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Charter reform includes council leadership

Hession vacancy revealed lack of clarity

When former City Council President Dennis Hession was appointed Spokane mayor in 2005, the City Charter didn’t explicitly say how Hession’s vacant seat should be filled.

So leaders guessed at the procedure based on rules for appointing vacancies in other offices.

Spokane officials are asking voters in the March 10 election to amend the charter to clarify the selection of a council president among dozens of other changes that officials call “housecleaning.”

“One of the reasons we sent it to anybody we could possibly think of was to give them some assurance that there is no hidden agenda,” said Spokane City Council member Steve Corker, referring to a mailing of the proposal to news representatives, political parties and others.

Council members say the proposed changes would have little effect on city operations but would make the charter easier to understand.

“It is a living document that needs updating periodically,” said Councilman Mike Allen, who serves with Corker, Councilman Al French and eight others on the City Charter review committee.

The clarification for appointing a City Council president says if the seat becomes vacant, the council could pick one of the other council members or anyone else who meets the qualifications.

Other proposed changes would delete outdated sections, replace clunky language or put the city in compliance with current practice. For instance, the City Charter says the council “must hold regular weekly meetings.” In practice, however, the council forgoes a couple of meetings a year during holidays or when it’s clear that a quorum won’t be present. The proposed changes would add a phrase granting cancellation authority.

The current charter says that every ordinance “shall be recorded in a book.” Officials say they haven’t done that for years, if not generations. Instead, ordinances are recorded in its “Official Gazette,” which is more like a newsletter. (The city clerk’s office does, however, bind the gazettes into a book annually.)

Other changes would:

•Allow the city to end paper publication of the “Official Gazette.” It would instead be published electronically.

•Require the city engineer to be licensed.

The March vote is expected to be the first of two on the charter. Corker said the review committee likely will recommend further clarifications, including ones affecting term limits, that likely will generate more debate. Those are planned for the November ballot.

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