The Citizens League of Greater Spokane, which started the drive to reform local government, has published a series of “white papers” about the proposed unified charter.
The eight reports discuss how representation, taxes, land-use planning and other issues would change if voters decide on Nov. 7 to merge Spokane city and county governments.
The reports are intended to inform, not persuade, said Tom Agnew, a league board member and report author. In fact, state law prohibits the non-profit organization from taking political stands.
But Agnew, who calls himself an “avid proponent” of consolidation, said people who learn more about the issue will vote in favor of it.
The Citizens League formed in 1987 to study local government and look for ways to improve it. Members gathered 18,000 signatures in 1992, paving the way for the election of freeholders who wrote the unified charter that voters will consider next month.
It’s a blurry line that separates the Citizen League from the pro-charter campaign group, We The People.
Several leaders in the campaign are former Citizens League board members. The league’s first executive director, Kerry Lynch, now is a paid consultant for the pro-charter campaign.
Linda Sharman handles public relations for the league and is a board member. Her husband, Ed Sharman, is co-chair of We The People.
Agnew said the 250-member group was concerned about the appearance of bias. But writers interviewed both opponents and proponents, and took pains to write balanced reports, he said.
Agnew’s report on taxes, for instance, notes that more people may pay a utility tax if consolidation passes, and that some opponents worry that taxes collected in outlying areas could be used to spruce up downtown.
But he concludes that “the cost of government is likely to change little, if any” unless services are improved.
In fact, most experts say a consolidated government could save money in the long run. But it would probably cost more the first few years, they say, because of the expenses of merging the two governments.
Agnew said he didn’t mention the cost of the merger - about $8 million, according to one rough estimate - because the amount is disputed. Besides, he said, $8 million is little compared to a $400 million budget.
Charter opponent Sue Kaun, who was interviewed for Agnew’s report, took exception with the final product.
“When I read it, I thought, what is he doing? He’s selling” the charter, said Kaun, who headed the freeholders’ finance committee.