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County race drawing familiar candidates

The 2008 race for a Spokane County commissioner’s seat is so far looking a lot like 2004.

Veradale’s Bill Burke and Liberty Lake’s Brian Sayrs have both registered as Democratic contenders for Republican Mark Richard’s commission seat.

This time, the Democrats are hoping for a different outcome. Three years ago, Burke beat Sayrs in the Demoratic primary, then lost to Richard in November. “The man should never have been elected,” Burke said of Richard, a Republican. “It’s that simple.”

“I’m not worried,” said Richard. “They’re both fine individuals. I look forward to a good debate about the issues.”

Burke and Sayrs have filed candidacy declarations with the state’s Public Disclosure Commission, which serves as a sort of early-warning radar months before candidates can formally file with election officials. Richard hasn’t filed but said Wednesday in a phone interview that he intends to run.

A quick overview of the three candidates:

William M. Burke: At 55, Burke is a marketing consultant who’s well-known locally as an organizer of the annual Pig Out in the Park festival. In addition to the 2004 race, he also ran for county commissioner in 2000.

Burke said he wants to improve morale among county workers, saying they deserve better health care and benefits and more inclusive oversight. He said he’s appalled by the county’s siting of a sewage treatment plant upstream from Spokane. He predicts that the reaction of visitors during summer low-flow times in the Spokane River will be “Spokane: Hey, what’s that smell?”

Also, Burke said, the county needs to do a better job of helping struggling low-income families and of marketing the region for tourism. It needs to do a better job of discouraging the storage of large quantities of fuel and other chemicals over the aquifer. And he says he can bring charismatic leadership. “More focus, less bunk,” he said.

Brian A. Sayrs: A 39-year-old former software consultant, councilmember and full-time dad, Sayrs said he’s undeterred by his 39 percent showing against Burke in the Democratic primary three years ago. He got into the race late as a relative unknown, he says. This time, he’s filed very early and has more political experience in the region. He’s spent six years on the Liberty Lake City Council. And last year, he chaired the Spokane Transit Authority board.

Sayrs said he’s worried about high county taxes and a county push to free up land for development by expanding urban growth limits.

“The solution to the need for affordable housing is not necessarily making more land available for $300,000 houses,” he said. Instead, he said, the county should stress filling in urban lots whenever possible.

Mark Richard: After several years on the job, Richard, 43, said he believes he’s showing the public that he’s not a one-dimensional business and development candidate. (His previous job was government affairs director for the Spokane Home Builders Association.)

County worker morale is higher than when he took office, he said. Yes, workers have to pay a small amount for their health coverage now, he said, but gone are the days when most employers could offer free health care.

As for the wastewater treatment site, he said, the spot was chosen before he was elected. It would be a mistake now, Richard said, to throw away millions of tax dollars on a new plan.

The county’s role in the social safety net – particularly as it pertains to homelessness and mental health – is expanding, he said. And the commissioners are trying to balance homeowners’ desires for new housing land with a continued emphasis on filling in urban areas.

“We’re doing both,” he said. “You can’t just wave a wand and say ‘we’re gonna pack ‘em in like sardines.’ “

Richard said he plans to run on a similar platform to the one that got him elected in 2004: jobs, public safety, better collaboration within the region, road improvements and fiscal responsibility.


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