Here is the first in a series of reports in which Spokane Valley City Council candidates address issues in their own words.
All the candidates were asked the same questions. They were given a maximum of 1,100 words, to be distributed as they pleased.
This installment features the race between state Sen. Bob McCaslin and Mayor Rich Munson for Munson’s council position.
McCaslin, 83, says he filed against Munson, 66, because he couldn’t persuade any other critic of the City Council to run. At the time, critics were focusing on a now-failed drive to disincorporate the city.
If McCaslin unseats Munson, he would continue to serve the eighth state Senate term he won last November.
State law allows legislators to hold local offices simultaneously. However, state law says council positions “shall become vacant” if a member misses three regular meetings in a row without being excused by the rest of the council.
McCaslin hopes to be excused from council meetings while the Legislature is in session, but says he would drive home for an important council vote.
He would not become mayor by defeating Munson because, under Spokane Valley’s city manager form of government, the mayor is a figurehead elected by fellow council members.
Question: What in your education or experience qualifies you to represent Spokane Valley residents?
McCaslin: A B.A. degree in sociology and economics at WSU and one year of graduate studies. Eighteen years of management at Kaiser, 18 years in the real estate profession and 29 years as state senator.
Munson: I have a Bachelor of Arts degree in political science and a master of science in business management. I have lived in Spokane Valley since 1977 and have been involved in local, state and national politics since 1980. I served my community as a stock broker from 1977 until 2004. These successful life experiences have prepared me to understand the complexities of city government and the financial requirements of our city. My experience has prepared me to assure fiscally conservative principles are used in developing the city budget. I have served on the City Council since the city incorporated. As a leader on the council and as mayor I have demonstrated my abilities to lead our city to a future we all want for our families and businesses.
Q: As a City Council member, would you vote to place disincorporation before voters? Why or why not?
McCaslin: Yes, if the city finances cannot sustain an incorporated city.
Munson: NO. The issue of dissolving this city is one that divides our city. For the past seven years I have labored to make incorporation work and I believe we have been successful in uniting our citizens. If the City Council were to place this divisive issue on the ballot it would send a defeatist message to our citizens that their City Council believes our city should no longer exist. Nothing could be more damaging to our business community and reflect the wrong attitude for a successful city government.
Q: Would you keep or overturn the Sprague-Appleway Revitalization Plan? What about letting voters decide? Do you think they would confirm the plan or scrap it?
McCaslin: I would overturn the plan. The council should make the decision.
Munson: I would keep this plan with the following provisions:
1. This is a plan that is subject to change as conditions change in the community.
2. Any need for outside funding must be approved by a vote of the people. If we need to issue a bond to build a city hall or build a new road, it must be put to a vote.
These votes will be for specific aspects of the plan that require public financing. By breaking this down to individual elements, the public will be in a better position to assess whether they want to see these incremental changes in our community. By State Statute, the City Council is required to determine land use issues and zoning requirements for the city. If citizens do not agree with our decisions, these same statutes provide for public discourse in the form of hearings and testimony before the Planning Commission and the City Council. The ultimate arbitrator is the ballot box when council members are up for election. Given the ability of the city government to explain what this plan is, how it works and how we will finance it, I believe most citizens will agree Sprague Avenue needs to change and they will support the plan.
Q: If you want to scrap the plan, how would you revitalize Sprague and reduce the number of vacant commercial buildings?
McCaslin: Allow and permit the private sector to revitalize Sprague Ave.
Munson: Not applicable.
Q: Do you favor the city’s policy of hiring contractors whenever possible to provide municipal services? In particular, what about the city’s contract with Spokane County for police service?
McCaslin: Yes. Allow present contract with Sheriff’s Office to continue.
Munson: Yes I do. The most successful aspect of this city has been our ability to contract with the public and private sectors to provide essential services to our citizens. We have been able to keep our costs low and have maximized our service levels for our citizens. The sheriff’s contract is working very well. We are being served by the most professional officers in the state. Our crime rates are among the lowest in the United States.
Q: The City Council passed a 6 percent telephone tax to help pay for street maintenance but says it’s not enough. What would you like to do?
McCaslin: Rescind the 6 percent tax.
Munson: Actually your statement is partially correct. The telephone tax is enough to pay for routine maintenance of our streets. This category of repair includes such items as pothole repair, street lamps, traffic signals, street sweeping and snow removal. We do not have enough to pay for major repairs such as repaving streets. These are major capital projects that will maintain our streets and insure we do not see the kind of deterioration the city of Spokane roads have witnessed for the past 30 years. The term to describe this kind of activity is Street Preservation. We may have to replace the telephone utility tax. The choice of a method to pay for this need must be approved by the voters. We must tell our citizens exactly what projects these new revenues will pay for and then, without fail, complete these projects in a timely manner. I pledge any funds approved by the voters will be used only to accomplish the projects identified in the ballot issue.
Q: The city is running short of money for its program of full-width street repaving after sewer construction. What would you do?
McCaslin: Have a thorough study of city structure to determine the efficiency of city operations.
Munson: The city has several million dollars in reserves. I believe there is more than enough of these funds available to complete these projects. If we need to dip into our reserves to complete the projects, I would vote for approval.
Q: Spokane Valley’s best-paid employee, City Manager Dave Mercier, will earn $166,102 this year. Are city officials paid too much, too little, just enough?
McCaslin: His salary seems excessive to me.
Munson: I believe we are paying for the best of the best. It is true you get what you pay for and in our case we have a city government whose budget has been in balance from day one while providing the highest level of service of any city in the region. We have never had to cut services or lay off any city workers to balance our budget. We employ 84 full-time employees who provide services to our citizens, which number over 89,000 with 46,000 households and over 6,000 registered businesses. Our salary structure assures we have people who can provide our city with the most efficient form of government in the region.
Q: Would you prefer an elected mayor instead of an appointed city manager to control the city’s day-to-day affairs, as in Spokane? How about a Spokane-style ward system for the City Council?
McCaslin: Issue needs to be studied. I support a ward system.
Munson: I believe a city our size needs a professional to run the day-to-day affairs of the city. We do not need a politician with an agenda that may or may not reflect the will of the people. A strong mayor seems to be in constant conflict with a City Council who is responsible for making policy for the city. The removal of a mayor who is not effective takes as long as four years. The removal period of a city manager who is not cutting the mustard is immediate. Our city is not yet big enough (the average ward size for the city of Spokane is about the same as our whole population) to have wards. We are not diverse enough either in cultural or economic measures to warrant wards. We will be one day, but I see no need at this time.
Q: Should Spokane Valley build a new City Hall at the University City Shopping Center, buy the building it now rents or do something else? Should it continue paying rent?
McCaslin: No. Continue renting.
Munson: One day, perhaps in the next five years, I believe we should build a new City Hall. In the meantime we should stay where we are and pay rent. These are tough times and I do not believe the public is prepared to allow us to build a new building. When a decision is made to move forward, our citizens must approve the project by voting on a bond issue which will finance the project.
Q: What are the city’s best accomplishments?
McCaslin: Mirabeau Park.
Munson: a) We started this city at the end of the 2003 recession and made it grow; b) We have proven that a very large city can provide the full range of municipal services by contracting with the private and public sectors; c) We have earned the respect of other cities, the state government and the federal government. We are known as a “can do” city; d) We have developed a vision for the future that will provide us a formula for success that will see us excel for decades; and e) We are THE CITY OF SPOKANE VALLEY!!