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Verner: Job creation, business top priorities

Spokane Mayor Mary Verner  delivers her 2011 State of the City address during a  meeting of Greater Spokane Incorporated (GSI) at the Spokane Convention Center Friday, Feb. 11,  2011. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)
Spokane Mayor Mary Verner delivers her 2011 State of the City address during a meeting of Greater Spokane Incorporated (GSI) at the Spokane Convention Center Friday, Feb. 11, 2011. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)

Spokane Mayor Mary Verner today sounded a hopeful note for financial recovery in her fourth State of the City address.

Her speech last year focused on “positioning” the city for recovery.

“In 2011 we’re no longer positioning,” she said. “We’re no longer surviving. We’re leaning forward. We’re going ahead.”

After three years of making cuts to balance the budget, Verner said city officials, with the help of concessions from the police and fire unions, are “making the best of adversity” and providing “consistent service in some pretty unpredictable times.”

“It’s not bad work when other cities stumbled – understandably so,” she said. “Our sky did not fall in Spokane in 2010.”

Verner spoke for about 50 minutes, including a question-and-answer session and a video with a pulsing dance track showing city employees at work. The event was sponsored by Greater Spokane Incorporated, the region’s chamber of commerce, at a breakfast gathering at the Spokane Convention Center.

Her speech noted that the city will open a new police property evidence room without new taxes, and she discussed work to reduce the city’s energy bill, ongoing negotiations to join a regional animal control system and efforts to boost economic development in six parts of the city, including East Hillyard, Kendall Yards and areas near the city’s Waste-to-Energy Plant.

She said job creation and the promotion of local businesses would be the city’s “top priority” this year and promised to improve the city’s permitting system, long a complaint of the business community. The city will spend about $50 million this year on infrastructure projects, including construction approved as part of the 2004 street tax vote. Some construction projects, Verner said, were moved up to help create jobs during the economic downturn.

Earlier this month, Spokane, Spokane County and other cities and towns struck a tentative deal to keep the city-run Spokane Regional Solid Waste System intact, but it appears Spokane may lose its guarantee of disposing all the trash countywide.

“We look forward to continuing to operate our disposal system affordably even if some regional partners choose to dispose elsewhere,” Verner said.

Verner labeled police accountability “another very high priority.” Last year, the Spokane City Council beefed up the duties of police ombudsman Tim Burns, a decision Verner had argued was unnecessary until Burns advocated for the increased investigative powers.

Burns has created a committee to examine the use of Tasers, she said.

Police Chief Anne Kirkpatrick is “completely on board” with what Burns “is trying to accomplish and that’s accountability of our police department to our community,” Verner said.

Verner ended her speech by addressing the discovery of a bomb last month along the planned route of the annual march commemorating Martin Luther King Jr. She said she wants community leaders to push back “against that perception of our community as being a community that allows hatred to dwell.”

“We all have the responsibility to reinforce our ideals of acceptance and tolerance, with our employees, with our neighbors and our friends,” she said. “Your city government is throwing off the blanket of hardship that tried to smother us last year, and we’re certainly going to throw off that blanket of poor reputation.”



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