The next Spokane Valley City Council member will be either Chuck Hafner, a retired school superintendent with tight ties to many current council members, or Ben Wick, an IT systems administrator who believes that the council needs to find a new direction now that the Sprague/Appleway Revitalization Plan is gone.
The two have been selected for interviews before the council on Tuesday and the vote to choose a successor for Councilman Bob McCaslin is expected to take place on May 17.
Wick applied for the council seat vacated by Councilwoman Rose Dempsey earlier this year and was selected for an interview then. In the end the seat went to planning commissioner Arne Woodard.
Hafner did not apply for that vacancy even though he had already filed paperwork with the Public Disclosure Commission to run for a city council seat in November. At the time he said he didn’t want to put the council in the position of considering him because of his role running the Positive Change group that elected four of the current council members. But now it’s different, he said.
“Bob McCaslin was one of the Positive Change people,” Hafner said. “I didn’t think that would be the same scenario that we had with Rose. I thought it was simply a matter of replacing one with the other.”
He acknowledges that most people are assuming he’s a favorite to be appointed to the seat, given his ties to the council. He donated $100 to Councilman Dean Grafos’ re-election campaign in March. Mayor Tom Towey has recused himself from all discussions involving Hafner because of their long relationship and because Towey donated $100 to Hafner’s election fund in March.
“Regardless of my association with members of the council, I would hope that they would be looking at the merits of my background and what I have done. I just want them to sit and objectively decide,” Hafner said.
He added, “I’m working for this community, not the council. It doesn’t bother me because I think my qualifications are very good. Why should I be penalized simply because of my relationships or the things I did in the past?”
While Hafner didn’t give money to any candidates in 2009, he worked behind the scenes to collect donations for the five Positive Change candidates. But he downplays his role in their campaigns.
“Figure you have five cats in your house,” he said. “Try to corral them. Some people overstate my direction and my influence on the five cats. They ran their separate campaigns.”
Hafner got McCaslin’s blessing to run for his seat before he died. McCaslin was co-chair of Hafner’s election campaign and gave him $500 in February. “He had asked me three months before he passed away, when he wasn’t too well, ‘If something should happen to me, would you apply for my position?’” Hafner said. “I said yes.”
Wick said he knows that he’s unlikely to be chosen to fill the vacant council seat. Still, “I don’t think we should just bow out because of that and let him (Hafner) have it,” he said. “I think the best decisions get made when you have a diverse group up there. I think we all need to do what’s best for the city and the citizens.”
Wick said he’s already thinking about running for city council in November, which would not be his first effort. In addition to applying for Dempsey’s seat, Wick also applied for a council seat in 2009 and ran for city council in 2002.
“I am highly considering it,” he said. “I’m kind of waiting to see how this whole interview process comes out.”
Despite all that, Wick said he appreciates that the council voted to have him back for a second interview. “I really have a passion for the city and really want to help make it a better city for everybody,” he said. “I just want to be involved in the city.”
He sees the city’s first priority as coming up with a new plan to replace SARP. “Now we’ve kind of gone back to not having a true direction,” he said. “Now that we know SARP isn’t our direction, it’s time to come up with a new plan. We all can see that Sprague is having some problems.”