November 19, 1997 in Nation/World

Vote On Bridge Puzzles Council Split Decision Made As Nearly Half Of Panel Members Didn’t Attend

By The Spokesman-Review
 

Some Spokane City Council members feel more confused than con vinced by a citizens committee’s split vote on the Lincoln Street bridge project.

“We put this in the hands of a committee to look at,” Councilman Orville Barnes said Tuesday. “Almost, in a sense, they didn’t come up with an opinion.”

On Monday, the advisory committee charged with reviewing the controversial project voted 9-8 in favor of building the bridge.

Only 19 of 34 committee members attended the third and final meeting. One man left the meeting before the secret ballots were cast, and Chairman Don Barbieri didn’t vote.

“I wanted to know where the heck the rest of the people were,” said Councilman Jeff Colliton.

Two months ago, the City Council asked members of the citizens committee that chose the bridge design four years ago to thoroughly review the project. The council expanded the original 21-member committee to 34.

Mayor-elect John Talbott, who was on the original committee, chose not to participate in the meetings, saying he needs to be open-minded about the recommendation.

Several council members and Councilman-elect Rob Higgins have said they wanted the committee’s recommendation to help them decide the bridge’s fate. Now, some say they’re not sure what the vote means.

“This is not a unanimous decision by any means,” said Colliton. “That’s a difficult decision to follow.”

Mayor Jack Geraghty said he hopes to hear a report Monday on how the committee reached its decision. After that, the council must decide what to do with the recommendation.

“Personally, I’m willing to abide by the decision of the committee,” Geraghty said. “But, quite frankly, the decision on going ahead with the bridge may be made by the next City Council.”

Colliton said he hopes that’s not the case.

“This is the council that inherited the decision,” he said. “We need to stand up and make the decision.”

The advisory committee’s vote took place the same day Metropolitan Mortgage and Securities Co. Inc. released results of a weekend survey on the bridge.

Public Opinion Strategies of Virginia asked 300 registered voters how they feel about the project. More than half said the bridge is either “not a very good idea” or “a bad idea.”

More than two-thirds said they want the proposal put to a public vote.

So far, Councilwoman Cherie Rodgers is the only current council member who outspokenly favors that option. The committee’s close vote only makes her more adamant, she said.

“The public is sharp. I’ll trust their opinion,” Rodgers said.

Talbott also has said he wants the project put to a vote. He and Higgins, who will take office in January, could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

But at least two council members oppose a public vote.

“The idea that we vote on everything, heck, we might as well not have a council if we’re going to do that,” Barnes said.

“That’s what the people elected us to do,” Colliton said.

The chance to vote on the bridge proposal wasn’t a big draw for the citizens committee.

Chairman Barbieri said he was afraid to call another meeting because of sagging attendance. Eight members missed the first meeting and 10 missed the second, he said. By the final meeting, only 19 people showed up.

“Several people let me know they couldn’t work it into their schedule,” he said. “It was evident we were going to lose more of them.”

Monday’s vote came almost immediately after reports from traffic and air-quality experts and a landscape architect. The only discussion centered on whether the vote should take place - not the merits or shortcomings of the project.

“We had very little discussion,” said Margaret Watson, a former supporter of the bridge who switched sides earlier this year. “That was a disappointment to me.”

Barbieri said he was concerned that if the committee postponed the vote, fewer members would show up or they might come just for the vote, which wouldn’t be fair to those who’d sat through 10 hours of reports.

He said he isn’t sure committee members fulfilled their mission, but they did what they could in short order.

“Unless you’re willing to give several months, it’s a difficult subject to absorb,” Barbieri said. “I suspect if they are going to put in a committee that would redo all the information, they’d need to appoint a new committee.”

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Graphic: Lincoln Street Bridge poll Drawing


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