A recent meeting of the Spokane City Council caused some residents to feel left out in the cold - literally.
The council scheduled a special meeting for last Sunday evening after learning a consultant who specialized in community planning would be stopping in Spokane for a few hours.
Councilwoman Phyllis Holmes, who helped organize the meeting, said she and colleague Bev Numbers wanted to make the event a no-cost affair. They planned a pre-meeting dinner at Numbers’ home, inviting staff and council members to a potluck affair.
They posted a notice the Thursday before saying the meeting would start at 5 p.m., Holmes said. They planned to have dinner and then move into discussion at 6 p.m.
“The notice told us the meeting would start at 5 p.m.,” said George McGrath, who showed up at the stated time only to be told the meeting wouldn’t start for another hour.
Numbers blames herself for not being clear about the evening’s schedule. The consultant, Jerry Newfarmer, couldn’t get there until at least 6 p.m., she said, but that wasn’t explained.
Although McGrath left Numbers’ home and
came back later, five residents - Mamie Picard, Darlene Becker, Lucy Reiner, Don Skaufel and Judy Grubb - waited outside until 6 p.m.
“It was screwy,” Picard said.
“They had no business having a public meeting in a private home,” Reiner said. “They didn’t want me there anymore than I wanted to be there.”
Larry Winner, a city attorney, said council members are free to socialize as long as they don’t do city business. Numbers said the council even went so far as make sure four members - a voting majority - weren’t eating in the same room at the same time.
Technically, he added, “they should have advertised the right time.”The point is, residents can’t know for sure that
business didn’t take place, said McGrath. He plans to write a letter of complaint to Mayor Jack Geraghty, who didn’t attend the meeting.
Councilman Chris Anderson also didn’t attend.
To top it off, McGrath says, the council got a “$150,000 sales pitch” about community planning from a friend of Joel Crosby’s.
Crosby hired Newfarmer to be city manager in Fresno, Calif., when he was a councilman there. Crosby said he didn’t know about Newfarmer’s visit to Spokane until he heard about it three days before the meeting - just like everyone else.
Holmes said she talked to Newfarmer about coming here after learning about his planning expertise from William Mathis, a California consultant hired by the council in January.
Newfarmer, who now works for a consulting firm in Cincinnati, was on his way to Seattle anyway and didn’t charge for the visit.
“We took our time on the weekend, came totally at our own expense,” Holmes said. “It doesn’t get much better than that.”
McGrath doesn’t see it that way.
“My complaint is that we have a supposedly formal function done in a less than straightforward way,” he said.