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Term limits, condemnation among 11 items to be decided by Spokane voters on August ballot

City voters soon will have 11 choices to make about the future of city governing.

The Spokane City Council decided Monday to place proposed changes to the City Charter on Aug. 16 ballot.

Officials say the purpose of most of them is to clarify contradictions in existing law or are minor in nature. Still, some changes could make noticeable impacts on city governance and one already has been opposed by the Spokane Park Board.

The most controversy Monday came from a proposal to strip the Park Board’s power to condemn property.

The City Charter currently requires the City Council to condemn land for park acquisition if requested by the Park Board and the board and land owner were unable to come to a “satisfactory arrangement” for compensation. The proposed change that voters will consider will give the City Council the power to turn down Park Board condemnation requests.

Park leaders say the move as a power grab by the council and a move against its independent authority over park policy granted to them by voters more than a century ago. Park Director Leroy Eadie said the board has had condemnation ability since 1910 and has rarely, if ever, used it.

“There is no reason to believe that the current Park Board or future boards will be any less responsible or that it will recklessly exercise its condemnation authority,” said Park Director Leroy Eadie in a letter to the council. He added that “in the coming years circumstance may require use of this power to further develop Riverfront Park, the North Bank or other properties in its inventory.”

The vote to add the park item to the ballot was a rare 4-3 vote in which council members Jon Snyder and Richard Rush were joined by Nancy McLaughlin. (The fourth vote was provided by Steve Corker.)

Snyder and McLaughlin argued that only elected officials should have the power to condemn property from unwilling sellers.

“It’s an important check and balance we need in a strong mayor form of government,” Snyder said.

Mike Harrington, a former Peaceful Valley resident who still owns property in that neighborhood, reminded the council of a Park Board plan in 1990 to condemn residential property for a park and the Centennial Trail. He said City Council should have a say in such an important decision as forcing the sale of property.

Eadie noted that the Park Board abandoned the plan to condemn land in Peaceful Valley after hearing concerns of residents.

Council members Bob Apple, Amber Waldref and Joe Shogan voted against adding the condemnation proposal to the ballot. They argued, in part, that the Park Board had not been properly briefed on the concept.

Ten other proposals were added to the ballot on 6-1 votes. Apple voted no on each.

Proposed changes include:

∙ Allowing a someone to serve as City Council president even after serving two consecutive terms as a City Council member. Currently term limit rules could be interpreted to bar someone from running for City Council president if they had previously served two consecutive terms as a council member. Other term limits provisions would remain and allow a council member to serve a term, take a break and serve an infinite number of terms thereafter as long as that person takes a break from the office between each term.

∙ Stipulating that recall elections of council members elected by district would be held only in the member's district. Currently, those elections would be held citywide.

∙ Requiring the City Council president to cease being council president in the event that the president takes over for the mayor if the mayor cannot perform his or her duties. The council president already is the next-in-line to the mayor.

∙ Allowing the mayor the power to hire outside attorneys without approval of City Council.

∙ Allowing the city to hold more than one special election within a six-month period.

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Jonathan Brunt
Jonathan Brunt joined The Spokesman-Review in 2004. He is the government editor. He previously was a reporter who covered Spokane City Hall, Spokane County government and public safety.

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