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Focusing on the long term

FRIDAY, OCT. 12, 2012

Todd Mielke, Spokane County commissioner for District 1, smiles as he listens to a presentation earlier this month. (Tyler Tjomsland)
Todd Mielke, Spokane County commissioner for District 1, smiles as he listens to a presentation earlier this month. (Tyler Tjomsland)

Mielke cites ‘leading role’ in setting county’s direction

Spokane County Commissioner Todd Mielke thrives in public life.

He’s been both an elected official and private legislative lobbyist. Of the two, he said, he prefers holding office.

The two-term Spokane County commissioner is seeking re-election as a Republican on Nov. 6 against Democrat John Roskelley for the District 1 commission seat, which pays $93,000 a year in base salary.

“Lobbying was much more lucrative, and I owned my own time,” he said of his former job. “What I like about my position now is I’m investing in my community.”

Being a county commissioner leaves him little time for himself. “What personal life?” he said when asked about his off hours.

First elected to the commission in 2004, Mielke, 48, rattles off accomplishments in arguing for the support of voters.

“I’ve tried to focus on taking a leading role on big, long-term issues,” he said. “We’re moving the county in the right direction.”

Commissioners have been part of a wider effort to entice Boeing Co. to build a satellite manufacturing plant on the West Plains as the company ramps up production of 737 MAX planes. Two other aerospace companies are also being wooed, he said.

Mielke points to completion of a new wastewater plant along Freya Street, which will accommodate future growth.

The county is updating its growth management plan with a modest expansion of the urban growth area, a measure that Roskelley opposes.

A state-mandated update of the county’s shoreline law will go to public workshop and hearing before the commissioners on Nov. 8 at 5 p.m. in the commissioners’ hearing room.

Mielke is leading an effort to consolidate animal control countywide under Spokane County Regional Animal Protection Service and relocate SCRAPS to East Trent Avenue.

Maybe the most difficult issue facing commissioners is controlling costs for criminal justice.

Mielke is supporting a series of reforms to reduce the jail population and cost, hoping the savings can help finance a new jail facility to replace Geiger Corrections Center.

“How do we get the most service for the lowest possible cost?” Mielke asked.

Spokane County Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich has asked commissioners to seek voter approval of a 0.2 percent sales tax, which is allowed under state law.

Mielke said commissioners postponed the issue for two reasons: The sheriff didn’t have a detailed plan and deputies are in binding arbitration over their salary contract.

Roskelley has criticized Mielke because county property taxes and voter-approved sales taxes have been increased since he took office.

Mielke said the county has frozen property taxes since 2010 after being forced to find additional revenue to stabilize the budget during years of a declining tax base. The county has a AA bond rating and a 9.4 percent reserve fund, he said.

Mielke’s criticism of Roskelley concerns ability to work with other officials. He said Roskelley’s independent nature has been fractious in the past.

He defended the county’s $225,000 annual allocation to Greater Spokane Incorporated for economic development, saying it produced successes in drawing two federal grants for the North Spokane Corridor and in attracting a new Caterpillar plant to the West Plains. Roskelley opposes the GSI contribution.

Mielke and fellow commissioners faced criticism for purchasing Spokane County Raceway in 2008 for $4.3 million, but Mielke said the purchase provides the county with not only a racing venue but also land for other needs.

A controversial land purchase to reroute the Geiger Spur rail line off Fairchild Air Force Base helped prevent encroachment around the air base, he said.

On his campaign website, Mielke said he comes from a family with five generations in Spokane. He grew up on the North Side and holds a degree from Eastern Washington University.

He is single with a daughter, who is now in college.

Mielke’s career in public life traces back to his time as an assistant to late state senator and former Spokane Mayor Jim West.

He represented Spokane in the state House from 1990 to 1995. He also operated a Spokane excavation business during those years.

Mielke left the Legislature to work in government affairs consulting, founding his own company in 1997. He worked with drug and tobacco companies, among other clients, during those years.

To become commissioner, Mielke defeated former county Treasurer Linda Wolverton in 2004 and then won re-election in a hotly contested race with former regional health director Kim Thorburn in 2008.

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