‘98: The Year Ahead Top 10 Issues To Watch In New Year News Predictions

Anyone can look back and rehash.

As 1997 fades into history, The Spokesman-Review challenged its reporters to take on a tougher task than identifying the Top 10 stories of the year gone by.

As a result, several sections of today’s paper attempt a first look at the expected top stories of 1998.

New top cops: Spokane’s top two law enforcement officers will call it quits in 1998, and the search to replace them is high on the community’s New Year’s agenda.

Terry Mangan will retire after nine years as chief of the Spokane Police Department. An exact departure date hasn’t been set, but Mangan said it will be before July.

John Goldman announced recently he will not seek re-election, paving the way for someone new to head up the Spokane County Sheriff’s Department.

The search to replace Mangan is under way, with city officials and citizens brainstorming about what they want from the new chief.

City Manager Bill Pupo said he will seek candidates from across the country.

As for the elected sheriff’s post, legislator and city police Sgt. Mark Sterk, a Republican, and sheriff’s Lt. Jim Finke, a Democrat, have announced their candidacies.

-Adam Lynn

Senate race: One Washington state political race looks to dwarf all others next year: Sen. Patty Murray’s reelection campaign.

Democrat Murray made the leap from the Legislature to Congress in 1992, the year of the woman in politics.

Now Republicans who control the Congress think she’s among the most vulnerable incumbents of 1998.

The early favorite for the GOP nomination is U.S. Rep. Linda Smith of Vancouver, who has built a statewide political network through previous initiative campaigns and so-far unrealized calls for campaign finance reform.

Pierce County Executive Doug Sutherland is her main competition right now, with conservative Seattle radio host John Carlson in a “check with me later” position.

A Murray vs. Smith race would feature two types of populists - one a liberal “mom in tennis shoes,” the other a fervent social and fiscal conservative.

Handicapping the race requires the usual disclaimers: There are unknown issues still to exploit and unthinkable mistakes still to be made.

That said, Murray has a slight advantage, based on her funding and name recognition and geography. Washington voters haven’t elected a senator from outside the Puget Sound area for 70 years.

-Jim Camden

Burning ban: Washington state officials are poised to snuff out bluegrass field burning in 1998.

With Gov. Gary Locke’s blessing, the Washington Department of Ecology has hastened its search for alternatives to the practice.

Growers say they need to torch fields to get a good seed yield the following year.

Spokane’s medical community and clean-air advocates say a ban is necessary because of the public health risks of breathing smoke.

Ecology has already cut Kentucky bluegrass field burning by 40,000 acres in the past two years.

But to eliminate it, the state’s Clean Air Act says the agency must approve a “commercially viable” alternative to burning fields.

That decision will be made by March, said Ecology Director Tom Fitzsimmons.

The department’s resolve on the issue came after pressure from Spokane doctors and clean-air activists, who deluged Locke and Fitzsimmons with mail last year when it appeared the state was waffling on the final phase of the burning ban.

But Kentucky bluegrass growers say the burn ban will hurt them economically - and a commercially viable alternative can’t be found by March.

Among the “alternatives” the law allows Ecology to consider to enact the ban: raking fields to remove bluegrass stubble that causes heavy smoke; rotating crops for better seed yield; and telling farmers to grow crops other than bluegrass.

If no alternative is found, farmers would still be allowed to burn onethird of their fields in 1998, or about 20,000 acres.

-Karen Dorn Steele

Eastern’s future: Eastern Washington University students may learn in 1998 if they’ll be graduating as Washington State University Cougars.

Suffering from a student enrollment drop and loss of leadership, 115-year-old Eastern faces its toughest challenge as legislators begin debate in February about whether to turn the school into a branch of WSU, or let it continue a course of recovery as a stand-alone regional university.

A merger would give WSU one plum - the Riverpoint Higher Education Park, a growing downtown Spokane centerpiece for public higher education.

But the deal could hike tuition for Eastern students and make the Cheney campus subservient to WSU administrators in Pullman.

Eastern’s president will step down in June, leaving one of four vacancies at local colleges and universities. Gonzaga University, Spokane Falls Community College and the Community Colleges of Spokane also hope to hire new presidents or chief executive officers in 1998 or later.

-Grayden Jones

Wet and warm: El Nino gets blamed for everything from bad skiing to a lack of sunshine, but the unusual weather pattern definitely gave the Inland Northwest a mild start to winter.

Now, the region’s best El Nino prognosticator is calling for heavy precipitation in January, as snow and rain.

“We’ll see wet, but no Arctic (air),” said Bob Quinn, a professor of geography who studies weather trends at Eastern Washington University.

The mild winter may mean a light snowpack. That could cause low stream flows next summer, and problems for migrating salmon and farm irrigators. Also, forests could have high fire danger.

El Nino refers to the abnormal warming of the tropical Pacific off the coast of South America.

The warmer ocean water changes the balance of energy in the atmosphere, causing storms across the Sun Belt. The change also inhibits the coldest Arctic air from migrating into the Pacific Northwest.

“We might see a nice winter warmup at some point,” Quinn said.

-Mike Prager

Unclogging the Valley: Valley drivers can start dreaming of less congestion on Sullivan and Pines when construction begins this summer on a $23.4 million interchange at Evergreen Road and Interstate 90.

The Legislature is expected to approve the needed $4 million to get the project going.

Spokane Valley Mall developer JP Realty, Hanson Center owner Raymond Hanson and Inland Empire Paper Co. will scrounge up the total $9.3 million needed to complete the project, so Hanson and JP Realty can start building more commercial meccas along I-90 near Sullivan Road.

-Angie Gaddy

More welfare reform: “Help Wanted” ads may become collectors’ items in 1998, as at least 8,000 adults in Spokane County are expected to drop off welfare roles and start collecting paychecks.

The get-to-work overhaul of public assistance will be felt by employers, colleges and child-care centers, say state officials.

They say a good dose of motivation, a drawer full of bus vouchers, lots of quality day care and wage subsidies are keys to giving the poor a better life.

But critics anticipate long lines at food banks, and depressed wages.

Studies say a family of three needs an income of $13 an hour to rise out of hand-to-mouth poverty.

Most entry-level jobs pay half that, the skeptics say, and the new welfare system does not emphasize education.

Legislators anticipate long debates when they reconvene in January. Vague rules, written in marathon sessions this summer, will be ironed out.

-Jonathan Martin

An outsider mayor: A true outsider crosses the threshold to insider when John Talbott moves into Spokane City Hall as mayor.

It’s a giant step for a man who once asked most of the City Council to resign.

Now, after years of mutual mistrust, Talbott and council members will refer to each other as “colleague.”

Talbott’s challenges go beyond trying to build consensus among a group of people who still see him as an angry man blasting them from the opposite side of the podium.

He’s determined to hire an independent auditor who will scour city coffers for wasteful spending.

He wants to “level the playing field” of a system he sees favoring the haves over the have-nots. Neighborhoods need as much attention as downtown, he says.

Together, Talbott and the council must find at least some money to fix crumbling streets.

They’ve got to solve the money riddle of the ailing Monroe Street Bridge. They’ve got to decide whether to build the proposed Lincoln Street bridge.

Talbott, for one, is certain he’s ready for the tasks that lie ahead.

“I’m up to it,” he said. “I can do it.”

-Kristina Johnson

School improvements: Spokane School District 81 voters will be asked to approve a $74.5 million bond issue Feb. 3.

If the bond is approved, some students would see big changes: Lewis and Clark High School would undergo a dramatic renovation that would require buying new property, and adding gym space and parking.

Browne Elementary School in north Spokane would be rebuilt.

Almost half the bond money - about $35 million - would go for new computer technology in all district schools.

That includes electrical upgrades needed to install the new equipment.

The proposal includes assorted goodies for various schools, including new science rooms for the high schools and a $3 million telephone and security system for the entire district.

-Jeanette White

United hospitals: It could be a double bill of horror movies, “The Medical Center that Ate Spokane” followed by “The Incredible Shrinking Medical Reimbursement.”

Spokane hospitals are trying to prevent either movie from coming to a hospital near you.

In the next year, Spokane hospitals will continue to work closer together in an attempt to stave off for-profit companies that could swoop in to swallow up some of the area’s medical business.

The hospitals are also trying to deal with medical reality, which means less and less money from insurance companies and government programs.

The hospitals started working together in 1994 under Inland Northwest Health Services, a nonprofit corporation of Deaconess Medical Center, Holy Family Hospital, Sacred Heart Medical Center and Valley Hospital and Medical Center.

Since then, helicopter services have been combined. Rehabilitation services have been folded together. Trauma cases are traded between Deaconess and Sacred Heart every week. A computer backbone links most of the hospitals in the region.

In the next year, INHS will be at the forefront of trying to open a cancer center.

More rural hospitals will be linked to the Spokane hospitals through new technology.

-Kim Barker

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color photo

The following fields overflowed: CREDIT = From staff reports Adam Lynn, Jim Camden, Karen Dorn Steele, Grayden Jones, Mike Prager, Angie Gaddy, Jonathan Martin, Kristina Johnson, Jeanette White and Kim Barker

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