A quiet Spokane Valley City Council meeting Tuesday had a fiery ending when Councilman Dean Grafos read a prepared statement launching an attack on fellow Councilman Bill Gothmann.
“Last week Mr. Gothmann insinuated once again from the dais that my motivation on this council was less than honorable, somehow dishonest and I was guided by my own financial interests,” he said. “Mr. Gothmann, I do not have a problem with your weekly blathering and bragging, but out of respect for your position as a council person, before your next diatribe, poison e-mail release or sideshow for the cameras or press, you could at the very least disclose the fact that you are a very active and vocal member of the SVBA (Spokane Valley Business Association).”
Grafos seemed to be referring to Gothmann’s practice of taking notes during council meetings and then e-mailing them to those who have requested them the next day. The notes are typically recitations of the decisions made with rare personal opinions separately added by Gothmann.
Gothmann replied that he only joined the SVBA when the organization began taping the council meetings to be aired on Comcast Channel 14 and that he is not an active member. Gothmann has previously disclosed several times that he has made financial donations to the SVBA to help pay to televise the meetings.
What seemed to upset Grafos were comments made last week by Gothmann criticizing Grafos’ repeated statements that the Sprague/Appleway Revitalization Plan was a $42 million “unfunded mandate.”
Gothmann said that the $42 million was the original price tag to change the Sprague/ Appleway couplet back to two-way, and the previous council had made adjustments to drop that number to $35 million. The cost could not be called SARP-related “any more than my big toe can be called Bill,” he said. “I think Mr. Grafos is not informing but misleading our citizens.”
This week Grafos took exception to Gothmann pointing out during the discussion of the closure of the Sprague and Sullivan intersection on May 18 that Grafos owned property in the area. He also objected to Gothmann saying previously that he had financially supported the disincorporation movement. “For a man who knows everything in the world, you got it wrong again,” he said.
Grafos was active in the disincorporation effort, according to the website disincorporatenow.com, which has since been taken down. The site included letters to the editor written by Grafos and his wife.
Grafos was also involved in Friends of Spokane Valley, which formed in August 2008 to lobby against the Sprague/ Appleway Revitalization Plan. But in spring 2009 the group shifted its effort toward the drive to collect signatures to get disincorporation on the ballot.
According to a previous Spokesman-Review story, when Friends of Spokane Valley registered with the Public Disclosure Commission in May 2009 Grafos was listed as a member of its executive committee. Fundraising reports filed with the PDC indicated that Grafos Investment, owned by Grafos, donated $1,000.
Councilwoman Rose Dempsey tried repeatedly to object to Grafos’ statement. “In our governance manual, section 7, it says, ‘We believe that council members set the tone for civic discussion and should set an example by a) setting high standards of decorum and civility,’ “ she said. “I would request that we do that.”
Grafos then turned his attention to Dempsey. “And Mrs. Dempsey, the next time someone on this council attempts to revisit or discuss an issue passed by yourself and the previous council and you feel compelled to interrupt, make faces or put them down for questioning the wisdom of some prior council decision, please take a good look around. The previous council that made those decisions is no longer here.”
Gothmann said he brought up Grafos’ ownership of property near the Sprague and Sullivan intersection because he believes in full disclosure and is careful to disclose potential conflicts of interest.
He urged more civil discussion. “There’s no reason to call anyone names, no reason to say that somebody is blathering,” he said. “I was taught by my mother to be polite. On the other hand, I’m not afraid to tell the truth.”
Councilman Gary Schimmels said, “We have had more personal attacks through the council and against staff in the last six months than we’ve ever had in the last seven years.”
“I don’t think that’s part of what we should be doing here in front of the public, ever.”
After initially supporting of Grafos’ right to comment, Mayor Tom Towey said he agreed with Schimmels. “If we need to disagree, we need to disagree civilly,” he said. “There is a line that we cross when we name names and name instances where its not substantiated. I think as a council we need to take a deep breath and consider what we’re doing and how we’re doing it.”