Momentum, which helped bankroll the 1992 election of Spokane County freeholders, has earmarked $100,000 for convincing voters to support the city-county merger those freeholders proposed.
“Unified government, a single government, is clearly the vehicle that allows a community … to build a prosperous future,” said Susan Meyer, executive director of the economic development group.
Momentum, which has 550 business members and lists government reform among its top priorities, spent $100,000 on the successful 1992 campaign. Spokane County residents voted to put freeholders to work writing a charter - in effect, a local constitution.
Voters will decide Nov. 7 whether to approve the charter, which would combine Spokane city and county governments. The new government would have an elected executive and a 13-member council.
Meyer said the 59 Momentum board members decided Tuesday to match contributions given to the campaign committee called We the People. The board set a $100,000 spending limit.
Momentum’s pledge is a blow to charter opponents, who have not yet organized and may have trouble raising money.
Members of the political group Citizens for Valley Incorporation are among the most outspoken charter opponents. That group raised $24,000 for the May incorporation vote, its third failed attempt to form a city in the Spokane Valley.
Clark Hager, publisher of the Valley Herald and a leader in the incorporation movement, accused Momentum of trying to buy the charter vote.
“How can anyone compete?” he asked Meyer during a news conference Wednesday.
Still, We The People faces a daunting task.
The idea of consolidation is popular with many business and government leaders across the country, who herald it as a way to make local governments more efficient and responsive. Local supporters say it would give Spokane more clout in the state Legislature, ending competition between the city and the county.
But voters in most communities remain unconvinced. Consolidation proposals almost always are defeated at the polls.
Only 28 communities nationwide, and none in Washington, have consolidated city-county governments.
Voters in just one community, Athens, Ga., have approved consolidation so far this decade. Even there, voters rejected consolidation three times before voting yes.
If Spokane rejects consolidation, a second attempt is unlikely anytime soon. Under state law, voters would have to approve the process again and elect a second group of freeholders to write a new charter to place on the ballot.
That makes this year’s effort all the more urgent, supporters say.
“If we don’t get a unified government, what we’re stuck with is two governments planning for a region that should be regionally governed … and political leadership that is combative,” Meyer said.
, DataTimes MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: RESULTS IN CHARLOTTE, INDIANAPOLIS IMPRESS GROUP FROM CHAMBER A whirlwind tour of two communities with consolidated governments convinced most participants that Spokane should scrap its separate city and county governments. “These two communities tend to have a very competitive spirit … They really have a commitment to accountability in government,” said Larry Stanley, who led the seven-member group from the Spokane Area Chamber of Commerce. The group met with business and government leaders in Indianapolis on Monday and in Charlotte, N.C., on Tuesday. The Indianapolis City Council and Marion County commissioners voted in 1969 to consolidate their two governments into a single “unigov.” Voters in Charlotte and Mecklenburg County have rejected consolidation twice since 1971 and will vote on the issue again next spring. But the two governments already have consolidated police, fire, planning and other services, leaving only their legislative bodies to merge. At a news conference Wednesday, tour participants said governments in the two cities are more accountable than Spokane’s and do a better job of attracting businesses and solving problems. Charlotte probably wouldn’t have professional sports teams and Indianapolis wouldn’t have the 600 jobs at a new United Air Lines maintenance shop if the cities were competing with counties to attract businesses, the chamber members said. “They understood that their competition is external and … it’s not in their best interest to have multiple governments working against each other,” said Susan Ashe, a representative from Kaiser Aluminum & Chemical Corp. “They also understood that it’s important to speak with one voice to the rest of their state and region.” Other members of the tour group were Bob Mansfield of Washington Water Power Co., chamber President Rich Hadley, Momentum Director Susan Meyer and former freeholders Steve Worthington and Sue Kaun. Only Kaun remained unconvinced that consolidation is the best option. “(Government) structure doesn’t solve problems. Leadership is what makes the difference,” Kaun said. “If our community exerted itself and told its government what it wanted to happen, it would happen.” - By Dan Hansen