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Posts tagged: City Charter

Eugster questions proposed Spokane City Charter changes on August ballot

The proposed City Charter changes that will appear on the August ballot were supposed to be noncontroversial. But they already have high-profile opposition.

The Spokane Park Board publicly opposed the plan to strip its power to condemn property for park acquisition when the items were placed on the ballot last month.

Now the man who led the effort to create Spokane's current system of government — the strong mayor system — says he doesn't like many of the ideas either.

Former City Councilman Steve Eugster said the proposal on the Park Board endangers the park system's independence.

“The independent park board is a bright, historical phenomenon,” Eugster said. “How are you going to have an independent park board if it can't acquire land?”

Among other proposals on the ballot that  Eugster said he likely will vote against is the plan to change the recall process. Currently, City Council members are elected by district, but if a member is recalled, the recall vote would be held city-wide. Voters in August will be given a chance to restrict the recall process to the districts.

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.

Forces mustering against city “Bill of Rights”

Opposition appears to be mounting, although not necessarily coalescing, against the proposed Spokane Bill of Rights which will get a hearing Monday evening with the City Council.

Note: this is simply a hearing for forwarding the measure to the Spokane County Elections Office to have the signatures on its petitions checked. Technically, it’s not a hearing on the merits or demerits of the proposal.

But being as how this is the Spokane City Council, technicalities like that are unlikely to keep most of the people testifying, or some of the councilmembers, from meandering into all the good or ill the proposed charterl change would do.

Before that happens, a newly formed group of opponents will hold a rally against the measure at 5 p.m. outside of City Hall. The effort is led by Michael Cathcart, who was active in the local push for Ron Paul for the GOP presidential nomination last year, and Mike Fagan, a city council candidate.

Meanwhile, the Greater Hillyard Business Association sent letters to all council members last Friday, asking them to withhold support for the measure.

And on Monday, former City Councilman and current council candidate Steve Eugster sent Mayor Mary Verner and the council a memo arguing they should reject the petitions as illegal because the proposal violates the “single subject” rule of the charter’s provisions on initiatives. That essentially a legal version of the KISS (keep it simple, stupid) principle that says you can’t toss a bunch of things into a measure being put before the voters.

The proposed charter amendment has sections that deal with health care, wages and the rights of the environment, but supporters contend it doesn’t run afoul of the single subject provision because they are all rights to be contained in a “bill of rights” just as those first amendments to the U.S. Constiution were grouped together.

Last week Council President Joe Shogan signalled that the council should follow precedent, regardless of the members’ individual opinions on the measure, and send the petitions for the validation check. If they have the signatures, the city should let voters decide, he suggested. If they don’t, well, game over.

To read more about all this, go inside the blog.

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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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