SATURDAY, NOV. 26, 2011

Editorial: Top-flight transition team helps new mayor

Mayor-elect David Condon has assembled a first-rate transition team.

Spokane has seen the like before, probably too frequently for those who long for a two-term mayor.

Condon first designated former Spokane economic development director Theresa Sanders team leader, with Ezra Eckhardt of Sterling Financial Corp. and Katy Bruya of Washington Trust Bank as co-leaders.

This week, he added five task force leaders: a group led by Nancy Isserlis to review public safety, another by Mike Senske for jobs and the economy, Brian Benzel for budget reform, Latisha Hill for infrastructure and Arlene Patton for quality of life and public services.

These are good choices, and their selection backs up his declaration that economic development will be his first priority.

Senske, chief executive officer of Pearson Packaging, chairs the Empire Health Foundation, which manages a $100 million fund created when Community Health Systems Inc. purchased Empire Health Services, where Senske served as a board member. His résumé also includes time at Microsoft.

Benzel, vice president for finance and administration at Whitworth University, previously headed the Spokane school district, where he dealt firsthand with painful budget cuts.

The group led by Hill, a former Washington state highway commissioner, gets first crack at two decisions that helped unseat Mayor Mary Verner: the restructuring of water rates and imposition of a $20 car tab fee. Condon opposed both, but combating the deterioration of Spokane’s streets without the tab fees will be difficult.

Patton retired three years ago as director of the U.S. Housing and Urban Development Department’s Eastern Washington office, but has remained active in community housing affairs. In September, she won the Washington State Housing Finance Commission’s 2011 Friend of Housing Award, a testament to her own continued public service.

The task force led by bankruptcy attorney Nancy Isserlis may have the most challenging work, encompassing as it does the Spokane Police Department and Spokane Fire Department. Not much more need be said about the state of public confidence in the police force following the Otto Zehm verdict. That matter aside, her group must look at pay issues, starting at the top, the possibility of combining the police and county sheriff departments and the spinoff of the Fire Department into a separate fire district.

With the city’s budget problems unlikely to abate anytime soon, transition team members familiar with managing public and private finances should give the Condon administration as strong a start as possible under the pressing financial circumstances. The mayor-elect will surely find the city’s money woes less amenable to solution from the inside than a candidate might allege from the outside.

For her part, outgoing Mayor Mary Verner has pledged to leave City Hall in the best possible order, making her the most valuable transition team member of them all.

This story has been edited to reflect the following correction: Mike Senske was a board member, not chairman, of Empire Health Services.

The Spokesman-Review Editorial Board

Members of The Spokesman-Review editorial board help to determine The Spokesman-Review's position on issues of interest to the Inland Northwest. Board members are:

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