Opponents of the strong-mayor ballot proposition launched a last-minute campaign Wednesday with the slogan, “It’s a really bad idea.”
“We have a system that’s worked pretty well for the last 35 years,” said former Spokane Mayor David Rodgers, co-chairman of Citizens for Responsible Government.
“From time to time, we may get exasperated, but we shouldn’t let a transitional exasperation let us toss out a system that is basically sound.”
The proposal on Tuesday’s ballot would eliminate the city manager for a full-time mayor who would be the city’s top administrator.
The hastily organized opposition campaign was put together by the Spokane Area Chamber of Commerce and the League of Women Voters. With only five days left before the primary, “we certainly have a challenge in front of us,” said Dan Kirschner, campaign manager and the chamber’s director of public affairs.
Attorney Steve Eugster, who drafted the strong-mayor proposal, said he isn’t surprised by the chamber’s opposition.
“They fear the loss of their power,” Eugster said. “They have a direct line to (acting City Manager Bill) Pupo and others in City Hall.
“They fear they will no longer have that direct line.”
Under Spokane’s current government - in place since 1960 - the city manager runs everyday business, managing the budget, hiring and firing. The manager takes policy direction from the council.
Under Eugster’s plan, the mayor would perform the day-to-day duties of the city manager or hire someone else to do them. The mayor also could appoint department heads and three assistants in each department.
The opposition committee’s neon-green flier charges that Eugster’s proposal would increase city government costs. It also says the plan is an open invitation to patronage, with the mayor being able to hire buddies and relatives for top posts.
“What we don’t need in our city - now or at any time - is an expensive, wheeling and dealing political czar!” the flier says.
The current form of government leaves council members powerless, Eugster said, adding that a strong-mayor government would attract real leaders because it would give the council and mayor real power.
But opponents say that’s not the case.
“We don’t think the change in government will ensure that an individual who chooses to run for government will be any more qualified than the person running now,” said Pam Behring, league president and an opposition committee member.
The committee hired Kerry Lynch and Ed Clark to lead a media blitz aimed at defeating the measure.
Lynch, a chamber board member, is Spokane Mayor Jack Geraghty’s girlfriend and head of Alliance Pacific Inc., the public relations firm where Geraghty was a partner before becoming mayor in 1994.
Lynch said she doesn’t see her role in the opposition campaign as a conflict of interest. She has been actively involved in government restructuring for years, including working to pass the city-county charter.
“I’ve been part of this discussion for a long time,” she said.
Chamber member Clark said the group drafted Lynch because of her political expertise.
“She is the guru of politics and political marketing in this area,” he said. “She’s won more campaigns than anyone’s even handled.”
Geraghty, who opposes the strong-mayor measure, said he doesn’t understand how anyone could question Lynch’s work on the campaign.
“The fact is: (Lynch) has a long history with the chamber that is taking a stance against this thing,” he said. “She is in business for herself. … I’m not part of it.”
Lynch noted that Ken Degerness - also a former partner of Geraghty’s at Alliance Pacific - is doing the media blitz in favor of the strong-mayor proposition.