County Commissioner Bonnie Mager and her general election challenger, former Spokane City Councilman Al French, peppered each other Tuesday with allegations of unethical conduct.
As in a similar exchange earlier this month, French fired first and Mager blasted back.
“This from a man who had two ethics charges filed against him while he was on the City Council,” Mager fumed.
In the end, it wasn’t clear whether either had enough mud to make anything stick.
Tuesday’s shootout began with a campaign e-mail that French asked his supporters to forward to others.
He leveled two charges against Mager:
• That she misused county resources by asking her executive assistant to stand in for her in a personal tax appeal.
• That Mager is “apparently abusing a program designed to assist legitimate members of the agricultural community.”
She responded with a list of incidents in which French’s ethics have been called into question, including illegal dredging of the Spokane River at Post Falls in May 2004. French, an architect, acted as businessman Tom Hamilton’s agent, but Hamilton said he alone was responsible for the deliberate violation.
Mager noted that French was investigated twice for ethics complaints while on the Spokane City Council – both concerning allegations that he voted for legislation benefitting former clients. He notes that the city Ethics Commission dismissed both charges.
French has little to support his accusation that Mager and her husband, John Mager, improperly claimed an agricultural property tax deferral on their 40-acre rural property near Cheney.
The Magers’ land is among 8,970 parcels in the program, and Chief Deputy Assessor Kevin Best said three staff members determined the Magers properly documented their eligibility for the tax break several years ago.
He said the couple has until Nov. 19, in a routine review, to provide updated proof that they still profit from agricultural use of their land.
The Magers were supposed to have done so by now, and were told last week that they would be removed from the program if they don’t respond in 30 more days.
Mager says she didn’t receive the first notice and has been busy with her job and campaign, but will meet the new deadline.
“Conveniently after the election,” French said.
“All of my documentation is in order, and I am properly in the program,” Mager said.
In the course of investigating Mager’s tax status, French uncovered documents that show her county-paid executive assistant, Brooke Plastino, helped her with an appeal of her land value in 2008.
Records show that Plastino used the county e-mail system to ask about appeal procedures, and that he attended a brief hearing on Mager’s behalf. The only action at the hearing was to transfer Mager’s appeal from a county board to a state board.
“This action clearly violates the community’s trust about the use of government resources for personal gain,” French told his supporters.
Mager said Plastino is a friend, and he used his break time to attend the hearing.
“If you added up all the time of the time spent by my assistant, it is probably about eight minutes,” Mager said.
French said Mager won office four years ago after accusing incumbent Phil Harris of ethical violations, but she hasn’t introduced any legislation to beef up the county’s ethics policy. He said he will do so.
Mager said French’s ethics were demonstrated in the primary when he accused Republican rivals of supporting the purchase of the Spokane County Raceway when he had publicly called the purchase “a good overall move.”
Mager also accused French of claiming support he doesn’t have. French acknowledged that Spokane Transit Authority chief Susan Meyer and Cheney Mayor Tom Trulove asked him to quit listing them as supporters.
Mager said she has the endorsement of Trulove as well as the mayors of Spokane, Spokane Valley and Liberty Lake.