Spin Control

Why Verner lost: Part 1. Water rates

Condon vs. Verner, Water Rates

Condon correctly predicted outrage was coming on water rates. Even before summer bills were mailed, he began attacking the water rate restructuring. When the bills were opened, he already had defined himself as the candidate who opposed them.

On its face, focusing on sewer rate increases seemed to be the bigger issue since they are going up by higher percentages and they affect everyone equally, and most people actually pay less under the new water rate structure. But most who pay less pay a little less while some who pay more pay a whole lot more. And those people are outraged. (Just ask the people who answer the phones at City Hall.) Also, since the sewer rate increases in large part goes to build systems to keep raw sewage out of the river, focusing on sewer rates may have led savvy opponents to respond: “Mary Verner is working to keep the Spokane River clean while Condon supports dumping raw sewage in the river” -- or something like that. Focusing on the water rates came with the TV campaign ad B-roll of pull-on-your-heartstrings footage of children running through sprinklers that sent the message: “These rates are so high your children may not be able to play in the sprinkler anymore, thanks to Mary Verner!”

Then billboards, posted by an anonymous person, were posted with false messages on the rates and even people whose rates had fallen started to believe that they had doubled.

Verner’s response was to point back at the Spokane City Council, which indeed led the process to restructure rates. But she signed the ordinance, and once you sign it, the public usually blames the mayor.

She wasn’t helped by indecision on the City Council about 2012 rates, which kept forcing the issue into the news until it finally made a decision in mid-September.

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Jonathan Brunt
Jonathan Brunt is an assistant city editor.

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