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Spin Control

Voters to decide mayor’s wage

Spokane voters will get a chance to weigh in on the mayor’s salary next year, but City Council members say a change to the city charter may complicate other potential ballot measures that will seek money for schools and an expanded transit system.

A proposed change to the city’s charter by Councilman Mike Fagan would let the city’s Salary Review Commission set the mayor’s wage. The commission, which determines City Council members pay, currently has five members who are nominated by the mayor and approved by the council.

Fagan’s proposal follows a suggestion by Mayor David Condon last month to give the salary commission power over his pay.

But Fagan said his ordinance is his response to the public forums he led looking in to the issue, which he organized after the city’s budget included a $7,000 raise for the mayor.

The pay increase, which the mayor argued was determined by city law, would have made him one of the best paid mayors in the Pacific Northwest. After public outrage and harsh criticism from the council, the mayor officially rejected the raise and waived “any legal or equitable right now or in the future” to the pay raise that “he is entitled for fiscal year 2015,” according to a document he signed early this month.

On Monday, the City Council stripped the rest of the pay raises for nonunion employees at City Hall, including those for the mayor’s cabinet.

Fagan said he wants the charter change to appear on February's ballot, where it would share the ballot with a $145 million bond measure by Spokane Public Schools.Cheney and Mead school districts also overlap with Spokane’s municipal borders, so voters in those districts would also consider Fagan’s question. Cheney is asking for a $44.8 million bond and Mead is asking for $69.5 million bond.

Council President Ben Stuckart called Fagan’s proposal “a fair idea, ” but said he didn’t support putting it on the ballot with the schools’ proposals.

“I’m not in favor of the timing of it. I’ll be lobbying my fellow council members to delay it till next fall,” he said, adding that the charter change would create “a dynamic that might confuse the school issue.”

The following April ballot could have a ballot measure from the Spokane Transit Authority, which would go to implementing its Moving Forward campaign. The ambitious 10-year, $72 million proposal will be mostly covered by federal funds, but about $12 million would be local tax dollars.

The plan requires voter approval of a 0.3 percent sales tax increase. The STA board will decide Dec. 18 whether to put the issue on the ballot.

Councilman Mike Allen, a liaison for the council on the STA board, said putting Fagan’s proposal on the April ballot might get in the way of STA’s potential proposal. Regardless, it had his backing.

“I support what Mike’s trying to do because it de-politicizes the mayor’s salary, which is exactly what they do with the council’s salary,” he said. 

Harpman Hatter renders Dr. Evil

Rick Bocook, a perennial figure at Spokane City Council meetings, has just a few issues he rails on at City Hall. Freedom for street musicians. The tyranny of the city's sit-lie ordinance. Sidewalk chalk drawings.

Bocook, AKA Harpman Hatter, was in fine form on this last front last night, as he rendered a perfect Dr. Evil - pinky and all - on an issue stemming from an article I wrote last month.

Now, I won't comment on his spelling, or delve into any similarities between Mayor David Condon and the characters from the Austin Powers film series. But I will note that any time anyone says, “One million dollars,” I can definitively say that the phrase rings in my head with the sound of one voice. And I usually have the desire to raise my pinky and an eyebrow.

Sunday Spin 3: Sin taxes roll in

Voters have a way of complicating the state’s revenue forecast by changing the laws on things that provide revenue. After they passed a law abolishing the state’s monopoly on wholesale and retail liquor sales, the state coffers saw a big bump in booze taxes. In theory that was at least partly because distilled spirits were on the shelves of every supermarket, discount house and big-box retailer, making it more handy to grab a bottle without a special trip to a state store.

That novelty may be wearing off. . . 

To read the rest of this item, or to comment, continue inside the blog.

Sunday Spin 2: Other ways to divvy up court

OLYMPIA — Legislators may be asked to split the state into districts to elect the state Supreme Court justices, an idea that got a sometimes friendly, sometimes skeptical hearing Friday before the Senate Law and Justice Committee.

Jason Mercier, of the Center for Government Reform, likes it, saying the different sides of the state have different industries, cultures and perspectives. Democrats on the committee weren’t enthusiastic, with Sen. Jeannie Darnielle of Tacoma saying some people move around so much that you can’t determine their perspective from their current address.

Justice Debra Stephens is the only current member of the court from the Spokane area and the others were working somewhere in Western Washington before getting appointed or elected to the court. But Spokane is better represented than any other area in one respect – Gonzaga University Law School has the most graduates on the court with three. After that, it’s one each from University of Puget Sound, North Carolina, Duke, University of California-Berkeley, USC and Notre Dame. That’s right, none from University of Washington.

Perhaps some Husky will come up with a proposal for the court to have a proportional representation for the number of graduates its Law School turns out?

Sunday Spin: Could he spend money on a new metaphor?

OLYMPIA – Someone please give Senate Republican budget writers a new metaphor for hyperbolic parsimony.

Looking at the state’s less than cheery prospects of matching income to outgo last week, the chief GOP Senate budgeteer deployed the well-worn image of personal thriftiness, the squeezed toothpaste tube.

“I’m the kind of guy who, with toothpaste, I squeeze the tube as empty as I can get it and then I cut it open and scrape out the rest and then I buy a new tube,” Sen. Andy Hill, R-Redmond said. “That’s the way I approach budgeting this year” . . . 

To read the rest of this item, or to comment, continue inside the blog.

Tell me again why Oregon’s ballot system so much better

Why do we have to wait so long for our results? some Washington candidates and campaigns whine every Election Night. Why can’t we be like Oregon?

Washington counts ballots it receives that are postmarked by election day, regardless of when they arrive. Oregon requires them to be in hand on election day; postmark doesn’t count. This is SOOOO much better, some good government groups say, because the vast majority of Oregon ballots are counted election night, while only about a half of Washington's are, and the rest come in and get counted in the succeeding days (and sometimes weeks.)

So it was with amusement that we note a story out of supposed electoral gold-standard Oregon that one of that state’s ballot issues is now in doubt because of some 13,000 ballots recently counted around the state. They’re “challenge” ballots, meaning there’s something wrong, like their signature doesn’t match the one on file.

But in fact they’re still counting in Oregon and the GMO initiative may be headed for a recount. In Washington, we’re still counting, but nothing’s in doubt.

Kristiansen re-elected House GOP leader

OLYMPIA — House Republicans re-elected their top leadership today, returning Dan Kristiansen as their leader for the 2015 session..

Kristiansen, of Snohomish, was named to the job earlier this year after Rep. Richard DeBolt stepped down for health reasons. 

Joel Kretz of Wauconda was re-elected deputy leader, J.T.Wilcox, of Yelm, re-elected floor leader and Paul Harris, of Vancouver, minority whip. Matt Shea of the Spokane Valley was re-elected as one of two assistant whips.

Shelly Short, of Addy, was elected caucus chairwoman, replacing Judy Warnick, of Moses Lake, who was elected to the Senate.

Remote testimony: Split high court into districts

OLYMPIA — A Pasco-based government watchdog made a pitch Friday for district elections to the Supreme Court and two Spokane Valley law enforcement officers told legislators about rising arrest numbers for driving under the influence of marijuana.

That would be fairly normal fare for a Senate Law and Justice Committee hearing except for one thing: The legislators were in Olympia the researcher and the cops were in Spokane, testifying live over the Internet.

The committee was testing a system for remote testimony that chairman Mike Padden, R-Spokane Valley,could be used for many legislative hearings during the 2015 session.

Except for a few audio glitches, which a staff member said was a problem with the Internet not the equipment on either end, the test run went smoothly. . . 

To read the rest of this item, or to comment, continue inside the blog.

Stuckart’s defense wasn’t “convincing” says Ethics chair, but still considers matter closed

Troy Bruner, head of the Spokane's Ethics Committee, said City Council President Ben Stuckart's leak of a confidential email had the ability to hurt the city, but there was no evidence of it doing so.

“Certainly there was a potential for harm to be done to the city,” Bruner said. “We had no evidence that harm was done, so we figured that the penalty should be minimal.”

In a unanimous decision by the committee last night, Stuckart was fined $250 for leaking a confidential email dealing with an open lawsuit. 

Bruner said the matter was closed, but noted the committee will write a “strongly worded statement showing our disapproval of his actions and admonishing him.”

Stuckart, who publicly apologized for his actions, said he regretted forwarding the email. In his defense to the ethics committee, Stuckart said the information in the email was already public knowledge.

Bruner rejected Stuckart’s claims, saying they “weren’t convincing to us.”

“He said the email wasn’t bad because its contents were public knowledge. There was no way for us to know that,” he said. “He said you should be able to dismiss this because there was no harm to the city. We had no way to know if there was harm done to the city.”

Bruner said he was convinced that the matter had been resolved, even though he had an unanswered question.

“One personal observation I have, President Stuckart really wasn’t able to provide a compelling reason why he forwarded the email in the first place. That’s something I still don’t have an answer for,” he said. “But he was apologetic for his behavior and he did affirm that he would not engage with such disclosures in the future.”

Stuckart fined $250 for ethics violation

Spokane City Councilman Ben Stuckart was fined $250 for violating the city's ethics code, but committee members said his action did not financially harm the city.

Stuckart was referred to the committee for leaking what city officials called a “highly confidential email regarding a pending matter of litigation” with a subject line that read: “ATTORNEY-CLIENT PRIVILEGED Appeal Decision.”

The matter was referred to the city’s Ethics Committee earlier this month by City Attorney Nancy Isserlis.

“They decided that, yes, they have jurisdiction,” said Mike Piccolo, a city attorney who advises the City Council and sat in on the ethics committee hearing. “They decided that, yes, if the actions in the referral were determined to be true, they violated the city’s ethics code.”

Piccolo said the committee decided that it was hard to determine if Stuckart's actions caused any monetary harm to the city, so it was difficult to impose any monetary penalties. 

Based on the discussion, Stuckart and the committee agreed to a “stipulation,” which means that by admitting fault, Stuckart could avoid a full-blown committee hearing. The stipulation, however, required a fine, which ended up being determined by Stuckart.

“It took about an hour. They decided I had violated the ethics code, but I hadn’t harmed the city, and they fined me $250,” Stuckart said. “I suggested the $250.”

In her letter to the Ethics Committee, Isserlis said the matter of Stuckart's ethics violation “came to my attention inadvertently” when she was performing an investigation about an alleged city code violation at the request of Don Waller, president of Local 29, the city’s fire union.

During this investigation, she found an email Stuckart had forwarded to Waller written by Erin Jacobson, an attorney with the city. Jacobson’s email dealt with pending litigation against the city by the fire union regarding the mayor’s plan to create departments with a fire division. The mayor’s move would have allowed him to appoint people to positions instead of having them go through a civil service process leading to union-protected jobs.

Jacobson’s email was sent to the mayor and council members.

“Within twenty minutes of receipt of Ms. Jacobson’s email, Council President Stuckart forwarded the email, in its entirety, to Mr. Waller at his personal email address,” Isserlis wrote in her referral. “I believe Mr. Stuckart was aware he was forwarding confidential information to the party opposing the City in pending litigation.”

When the referral was made, Stuckart made a public apology and admitted fault. 

This story is developing. Check back later for updates.

The auto row building saved by compromise

In today's paper, I wrote about the proposed demolition of two historic buildings on Spokane’s storied auto row, part of the conceptual master plan by the Larry H. Miller Group to build a large downtown campus for its auto dealerships.

The buildings to be razed are, without question, historic. The building on the southeast corner of Madison and West Third was built in 1937, and its neighbor at 1023 W. Third Ave, was constructed in 1913. Both meet the 50-year age eligibility requirement for the National Register of Historic Places. But as Megan Duvall, the city's historic preservation officer, said in today's story, the building's aren't really architecturally significant. In other words, they're kind of boring.

The decision to remove the buildings came after Duvall realized she could use a provision in the city’s demolition ordinance allowing for the razing of historic buildings as long as their destruction supported the rehabilitation of an adjacent historic structure.

It's that structure - the International Harvester Company Truck Showroom built in 1929 at 1030 W. Third Ave - that has historic significance as one of the few remaining and unique buildings left on the old automotive row. The row is technically called the West Downtown Transportation Corridor Historic District, and its period of significance stretched from 1890 to 1949. 

The photo at the top of the post shows the Harvester building the year it was completed. Besides how intact the building remains to this day, what's most interesting to my eyes is the huge rock outcropping to the building's east. How'd they get rid of that mountain? Was the rest of downtown marked with similar rocky protuberances, much like how the South Hill remains?

The images below show how the Miller Lexus showroom changed as a result of its dealings with the city and Duvall. Representatives from the company called the compromise to rehabilitate the Harvester building in exchange for demolishing the other two buildings “workable,” but said the process leading to the compromise was “frustrating” because it forced the company to change its designs for a new Lexus showroom.

Instead of obscuring the Harvester building under the metal veneer of a new Lexus showroom, the company now will include the original building in its designs for the showroom. The metal siding has been replaced with limestone and brick in the designs for the new addition.


WA budget forecast: Revenue up, expenses up more

OLYMPIA — Washington legislators will have a bit more money in the coming fiscal years than they expected when they adjourned in March, but not enough to cover the projected costs of current programs.

Increases in the number of school children, Medicaid recipients, along with a proposed raise for state employees, will help drive the cost of current state programs up by about $2.65 billion in 2015-17. And that's before increased spending for court-ordered improvements to public schools, which could be between $1 billion and $2 billion, and smaller class sizes mandated by a voter initiative.

Continued recovery from the recession, which includes lower unemployment plus stronger collections for sales taxes and real estate excise taxes will give the state about $2.9 billion more in revenue in that period than in 2013-15.

For more details, or to comment, continue inside the blog.

House Dems re-elect Chopp speaker

OLYMPIA — House Democrats had their numbers shaved in this month's election but voted today to stick with most of last session's leadership.

Seattle Rep. Frank Chopp was re-elected speaker, a position he has held by himself since 2002, and shared as co-speaker in 1999, 2000 and 2001 when the House was tied between Democrats and Republicans.

Rep. Pat Sullivan of Covington was re-elected majority leader, Eric Pettigrew of Seattle  majority caucus chairman and Kevin Van De Wege of Sequim  majority whip. Kris Lytton of Anacortes was elected majority floor leader to replace Tami Green, who gave up her seat to run unsuccessfully for the state Senate this year. Lytton was formerly an assistant floor leader.

Today’s fun video: Stewart jabs Obama, GOP over immigration comments


If all the fighting over immigration reform has you scratching your head, Jon Stewart won't clear it up so much as show you some of the sillier elements of it.

The four most interesting things I learned in 2014 Spokane County elections

4. Voters at Fairchild Air Force Base support expanded background checks for gun sales – resoundingly.

Initiative 594 won the precinct at Fairchild 72 votes to 38. On the other hand, maybe they don't. Voters there also supported Initiative 591, though not by as much (59 votes to 51)

3. The days of calling the 6th Legislative District a swing district are gone.

When working on an election story recently, I was about to refer to the 6th as a swing district when my colleague, Jim Camden, reminded me that it only really swung for two elections. I might argue that the closeness of some other races besides the 2006 and 2008 cycles when Democrats won seats in the district made it a legitimate swing district longer than that, but his point is accurate; the 6th Legislative District, especially since redistricting, is Republican territory even when Democrats attract a well-known candidate and spend big.

2. Spokane loves its parks and loves its smooth streets even more.

Recent controversies about salaries of Mayor David Condon and other administrators at City Hall made many city leaders worried that voters would turn against the street levy and, especially, the park bond.

But whatever griping you might hear about City Hall, city leaders apparently have earned the trust of voters when it comes to streets and parks. Considering that voters under Mayor John Powers rejected a street tax at a time when streets clearly were in much worse condition, passing the street levy with nearly 78 percent support is a major turnaround. I’m guessing that the voters’ mood reflects that the city kept its promises after voters approved a street tax in 2004 under Mayor Jim West.

Sunday Spin3: More on the gun initiatives

In politics, as in military campaigns, victory has many fathers. That may explain the self-congratulatory press release from supporters of I-594. . . 

To continue reading this item, or to comment, continue inside the blog.

Sunday Spin2: Did the Ayes have too much of it?

Spokane County voters said yes to both gun initiatives, causing some observers on the West Side of the state to scratch their heads on election night. One could reasonably vote no on I-591 and I-594, they opined, but voting yes twice seemed illogical on measures largely in conflict.

Spokane is not alone in passing both measures. Asotin, Clallam, Clark, Pierce and Skagit counties also have said yes to both. In all cases, at least one initiative is ahead by relatively thin margins.

In Spokane, I-591 leads by about 1,800 votes, and I-594 about 8,000 as of Friday’s count. But the precincts where one passed are generally precincts where the other failed. There are a handful of precincts in the northeast city of Spokane’s and the central Spokane Valley where both passed. But some of those tended to be precincts with higher numbers of “undervotes” where at least one measure was left blank.

Some voters may have strong feelings in favor of one, but couldn’t decide on the other. Indecision isn’t the same as being contradictory.

To compare the undervotes with the Spokane County votes on I-591 and I-594, check the PDF documents below.


Sunday Spin: Big majorities are temporary

OLYMPIA – The most ephemeral thing in politics might be big majorities. This should be particularly obvious to Democrats as they look to next year’s Legislature.

Six years ago, Democrats approached the session with 31 of 49 seats in the Senate and 62 of 98 seats in the House. Those were nearly veto-proof majorities if they’d found the need to override any vetoes from Gov. Chris Gregoire, but considering she was a fellow Democrat, that point was mostly moot.

Slowly the Republicans chipped away at those margins, a few seats at a time. . . 

Do you like STA? Hate mass transit? Take this survey

The Spokane Transit Authority is passing around an online survey today looking for feedback on its Moving Forward campaign and a potential tax increase to expand its service.

In an email, the transit organizations had this to say:

Dear community member,

STA Moving Forward is Spokane Transit’s DRAFT 10-year implementation plan that proposes to sustain existing service levels and provide more and better transit for the growing region. As a part of the public outreach period from September through November, STA has provided an online survey to get feedback on the proposed package of transit projects as well as a potential funding mechanism in the form of a voter approved 0.3% increase in local sales tax rate (a 0.3% increase in local sales tax equals 15 cents on a $50 purchase; fuel and most food products are sales tax exempt).

Follow this link to take the survey, which only takes a few minutes.

McMorris Rodgers re-elected to GOP post

Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers was re-elected the House Republican Conference chairwoman today by GOP members who returned all their top leaders for the upcoming Congress.

House Speaker John Boehner, Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy and Majority Whip Steve Scalise were also re-elected. The conference chairmanship is considered the Number Four position in leadership.

McMorris Rodgers won re-election last week to a sixth term with about 60 percent of the vote. Her Democratic opponent Joe Pakootas unsuccessfully challenged her leadership position as a sign that she was more in touch with Washington, D.C., than the voters of her Eastern Washington district. McMorris Rodgers countered that it gave her “a place at the table” to raise local and regional issues when legislation was being discussed.

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About this blog

Jim Camden is a veteran political reporter for The Spokesman-Review.

Jonathan Brunt is an enterprise reporter for The Spokesman-Review.

Kip Hill is a general assignments reporter for The Spokesman-Review.

Nick Deshais covers Spokane City Hall for The Spokesman-Review.

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