The long-running battle over whether passenger jets should fly regularly from Paine Field could reach some resolution in 2013.

Two airlines, Allegiant Air of Las Vegas and Horizon Air of Seattle, early in December received the blessing of the federal government to provide service from the Snohomish County-owned airport. Both airlines expressed interest in 2008 in flying from Paine Field.

After a three-year study, the Federal Aviation Administration concluded that 23 flights per day between the two airlines by 2018 would not significantly add to noise, auto traffic or pollution in neighboring communities.

The city of Mukilteo, however, plans to fight that determination in federal court. The city and other opponents contend that the study did not consider the potential effect of more flights in the future, and have called for a more thorough environmental review.

Snohomish County now must address the task of building a small terminal for the flights. A study of issues related to a terminal is expected to be done about mid-year.

While some elected officials at the county have opposed passenger service, the county can’t refuse the flights without risking millions of federal dollars it receives for airport maintenance and improvement projects.

7. Washington gets into the pot business — possibly

New rules for anyone who would like to legally grow marijuana are expected to be completed by the Washington State Liquor Control Board by mid-year.

This is the first step in setting up a statewide marijuana production system that will regulate and tax growers, processers and retailers. Stores selling marijuana could open in Washington in early 2014.

Public hearings will be scheduled in both Western and Eastern Washington on the rules for growers, followed by a similar process for regulating processors and retailers.

Voters approved an initiative in November allowing anyone 21 and older to possess up to an ounce of recreational marijuana, a move that ends long-standing state laws that make possession of marijuana a crime.

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