Control of Washington’s second-largest city is up for grabs.
So are seats on everything from city councils and school boards to fire protection and water districts across Eastern Washington.
Ballots for Washington’s Aug. 16 primary hit the mail on Thursday, meaning you should either already have yours or will be getting it soon.
To help sort through the choices, The Spokesman-Review is publishing this guide to the contested races across Spokane County. We also have an extensive online guide at spokesman.com/elections that features candidate profiles, links to campaign and other useful websites, and a constantly updating stream of election-related stories.
An online voters guide to Spokane-area contested races also can be found on the county auditor’s website at https://wei.secstate.wa.gov/spokane/ Pages/OnlineVotersGuide.aspx.
Your vote matters. In this state, the two candidates with the most votes in the primary advance to the winner-take-all general election, which this year is on Nov. 8. Primary ballots must be returned by Aug. 16.
In addition to contested races for various board seats, there’s also a series of proposed amendments to the city of Spokane’s charter. Summaries of those proposed changes also are examined in this guide and online.
Reporters Jonathan Brunt, Nina Culver and Jody Lawrence Turner contributed to this section. It was assembled by Deputy City Editor David Wasson.
Spokane voters decided in 1999 to change the city’s system of government from a weak mayor who led the City Council that hired the top administrator, to a strong mayor, who leads the administration and has veto power over the council. Since then, only the current mayor, Mary Verner, has served longer than three years. This year, she hopes to become the city’s first mayor to win re-election in nearly four decades. The mayor is entitled to earn about $170,000 a year under the City Charter, though Verner only accepts $100,000.
Mary Verner, 54
Platform: Says her leadership has allowed the city to weather historic recession without significant service reductions through improved efficiency, better communication with employees and citizens and union negotiations that resulted in concessions. Says she will “continue supporting existing businesses with affordable high-value city services and will expand my outreach to recruit new businesses to Spokane to provide family-wage jobs.”
David Condon, 37
Former district director for U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers
Platform: Says top priority will be to create jobs and retain jobs in Spokane and that the current administration has ignored the needs of business. Promises to be a tougher negotiator with the city’s unions and to work for a pay freeze and to end “nearly free health care” at City Hall. Says he would reverse some taxes and fees approved in the last few years and cut the budget accordingly while asking voters for a different tax for streets with a specific spending plan before going to voters.
Michael Noder, 53
Co-owns demolition company
Platform: Noder wants to cut the size of the city workforce, which currently numbers about 2,100, by 200 to 400 workers, potentially through privatization. Of the candidates who make public appearances, he is the only one opposed to collective bargaining by union workers. He believes the city should sue the state Department of Ecology to prevent having to make costly environmental upgrades to the city’s sewer system, requirements that are driving up utility bills.
Barbara Lampert, 65
Retired nurse’s aide
Platform: Lampert, who has run for office each year since the mid-1990s, wants to hire an additional 100 police officers, which she claims is possible – despite the city’s $7 million shortfall – by cutting administration and city pay. One of her top issues in this campaign is creating a plan to eradicate skunks and crows and decrease the number of squirrels and marmots within city limits.
Robert Kroboth, 77
Retired debt collector
Notable: Won’t participate in candidate forums or candidate interviews. Website says: “Elected government representatives that pass unnecessary government debt on to their children and grandchildren are child molesters.”
Spokane City Council president
Four candidates are vying for the chance to replace retiring City Council President Joe Shogan. The position, which pays $55,000 a year plus benefits, is the only elected city job besides mayor that is chosen by voters citywide. The president leads meetings and usually works closely with the mayor to coordinate city business. This year, voters have four options: two veterans of city politics, a newcomer and a long shot.
Ben Stuckart, 39
Director of Communities in Schools of Spokane County, former regional manager at TicketsWest
Platform: Lists his top priority as creating “revenue for our city by strengthening communities and supporting small neighborhood businesses.” Says city must do more to assist small businesses and improve the health of neighborhood centers and increasing infill development to prevent sprawl and development outside city borders. Says city must “examine parking requirements, transition zones, setback rules, lot sizes and height requirements” to help “entrepreneurs to flourish.”
Dennis Hession, 61
Attorney, former Spokane mayor, former Spokane City Council president
Platform: Promises “inspirational leadership and connection to our citizens to impress that the City of Spokane is ‘open for business.’ ” Says he will promote “a pro-growth and development agenda” and will work to develop “seamless mechanism to process permits, plan review requests and zoning changes.” Says he will work to keep city services at current level or better without raising taxes.
Steve Corker, 70
City councilman, consultant, college instructor
Platform: Promises to bring more civility to council meetings. Says his top goal is to “restore financial stability to the city” by “increasing revenues through attracting capital intensive businesses.” Opposes tax increases as a way to balance the budget. Wants to simplify the permitting process to help small business. Supports infrastructure improvement “that respects Spokane’s role as a regional economic center” and prioritizes “auto, freight and intermodal related connectivity” over bike and pedestrian upgrades.
Victor Noder, 51
Platform: Labels himself as VTG, for Victor the Green. Says his top priority is “environmental protection, which includes humans or community,” while also working for economic prosperity. Says he would build “a collaborative disagreement process by performing exceptionally as a chairman.” Opposes the planting of “broad leaf” trees along streets because they block sunlight from gardens.
Notable: Victor is the brother of Mike Noder, who is running for mayor, though Mike has declined to endorse Victor.
Spokane City Council
Spokane voters will elect three City Council members this year, but only the race for a seat representing Northeast Spokane has more than two candidates, thus resulting in a primary that will narrow the field. The eventual winner will replace City Councilman Bob Apple, who is prevented by term limits from running again. The job pays $30,000, plus benefits. Only voters in the district, roughly east of Division, north of Interstate 90, plus most of downtown, will make a pick in the race. Each candidate in the race has run for public office before, though none has won.
Gary Pollard, 67
Longtime chairman of Riverside Neighborhood Council
Notable: Says he will “bring reasonable, fair, common-sense solutions to challenges currently facing city government.”
Mike Fagan, 51
Co-director of Voters Want More Choices, a group that advocates for lower taxes
Notable: Says he will have the political courage to fight tax increases and to fight the erosion of property rights and extensive regulations from state and federal government and nongovernmental organizations.
Luke Tolley, 32
Organizer for SustainableWorks, a nonprofit group that performs energy audits
Notable: Promises to be a “positive leader who believes in customer service and diplomacy.” Says his extensive community involvement, which includes serving as president of the Hillyard Neighborhood Council, makes him especially prepared for the job.
Chris Bowen, 33
Activity coordinator for Helping Hands, a nonprofit residential treatment center
Notable: Bowen declined to submit a questionnaire outlining his positions. In past races, he has refused to discuss previous employment. The state Public Disclosure Commission is investigating a complaint that he has violated campaign finance rules.
John Waite, 46
Owns Merlyn’s Comics & Games
Notable: Says his experience owning a business gives him important experience to help the city “build a sustainable budget.” Says his first priority is “to ensure Spokane is a great place for entrepreneurs to create the small business jobs.”
Donna McKereghan, 58
Owns website design company
Notable: Says her education (she is the only candidate in the race who has earned an advanced degree) and her long involvement in city issues and her work in state government (she served on the Legislative Ethics Board) makes her the best candidate.
Spokane Valley City Council
This seat is currently held by Bill Gothmann, who is not running for re-election. Gothmann has represented a dissenting vote on many zoning issues against the majority of the council. The city currently is doing well financially, with a healthy ending fund balance each year, but there is no revenue stream identified to pay for the preservation of the city’s streets. The city is also grappling with a declining Sprague Avenue that is dotted with vacant buildings. Council members earn $9,000 a year and qualify for health care benefits.
John Baldwin, 74
Platform: Baldwin wants the city to live within its means and cut “non-essential programs.” He believes Sprague Avenue should remain one-way, but also thinks the voters should have the final say. He believes the city should encourage light manufacturing businesses to move into the many vacant buildings as a way to stimulate the economy.
Personal: Baldwin, who is retired, has been a longtime volunteer with University SCOPE. He served in the Air Force for 12 years and also worked for two decades as a stock clerk and night manager at Rosauers.
Marilyn Cline, 66
Platform: Cline believes the need for a balanced budget is the most important issue facing the city. “We can’t always go to the reserve to balance the budget.” She opposes any new taxes and favors zoning regulations that are “designed to allow businesses to operate successfully.”
Personal: Cline, who is retired, was a longtime volunteer with Central Valley SCOPE before recently resigning to take a position on the countywide SCOPE board of directors. She previously worked as a hairdresser.
Lewis Higgins, 68
Platform: Higgins wants the city to focus on public safety, roads and infrastructure and be “frugal in its spending.” He wants the city to be business friendly while growing in a responsible manner. He opposes any new taxes and also believes the city relies too much on grant money for projects. “We must learn to live within our means.”
Personal: Higgins comes from an Idaho mining family and has held numerous jobs in the mining industry. He retired in 2005 as the executive director of the International Association of Mine Safety Professionals.
Ben Wick, 29
Platform: Wick believes the city needs to have a long-term plan that brings together businesses and the community. “Together we can identify the development/prosperity roadblocks, better understand them, know where we want to go and together we can get there.” He says the city should also be a regional leader and work collaboratively with its neighbors.
Personal: Wick, an IT system administrator for Goodrich Corp., is no stranger to Spokane Valley politics. He ran for City Council in 2003 when the city incorporated. He has also applied for a vacant council seat three times, once in 2009 and twice in 2011. He was a finalist for all three positions but was not selected.
Spokane Public Schools Board
Three men and two women are vying for a position on the area’s largest school board. The nonpartisan board positions are at-large. As long as candidates live within the district’s boundaries, they can run. The board’s biggest challenge each year is coming up with a balanced budget in a state that has historically underfunded basic and special education. At the same time, the district is trying to improve graduation rates and student achievement. Board members are elected to six-year terms and can earn up to $4,800 per year.
Larry Vandervert, 72
Retired psychology professor
Platform: If elected, he promises “to ensure that all students reach or exceed individual learning goals as aligned with Washington state standards, with a special eye on English and math scores.”
Notable: The former Spokane Falls Community College psychology professor has published numerous articles, including one on school board innovation – “Vandervert on SkyHigh Innovation in the Boardroom” – and others on child prodigies and mathematics.
Deana Brower, 41
Platform: Brower thinks the addition of an experienced K-12 teacher would add insight to the board. She also says “all stakeholders in our community (parents, educators, business members, etc.) must participate collaboratively as the success of our district depends on it.”
Notable: She is a member of the Chase Youth Commission, a member of the board of directors at the YWCA and chairwoman of Citizens for Spokane Schools. She is also a member of the district’s Middle School Advisory Committee.
Sally Fullmer, 54
Professional musician and private piano teacher
Platform: The former educator thinks the board needs someone who “asks the tough questions.” She also wants to revamp the math curriculum in the district.
Notable: Fullmer is currently a member of a group, Hart Field Preservation Organization, that’s attempting to sue the district for its decision to move Jefferson Elementary School.
Bob Griffing, 55
Self-employed Department of Defense contractor, serving as Airman Ministry Center coordinator
Platform: As a board member, Griffing would focus on strengthening board leadership, sharpening the budget focus to make the district “lean and mean,” and refocusing the district on its main goal: “well-educated students.”
Notable: Sue Chapin, current Spokane Public Schools board president, is among his campaign contributors.
Rod Roduner, 58
Platform: He’s seeking election because of “my binding advocacy for students, teachers, parents and all stakeholders in our children’s future.”
Notable: Volunteers as a court-appointed special advocate.
Medical Lake City Council
The only contested primary in this West Plains city of 4,910 pits incumbent Councilman Howard Jorgenson, attorney Donald Kennedy and state Transportation Department worker Kent Reitmeier against each other.
The job pays $200 a month.
Medical Lake is home to several state and regional institutions, including Eastern State Hospital, and is close to Fairchild Air Force Base. Population dropped sharply in the 1960 census and has been relatively flat since then.
Howard Jorgenson, 72
Retired state worker
Jorgenson was an equipment operator at Eastern State Hospital and was president of the Washington Federation of State Employees for more than 20 years. He served on Gov. Gary Locke’s transition team when Locke took office in 1997. Later that year, Jorgenson – who had served six years on the City Council – resigned his council and union positions to serve on the state Personnel Appeals Board. He rejoined the council in 2004 with a three-vote victory.
Notable: Jorgenson’s vote in 2008 helped kill a 227-acre annexation he said would strain city resources.
Donald Kennedy, 60
Married with two adult children, Kennedy moved to Medical Lake in 1996 after 18 years in the Cheney area. He earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in geology from Eastern Washington University in 1973 and 1979 and a law degree from Gonzaga University in 1991. His practice focuses on oil, gas and mineral rights.
Kennedy wants to remove government “roadblocks” for small businesses. He promises to listen to all sides and “carefully analyze” issues before making decisions.
Notable: Kennedy sees government service as a civic duty. “Too many of us don’t want to take the time,” he said. “… We only take note when the government does something that complicates our lives.”
Kent Reitmeier, 48
State transportation worker
Married, with two adult children from a previous marriage, Reitmeier is a pesticide applicator for the state Department of Transportation. He grew up on a farm and has spent most of his life in agriculture in the Medical Lake area. He wants park events and civic improvements to lure new residents and businesses. The city “has taken a back seat to other communities” and needs “fresh thoughts” for growth, according to Reitmeier.
Notable: Reitmeier served four years with the American Legion Baseball Association and co-founded the Medical Lake Baseball Boosters to raise money for youth baseball.
Other contested races
Some voters will cast ballots in contested primaries in outlying areas.
Deer Park School District
This rural school district stretches across parts of three counties: Spokane, Stevens and Pend Oreille.
The candidates are:
• Paul W. Lewis, a former community college professor and administrator now working as a management and accounting consultant.
• Joshua Gilstrap, a private-practice lawyer who also serves as a Stevens County public defender.
• Jeff Whittle, the board’s current vice president and grocery chain executive.
Fire Protection District No. 9
There’s a three-way race for the Position 1 seat on the board of commissioners. The district, which operates with a combination of volunteer and career firefighters, is responsible for protecting about 39,000 people spread over about 122 square miles northwest of Spokane.
The candidates are:
• Ralph J. Rickards Jr., a former auxiliary firefighter in San Marino, Calif., making his first run for elected office.
• Thomas R. (Tom) McGarry, a lawyer who also is making his first run for elected office.
• Robert E. Strasburg, the incumbent commissioner and former small-business owner.
The Spokane City Council voted in May to ask city voters to consider 11 changes to the City Charter. So far, the most controversial is Proposition 7, which has been formally opposed by the Spokane Park Board. Most of the others have received little attention. Some of the proposals (especially Propositions 2, 4, 8, 9 and 11) are minor and don’t change current city practice.
Proposition 1 would allow a City Council member to serve as City Council president even after serving two consecutive terms on the council. Currently, the City Charter’s term limit stipulations prevent that from happening. The change would keep intact all other term limit rules. The proposition keeps a requirement that candidates must be residents of the city for at least a year, but defines residency to mean a person’s “permanent address where he or she physically resides and maintains his or her abode.”
Proposition 2 clears up language in the City Charter about the salaries of elected officials but doesn’t change the rules. The mayor still would be entitled to a salary equal to that of the highest-paid city employee other than the city administrator. City Council members’ pay under the proposition would be set by ordinance that wouldn’t take effect until after the current term is over. That’s not a change under the current system. The council decided by ordinance in 2007 that its pay would be set by a Salary Review Commission, a system that would not change.
Proposition 3 would stipulate that recall elections of council members elected by district would be held only in the member’s district. Currently, all recall elections, including officials elected in districts, are held citywide.
Supporters say holding a recall election citywide of a member elected by district diminishes the power of each district and means that a member who’s popular with the voters who elected him or her could be tossed out of office by people he doesn’t technically represent.
Opponents say City Council members consider matters that affect all residents and that something as important as a recall of a City Council member should be considered by all voters.
Proposition 4 would allow the City Council to create committees to recommend policy to the council or otherwise assist them without the mayor having to appoint the members of the committee.
Proposition 5 would require that in the event that the City Council president is elevated to perform mayoral duties because the mayor became unable to fill the role or the office of mayor is vacated, the City Council president could not also serve on the City Council at the same time.
Proposition 6 would give the mayor the power to hire outside attorneys without approval of the City Council. Currently, the City Council is required to approve any decision to hire outside legal help. If the cost of employing an outside attorney were to reach $44,200 for 12 months of work, then the City Council still would have approve the funding under other city rules.
Proposition 7 would strip the Spokane Park Board of its power to condemn property. The City Charter currently requires the City Council to condemn land for park acquisition if requested by the Park Board. This proposal would give the City Council the power to turn down the Park Board’s condemnation requests.
Park leaders say the action is a move against the Park Board’s independent authority granted by voters more than a century ago. They add that the board has rarely, if ever, used its condemnation powers.
But City Council members say they should not be forced to condemn land by unelected officials.
Proposition 8 would formalize the process for determining how to assign newly annexed land to a City Council district. Annexed land contiguous to only one district would automatically be placed into that district. The City Council would vote to determine how to assign annexed land that touches multiple districts.
Proposition 9 would clarify that the Office of Neighborhood Services reports to the mayor. In practice, that’s where the office has been reporting anyway.
Proposition 10 would allow the city to hold more than one special election within a six-month period. For the city, a special election is any city election except the primary and general elections held during odd-numbered years – when city officials are elected.
Supporters of the change say it removes ambiguity and would give elected leaders flexibility to deal with serious issues.
Opponents say the current rules prevent the city from approving too many special elections, which cost money. It also forces the city to reflect before asking voters to approve a tax proposal that has failed.
Proposition 11 would formally give the City Council the power to direct the City Plan Commission to review specific proposals and make recommendations on pending legislation.