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Council opts for park advisory committee

The Spokane Park Board will set up an advisory committee, but not an oversight committee, to keep an eye on the price of projects connected to a $43 million bond issue voters will be asked to approve in November.

That distinction may be more semantic than real, but it divided the Spokane City Council on Monday night.

Council members debated the difference between telling the Park Board what it “shall” do and what it “should” do. They worried that they were running out of time before ballots are mailed to voters for the Nov. 6 election.

At one point, Council President Joe Shogan called a recess, only to have the council remain on the dais and conduct what appeared to be a series of off-microphone group discussions on the topic in front of the council audience. Donna McKereghan, a government watchdog who is running for council, accused them of violating the state’s Open Meetings Law.

At issue is the way the council, which must agree to sell the bonds if voters approve them, can demand accountability from the independent park board, which will spend the money.

Councilman Al French wanted an oversight committee, which he said would add “a level of accountability” by reporting to the council whether the voters were going to get what they thought they were promised.

But Councilman Brad Stark said French’s proposal was treading on the Park Board’s authority, and setting up “another city committee we don’t need.”

Mike Piccolo, the council’s attorney, agreed: “It’s up to the Park Board to give the final direction to the Park Department.”

Councilman Rob Crow said the two proposals weren’t really far apart, and with another week the council could possibly work out the differences. Shogan called for a recess, but instead of leaving the dais, council members stayed in front of the crowd and began conferring with the microphones off.

When Piccolo was asked whether that was a violation of the public meetings law, which requires discussions of a quorum of the council to be public, he said he was cautioning members not to gather in groups of more than three. But McKereghan pointed out that at various points, four and even five council members were standing together talking.

“I’m breaking them up as best as I can,” Piccolo said.

Eventually the council reconvened, only to reject an oversight committee, and vote 4-3 in favor of the Park Board setting up an advisory committee.

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