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Council picks Neill; two council candidates questioned

Thu., May 12, 2011

The Spokane Valley City Council moved quickly Tuesday to appoint a new planning commissioner, voting unanimously to approve Steven Neill with no discussion or questions.

Mayor Tom Towey, who made the recommendation, said he was encouraged by the quality of the candidates for the position and that he did not take his decision lightly. “It’s a very, very tough decision to make.”

Neill, a distribution specialist with Office Max, applied and was interviewed for a vacant council position earlier this year. He also applied to fill the council vacancy created by the death of Bob McCaslin and was selected for an interview, but decided to withdraw his request and applied for the planning commission instead. He also applied for a planning commission seat in December.

The other applicants for the position were: John Baldwin, a longtime SCOPE volunteer; Gordon Curry, a self-employed real estate broker; Bill Stallcop, a retired transportation manager; George Watson, project director and partner at Watson and Herres Architectural Firm; and Jennie Willardson, a customer service representative for West Corp.

The council also spent time interviewing council candidates Chuck Hafner and Ben Wick. They are expected to select one of the two during the May 17 council meeting.

Hafner said the most important issue facing the city is the budget and it must be “austere.” Councilman Bill Gothmann said Hafner’s application indicated he would streamline the permitting process. “How do you envision doing that?”

The city staff needs to be able to make certain decisions, Hafner said, so “they don’t have to follow the book, cross the T and dot the I.”

Councilwoman Brenda Grassel asked Hafner to explain his vision for the future and Hafner said he didn’t have any specifics. “That’s so hypothetical I don’t think I can give you a plan,” he said. That is something the council must decide as a whole, he said.

Hafner also said he would work with the council to find money to pay for street preservation projects. “I’m not sure we’re going to have much decisions to make if we don’t get in some revenue,” he said.

Councilman Dean Grafos asked how Hafner would handle it if the council made a decision he didn’t agree with. Hafner said that while he might be struggling on the inside, he wouldn’t go to the media with any complaints. “That’s just tearing down the council,” he said.

In his second turn at an interview, Ben Wick said the most difficult part of being on the council would be the “daily loss of friends” because there is no way to make everyone happy. The most important issue facing the city is the need for a long-term strategic plan, he said, which would allow the city to “start to make progress toward that.”

Creating such a vision would have to be a collaborative process between the council, the community and business leaders, Wick said. “It’s not going to be easy,” he said. “It’s not going to be one person’s vision.”

Grafos asked how Wick would pay for needed street preservation projects. “The downside of street preservation is it costs money all the time,” Wick said. The city will be saving about $2 million a year after 2011 because it will no longer be paying for sewer projects and the full width paving associated with them. The city also has already set aside just under $1 million for the purpose, he said. “That’s three of your four million,” he said.

In other business, the council had a lengthy discussion on whether to apply for a $125,000 grant from the Department of Ecology to help pay for the ongoing update of the city’s Shoreline Master Program. The city has budgeted $150,000 for the process, said planner Lori Barlow. The grant could help pay for several items that were not included in the original budget, including staff time, a public access plan and a critical areas analysis.

The majority of the council agreed to have staff prepare a grant application and gather more information to bring before the council at a later date for a vote.

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