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Power Keys Strong-Mayor Debate Eugster, Greene Argue Pros, Cons Of Sept. 17 Initiative Before Nearly 200

While there wasn’t any haggling over creationism, God’s name did come up during a Friday morning debate over Spokane’s proposed strong-mayor initiative.

“The mayor in this system has more power than God,” predicted Spokane City Councilwoman Roberta Greene. “You’ve got four years to live with that person.”

“To think that somehow this mayor is more powerful than God is absolutely absurd,” shot back attorney Steve Eugster. “There are substantive checks and balances.”

Eugster and Greene faced off for an often-lively discussion of the initiative that would toss out the city manager in favor of a mayor who serves as top administrator.

The debate sponsored by the Spokane Chamber of Commerce attracted nearly 200 people who dined on waffles, eggs and fruit at the Red Lion City Center Hotel.

Eugster drafted the proposal that goes before voters Sept. 17. Under the plan, the mayor would earn at least $80,000 and not a penny less than the highest-paid city employee. The mayor also could appoint department heads, as well as someone to oversee day-to-day business.

A seven-member council would include five members elected by district and two elected at-large. The mayor could veto council decisions, but the council could override those with five votes.

Before the debate began, Greene said she was arguing the issue as a private individual - not a council member. Besides, she said, “I’m not against the strong mayor. I’m just presenting arguments in favor of what we have.”

What Spokane has is a city-manager government that is “economical, efficient … and excellent in administering the services you all require,” Greene said.

She offered several reasons for favoring the current system, including:

A city manager can be fired by the council any day of the year. To rid the city of the strong mayor would take recall or re-election.

The strong-mayor system concentrates too much power into a single person’s hands.

The system could easily fall victim to patronage. “I have a brother with a master’s from MIT in science,” Greene said. “I could call him and say, ‘Come on over.”’

Eugster countered that Civil Service protects against patronage, not the city manager system that he considers “ineffective.”

“Aren’t you getting a little tired of hiring consultants for every decision the city makes?” he said.

Eugster argued the strong-mayor system:

Puts power in the hands of a mayor who could “actually lead this community somewhere, rather than having a languishing community of souls.”

Pays the mayor a “living wage” for a full-time job. Right now, the mayor is “only paid $36,000 a year to be shamed every Monday night,” Eugster said.

Makes five council members more accountable to voters because they would be elected by district.

As the debate came to a close, the pair’s take on the issue remained miles apart.

“In these complex times, we need consensus building and cooperation, not power building, favoritism and patronage,” Greene said.

Right now, Spokane is “run by special interests, bureaucracy, bond lawyers and its own insular power,” Eugster said. “It’s time to move forward.”

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: 2 color photos

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