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Spin Control

Posts tagged: Use of Force Commission

Use of Force and Snowmageddon: A tale of Spokane’s savings account

Snowmageddon 2008 and Spokane's Use of Force Commission don't have much in common.

One was the harshest winter in a generation that paralyzed Spokane, and the other aims to reform the Spokane Police Department. 

But both are tied together by one of the city's savings accounts.

Earlier this month, we wrote about Mayor David Condon's 2014 budget proposal, in which he proposed adding 25 new officers to the force by paying off an old street bond with funds primarily from the contigency reserve. At that time, we said the fund was “intended to be saved for emergencies, such as 'Snowmageddon' in 2008, Ice Storm '96 and the eruption of Mount St. Helens.”

Which is true. That's the intent of the fund. But at last week's Finance Committee meeting, city Finance Director Gavin Cooley detailed how the fund has been used in the last ten years. Only one of the five times it's been dipped into could be described as an emergency, as most people would define it. (Of course, city leaders could make a case for the other four.)

In 2003, they dipped into the fund for a $1 million withdrawal, which went towards paying for early retirements for some of the city's workers. 

In 2008, $500,000 was taken out for the apocalyptic Snowmageddon, which dumped 100 inches of snow on us, snarling traffic, shutting the city down and cursing the lives of every person to lift a snow shovel that dreaded winter. 

In 2009, another $400,000 was taken out for more early retirements.

In 2011, the city used $336,000 to purchase JustWare, a fancy new computer program used to integrate our region's criminal justice system.

And earlier this year, $1.112 million of contingency reserve funding was used to implement some recommendations from the Use of Force Commission, which we wrote about today.

So, obviously, the fund isn't used simply to combat the excesses of Mother Nature. She just isn't that punishing in the Inland Northwest. And that's why the city is reviewing how it uses this fund. 

But for the time being, the city is using it for one time purposes, which go toward budget reduction, police accountability or snow plows. We can all agree on that last one.

STA wins high-profile fan

We may have found a spokesman for a Spokane Transit Authority ad campaign.

Former state Supreme Court Chief Justice Gerry Alexander has been flying to Spokane every couple weeks in the last few months to serve as one of the Spokane's five Use of Force commissioners.

After he disembarks from his plane at Spokane International Airport, he takes a Spokane Transit Authority bus downtown.

“I really enjoy that bus ride,” Alexander said. “It's really a handy way to get in from the Airport.”

(This praise for the bus was unsolicited when I asked him a few questions after Thursday's Use of Force Commission meeting.)

Alexander is reimbursed for his plane trip and often a meal when he's in Spokane. He usually flies in the morning and flies out after the meeting

He does not bother getting reimbursed for the $1.50 bus ride.

Retired state chief justice surprised by health care ruling

Retired state Supreme Court Justice Gerry Alexander was in Spokane Thursday for the last scheduled meeting of the city's Use of Force Commission.

Afterward, we asked him about his thoughts about this morning's U.S. Supreme Court decision that upheld most of the Affordable Care Act.

“I had previously thought that they would strike the mandate down,” said Alexander, outside the Spokane City Council chambers. “It seemed to me that they were taking the Commerce Clause where it hadn't gone before.”

Alexander, who was appointed to the Use of Force Commission by Mayor David Condon, said he followed the case, but hadn't read the ruling Thursday afternoon. The majority of justices agreed with Alexander about the Commerce Clause, but a different majority upheld the law under Congress's taxing authority.

“I felt all along they could pass a tax for this,” Alexander said.

Retired chief justice will serve on Zehm overview committee

Gerry Alexander, who retired last year as the chief justice of the Washington State Supreme Court, will serve on the city's Use of Force Commission.

The commission was created last year by former Mayor Mary Verner to review the city's handling of the police confrontation that resulted in the death of Otto Zehm in 2006. Mayor David Condon endorsed the concept and supported her choice of former Gonzaga Law School Dean Earl Martin to lead it.

Membership of the five-member committee was announced at a City Council meeting on Monday by Council President Ben Stuckart. The council is set to confirm the membership next week.

The vice chairman will be former attorney Bill Hyslop, who served as the U.S. attorney for Eastern Washington during the administration of President George H.W. Bush.

The other two members will be Ivan Bush, the Spokane Public Schools' equal opportunity officer; and Susan Hammond, director of outpatient and psychiatric services for Spokane Mental Health.

Condon has said he hopes the commission concluds its review by June.

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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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