Democratic incumbent Bonnie Mager has drawn three strong Republican challengers in the primary contest for Spokane County commissioner. Party affiliation alone could grant her one of the two slots for the general election if her opponents divvy up GOP votes.
But much of the job is nonpartisan, and the decision for voters ought to rest on who can be the most effective leader in highly challenging times. Mager is often at odds with the two other commissioners, Mark Richard and Todd Mielke. To her credit, she was a critic of the duo’s unfortunate deal to purchase Spokane Raceway Park, which the county ought to sell back into the private sector at the first opportune moment.
However, she wants to delay the building of a new jail for at least another year. It’s been postponed already and studied enough. The county needs a new facility, and a united front will be critical for what will be a difficult sales job in tough economic times.
Mager’s role on a variety of issues has been to temper and question the proposals of her colleagues, but being reactive isn’t enough. The county also needs leaders who have a lot of ideas and who have formed the personal relationships to collaborate and achieve positive goals.
Al French is a former Spokane City Council member with a long record of leadership and achievement, whether on the council, the Spokane Transit Authority board or with the Nevada-Lidgerwood Neighborhood Association. He easily has the most public service experience and accomplishments. He is adept at working across jurisdictions, which is necessary for regional problem-solving. He has built the relationships needed to get things done.
His work at STA is perhaps the most impressive, helping turn a sclerotic bureaucracy into a vital agency that confounds the experts by persuading voters to tax themselves to keep it going. For his efforts, he has won a prestigious national mass transit award. He has good ideas about how other parts of government can become more customer-driven and efficient. He understands the need for a new jail.
Steve Salvatori is a blur of energy and a welcome sight to Spokane County politics. He moved to the region three years ago from California and started the Spokane Entrepreneurial Center and Salvatori-Scott Inc. His business experience and savvy would be helpful, because the county needs creative decision-makers to combat its continual budget issues. He is a quick study who possesses impressive knowledge of the region and its problems. If he’s not successful this time, we hope he runs for public office again.
Jeff Holy, an attorney and former police detective, is intelligent, thoughtful and sounds the right notes on many issues. But he would like to see a different jail plan, which would delay construction. He lacks the leadership experience of French and the business acumen of Salvatori.
Voters have four solid choices, but because of his breadth of experience and demonstrated accomplishments, French is the best bet in this race.