May 17, 2011 in City

City puts charter changes on ballot

Vote includes reducing power of Park Board
By The Spokesman-Review
 

City voters soon will have 11 choices to make about the future of municipal governing.

The Spokane City Council decided Monday to place proposed changes to the City Charter on the Aug. 16 ballot.

Officials say the purpose of most of them is to clarify contradictions in existing law. Still, one concept already has been opposed by the Spokane Park Board.

The most controversy Monday came from a proposal to strip the Park Board’s power to condemn property. The City Charter currently requires the City Council to condemn land for park acquisition if requested by the Park Board. The 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 to them by voters more than a century ago. Park Director Leroy Eadie said the board has had condemnation ability since 1910 and has rarely, if ever, used it.

“There is no reason to believe that the current Park Board or future boards will be any less responsible or that it will recklessly exercise its condemnation authority,” Eadie said in a letter to the council. He added that “in the coming years circumstance may require use of this power to further develop Riverfront Park, the North Bank or other properties in its inventory.”

Council members Jon Snyder and Nancy McLaughlin argued that only elected officials should have the power to condemn property from unwilling sellers. They were joined by Steve Corker and Richard Rush in supporting the addition of the condemnation proposal to the ballot.

“It’s an important check and balance we need in a strong mayor form of government,” Snyder said.

Mike Harrington, a former Peaceful Valley resident who still owns property in that neighborhood, reminded the council of a controversial Park Board plan in 1990 to condemn residential property for a park and the Centennial Trail. Eadie noted that the Park Board abandoned the plan.

Ten other proposals were added to the ballot on 6-1 votes. Councilman Bob Apple voted no on each.

They include:

• Allowing someone to serve as City Council president even after serving two consecutive terms as a council member.

• Stipulating that recall elections of council members elected by district would be held only in the member’s district. Currently, those elections would be held citywide.

• Requiring the City Council president to cease being council president in the event that the president takes over for the mayor if the mayor cannot perform his or her duties. The council president already is the next-in-line to the mayor.

• Allowing the mayor the power to hire outside attorneys without approval of City Council.

• Allowing the city to hold more than one special election within a six-month period.


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