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Editorial: Spokane to vote on police, taxes library issues

Spokane voters have until midnight Tuesday to mail or deposit ballots containing three proposals. These are summaries of The Spokesman-Review editorial board recommendations:

Proposition 1 would transform civilian oversight of the Spokane Police Department by empowering the ombudsman to conduct independent investigations of officer misconduct.

The office, occupied since 2008 by Tim Burns, can now do nothing more than review investigations done by the department itself. An arbitrator swatted back a city effort to give the ombudsman authority to do a separate investigation and fact-finding. The outrageous city and police cover-up of the 2006 death of Otto Zehm at the hands of several officers demonstrated all too well the pitfalls of relying on inside sources to police the police.

An officer-involved shooting automatically triggers an investigation by another law enforcement agency. The death of Zehm, who was beaten, then deprived of adequate oxygen because officers did not follow procedures, might not have been scrutinized at all if federal investigators had not stepped in.

Zehm and the people of Spokane deserve better.

Proposition 1, which amends the City Charter, may be contested by the Police Guild. The best defense is a strong endorsement by city voters. Vote yes.

Proposition 2 is the popular but simplistic solution to … what?

Prop. 2 would change the city charter to require five of seven City Council members – a supermajority – consent to any tax hikes or tax increases. But no council going back at least a decade has approved a tax by anything less than a 5-2 vote. When councils, or the mayor, have increased taxes or utility rates – Prop. 2 does not apply to rates – voters have identified, and ousted, the culprits. Exhibit A: the squelching of a proposed water rate restructuring in 2011.

The power to impose, or dispose of, tax increases best lies in the hands of the voters, not two City Council members.

Make your vote count, again. Vote no on Prop. 2.

Proposition 3 would authorize a new tax assessment to maintain, and expand, Spokane library services.

Operations at the main branch and five neighborhood branches have been sustained only by relying on reserves that will be exhausted before the end of the year. And by sustained, we mean limited hours at the East Side, Hillyard and Indian Trail branches. Those areas deserve the same service enjoyed by South Hill and Shadle Park residents.

At 7 cents per $1,000 assessment, the proposed four-year levy would cost the owner of a $150,000 home $10.50 per year. Continued access to the universe of materials – print, Internet, CD, DVD – available at the libraries, and the historical and other reference resources, is a bargain for that sum, and the system will be able to purchase more with the new funds.

Many of these services are available from home.

Vote yes, then read all about it.

To respond to this editorial online, go to and click on Opinion under the Topics menu.


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Editorial: Washington state lawmakers scramble to keep public in the dark

State lawmakers want to create a legislative loophole in Washington’s Public Records Act. While it’s nice to see Democrats and Republicans working together for once, it’s just too bad that their agreement is that the public is the enemy. As The Spokesman-Review’s Olympia reporter Jim Camden explained Feb. 22, lawmakers could vote on a bill today responding to a court order that the people of Washington are entitled to review legislative records.