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Spin Control

Posts tagged: Spokane City Council

Allen wins second count, but a third awaits

Former Councilman Mike Allen's lead over incumbent Richard Rush grew by three to 91 on Wednesday after a recount of the Spokane City Council election for the city's south district.

The race was recounted by machine because the result from the first count was within half of 1 percentage point. Rush said he still plans to pursue a hand recount, which the Spokane County Democratic Party has agreed to finance.

Results of a hand recount in the 4th Legislative District senate race, which also was completed Wednesday and was paid for by candidate Jeff Baxter, may not give Rush much hope for much change.

Baxter paid more than $1,700 to have 10 precincts recounted in his race against state Sen. Mike Padden. Election workers who tallied the ballots Wednesday morning found two errors. Baxter lost a vote, and one vote that had been counted as blank was changed to a write-in, for the candidate “N/A.”

In the Rush-Allen race, Rush's tally was found to be too high by two and Allen gained a vote after a ballot that had been counted as blank was found to have been marked for Allen.

Election Manager Mike McLaughlin said he can't say for sure why Rush's count fell by two. One possibility is that after paper jams occurred in the machines, ballots that already had been counted may have been sent through a second time, he said.

Each campaign involved in the two recounts had observers at the Elections Office.

Baxter lost to Padden by 3,638 votes. He said he paid for the recount with his personal money and did so because results in some precincts conflicted with data campaign workers collected when going door-to-door. The outcome hints that in a future race volunteers need to do a better job reaching voters when they're home, he said.

“I didn't think anything insidious was going on,” Baxter said. “I'm just saying that we need to work a little harder in different precincts.”

Baxter said he hasn't decided if he will run again next year.

Last week, Rush indicated that Baxter may have paid for a recount to prevent Rush's race from being recounted by hand. Spokane County Auditor Vicky Dalton originally requested that the City Council race be counted by hand to test new scanners in the county's voting machines. But she changed course after Baxter opted to pay for a recount in his race.

“It had absolutely nothing to do with his race,” Baxter said. “I don't have the time to be playing those games.”

Council votes to allow more residences on North Hill site

Land along the steep Monroe Street hill in North Spokane will be able to hold up 30 homes or apartments per acre under a plan approved Monday by the City Council.

The council voted 6-1 late Monday  to change the comprehensive plan to allow up to 30 residential units per acre on a little less than two acres of land on the West side of Monroe between Courtland and Glass Avenues. The vacant property is owned by the city.

City officials say the designation provides for more flexibility in designing the site, and that it is highly unlikely that any project will include the maximum number of residences. The city’s Community Development Department hopes to partner with a nonprofit group to develop and sell the vacant land.

Many neighbors opposed the change, in large part because the city doesn’t have specific plans for the site.

The council voted to require that any development on the site be reviewed first by the city’s Design Review Board. Councilman Jon Snyder argued that the process would give neighbors an extra step to consider plans.

Councilman Steve Corker cast the lone vote against the proposal.

Recounts start Tuesday

Spokane County election officials expect to start and complete on Tuesday the first two of the three recounts they need to complete to finish work from the November election.

Elections Manager Mike McLaughlin said the office plans to count the ballots from the Spokane City Council race between Richard Rush and Mike Allen and the 4th Legislative District senate race between Mike Padden and Jeff Baxter starting around 9 a.m.

The Rush-Allen recount will be completed by computer and is required because the race ended with the two candidates within a half percentage point. The senate recount will be completed manually because it was paid for by Baxter.

After this set of results is complete and the Canvassing Board meets on Wednesday, the Allen-Rush hand recount, which is being financed by the Spokane County Democratic Party, can begin.

Rush trails Allen by 88 votes.

Baxter trails Padden by 3,437 votes.

Baxter pays for recount

Former state Sen. Jeff Baxter is paying for a partial recount of ballots in his unsuccessful bid to retain his Spokane Valley seat despite losing the race by more than 3,400 votes.

Baxter’s opponent in the contest, Mike Padden, was sworn in as senator representing the 4th Legislative District on Tuesday soon after the Spokane County Canvassing Board certified the results.

Spokane County Auditor Vicky Dalton said Baxter submitted a check for $1,174 to recount 10 precincts. She said he was required to make a down payment of 25 cents per ballot. He will get a refund if the cost of the recount is less.

Baxter, who was appointed to the seat earlier this year, lost it in the November election by 3,437 votes after garnering only 45 percent of the vote.

Reached Wednesday afternoon, Baxter declined to comment when asked if he thought the race was fair. He noted that state law doesn’t require candidates to say why they are asking for a recount and said he would answer questions after a recount is completed.

Mike Padden, who was in the middle of his second day as the 4th District’s new state senator Tuesday afternoon, said he had just been informed that Baxter had asked for a recount but didn’t know “what his rationale is.”

“The vote was pretty overwhelming. It doesn’t make sense to me,” Padden said.

“There is a high undervote,” he said, referring to the term used for a ballot that had no candidate marked for that race. “But you’d expect a high undervote when there’s no Democrat in the race.”


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Director of state GOP won’t follow Shogan’s call to resign

City Council President Joe Shogan reversed the order of this week’s council meeting to publicly call for the resignation of the executive director of the state Republican Party.

Four council members, Bob Apple, Steve Corker, Nancy McLaughlin and Richard Rush, walked off the dais in protest while Shogan spoke and the other two criticized him later for talking about campaign issues in the midst of a council meeting.

Shogan was responding to comments the executive director of the state GOP, Peter Graves, made last week to The Spokesman-Review when responding to questions about the party’s $25,000 donation late last month to the mayoral campaign of David Condon, who defeated incumbent Mary Verner this week.

Graves said the party decided to give to Condon to “take her (Mayor Mary Verner) out before she gets a chance at a free shot at a great congresswoman in the Fifth District.” Graves was referring to Condon’s former boss, Republican U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers and said that some had speculated that Verner might one day run for Congress.

Shogan called Graves a “coward” and his comments “reprehensible, repugnant and cowardly.”

“I and Mr. David Condon know the meaning of the last definition of taking somebody out ’cause I’ve been in combat and I know that meaning, and Mr. Condon has been in a combat support hospital, so he knows first hand what taking somebody out can mean,” said Shogan, a Vietnam veteran.

One of 10 city candidates signs pledge not to approve Guild contract without stronger oversight

Only one of the 10 candidates on the ballot next week for Spokane city office agreed to sign a pledge promising to oppose any Spokane Police Guild contract unless the union agrees to stronger police oversight, the Center for Justice reported this week.

A coalition of groups including the Peace and Justice Action League of Spokane asked the candidates as well as four City Council members not running in elections this fall if they would sign a pledge promising not to vote for a guild contract unless the union agrees to the provisions of the ombudsman ordinance that recently was repealed.

The city's 2010 police ombudsman law was thrown out by the City Council last month after an arbitrator ruled that the rules needed to be agreed to by the guild.

Only Donna McKereghan, who is running for the City Council seat in Northeast Spokane signed the pledge. Another candidate, Joy Jones, said she would not vote for a contract without stronger oversight but declined to sign the pledge. Jones is running for Spokane City Council in the Northwest district.

The center created a scoring system based on each candidate's response to its request. To see the rankings, continue reading the post.


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Spokane water bill shocker: most paid less this summer

The results are in and they're somewhat shocking.

Spokane's utility billing department has compiled the data from water bills that were received in August and September, and 53 percent of them were less than they would have been under the 2010 rate structure.

Other stats (the ones that may indicate why some are upset):

- 37 percent paid up to $50 more during the two-month cycle.

- 7 percent paid between $50 and $100 more during the two-month cycle.

- 3 percent paid more than $100 more during the two-month cycle.

The City Council voted in May 2010 to redo the water rate structure to lower rates on those who use less and increase rates on those who use more.

The city estimated that 60 percent of customers would pay less over the course of the year under the new system, but that wasn't expected necessarily for the summer months — especially because of the huge outcry heard from the public since summer bills were mailed. Mayor Mary Verner has said she will introduce a new rate structure before the end of the year.

For more data, click on the document link attached to this entry.


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Coalition calls on candidates to take ombudsman pledge

A coalition of organizations including the Peace and Justice Action League of Spokane is asking Spokane mayoral and City Council candidates to pledge not to vote for a Spokane Police Guild contract unless it includes stronger oversight.

The guild's contract expires at the end of the year and is under negotiation currently.

Earlier this month, the City Council repealed its 2010 police oversight law at the demand of an arbitrator, who ruled that it violated the guild's contract. The law gave Ombudsman Tim Burns the right to investigate allegations of police misconduct separately from the police department's internal affairs division.

The city is now operating under its 2008 police ombudsman rules.

Those who voted to repeal the law said the best way to obtain the provisions in the 2010 law are win guild approval of them through negotiations. Some council member said they would be unlikely to vote for guild contract unless the extra oversight is included in it.

League Director Liz Moore said pledge supporters will give candidates until the end of the week to decide if they will sign the pledge. Results will be publicized early next week.


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Council votes to allow members to take 3 percent pay cuts

Following the lead of the state Legislature, the Spokane City Council voted unanimously to allow council members to take a 3 percent pay cut to help balance the budget.

Council members earn $30,000 a year. The council president earns $55,000.

Spokane resident Gretchen McDevitt told the council that the proposal appeared to be election-year “grandstanding” and would barely make a difference in the city’s budget.

“I do not think $30,000 is overpaid,” she said.

But Councilman Richard Rush, who proposed the rule, said it allows city leaders to be in solidarity with city workers who have taken concessions to help balance the budget.

Councilwoman Nancy McLaughlin said she is “fine” with the rule but that since she already puts 25 percent of her pay toward charities within her district, she wouldn’t be cutting her pay 3 percent unless all city unions agreed to do the same.

Council stance unchanged on Community Bill of Rights

The Spokane City Council took another chance on Monday to critique Proposition 1, the Community Bill of Rights.

Council members voted 6-1 to formally oppose the initiative, which appears on the November ballot.

The rejection is no surprise. All the members of City Council already were on record in opposition to the proposition, which would require developers of some kinds of projects to collect voter signatures, make it easier to pursue lawsuits against governments or businesses that pollute the Spokane River or aquifer, challenge corporate rights and extend constitutional rights into the workplace.

Only Councilman Jon Snyder voted against the recommendation.

Snyder said he personally opposes Proposition 1 but that he didn’t think the council should take a formal position on a local citizen’s initiative. He later, however, sponsored a resolution that took a stance against state Initiative 1125, which focuses on road tolling. Snyder’s resolution recommending opposition to I-1125 was approved on a 5-2 vote. Council members Bob Apple and Nancy McLaughlin dissented.

Billboard sponsor on water rates remains unknown

The person who has paid for five billboards criticizing the Spokane City Council and Spokane Mayor Mary Verner for their decisions related to water rates plans to remain anonymous.

Five billboards about the water rates were erected about a week ago and will stay up for the month of October, said Tom Townsend, general manager of Emerald Outdoor Advertising.

Townsend said the ads were not sponsored by Emerald, which had a widely publicized fight with the mayor in 2009 when she planned to end bus bench advertising.

“We're just the messenger,” Townsend said.

He also said the man who bought the ads is not related to the campaign of David Condon, who is challenging Verner in the November election, or anyone else running for office.

“It's not against anybody,” Townsend said. “It's just somebody giving his opinion on a matter.”

City Councilman Richard Rush, however, questioned how the billboard could be unrelated to the election since it specifically calls out “The Mayor and City Council” the month before an election.

Rush laughed when told that the purchaser did not plan to reveal himself.

“There's some courage for you,” Rush said.

Lori Anderson, spokeswoman for the state Public Disclosure Commission, said as long as the ads are not sponsored by a campaign, they would not have to be reported to the commission unless the total cost was at least $5,000 for each politician mentioned. Because it mentioned the mayor and City Council, the total cost of the campaign would have to reach $40,000.

Townsend said the total cost of the campaign was less than $5,000.

Council supports Verner’s choice for planning director despite past receipt controversy

The Spokane City Council on Monday voted 7-0 to appoint Scott Chesney as its new planning director.

The former director of planning and development for El Mirage, Ariz. hasn't even worked a day in his new job and he's already been the focus of a Doug Clark column.

While serving as the planning and community development director for Surprise, Ariz., Chesney admitted violating city policy by using city credit cards to buy alcohol for himself and staff, and failed to provide itemized receipts for reimbursement, the Arizona Republic reported after Chesney resigned in November 2007. He told the paper that he bought drinks with a city credit card to reward staff for hard work.

No one on the council mentioned the issue before the vote, but City Councilman Jon Snyder criticized the hiring process because he said the City Plan Commission was not consulted.

Council hires second attorney to defend police ombudsman rules

The Spokane City Council isn’t giving up on stronger police oversight, at least not for two more weeks.

The council voted 6-0 this week to delay action on the possible repeal of the city’s 2010 police ombudsman law to give it time to hire an outside attorney to analyze the possible appeal of an arbitrator’s July decision demanding that the city remove the ordinance.

The law, which strengthened the city’s original ombudsman rules from 2008, gave Ombudsman Tim Burns the power to investigate accusations of police misconduct separately from the police department’s own reviews. 

Rush, Stuckart lead race in campaign technology

New technology often surfaces in campaigns — whether it was candidate websites, scientific polling, automated calling, Facebook, Twitter, or plastic yard signs.

City Council President hopeful Ben Stuckart and City Councilman Richard Rush appear to be the first local candidates using the latest technology to get the word out: Quick Response codes — boxes that can be quickly scanned by smartphones to redirect users to websites.

Rush, who faces former City Councilman Mike Allen in his reelection bid, said one of his supporters suggested placing the codes on his campaign yard signs. Rush said that didn't turn out to be practical but that his campaign decided the codes would work better on fliers left on doorsteps “so people could actually hear me speak to them.”

The bar code links to a Rush campaign video.

Stuckart used the code on a flier during his hotly contested primary. He faces former Mayor Dennis Hession in the November election.

City budget picture offers good and bad news

The bleak economic picture in the state likely will make the Spokane City Council’s job balancing the 2012 harder by about a $1 million, the city’s budget director told the council on Thursday.

But not all the news at a council budget briefing on was bad. Budget Director Tim Dunivant said better-than-expected sales tax revenues will help carry the city through 2011 without the need for additional cuts. Through August, the city collected $13.6 million in sales taxes, about a $1 million more than expected.

That increase will help offset unexpected declines of more than $100,000 each in water, sewer and telephone utility taxes and gambling taxes as well as $93,000 less than expected in parking tickets. Dunivant said the decline in tickets is related to an opening for a parking enforcement officer that has since been filled. (He said about 400 people applied for the job). The sales tax cushion also should protect the city from an expected decline in liquor sales revenue from the state, he said.

Animal shelter tax gets boost from City Council

A unified regional animal control system won important, though qualified, support tonight from city leaders.

The Spokane City Council voted 6-1 to endorse Mayor Mary Verner’s stance on a proposed nine-year county property tax that would pay for a new animal shelter for the Spokane County Regional Animal Protection Service.

Verner has told county commissioners that she will back the tax if the county agrees to let Spokane join the system for the same amount the city is paying its nonprofit provider, SpokAnimal C.A.R.E., this year (about $561,000) plus increases to account for inflation over the next nine years. The county would keep the city’s dog and cat license revenue.

“This way, we have control over our own destiny, at least for nine years,” said Councilwoman Nancy McLaughlin.


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Wheelabrator will manage incinerator 3 more years

City leaders tonight agreed for the second time this year to a deal that keeps Spokane’s Waste-to-Energy Plant open another three years.

The Spokane City Council voted 6-1 to approve an operating contract with Wheelabrator, the Waste Management subsidiary that has operated the plant since it opened. The city’s current 20-year deal with Wheelabrator expires in November.

Under the new terms the city will pay the company about $800,000 more a year.

An earlier deal with Wheelabrator fell apart after county officials said it included costs to pay for plant upgrades that aren’t needed within the years that the contract includes. County commissioners hope to leave the city-managed system in three years.

Candidate says he can’t comply with state law

A candidate for Spokane City Council is continuing to decline to show his campaign finance books even after acknowledging Thursday that state law doesn't appear to give him the flexibility to refuse to show them in the week before an election.

Chris Bowen, who is running for the seat held by City Councilman Bob Apple, has told the state Public Disclosure Commission that he's spent $18,000 on his campaign, but he hasn't filed any paperwork saying where he got it.

In response to a reporter’s interview request, Bowen emailed last week that he would not share information about his fundraising.

“Thank you for your interest in my election books,” he wrote. “State law requires that the books are to be shown by appointment. All appointments have been filled for this primary election.”

This morning, he said, he called the commission and learned that the law wasn't as flexible as he thought. Still, he said, there's so much interest among the public to see his finances that he is completely booked for the times set out by state law: 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday (Aug. 8) to Monday (Aug. 15) excluding Saturday and Sunday. The primary election is Aug. 16.

He refused to name anyone who has requested to see his books. Asked how many people have requested to see his paperwork, Bowen said: “Quite a few, I haven't added them all up yet.”

Asked if this reporter could attend one of his already scheduled appointments, he said it would be too difficult to show his books to multiple people at the same time.

He said he believes he isn't violating the law because it's impossible for him to grant any more inspections.

“What am I supposed to do?” he said. “Perform miracles?”

Council eases tax subsidy rules for Kendall Yards

Tax subsidies will flow to Kendall Yards even if the developer of the 78-acre project does not seek public bids on construction of streets, sewers and other public infrastructure.

The Spokane City Council on Monday voted 6-1 to amend the tax-increment financing agreement it has with Kendall Yards to make the change.

Councilman Jon Snyder said state rules that he supports which prevent tax money for schools from being diverted to development make Washington’s tax-increment financing program less effective.

Allowing Greenstone to forgo public bidding is “a creative way to solve that challenge,” Snyder said. “We’re talking about a piece of dirt that has resisted development for 40 years.”

Kendall Yards is a highly-anticipated residential and commercial development on the north bank of the Spokane River in the West Central neighborhood. The land used to be the home to railroad tracks that were torn out as part of urban redevelopment related to Expo ’74.

Council rejects water rate boost

The Spokane City Council tonight unanimously rejected a nearly 8 percent increase in water rates, but that doesn’t mean bills won’t rise next year.

A majority of the council appeared to favor raising revenue by increasing fees to boost water revenue by an amount equal to what was requested by city administrators, but those members apparently disagree on how best to do that. A rejection of Council President Joe Shogan’s request to delay a decision for a week to examine competing proposals doomed the water rate plan for the night.

“It means we go back to the drawing board and try to bring back something that will give us four votes,” said Utilities Director Dave Mandyke, referring to the minimum number of council members who must agree in order for proposals to pass.

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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.

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