February 12, 2011 in City

Verner gives annual State of the City address

By The Spokesman-Review
Colin Mulvany photoBuy this photo

Spokane Mayor Mary Verner delivers her 2011 State of the City address during a meeting of Greater Spokane Incorporated at the Spokane Convention Center on Friday.
(Full-size photo)

Singled out

Spokane Mayor Mary Verner has taken a page from President Ronald Reagan’s playbook for her State of the City addresses by acknowledging the contributions of certain individuals.

On Friday, Verner recognized seven people:

• Greg Terhaar, a city Human Rights commissioner who has Down syndrome. Verner called him a “tireless advocate” for people with disabilities and a “clear voice” for human rights.

• Scott Brunell, a city parks employee who restored a totem pole on Canada Island in Riverfront Park.

• Dr. Kevin Oldenburg, president of MatriCal Bioscience and board member of Health Sciences and Services Authority of Spokane County.

• LaVerne Biel, vice president and CEO of Access Telcom and chairwoman of the East Sprague Business Association.

• Three workers who have not been publicly named, who were employed by Labor Ready and working for the Spokane Convention Center last month when they found and reported the bomb along the planned route of the Martin Luther King Jr. Day march. “They did not ignore what they thought was suspicious, and many of us owe them our lives,” Verner said.

More on the Web

Read Verner’s prepared speech attached to this story at spokesman. com. At spokesman.com/audio, listen to an audio clip of Verner asking leaders to combat the poor reputation the city has gotten in the aftermath of a bomb being discovered along the planned route of the Martin Luther King Jr. Day march.

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 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 county’s trash.

“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 discussing 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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