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Editorial: City Council needs to stick to issues that it can control

Seven years ago, the Spokane City Council took on the politics of gay and lesbian relationships in debating whether to extend employee benefits to partners of same-sex couples. In the course of the three-hour debate, proponents and opponents invoked fairness, justice, religion and morality. The evening’s back-and-forth was emotional, occasionally ugly, but ultimately productive, because the council passed an ordinance in favor of equal benefits regardless of sexual orientation.

Fast forward to Monday night’s council session, with raw emotions dominating a contentious and, thanks to opponents, sometimes disgusting debate over a resolution in support of gay marriage. The difference this time is that the council can’t make a difference. The state has already passed a gay marriage law. If a statewide referendum makes it onto the ballot, voters will decide whether to keep it.

The council wisely tabled the matter, but Council President Ben Stuckart hasn’t ruled out bringing it up again. The problem with continually pushing symbolic votes on hot-button issues is that it threatens to poison the alliances council members need to form in getting their work done.

Unfortunately, this council has chosen to pursue an unusually high number of nonbinding resolutions.

Must we return to the contentious councils of a decade ago? Must a supposedly nonpartisan council confirm suspicions that a Democratic faction is squaring off against a Republican one?

We support the gay marriage law, but we agree with Councilman Mike Allen, who also supports the law: “I’m not sure that the City Council, which is elected to a nonpartisan position, should be weighing in on this issue.”

Besides, where does it end? Abortion? National health care? Stay-at-home mothers? The city is facing a $10 million shortfall for 2013. Should the state adopt a nonbinding resolution on how to fill it?

About 300 people showed up Monday night, which is far more than attend when the council is making decisions that actually affect them. Dozens of people took to the microphone. Everyone got their say.

There’s no point in doing this again.

As citizens, council members can weigh in on any issue they choose. They can hold press conferences. Issue news releases. Write letters to the editor. But to force other members to continually address matters for which they were not elected is heavy-handed and counterproductive.

There isn’t a single member of the council who ran on the platform of tackling issues outside their purview. These nonbinding resolutions were not campaign issues – and for good reason.

If council members can’t resist, perhaps they should run for the offices where those issues are decided.

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