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Council Critic Turns Conciliatory Candidate

Sat., Sept. 13, 1997, midnight

He’s blasted Spokane City Council members for incompetence, asked them to resign and taken them to court.

Now John Talbott wants to lead them.

“It’s so much easier to get along in the world if you’re not angry …” says Talbott of his attempt to join the group he’s distrusted for years.

“What earthly good are we if we’re not involved in some way in trying to better our community?”

Talbott will battle four candidates in the Sept. 16 primary for a shot at the mayor’s chair. The two top vote-getters advance to the general election.

Of the three major challengers trying to oust Mayor Jack Geraghty, Talbott finds himself on middle ground - an unusual spot for one of the council’s most vocal critics.

He’s not as ambitious as Sheri Barnard, who wants the city’s top administrators to step down. He’s not as laid back as Duane Sommers, who wants to wait until he’s elected before he calls for lots of changes.

Talbott touts his campaign as a push to make city government more accountable to the people. He says that means making sure the city manager does his job and taxes are wisely spent.

To do that, the council needs an independent auditor, Talbott says.

“Where is our internal auditor who can take a look at how the city’s doing?” he asks, adding that convincing the council to hire one would be a top priority.

At least one council member is doubtful Talbott could convince him and his colleagues of anything.

“He would have a virtually impossible time of leading because he’s alienated everybody on the council,” says Councilman Orville Barnes, who narrowly defeated Talbott in a 1995 council race. “You can’t lead somebody that you’ve indicated to the world that they’re not doing anything for the city.”

Even some people who don’t sit on the council dais wonder how effective Talbott could be.

“The difficulty with Talbott is that he is a totally negative person,” says Jan Polek, a Democratic political activist. “We like positive people in this town.

“We want someone who’s a cheerleader for the citizens.”

But that’s exactly how his supporters see him.

“The ones that are going to hire him, the taxpayers … John will be able to reach out and touch them,” says Edward Thomas Jr., Talbott’s campaign co-chairman. “He’s certainly going to try and be that listener that we don’t have right now.”

“He motivates people,” says Joanne McCann, who along with Talbott is a member of the Washington Parents Coalition for Academic Excellence, a conservative parents’ group. “His motivation touches other people and inspires them to do the same thing.”

When Talbott looks at City Hall, he sees too many frills, too much waste and too many closed-door sessions.

He rails against a city management team that pushes pay raises - and tax increases - every year. If the city manager must cut spending and jobs to balance the budget, that’s OK, Talbott says. “We may have to quit doing some things to provide basic services.”

The key to Talbott’s plan lies in hiring the independent auditor, he says. If he can’t convince the council of that, the retired U.S. Air Force colonel would try to rally the people for support until his colleagues are convinced.

Talbott’s populist heart is part of the reason he entered the council race in the first place.

Last February, he joined Spokane residents Dick Adams and Margaret Leonard in a lawsuit aimed at stopping the city’s involvement in the $100 million River Park Square redevelopment project.

The still-pending lawsuit calls into question the council’s use of an emergency ordinance to move the project along.

The public-private partnership should have gone to a vote of the people, but the council was more interested in bowing to special interests than finding out what residents want, Talbott says.

“We need to look at a revitalized Spokane, but not just downtown,” he says. “The council has been a PR firm for special interests groups and the downtown area for years.”

Councilman Jeff Colliton disagrees with Talbott’s assessment, saying the council got involved in the project to help all residents, not a select few.

“Downtown provides our tax base,” Colliton says. “If downtown deteriorates as the demand for services remains constant,” the tax burden falls to residential areas.

The River Park Square project resurfaced on an agenda in July, when the council agreed to vacate part of Post Street to the shopping center’s developers.

After the vote, Talbott politely asked every council member but Cherie Rodgers, the lone dissenting vote, to resign.

Talbott says he brings a softer touch to the council podium than he has in years past.

Four years ago, Talbott told a Spokesman-Review reporter he was so mad at a comment made by then-Councilwoman Bev Numbers during a meeting he “wanted to grab her by the hair and jerk her off the podium.”

At the time, he says, “I was mad at the way the system treated people …” Supporters say they realize Talbott can be blunt, but they like the way he looks them in the eye and tells them the truth.

“The facts speak for themselves, and that’s where some people might think he’s not flexible. It’s not always something we want to hear,” says McCann.

Talbott used to rarely miss a meeting - or a chance to criticize council decisions. These days, his attendance is less frequent. And when he’s there, he doesn’t always speak.

He still gets angry, he says, but he tries to “turn that anger into something positive and constructive” by offering the council solutions instead of criticisms.

Barnes thinks Talbott’s new attitude is pure posturing. “Every time he decides he’s going to run, he tempers his attitude,” Barnes says.

Barnes and Talbott weren’t always political foes. Six years ago, Talbott campaigned with Barnes as the two pursued seats on the City Council.

The two made a television ad together, pledging to bring fiscal responsibility to City Hall. Barnes narrowly won his seat, and Talbott lost in an unsuccessful write-in campaign.

Two years later, Talbott ran again, this time for mayor. He lost in the primary.

In 1995, he challenged Barnes at the polls, saying his old friend didn’t live up to his campaign promises.

Barnes won - but only by 200 votes.

The election defeats haven’t lessened Talbott’s passion to run. In fact, he says, it’s made him even more determined.

“I think we’re seriously hurting in Spokane. We need a strong mayor … who can go out and develop a vision for our citizens,” he says.

“I believe I’m the leader that can cause that to happen.”

, DataTimes MEMO: See candidate profile by name

This sidebar appeared with the story: TALBOTT ON THE ISSUES Proposed Lincoln Street bridge project: Opposes it. “There is no substantive, factual document that says we need that bridge. There’s all kinds of ecological reasons for not building the bridge.” Public-private partnerships: “If a project is a viable project, private enterprise will build it.” Street maintenance: “Tell the city manager to fix them, and then he’d better find the money.” Thinks intense scrutiny of the budget would uncover dollars for streets. State Growth Management Act: “The growth certainly needs to be managed. It’s questionable by whom.” Fears too much government intrusion. Replacing retiring Police Chief Terry Mangan: The next chief should be highly respected and have a history of good relationships with his or her community. Biggest change needed at City Hall: The council should stop micromanaging the city manager. “Let him do the job he was paid to do.” Top issue: Leadership. The council “has to give some leadership that shows a specific direction toward all people in the city, not just a few.”

See candidate profile by name

This sidebar appeared with the story: TALBOTT ON THE ISSUES Proposed Lincoln Street bridge project: Opposes it. “There is no substantive, factual document that says we need that bridge. There’s all kinds of ecological reasons for not building the bridge.” Public-private partnerships: “If a project is a viable project, private enterprise will build it.” Street maintenance: “Tell the city manager to fix them, and then he’d better find the money.” Thinks intense scrutiny of the budget would uncover dollars for streets. State Growth Management Act: “The growth certainly needs to be managed. It’s questionable by whom.” Fears too much government intrusion. Replacing retiring Police Chief Terry Mangan: The next chief should be highly respected and have a history of good relationships with his or her community. Biggest change needed at City Hall: The council should stop micromanaging the city manager. “Let him do the job he was paid to do.” Top issue: Leadership. The council “has to give some leadership that shows a specific direction toward all people in the city, not just a few.”



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