When Todd Mielke was elected to the Spokane County Commission four years ago, some worried the Republican would always favor developers over citizens interested in neighborhood preservation and rural land conservation. The region’s housing boom coincided with Mielke’s first two years in office, and trees on the hillsides around Spokane seemed to disappear underneath the weight of McMansion developments.
In 2005, a county zoning revision — since reversed — allowed housing developments near Spokane International Airport, encroaching on the future of the airport and Fairchild Air Force Base. And Mielke’s gung-ho support of the Spokane Raceway Park purchase raised new concerns about his land-use decisions.
But Mielke, 44, has always been pragmatic. He likes being a county commissioner, and he realized that to keep the job he would need to traverse party lines. He would need to go against his established base of supporters on occasion, as well as hone bipartisan skills he learned in the state Legislature.
So Mielke co-chaired, with the Department of Ecology’s Dave Peeler, a Spokane River cleanup collaboration. He spent more than two years in dialogue with environmentalists, industry folks, Indian tribes and Inland Northwest municipal leaders. Together, they brainstormed ways to clean up the river’s phosphorus. The effort has since stalled, but through the painstaking process Mielke formed alliances across ideological barriers.
In April 2006, he went against Republican Party wishes by appointing Ozzie Knezovich as sheriff. And in February 2005, he refused to go along with fellow commissioners Phil Harris and Mark Richard on a Spokane District Court judicial appointment that hinted of political partisanship.
Mielke’s opponent is Democrat Kim Thorburn, the county’s former chief health officer. Mielke served as chairman of the Spokane Regional Health Board that fired Thorburn in 2006. Thorburn says her candidacy is not just a revenge move. County residents should feel grateful that she chose to remain in Spokane. She’s a medical doctor with a master’s degree in public health who has decades of experience in health care, and she also volunteers in the community. The bright and informed Thorburn, 58, has turned debates with Mielke into a crash course on the county’s most important issues.
But Mielke gets the edge here. In the next four years, the county will decide how to go forward on two huge capital projects — a wastewater treatment plant and a new jail. Like the rest of the country, Spokane County will face hard budget realities. Mielke has been a careful spender of taxpayer money (the Spokane Raceway Park decision notwithstanding), and he’s up to speed on every county issue in a time when speed will matter.
The pragmatic recommendation for Spokane County voters? Give the very pragmatic Mielke another four years.