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Fri., Jan. 21, 2011, midnight

Editorial: Dempsey’s departure stifles role of dissenters

When Rose Dempsey announced she’s resigning from the Spokane Valley City Council, effective today, she expressed regrets about leaving fellow Councilman Bill Gothmann “in the lurch.”

It’s not Gothmann she’s abandoning, though, it’s the Spokane Valley voters who put her in office.

Trying to decipher voter sentiment can be tricky. After all, essentially the same constituency that elected Dempsey in 2007 turned around two years later and installed a slate of candidates whose strident opposition to the Sprague/Appleway Revitalization Plan (or SARP) helped push Dempsey to this week’s decision.

Even so, her voice of calm deliberation is part of the package voters in Spokane Valley said they wanted nearly four years ago. She had campaigned not only on her interest in creating a civic center but also on the need to improve communication between the City Council and the community. Once elected, she followed through.

Dempsey’s perseverance seems to have wavered following Tuesday evening when the new council majority outvoted her and Gothmann and approved a comprehensive plan amendment that would torpedo at least that part of the SARP providing for a civic center.

The final decision is on next week’s council agenda, but Dempsey’s departing pronouncement was unequivocal: “I won’t be there when they vote that piece of crap in.”

Of course the majority that Dempsey finds so frustrating is the majority that will pick her replacement. Not that they need another ally to maintain firm control over Spokane Valley’s civic direction, but something of value will be lost: a committed, deliberative voice of reasoned dissent.

Political majorities, especially uncompromising ones, need to be challenged. The democratic process honors the right of the minority to be heard and to hold the majority accountable. To do that effectively requires more than a seat in the auditorium, it takes a regular turn at the podium. Effective dissent reminds the public about alternatives that majorities haven’t considered – or prefer not to disclose. Dissenters force deeper consideration of choices and the tradeoffs they entail.

Dissenters seldom prevail, but they sometimes promote deeper public understanding.

Health and family considerations reportedly figured into Dempsey’s decision, so it’s hard to fault her for it. But people who seek public office should be sophisticated enough to realize that a certain amount of contentiousness is part of the job and that being elected to office amounts to a covenant between the electorate and the elected.

Councilman Gothmann will be able to look out for himself. But for the remaining year of Dempsey’s term, Spokane Valley residents are no longer likely to receive the independent representation they bargained for.

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