January 11, 2012

Spokane mayor’s transition teams make recommendations

Mayor’s policing panel discusses working with county
The Spokesman-Review
 

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Spokane should focus police training on “demilitarization,” maintain a plan to stop raw sewage from flowing into the Spokane River, consider privatization and turn control of two community centers to nonprofit organizations.

Those are some of the dozens of recommendations of the more than 70 people who served on Spokane Mayor David Condon’s five transition teams. Leaders of the teams presented their final ideas to Condon in a public forum Tuesday afternoon in the Spokane City Council Chambers.

Condon’s transition co-leader, Ezra Eckhardt, said the recommendations focus “on how we can build a better city for tomorrow.”

“We would really view this as a bridge to trust and openness,” said Eckhardt, president and chief operating officer of Sterling Savings Bank, as a slide on a large screen displayed a graphic that said “Mayor Condon: Open. Accountable. Responsive.”

Condon has said his top focus is public safety, and Nancy Isserlis, who led the public safety team, made the first presentation. Much of it was focused on consolidating or regionalizing Spokane’s police force with the Spokane County Sheriff’s Office.

That idea, which has been heavily promoted by Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich, should be explored, the report said. But the team also recommends moving forward on a search for police chief. Isserlis said consolidation would take years, not months, to complete.

“We’re all of the mind that you should never say ‘no’ just to say ‘no,’ ” she said, adding that consolidation should be considered “not to save money but to improve services.”

Isserlis said the new police chief should embrace “demilitarization” in training to help prevent violent interactions. Her team also recommended that the police ombudsman be given expanded oversight powers and that the city consider creating a citizen’s police oversight panel. That could be a challenge since expanded ombudsman powers were successfully challenged by the Spokane Police Guild last year.

Condon’s committee on utilities and public works focused on several high-profile issues that emerged in the campaign. It even contradicted one of his positions on the campaign trail.

The team recommended that the city maintain the vehicle tab tax that was instituted last year. Condon criticized that decision last year and said he would work to repeal that $20-per-vehicle tax. Latisha Hill, who led Condon’s “infrastructure” transition team, said team members determined that the fee will help the city maintain the streets that have been fixed by the street bond. She said the team was told to give advice and was never pressured to take any particular stance.

“We worked to be honest and transparent to him,” said Hill, a regional business manager at Avista Corp.

Although the contradiction is notable, the tab tax isn’t likely to be revisited in the near-future anyway because a majority of City Council members – who would have to approve a repeal – already said that they don’t support doing so.

Two of Condon’s subcommittees recommended that the city work to push back a 2017 state deadline on completing major sewage projects to give the city more time to raise the needed money. The projects are estimated to cost about a half billion dollars.

Even so, Hill’s committee recommended that the city maintain its timeline to complete one of the major projects: building a series of tanks that will prevent raw sewage from being dumped into the Spokane River when it rains.

Hill said moving forward on the overflow tanks shows to regulators that the city is making “a good-faith effort that you’re trying to move forward.”

“But you have to mindful of the burden that it’s placing on the citizens,” she said.

In the last few years the city has begun to significantly raise sewage fees to help pay for the infrastructure improvements. In recent years the Spokane City Council has approved sewer rate increases of more than 10 percent.

Other transition reports recommended that the city continue its efforts to streamline its permitting process and revamp the East Central and Lower Falls community centers so that they would be run by nonprofit agencies instead of by the city. The West Central and Northeast community centers already are run by separate organizations. One report recommended that the city “identify appropriate outsourcing opportunities.” But the report doesn’t suggest any specific program that should be considered for privatization.

Condon said he will study the recommendations and release his plan for his first 100 days in the next few weeks.

He ended the meeting with a challenge to his administrative team: “It’s time to get to work,” he said. “We owe it to the citizens. We owe it to the transition team.”


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