Being a one-man constitutional convention who deems himself wise enough to rewrite the charter for Spokane’s city government, Steve Eugster might be considered bold enough to defend his work - any time, any place.
But his James Madison persona seems to be in conflict with his other life, as a process litigator.
In March, he asked the City Council to waive signature-gathering requirements and place on the fall ballot his plan to switch Spokane from a city-manager government to a strong-mayor government.
The council declined.
Then in May, City Manager Roger Crum resigned, giving the City Council good reason to grant Eugster’s request. How can its search for a new manager attract top candidates when the job’s at risk of elimination? So, in June the Council moved to place Eugster’s proposal on the Sept. 17 ballot, giving final approval to the ballot slot last Monday.
Meanwhile, Eugster started waffling.
By letter he advised the council that he now wants his proposal on the 1997 ballot. This year, he says, there is “apathy” among voters. Huh? Voter attention is at its peak in a presidential election year.
Eugster whimpers that some City Council members are speaking out against his proposal. Although it clearly is in the community’s interest to debate and decide this matter now, he’d rather wait.
He’ll sue, Eugster says, to protect his preference for the 1997 ballot. But, he also says he’ll campaign this year, for what he insists on calling the city’s initiative - though it consists of his text. (If the “city’s” proposal passes this fall, he adds, he’ll take it.)
Well, it’s not James Madison, but it’s a start. Good thing, too. Serious issues are involved.
Bob Dellwo, a veteran lawyer and former council member who supports the strong-mayor form, nevertheless opposes Eugster’s version of it. Dellwo objects that Eugster went too far in strengthening the mayor’s powers and weakening the council’s. In Eugster’s draft the mayor could appoint a high-paid city administrator, plus three administrators in each department of city government, and with confirmation by the council could name the members of city boards and commissions.
This, Dellwo charges, would allow a mayor to install a “machine” of cronies thoughout City Hall, potentially corrupting important functions - zoning, parks, streets, police and so on. Eugster responds that decisive power doesn’t mean corruption and is exactly what Spokane needs.
Let’s have more dialogue about these matters, now. To critics who note the risks and audacity of a solo redesign of government, Eugster sniffs that ideas, not process, are what matters. Fine. Let him defend his ideas, this year, rather than niggling in court about timing of the debate.
, DataTimes The following fields overflowed: CREDIT = John Webster/For the editorial board