For a while on Monday, it looked like the Spokane City Council was climbing aboard Mr. Peabody’s wayback machine for a return to the time, five or six years ago, when the council was notoriously dysfunctional and argumentative.
That’s a trip we don’t need to take.
The issue on Monday was the normally mundane decision the council makes every couple of years as to which members will sit on which committees. Of several dozen individual appointments, two caused an extended protest by Councilwoman Nancy McLaughlin, who was not reappointed to represent the city on the Spokane Transit Authority board and the Spokane Regional Transportation Council.
Both McLaughlin and a couple of supporters in the audience denounced the council’s decision and questioned the other members’ principles for engineering it.
Indeed, McLaughlin’s experience and service on the two transportation bodies will be missed. But the makeup of the Spokane City Council underwent a marked change following November’s election. Two generally conservative members are out, and two generally liberal members are in, and the complexion of the Council’s decisions is going to change accordingly. It’s not ethics; it’s ideology.
But McLaughlin wasn’t treated all that roughly. She still represents the city on the Association of Washington Cities and the National League of Cities. She’s still on the Finance Committee, among others. Those are significant responsibilities.
Nevertheless, we understand her disappointment. We share it. She has been a respected supporter of public transit and has credibility with a constituency likely to be skeptical of that message if it came from a different voice. When the STA board meets next week, it will begin work on a 2 percent service cutback that needs to be executed in just eight months. Incoming board members Jon Snyder and Amber Waldref, both freshly elected City Council members, will face a steep learning curve that McLaughlin wouldn’t.
Maybe that’s why STA’s Operations and Customer Service Committee, on which McLaughlin sits, appealed for her reappointment in a letter that Council President Joe Shogan and other council members, to put it nicely, ignored.
Still, McLaughlin’s six fellow council members, including Shogan, are all elected, too, and they are obligated to represent their constituents’ interests as they see them. That takes precedence over sparing a colleague’s feelings.
This isn’t the last time McLaughlin, the one solidly conservative member remaining on the Spokane City Council, will be outnumbered. But many issues that come before the council are unencumbered by the philosophical fault lines involved here.
We’ve seen before how badly disrespect can corrode council effectiveness. The city needs and deserves the full, collaborative energies of all seven members.