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Lege could try to boost rural doctor program

OLYMPIA – The Legislature may direct medical schools to expand the number of physician residencies in Eastern Washington to provide more doctors for rural communities and family practice.

Rep. Larry Haler, the top Republican on the House Higher Education Committee, Friday told representatives of the University of Washington he wasn’t happy with the current ratio of residents getting their advanced medical training in Eastern Washington. Of the 1,500 resident slots in the state, 1,400 are in the Seattle metropolitan area, he said. They need to be spread out more for the east side of the state, “and by that I’m not talking about the Bellevue area,” he added. . . 

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


Business journal reports on rumors of Quintrall seeking DSP president’s ouster

Rumors of a high-ranking Spokane city official trying to organize the ouster of the city's downtown business organization's president boiled over into the Spokane Journal of Business today. 

Jan Quintrall, head of the city's Business and Development Services, denies in the story trying to remove Mark Richard, president of the Downtown Spokane Partnership, from his post. City Council President Ben Stuckart said in the article that a member of DSP's executive board told him that Quintrall threatened to pull the city's funding to the downtown organization unless Richards was fired, something Quintrall also denied in the article.

She did, however, acknowledge her influence at the business organization.

“I'm DSP's largest customer, I'm their largest funder, I'm contract manager, and now I'm a BID board member,” Quintrall told the paper, which is owned by the same company that owns the Spokesman-Review, though the papers share no editorial responsibilities whatsoever.

Quintrall also told the paper that she was trying to “coach” Richard, who was elected to the Spokane County Board of Commissioners twice as a Republican before being named head of the business group.

“We had him spread too thin, and we have him trying to be everything to everyone. I was trying to be a friend and a coach to Mark. He had too many hats to wear - we have to figure this out,” she said.

Quintrall's no stranger to headlines. Most recently, she's been in the news due to her role in the forced resignation of Scott Chesney, the city's planning director whose direct supervisor was Quintrall. After Chesney's abrupt dismissal, many prominent developers in Spokane lined up in his support. In the Journal's article, Quintrall acknowledged that the move stirred strong emotions.

“I think everyone is mad at me. No really, it's just a handful that is really mad at me,” she said. 

Finally, she dismissed the article's content as mere gossip.

“Rumors abound,” she said. 

Read the whole article here, subscription required.

Human rights group asks police for transparency on military equipment

Spokane's Human Rights Commission has requested the Spokane Police Department do more to inform the public on the military-grade equipment it buys.

In a letter dated Monday, Blaine Stum, chairman of the five-member city commission tasked with battling “unjust discrimination” in the community, asks Spokane Police Chief Frank Straub to open up about weapons, gear and vehicles ordered in part through a federal grant program that has gained increased scrutiny since the response to protests in Ferguson, Missouri, over the police shooting of an unarmed black teenager.

“While we understand the need not to publicly advertise the equipment and weapons available for their use in protecting the community, we recommend that the Spokane Police Department be more transparent in providing information” on military gear ordered, Stum writes on behalf of his group.

The letter from the Human Rights Commission can be read in its entirety here. For more of the group's recommendations, go inside the blog.

A term we probably won’t use

OLYMPIA — A source who asks to remain nameless looked at the House Republicans lineup of leaders and noticed something he found interesting.

The House GOP named Reps. Matt Shea and Matt Manweller as assistant floor leaders.

Does that mean they will be nicknamed the Floor Matts? he wondered.

Probably not.

State gets grade adjustment of voter guide

OLYMPIA — Like a college student keeping a watchful eye on the GPA, the Secretary of State's office successfully argued for a higher grade and got an A on its voter guide.

The grader in question, Ballotpedia, had to admit it missed a feature worth 17 percent of the final grade. . . 

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


Today’s fun video: Schoolhouse Rock! revisited


You may have been subjected in Civics Class to the cartoon “I'm Just a Bill” from Schoolhouse Rock! with its earworm-catchy song. Recently Saturday Night Live revised it to account for President Obama's executive order on immigration.

O holiday tree. O holiday tree.

OLYMPIA — Volunteer state workers hoisted the Association of Washington Business Holiday Kids’ Tree onto its stand in the middle of the  Rotunda this afternoon after decorating the top half of the 34-foot noble fir.

Note that the tannenbaum, donated by Winkleworld's Tree Farm in Olympia, is officially a Holiday tree, not a Christmas tree. And it has been since long before some conservative talk show hosts went looking for battles to fight  in the alleged War on Christmas. That's what the AWB has called it since about 1990, and it's the collection of donated presents and cash is their gig.

About a decade ago, then-Rep. John Ahern, R-Spokane, tried to get it renamed to a Christmas tree, lobbying then-Gov. Chris Gregoire to make the change. To which she replied, it ain't her tree to rename. AWB stuck with the name, despite appeals from Ahern and a group called 

The Holiday Tree remains. Ahern retired and the website has been taken over to promote a movie starring Kirk Cameron that it says will “put the Christ back in Christmas.”

The tree is so tall that volunteers decorated the top half before crews pulling on ropes from the third floor balconies pulled it upright and guided it into its stand, which sits atop the covered state seal in the middle of the Rotunda.

A tree-lighting ceremony is scheduled for Friday evening.  Toys and money collected by AWB members will be donated to 15 rural fire departments later this month Volunteers from state offices hoisted the Association of Washington Business 

Schoesler named Senate majority leader

OLYMPIA — Ritzville Republican Mark Schoesler was elected the Senate majority leader Monday for the upcoming 2015 session.
Officially, Schoesler will head the Majority Coalition Caucus, a group of 25 Republicans and one Democrat who will control the chamber.
Schoesler, 57, a wheat farmer, has been in the Senate since 2007 after serving seven terms in the House. His southwest Washington is heavily Republican. He ran unopposed for re-election in 2012 and House incumbents had no opponents this year or in 2012.
A blunt-speaking but quotable legislator, Schoesler served several sessions as Republican floor leader, essentially the floor general for parliamentary maneuvers,in recent years when the GOP was the minority caucus. During the  last two years as Senate Republican leader, working with the Majority Coalition leader, Democrat Rodney Tom of Medina, after Tom and Tim Sheldon, D-Potlach, joined the 23 Republicans after the 2012 elections to give them the upper hand.
The Republicans picked up one seat in a special election in 2013 and another this year, so they have 25 seats in the 49-member chamber. Tom did not seek re-election this year but Sheldon won easily and is again joining the Republicans for a coalition. Schoesler said the coalition will “put people over politics.” 
Schoesler's election came during a caucus meeting in Yakima to fill leadership slots. Sheldon was named Senate president pro tem, the person who presides over the chamber when Lt. Gov. Brad Owen isn't present. Linda Evans Parlette, of Wenatchee, was named caucus chairwoman and Joe Fain, of Auburn, floor leader.

Riccelli, Baumgartner to push WSU med school plan

A pair of Spokane legislators will propose legislation to put the state's second medical school in Spokane under the control of Washington State University.

Rep. Marcus Riccelli, a Democrat, and Sen. Mike Baumgartner, a Republican, will unveil legislation on Tuesday that would change a nearly century-old law that limits medical education to the University of Washington and provide some $2.5 million for WSU to establish a school that concentrates on family and rural medicine disciplines.

“At this point there's no reduction on anything (for UW Medical School),” Riccelli said. “We want to  grow medical education any way possible.”

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

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.


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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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