Spokane City Councilman Mike Brewer will be gone from office by the time his proposal to return the city to its birth name makes the ballot.
Monday night, council members unanimously approved Brewer’s plan to let voters decide whether to change the name to Spokane Falls.
But the measure Brewer calls “my legacy” will appear on an unspecified spring ballot - not the November ballot he was hoping for. The two-term councilman isn’t running for re-election and wanted the issue decided before he leaves office in December.
The delay came after a fiery speech by Councilwoman Roberta Greene, who urged her colleagues to delay putting the charter amendment before voters.
The measure deserves more than seven weeks of discussion, she said. “This is absolutely like giving birth, … giving birth to a new city with a new name,” Greene said.
The decision to delay the vote - possibly putting several charter amendments on the same ballot - gave council members some wiggle room.
While they committed to putting the name change on the ballot, they didn’t specify a date - largely because they weren’t sure what dates are available for special elections.
A lot could happen before the proposal returns to the council for a second vote with a specific ballot date. Brewer will be off the council, and three other seats up for grabs this fall could change hands.
Brewer said he won’t let his plan evaporate over time.
“I’ll haunt them,” he said with a chuckle. “I’ll come back from the grave if I have to.”
More than an hour’s worth of testimony Monday included readings from history books and the results of an afternoon fax survey.
Nate Grossman - who approached Brewer with the namechange idea a few months ago - argued the plan would generate tourism dollars.
“This series of falls is the only one in North America running through the center of a metropolitan city,” said Grossman, a Valley resident who used to live in the city.
“The worldwide publicity generated (by changing the name) is worth millions of dollars to our city,” he said.
William Olson recounted the history of the waterfalls in the heart of the city, including descriptions of the falls written by early settlers. The city was named Spokane Falls when it incorporated in 1881.
“The importance of the name was self-evident to the original gatherers,” Olson said.
The plan also has its detractors.
Janelle Fallan of the Spokane Chamber of Commerce said she sent a fax survey to 800 chamber members. Of the 162 who returned the one-page “fax-back poll,” 94 percent opposed the plan. Some cited the added cost of changing names. One called Spokane Falls “too provincial.”
North Side resident Frank Yuse took a poke at the council’s sore spot, wondering why they would favor letting people vote on a name change and not the $36 million Lincoln Street bridge project.
Councilman Jeff Colliton supported putting the name change to a vote, but expressed financial concerns about the plan. City officials told him changing everything from stationery to police badges would cost taxpayers about $200,000. State transportation officials said more than 600 signs would also need to be changed.
While the proposed ordinance doesn’t force businesses to change maps or letterhead, Greene said they’d feel the need to do so.
“We’re setting ourselves up for the city to be called ‘Confusion,”’ she said.
Councilwoman Phyllis Holmes, who said she “survived” a city name change when she lived in California, doubted the switch would be traumatic.
“No one has any obligation to pick up the new name,” she said.
Brewer latched onto the idea at the urging of Grossman, a member of the Spokane Tourism and Convention Board, who fell for the proposal after reading a column in The Spokesman-Review.