For all that Spokane Mayor Mary Verner has taken on in her first term, merely being the incumbent may be her toughest test, one failed by every predecessor going back more than 30 years. Capable opponents make a second term no guarantee this time, either.
Five candidates are running in the primary. One, retired debt collector Robert Kroboth, has declined to speak to the media about his intentions. A second, retired nurse’s aide Barbara Lampert, is a perennial candidate who wants to hire another 100 police officers. Their presence, she says, will help the city attract enough new businesses to pay them.
The more formidable challengers are Michael Noder, the owner of a demolition business, and David Condon, a former deputy chief of staff for U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers and company commander of a combat support hospital.
Noder dislikes collective bargaining, saying it does not serve all parties well. He suggests a two- or three-tier salary system may be necessary to get compensation in line with the private sector. He would outsource traffic control, property crime investigations and other low-priority policing to free senior officers for handling more serious offenses. He would also streamline Fire Department responses to calls for assistance.
He does not favor the $20 tab fee recently adopted by the city, but would endorse bond issues like one passed in 2004 that is funding ongoing street repairs.
Condon is running on leadership skills acquired while in the military and running small businesses. He says the city should find more ways to share services – police, building inspections and libraries, for example – with other local jurisdictions. Employee pay should be frozen and then pegged to an index that would minimize future increases. After wavering in prior statements, Condon says he – like Verner – will not accept a full salary.
Although he says his stomach churns when he sees untreated waste entering the Spokane River, Condon would remove the 20 percent utility tax dedicated to sewer upgrades. He also opposes the $20 tab fee because the use of the revenues has not been adequately defined. He would ask voter consent to an annual street levy.
Verner says her biggest accomplishment was obtaining concessions from police and firefighter bargaining units that have reversed a rising curve.
Inside City Hall, she says, departments are working better with each other, and better for citizens and small businesses, with the result that neighborhoods like East Sprague and Hillyard are noticeably improved. The city is moving away from a one-size-fits-all approach to planning, she says.
Verner notes the city’s quick response to the needs of Caterpillar, which will be building a distribution center on the West Plains, and her advocacy on behalf of the medical school and Boeing Co. tanker bid.
Much remains to be done to make Spokane a financially sound city responsive to all the needs of its citizens. Verner, confronted with an economic downturn, has cut costs. Condon says he would be more tight-fisted. How is something he and the incumbent can debate after surviving the primary.
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