March 31, 2011 in Washington Voices

Spokane Valley City Council interviews 4 candidates

Dempsey’s council position expected to be filled next week
By The Spokesman-Review
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The five remaining Spokane Valley City Council members took turns Tuesday interviewing four people for one of the two vacancies in their ranks.

The council is scheduled to vote next week on which candidate to appoint to the seat vacated in January by Rose Dempsey. The new council member will be immediately sworn in, and will serve until the term expires at the end of the year and will have to run for re-election in November.

The council had voted to interview five candidates, but John Baldwin sent a letter to the city saying he was unable to make Tuesday’s council meeting due to personal issues. The council could still appoint him if they wish, Mayor Tom Towey said in an interview Monday. “We don’t really have a procedure for backing out of interviews,” he said.

Councilman Bill Gothmann questioned Steven Neill on a statement he made on his application that he would cut city salaries to pay for road maintenance. Gothmann said the city needs $5 million or so a year for street preservation. “The total salaries this city pays out is $6 million,” he said.

“Obviously cutting the wages or whatever is not going to be the answer,” said Neill. “I think we need to open up the books on everything. What can we cut? What can we outsource?”

Councilman Dean Grafos asked if the city should continue to contract out work or hire new employees to handle the tasks. “The city needs to contract out as much as possible,” Neill said. “We are a contract city.”

Neil said he saw the most important function of a council member as being a voice for the people by seeking input “and being able to set aside your personal agenda without compromising your principals.”

Ben Wick said the most important issue facing the city is the need to have a vision and long-term goals. Grafos asked Wick what the city’s role in the community should be. “The city is a partner with the community,” Wick said. “We’re also servants to the community. The council of the city should be more visionaries and directors of the ship.”

Councilman Gary Schimmels asked Wick if he thought the city should build a city hall or not. “I would say, yes we should build a city hall,” he said. “I don’t think this is the year to do it.” The city could start planning and perhaps buy land now, he said.

Wick said he saw Facebook and a more interactive website as the best ways to enhance communication between the council and the citizens. He also suggested sending out or posting a weekly newsletter on what is going on in the city to help people be more connected.

In several of her responses, Jennie Willardson spoke strongly against raising taxes. Gothmann asked if her views against raising taxes and fees extended to things like the cost to rent equipment for events at CenterPlace. “Raising fees should be a last resort,” Willardson said. “That would have to be weighed carefully. We don’t want to lose money on CenterPlace, that’s for sure.”

Grafos asked how she would handle a situation where she did not agree with a decision made by the majority of the council. “I have a tendency to be a bit of a rabble rouser,” she said. “As a council member I would have to be much more of a gentlewoman.”

The recession and loss of revenue are among the city’s biggest issues, Willardson said. She believes the primary responsibility of a council member is to represent the people and to be informed about what people want. “That can be a difficult process,” she said.

Arne Woodard said he was involved in several city incorporation efforts because he has a passion for the area. “I felt that government closer to the people gave better representation,” he said. That representation gives residents more control over taxes and services, he said.

Grafos asked Woodard to define the Spokane Valley culture. “People don’t really want to be told what to do,” Woodard said. “They want to be heard. They want minimal government.”

Towey asked Woodard to define two budget shortfalls and explain they might be fixed. Woodard identified the difference between revenues and the annual budget as one shortfall. “I know we have the reserves, but why spend them without checking to see if we need to spend them at all?” he said.

Woodard said he believes the city should only provide the services that are legally required, acknowledging that it might leave parks out of the picture. “We have to do what’s constitutional first,” he said. He also said the city should grow revenues by being more business friendly to pay for street preservation.

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