Despite her efforts to remain neutral, Spokane Mayor Mary Verner is being pulled into the county commissioner race between incumbent Todd Mielke and challenger Kim Thorburn.
A newspaper ad purchased by the Spokane County Republican Party contended last week that Verner “led the effort to terminate Thorburn” as the health district officer in 2006. An ad purchased by the Thorburn campaign earlier in the month placed Verner near the top of a list of residents endorsing the challenger’s candidacy.
Neither is correct, Verner said.
As a City Council member in 2006, Verner was on the Health District board that voted to fire Thorburn. The ad is correct in that she made the motion that resulted in the 12-0 decision to terminate her.
But that doesn’t mean she led the effort, Verner said this week. “It was a cumulative decision made by the board over a length of time,” she said. “There was no leading the charge because there was no charge to lead.”
Thorburn said she doesn’t believe Verner was the leader of the effort to oust her. While the board decided her fate mostly in closed session and without her, Thorburn noted that Mielke was the Health District board chairman at the time.
The ad was donated to Mielke’s campaign as an in-kind contribution by the local Republican Party. County GOP Chairman Curt Fackler and Mielke contend it is accurate because, as the ad later states, Verner made the motion to terminate Thorburn.
GOP leaders didn’t talk to Verner about the ad, Fackler said. If the party hears from her, Fackler said, he’ll consider trying to clarify the statement. But the party has no plans to buy another ad.
Mielke accused Verner of reneging on a commitment to stay neutral in the race by endorsing Thorburn, based on a campaign ad in The Spokesman-Review’s Oct. 7 voter guide and her listing on the Thorburn campaign Web site.
Verner said she hasn’t endorsed either candidate and is trying to stay out of the race to “focus my energy on city concerns.”
When she recently discovered the Thorburn campaign had listed her as a supporter, she asked that it stop. Her name was removed from the list of endorsements on Thorburn’s Web site.
The campaign’s practice is to get a signed statement before listing an endorsement, but in this case that didn’t happen, Thorburn said.
Commissioner Bonnie Mager said she believed Verner made a verbal commitment to support Thorburn early in the campaign, and passed that on. She was surprised that Verner said she was not supporting the challenger. Any mistake was her fault, Mager added.
“It was a miscommunication,” Thorburn said. “We’ve apologized to Mayor Verner.”
While state law essentially forbids a campaign from claiming an endorsement it does not have, that law is not considered enforceable by the state Public Disclosure Commission.