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Three candidates grilled

Valley council puts questions to trio

The Spokane Valley City Council grilled a pair of retired ministers and a computer specialist Tuesday in search of a replacement for one of its founding members.

Ian Robertson, Diana Sanderson and Ben Wick all said they would try to improve the council’s communications if appointed to replace Steve Taylor, who resigned June 30 to become city administrator in Connell, Wash.

A fourth finalist among 16 applicants, former Planning Commission member Fred Beaulac, withdrew for personal reasons.

“Listen, listen, listen,” is the most important thing for a council member, Robertson said.

“Connection to people” is paramount, Sanderson agreed.

Wick wanted to communicate better with Spokane County commissioners as well.

Like Robertson, Wick wanted to use computer technology more effectively to communicate with the public. He said he found it surprisingly difficult to get good information on the Sprague-Appleway Revitalization Plan from the city’s Web site.

Wick is an information technology systems engineer for Goodrich Aerospace.

Robertson is chairman of the city Planning Commission, and retired in 2007 as senior pastor of Spokane Valley Nazarene Church. Sanderson retired last year as adult education minister of St. Mary’s Catholic Church.

Council members worked from a list of two dozen questions they gave to the candidates in advance. Some questions hinted at answers, but the finalists didn’t always oblige.

For example, a question by Mayor Rich Munson began with an assertion that, before the city was incorporated, residents paid about 70 percent of Spokane County’s purchase of an abandoned railroad right of way that the county used for Appleway Boulevard.

Munson asked whether the city should spend any money for the remainder of the right of way so Appleway can be extended. Also, he asked, should the city make any concessions to the county in negotiations for the right of way?

Wick saw the issue as an example of the “communications breakdown” with county commissioners that he would like to repair. The city sued to force the county to hand over the right of way without conditions and lost in trial and appellate courts.

“I think it will work itself out,” Wick said, agreeing with City Attorney Mike Connelly that the city and county have similar goals on the divisive issue of using some of the right of way for mass transit.

Sanderson said the city can’t expect to get the land free and should buy it “all the way to the city limit.”

Robertson wasn’t willing to pay or grant concessions, and wasn’t much interested in having the right of way at all.

“We’ve got enough to keep us busy for the next 20 years without going after something we don’t have as of today,” Robertson said. “I think, if we do not have that particular street, there are other alternatives, like Fourth (Avenue) perhaps.”

Munson and some council members consider the extension of Appleway Boulevard from University Road to Evergreen Road – and eventually to Sullivan Road – important to the implementation of the Sprague-Appleway Revitalization Plan. The plan calls for development that would use Appleway for access.

A question about city hall, posed by Councilman Bill Gothmann, also was leading: “We spend about $450,000 annually on leasing our present City Hall facility. In addition, a City Hall building would add to the attractiveness of a City Center (envisioned in the Sprague-Appleway plan). Should we build a City Hall?”

Again, the finalists blazed their own paths.

Yes, build a city hall, Robertson said. But he suggested a public-private partnership to keep the land on county property tax rolls.

Wick wanted to buy land, but was in no hurry to erect a building.

“It isn’t a life-and-death issue to me,” Sanderson said.

Perhaps the most novel ideas of the evening were presented by Sanderson. She proposed a “putting day” in which people would be encouraged to tap golf balls from place to place in the city and say, “What do you think of this spot? What can we do?”

Sanderson said voters shouldn’t be asked to approve a vehicle license fee to pay for street maintenance because they said in a statewide initiative that they wanted minimal registration fees. Instead, she suggested a $50 tax on every garage door in a dwelling.

She wouldn’t charge for carports because they’re not good for storing valuables.

Councilman Gary Schimmels moved to make the appointment immediately, but Councilman Dick Denenny said he wanted a week to mull his decision. Gothmann said he thought the council should defer to any member who wanted more time or who wanted a closed session to discuss the finalists.