January 8, 2012 in City

New council already has its feathers ruffled

Airport Board appointment divisive
By The Spokesman-Review
 
High-profile decisions

The new Spokane City Council will face a few high-profile decisions in its first few weeks.

Perhaps the biggest is revisiting the controversial water rate structure approved in 2010. But several plans are under consideration and Mayor David Condon hasn’t yet endorsed one.

The city’s water rates were changed for 2011 – lowered for people who use less and increased for those who use more. Those who used the most water saw substantial increases, although more people saw reductions in their bills over the course of the year than saw rate hikes.

Replacing the rate structure, however, could carry political baggage because the new structure likely would increase rates on most water customers, unless the city is willing to collect less revenue.

“There will either be a compromise or a repeal,” Council President Ben Stuckart said. “I’d like to see a compromise.”

The honeymoon period for the new Spokane City Council may have ended before its first regular meeting, with a debate about which council member should represent the city on the Spokane Airport Board highlighting the dynamics of the new council.

Voters in November elected four new members to the seven-person council, resulting in a more conservative majority. The number of members affiliated with the Republican Party is now four, compared with one of seven on the previous council. Even so, the council will be led by new City Council President Ben Stuckart, who was backed by the Democratic Party.

Current City Council rules – approved under former council President Joe Shogan – guaranteed a seat for the council president on the Airport Board unless a supermajority of the council votes for someone else to get the job.

Councilwoman Nancy McLaughlin has proposed a rule that would strip the City Council president of an automatic seat on the Airport Board.

Stuckart said he’s disappointed by the proposal, which will be considered Monday night.

“I didn’t make the rule. I inherited the rule, and they’re changing it midstream, which is not really in the spirit of cooperation and collaboration,” Stuckart said.

McLaughlin said she decided to request the council’s seat on the Airport Board after the airport’s attorney asked her to consider the position, in part because there are no women on the board. She said the rule guaranteeing the city seat for the council president was made as a political concession to Shogan, who was angered by the council’s decision to change some of the rules governing the body.

“We just want to put it back the way it was,” she said.

Under the current rules, McLaughlin was unlikely to get the five votes needed to win the seat. However, she expects to have the four votes needed to remove the rule and win the appointment.

Controversy over which council members serve on which boards isn’t new. In 2010, after the council shifted to the left, McLaughlin was stripped of her seats on the Spokane Transit Authority and the Spokane Regional Transportation Commission in favor of Councilman Jon Snyder. Last year, after the dynamics of the council shifted slightly, Snyder was stripped of his STA seat in favor of McLaughlin. (Snyder is set to lose his SRTC seat in favor of McLaughlin this year.)

Shogan, who endorsed Stuckart’s opponent in the November election, said the Airport Board seat should be held by the council president. He accused McLaughlin of wanting a seat on the Airport Board to bolster an election bid for the state Senate against Democratic Majority Leader Lisa Brown. McLaughlin has said she will decide in the coming months if she will challenge Brown.

“It’s just one of her ego trips,” Shogan said. “This isn’t a résumé building board.”

But McLaughlin said she approached Stuckart about taking the seat on the Airport Board and he didn’t originally seem to care. She said she believes Stuckart had hoped to use the seat as a bargaining chip to try to keep Snyder on the SRTC board.

“I really don’t want that position used as a bargaining chip,” she said.

Councilman Mike Allen, one of the new council members affiliated with the GOP, said he supports the change because the guarantee for the council president was “bad legislation.”

“It had nothing to do with Ben,” Allen said.

But Stuckart and Shogan say the Airport Board is important enough that the council’s representative should be elected citywide. Only the council president is elected by all Spokane voters.

While the dynamics of the council are likely to be noticeable, the shift may not be as dramatic as the mathematical breakdown between Republicans and Democrats on the council would seem to suggest.

Outgoing Councilman Bob Apple lost much of his support within the Democratic Party in the last few years because of his stance on some issues, including Mayor Mary Verner’s sustainability plan. Outgoing Councilman Steve Corker, though a former chairman of the Spokane County Democratic Party, had a relatively conservative voting record in recent years, voting against development taxes and vehicle tab fees. And two of the new Republicans, Allen and Steve Salvatori, have presented themselves as moderates. Salvatori, for instance, has said he would not support repealing the vehicle tab tax because the city needs the money to help fix the roads.


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