The roadsides in Spokane Valley are eerily clean.
Absent is the tangle of campaign signs of five years ago when 49 people ran for the first City Council or of two years ago when all seven seats were up for election and seven new candidates ran in the primary.
Now, only a few days before the week when candidates must file for office, there seems to be little interest in running against two incumbents, Bill Gothmann and Steve Taylor, or for a seat left open with Councilman Mike DeVleming’s decision not to seek re-election. Gothmann and Taylor have said they will run.
“I tried to recruit a couple of people,” said Mayor Diana Wilhite, but no one has said “yes.”
“I hope somebody shows up to file,” she said.
Other elected officials, longtime party organizers and former candidates have had little gossip to share about who might be running.
While the mayor said it would be nice to think the sitting council is doing such a good job that no one wants to unseat its members, she realizes that’s probably not what’s keeping people away.
“I know that being on the council takes a great deal of time, but it is an exciting time to be on the council because we’re still building,” Wilhite said.
In the last two years, there has been no shortage of contentious news out of City Hall.
A pay increase for the mayor and council raised the ire of Spokane Valley’s anti-city faction last winter.
About the same time, many of Spokane County Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich’s political supporters became angry at the city’s leadership for evicting police classes from CenterPlace and trying to change the way the city’s police chief is hired and dismissed.
Over the last year, the council has been anticipating an ambitious, expensive plan to place new zoning and strict design standards on the Sprague Avenue strip while partnering with private developers to form a city center. The plan also calls for the reversal of the Sprague-Appleway couplet, an oft-disputed issue in earlier campaigns.
On the development front, the city has all but ignored Central Valley School District’s plea for impact fees, and neighborhood leaders regularly protest new subdivisions they say will damage their neighborhoods’ character.
Nonetheless, the audience is sparse at most meetings, and no candidate has turned organized opposition to the council’s decisions into a run for office the way Jennie Willardson did following a public outcry in 2005 when the city considered privatizing the library.
Dale Strom, who ran last time, said he is “95 percent certain” he won’t run this year.
Incorporation supporter Ed Mertens ran in 2002 and 2005 but said recently the city’s founding was more important than trying again for a seat on the council.
“It was a good experience, and I’m enjoying my retirement,” he said.
On his way to the lake last week, Howard Herman, attorney and advocate of city sewer ownership, said he doesn’t plan to run again.
Speculating why there is less interest in running this time around, he pointed out that a recent meeting on proposed sewer rates drew more spectators than any of the council candidate debates during the last election campaign.
All in all, he said, he thinks most people are satisfied with what the council is doing.
“Generally speaking, people don’t get involved in anything until they get stepped on. Nobody’s really gotten stepped on yet,” Herman said.