The chairman of the Spokane Park Board has issued an apology – called for by Mayor Dennis Hession – for making a racially insensitive remark.
But it may not be enough to keep the episode from becoming a campaign issue.
Councilman Brad Stark, a vocal critic of Hession, has called on the mayor to return a $1,000 campaign contribution from the Park Board chairman, Frank Knott.
“It’s dirty money at this point,” Stark said, referring to the controversy that has erupted over Knott’s use of a term in a newspaper interview that many find racially insensitive.
Stark said he will return a $99 contribution Knott made to Stark’s campaign at a 2005 barbecue.
It was the same fundraiser, in fact, that got Stark in trouble with the state Public Disclosure Commission because he failed to report the contributions for more than a year.
An attempt to reach Hession late Wednesday afternoon was unsuccessful.
But at least one council member is dismissing Stark’s demand as election year politics.
“He’s running for re-election, and I think he’s using the Park Board and volunteer members as leverage,” said Councilman Bob Apple, who serves as the council’s liaison to the Park Board.
Meanwhile, in his formal apology Knott said he has helped promote diversity efforts.
“It was not my intention to be offensive to any current or former Park Board member by my remark that was quoted in the paper,” Knott said in a letter to the editor that is published in full in today’s Spokesman-Review.
“I was en route to another meeting on my car cell phone and was trying to accommodate the reporter’s deadline and consequently my remarks were not well thought out.”
While speaking to a reporter on concerns about diversity on the Park Board, Knott named some past members of the board who are not white. “What was that colored guy’s name from the east side?” he asked when trying to remember the name of a former Park Board member.
The article was published in Sunday’s newspaper.
Some council members have called for more diversity on the Park Board.
Of the 10 appointed members, six live in the southern council district, three live in the northwest council district and none lives in the northeast. One seat is vacant.
Apple points out, however, that he represents the northeast district and is a voting member of the Park Board as the council liaison.
The Park Board is the city’s final authority on park spending and policy.