October 23, 2011 in Opinion

Editorial: Condon has the plan to revitalize Spokane


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:

The Spokesman-Review recommends the election of David Condon for Spokane mayor.

Incumbent Mary Verner took the reins in 2007, on the eve of the global economic meltdown, and has managed the city through unusually difficult times. But the progress that has been made to get costs under control has fallen short of the radical restructuring of pay – about 85 percent of city expenditures – needed to realign public-sector compensation with what Spokane businesses have been able to pay their employees, if they have been able to keep them at all.

Minimizing raises and shifting more benefit costs to employees, as Verner notes she has done, will not rebalance a system that has been out of whack for longer than she has been in power. Hard times are a challenge, but also an opportunity to make things right.

Condon says other cities are negotiating freezes with their workers. Why not Spokane? He says local labor organizations understand they have to sacrifice pay in exchange for job security. He’s right. Spokane will never get the police officers it needs on the streets without Police Guild concessions that go beyond freezes. The same is true for firefighter bargaining units, as well as others.

If he really wants to drive that compensation point home, Condon should return a significant portion of his pay to the city, as Verner has done for four years at a cost to her of more than $250,000. So far, he has made that commitment for only one year.

Condon concedes he did not grasp the depth of the public’s revulsion to the death of Otto Zehm until he started ringing doorbells. The case has shaken public confidence in the force, as has Guild resistance to an independent ombudsman with independent investigatory powers, he says, adding that body cams on officers might rebuild trust.

He places part of the blame for the city’s inadequate response on assistant city attorney Rocky Treppiedi, whom he would fire; a move long overdue.

Condon says he would have vetoed rate increases recently imposed on heavy water users. Tiered rates are acceptable, he says, but counterproductive if those users simply let their lawns brown up in response to excessive rate hikes.

He adds, correctly, that the city will have to be more selective about undertaking major capital projects until revenues rebound.

To that end, Condon says he will be a much more visible and vocal advocate for the city and business. A former small-business owner himself, Condon would create an “economic ombudsman” and small-business council within City Hall meeting quarterly to examine ways Spokane can be more business-friendly.

Verner has her share of accomplishments, annexation of a significant portion of the West Plains, for example, the ongoing development in the University District, and efforts to embed sustainability as a guiding principle.

But the city needs to take a stronger stance than has Verner confronting a fundamental problem: overcompensation of too many employees.

We think Condon will push back, as he pushes for more economic development. We urge Spokane voters to elect him.

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