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Menke named Spokane solid waste manager

City council votes to keep interim director

Spokane leaders have picked the person they hope will salvage the regional system for disposing of trash throughout Spokane County.

The City Council on Monday voted unanimously to name Russ Menke director of the Spokane Regional Solid Waste System.

Menke, 59, has been interim director for almost a year.

The system, managed by the city, is responsible for disposing of trash throughout the county. Most of it is burned in the Waste-to-Energy Plant.

The system’s contracts with the county, Spokane Valley and other cities will expire in the next few years, and county leaders have accused the system of being biased in favor of trash customers within the city.

Menke said he will work to mend relationships within the trash partnership to earn support for maintaining the incinerator and raising recycling rates.

“My goal is that after 2011, we’ll still have a system that has all the participants it has now,” Menke said after his appointment. “Hopefully we’ll be recycling more and more so that the amount of waste that we’re landfilling decreases.”

Menke will earn $108,346 a year, the same salary he has earned as interim director.

The five-member committee created by Mayor Mary Verner to recommend a choice for the position couldn’t reach a consensus on a candidate, County Commissioner Bonnie Mager said in an interview last week.

Mager, who was on the selection panel, said she didn’t think any of the four finalists were right for the job. She questions if Menke has the management and leadership skills to lead the agency through a significant transition.

“There really needs to be an incredibly good match if the plan is to go forward with a regional system,” Mager said.

But city officials say Menke has the ability to maintain the collaboration.

“Russ has proven his leadership in the last year,” Councilwoman Nancy McLaughlin said. “He’s prepared to take the reins and lead as the full-fledged director.”

The other finalists for the job were: Ken Gimpel, a municipal relations manager at Waste Management; Martin Bey, public works services supervisor in Volusia County, Fla.; and Janet Matthews, assistant director of Metro Solid Waste and Recycling in Portland.

Menke’s predecessor, Mollie Mangerich, was fired after barely a year on the job. Mangerich’s appointment stirred controversy because former Mayor Dennis Hession chose her over an internal candidate who was ranked higher by a selection committee.

Jonathan Brunt can be reached at or (509) 459-5442.