The top 10 of 2013

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Clockwise from top left: Ken LeDuc is sworn in as a new Keizer City Councilor in January, a seat he would relinquish in May; John Teague is sworn in as the new police chief in September; Peter Zielinski walks past his late wife Lisa's parents after being sentenced to life in prison for Lisa's 2011 murder; designer Jane Lewis Holman presents the play structure design. (KEIZERTIMES/File photos)

Clockwise from top left: Ken LeDuc is sworn in as a new Keizer City Councilor in January, a seat he would relinquish in May; John Teague is sworn in as the new police chief in September; Peter Zielinski walks past his late wife Lisa’s parents after being sentenced to life in prison for Lisa’s 2011 murder; designer Jane Lewis Holman presents the play structure design. (KEIZERTIMES/File photos)

By CRAIG MURPHY
Of the Keizertimes

Keizer was a busy place in 2013.

The year started with three new members of the Keizer City Council being sworn in and ended with a large play structure project moving forward at full speed, as plans to secure long-term financing for parks were stopped cold.

Below is a list of the top 10 news stories in Keizer from 2013, as chosen by the Keizertimes staff, in random order.

 

Ken LeDuc on council, then off

When the year started, three new members joined the Keizer City Council: Ken LeDuc, Marlene Quinn and former mayor Dennis Koho.

LeDuc’s time in office didn’t last long. During a budget committee meeting May 9, LeDuc and Koho got into a heated argument. LeDuc’s son joined the audience at one point, prompting a discussion in the lobby between father and son. After the meeting, when asked by the Keizertimes to confirm that had been his son in the audience, LeDuc responded, “I don’t know.”

The next day, LeDuc abruptly resigned from the council.

“To the Keizer city government, I resign my elected position on the Keizer City Council effective immediately,” LeDuc wrote.

That incident followed one from earlier in the year, in which LeDuc was alleged to have yelled at an Eagle Scout parent. LeDuc denied the accusation, but the incident led councilors to form a committee for self-policing purposes.

Kim Freeman was selected to fill LeDuc’s vacated seat in June.

See related story for an update on LeDuc.

 

Zielinski admits guilt, sent to prison

The saga of Lisa Zielinski’s January 2011 death continued, as husband Peter Zielinski’s murder trial was delayed to March. It was then postponed to September before being postponed yet again to November.

As jury selection was ready to begin in November, Peter Zielinski surprised many by admitting his guilt, thus making the trial a moot point. Prior to being sentenced to life in prison with a minimum of 25 years before parole, Peter got an earful from Lisa’s family members.

Among the most powerful words came from Rhonda Tupper, Lisa’s brokenhearted mom.

“Pete, you are an unspeakable monster,” Rhonda said. “For your act of extreme cowardice, we will always despise you.”

Pete briefly addressed the family before being led out of the room in cuffs.

“I don’t know what I can say,” he said. “I’ve taken something from everyone here. It’s been lost and can never be replaced. No words I could say can ever reconcile that. I expect no forgiveness. Nobody can forgive my sin. But I want you to know, from the depths of my soul, I truly am sorry. You embraced me as one of your own and I betrayed you. You have every right to be angry.”

 

Teague returns to take over as police chief

Early in the year, veteran police chief Marc Adams announced plans to retire in early 2014. The timeline got moved up a couple of times. Adams officially retired at the end of May, though he stayed on through August.

Captain Jeff Kuhns was one of five finalists to replace Adams, but the job instead went to former Keizer Police Department captain John Teague, who left for Dallas to take over as police chief there in 2009.

After previously serving in Keizer for 20 years, Teague returned to the city in September. He reorganized the organizational chart and made some promotions in job titles, including naming Kuhns deputy chief.

 

Community build play structure moves forward

A big project throughout the year was plans for a large community build play structure at Keizer Rapids Park. The idea was first brought to the Keizer Parks and Recreation Advisory Board by Keizer citizen Will Stitt in December 2012.

As 2013 unfolded, options continued to be discussed and seed money – in the form of System Development Charges – was secured, which helped pay for New York-based Leather and Associates to come aboard as project consultant.

More than 3,000 elementary students in Keizer submitted ideas of what they wanted to see in the play structure, with the project designer unveiling the drawing at a Nov. 14 event that brought nearly 400 people to Keizer Civic Center.

Various committees will continue to meet in 2014, with the actual construction taking place during a five-day span in September.

 

Fire levy passes comfortably

The Keizer Fire District sent the most expensive of four levy options to voters in November and came away with a new five-year levy.

During the summer, members of the Keizer Fire Board recommended raising the current levy of $.35 per $1,000 in assessed value to $.59 per $1,000 and using the extra revenue to provide full-time staffing for a second ambulance and to pay for 9-1-1 dispatch services.

While there was some concern about how voters would react to the increase, those fears didn’t come to fruition as more than 58 percent of those casting ballots for the Nov. 5 ballot measure approved it.

“We’re delighted by the results and the positive response we’ve had from the Keizer community,” Keizer fire chief Jeff Cowan said after results came in. “We asked for what we needed and the community responded. We take it as an endorsement that the community believes in the work we’re doing. Tonight we celebrate. Tomorrow we roll up our sleeves and get to work.”

 

Growth at Keizer Station continues

Keizer Station continues to gain momentum, with more on the way in 2014.

In July, an Outback Steakhouse – the first “sit-down” or full-service restaurant in Keizer Station – opened to much fanfare. Company officials called the opening week one of the best in the company’s history.

In October, it was announced outdoor clothing store REI would be opening in the former Circuit City building, which had been vacated in March 2009 and used most recently as the Futsal Center by the Keizer Soccer Club.

REI is expected to open in the spring of 2014.

Another new store, LOFT, opened in Keizer Station in September.

 

New clinics coming to Keizer in 2014

It’s not just more shopping coming to Keizer Station. In June, it was announced Kaiser Permanente will be opening a 20,000 square foot clinic in Keizer Station in late 2014 or early 2015.

“To have that available in this city is huge,” mayor Lore Christopher said. “Our location is so darn good, in a short time it will be a heavily used clinic. It will draw from all directions, since it will be so much easier to get to.”

Before that, a Silverton Health clinic will be opening on Inland Shores Way NE. Ground for the 10,000 square foot clinic was broken in July, at which time CEO Rick Cagen announced the clinic would be opening at the start of January 2014.

The timing was close: the clinic is actually set to open on Feb. 1.

 

Keizer Sunday Market opens

The Keizer Sunday Market debuted in June in Chalmers Jones Park behind Keizer Civic Center. The market ran each weekend from June 2 through late August.

The market initially had 60 vendors signed up to participate, but the most vendors for a week was 27. By the end, there were 15 vendors.

Despite the relatively low turnout, market director Tina Schneider pledged the market would return in 2014, likely in a different location.

“It just wasn’t visible,” Schneider said of the spot behind city hall. “We could have gotten more participation from the community and vendors if, say, we were at a more visible location on River Road. That’s the direction our long-range planning commission will have. We do have some ideas.”

 

KLL Park battle, vandalism

The Keizer Little League (KLL) Park was a constant source of conversation throughout the year – mostly for what happened off the field.

In February, leaders of the KLL and the Keizer Youth Sports Association (KYSA) – a group formed after a split with KLL several years earlier – presented a list of upgrades and repairs needed at KLL Park to the Parks Board. The $510,000 price tag sparked plenty of debate and discussion.

The park was in the news again in October after extensive vandalism damage was found. Kurt Barker, president of KYSA, reached an agreement with parents of the four guilty teens to help pay for repairs.

In November, a committee recommended the management of KLL Park be given back to KLL. That angered Barker.

“In the future, I would ask there be steps to take to make sure a person (on the committee) is not biased,” Barker said during a Parks Board meeting in November.

The Keizer City Council was set to award the contract Dec. 16, but the issue was pushed back to the first meeting of 2014.

 

Long-term funding options discussed for parks

Members of the Keizer Parks and Recreation Advisory Board spent months discussing options for securing more permanent long-term funding for the parks system.

Members talked in general terms of possibly adding a $2 fee on water bills, which would create more than $300,000 in new annual funding for capital improvements, maintenance and recreation programs at the city’s 18 parks.

After various funding mechanisms were deliberated, it was agreed to have a public hearing in February 2014, allowing citizens the chance to say what improvements – if any – they would like to see in their parks. The idea was to take those ideas, incorporate them into a recommendation to be sent to the city council and – if approved at that level – send the issue to voters next fall.

However, council did not approve of the plan. Koho expressed concern in a series of e-mails and last week Christopher made it clear councilors would not approve the idea. She strongly recommended the topic be tabled until after the completion of the community build play structure.

 

There were other stories worth mentioning, including:

• Michael Dietrich was arrested for making his counterfeit currency in his Keizer home. While the front door of his home was being watched by police, Dietrich snuck in through the back door and proceeded to destroy evidence.

• When the year started, the organization 25 fields for Oregon was getting support for a soccer field facility in the Keizer area. Organization leaders were largely out of the public eye in the second half of the year while working with legislators.

• A renovation of Chemawa Road North from River Road west to Keizer Rapids Park was finally started, but a delay in utilities being moved led to delays in the project.

• There continued to be heated discussion about the proposed roundabout at Chemawa Road and Verda Lane. Bidding was set to take place in January 2014, with the project to be completed in the summer. Those plans were pushed back, with bidding now set for late 2014.

• The Keizer Transit Center opened in July, which also led in bus service being restored to the nearby Gubser neighborhood for the first time since 2009. A vocal group of neighbors were upset and said they weren’t notified.

• Amid concerns about finances and bankruptcy, the city’s only hotel, Renaissance Inn, was sold to a new group in June.

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