Spokane County residents will have a new commissioner by summer.
Gov. Mike Lowry announced Monday he is appointing Commissioner Skip Chilberg to the Growth Planning Hearings Board for Eastern Washington. The three-member panel hears disputes stemming from city and county growth planning decisions.
Chilberg, a Democrat, resigned effective May 31 to accept the $73,146-a-year post. Commissioners Steve Hasson and Phil Harris must pick his replacement from three nominees selected by county Democrats.
“There are very few opportunities that could have gotten me to leave the Spokane County Commission,” said Chilberg, 51. “This is one of them.”
Chilberg’s departure comes at a volatile time.
The county will take a financial bath if Valley residents vote to form their own city May 16, taking their taxes with them. Voters may have an opportunity to consolidate city and county government in November, a move that would bring even greater upheaval.
Spokane city and county officials face several big decisions regarding growth management planning. They must, for instance, draw lines that will determine where urban growth will be permitted.
In addition, a new state law allows county commissioners to take control of the Spokane County Health District, which now is governed by the commissioners with council members from the city and small towns in the county. Chilberg favors letting the city and towns retain some positions on the health board, while Hasson is expected to push for more county control.
Hasson said he worries about the impact of having two rookie commissioners.
“It takes 18 months to learn the job,” he said. “It’s going to be a tough year.”
Chilberg was elected commissioner in 1992 after 10 years as county treasurer. As a first-year commissioner, he frequently was the swing vote between Hasson and former Commissioner Pat Mummey.
Chilberg often sided with Democrat Mummey on land-use issues. They voted to impose the conservation futures tax, which the county uses to buy land for parks. Hasson opposed the tax.
Chilberg became the lone Democrat on the commission this year when Hasson switched parties and Phil Harris replaced Mummey.
The two Republicans are more skeptical of environmental regulations and of regional panels, including three that Chilberg chairs: the Spokane Transit Authority, the Spokane County Air Pollution Control Authority and the Growth Management Act Steering Committee.
So far, Harris has positioned himself as the swing vote, siding with Hasson to put the conservations future tax to a vote and with Chilberg to preserve a tax for storm water projects.
There’s no telling how the new appointee will change the chemistry in the courthouse.
None of the likely Democratic contenders has Chilberg’s background in government finance or his knowledge of the state’s Growth Management Act. They include former state Rep. Shirley Rector, neighborhood activist Ronda Cahill and retired Washington State Patrol trooper Dale McLeod.
The new commissioner must live in the 1st District, which includes much of north Spokane and portions of the Valley north of the Spokane River. The appointee must run for election in November to serve beyond the end of the year.
Mummey, who competed with Chilberg for the state position, predicted “tough times ahead” for the county.
“Skip’s leadership is very, very important,” she said.
“Who’s going to take the lead on growth management? Who’s going to take the lead on all the other issues?”
Chilberg said the conservation futures tax and progress toward managing growth have been his biggest accomplishments while commissioner.
“I really do think that the biggest challenges facing the county and all of Eastern Washington are those related to growth,” said Chilberg, who will continue living in Spokane to “experience the results” of decisions he’ll oversee.
MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: WHAT’S NEXT County Democratic Party leaders will select three names to submit to the remaining commissioners, who then will choose one to replace Chilberg.