November 7, 2013 in City

Spokane City Council power shifts post-election

As council leans more to the left, changes expected to follow
By The Spokesman-Review
Spokane City Council votes that likely would have been different under new majority

The following actions were taken on 4-3 votes, with members of the Republican-leaning majority on one side and all members of the Democratic-leaning minority on the other.

May 2013

• Supporting the filing of lawsuits to stop two citizen initiatives from appearing on the ballot, including Envision Spokane’s proposed Community Bill of Rights.

April 2013

• Rejection of proposal to pull money from reserves to hire 10 police officers.

• Creation of 13 new public safety departments to allow Mayor David Condon to hire more managers without using civil service rules.

January 2013

• Tabling resolution urging the Legislature to ensure that juveniles convicted of unlawfully possessing firearms receive time in juvenile detention and to make it easier to commit potentially dangerous offenders.

December 2012

• Approval of the city’s 2013 budget.

Failing on 4-3 votes were several proposed changes to the budget including a plan to spend $15,000 on a state program at the downtown library to provide help for job seekers.

November 2012

• Rejection of 1 percent property tax increase that the city usually accepts annually.

• Rejection of a nonbinding resolution requesting that city administrators study alternative routes for golf cart travel separate from auto traffic.

October 2012

• Acceptance of the $3.9 million bid from Mad Anthony’s Restaurants to buy the property it had been leasing for its restaurant from the city.

• Removal of the Alcohol Impact Zone in the West Central Neighborhood, ending the city’s right to restrict the sale of high-octane beer in the neighborhood.

April 2012

• Requiring the city attorney’s office to write ballot summaries on citizen initiatives and requiring the city to write a fiscal statement on the cost of a proposed initiative.

• Tabling “indefinitely” a resolution in favor of gay marriage.

March 2012

• Formally opposing the Spokane Tribe of Indians’ proposed casino.

February 2012

• Rejection of proposed fire labor contract. (The council approved a nearly identical version of the deal several months later.)

• Rejection of resolution asking that Washington State University reverse plans to demolish the Jensen-Byrd building on its Spokane campus.

To the victors go the committee assignments.

It may not sound exciting, but the first likely change in the new Spokane City Council as a result of Candace Mumm’s victory Tuesday is the power to decide who sits on what committee.

And some of those committees have power beyond making mere recommendations, like the Spokane Transit Authority Board, the Spokane Airport Board and the Spokane Regional Health District Board.

When control of the council shifted in the past two election cycles, the new majority first flexed its political muscle by reassigning which council member sat where.

Two Republican-leaning members said Tuesday they were expecting a shuffle in favor of the new Democratic-leaning majority and aren’t bothered much by it.

“That’s OK,” said Councilman Steve Salvatori. “I think that’s how the system is supposed to work.”

Council President Ben Stuckart said Tuesday night, after returns showed a shift to the left on the new council, that he planned to pursue restoration of powers that were pulled from the council president when his predecessor Joe Shogan held the seat. But Stuckart said the process would be collaborative.

Although city councils are considered nonpartisan in Washington, many council members openly align themselves with political parties.

Mumm, who was backed by Stuckart, defeated Michael Cannon, who was backed by Mayor David Condon. She takes the seat of Nancy McLaughlin, who couldn’t run again because of term limits.

The rest of the council won’t change. Incumbent Amber Waldref didn’t face an opponent in the race for her seat representing northeast Spokane, and incumbent Jon Snyder defeated former Republican state Rep. John Ahern, capturing about 64 percent of the vote in his south Spokane district. Snyder won all but one of the 50 precincts in the council district.

Salvatori said he expects that some top issues, including the council’s attempt to create police oversight consistent with the city charter, will continue to see strong collaboration among all seven members.

Councilman Mike Allen, who served part of a two-year term when Shogan was council president, said despite the focus on the council’s 4-3 votes, council members have been respectful and professional.

“Ultimately, you want good people who care about the city to serve on council, and I don’t think that changes with the seating of the new council,” Allen said.

Donations on behalf of Mumm and Snyder easily outpaced contributions supporting their Republican-leaning competitors. That’s a significant achievement for Stuckart, who was active in the race and is expected by many to challenge Condon in the mayoral election in two years.

The fundraising advantage was largely the result of unprecedented union backing. That became a campaign issue as Cannon and a political action committee that supported him questioned if Mumm was beholden to union interests. Supporters of Mumm and Snyder responded that Cannon and Ahern were beholden to developers and big business.

“Unions don’t give to campaigns for better contracts, they give to campaigns when they feel that the members they represent are being attacked,” Stuckart said Tuesday.

Condon said he’s not concerned that the loss of the Republican-leaning majority will complicate the last two years of his term. He noted that the people he’s appointed to his administration have enjoyed strong support from the full council and that Democratic-leaning members have mostly praised his proposed 2014 budget.

He also defended his record with unions, noting that he has negotiated fire and police union contracts.

But, he added: “I am looking at what the city can afford.”

Valley council races

In Wednesday’s ballot count, challenger Ed Pace pulled ahead of incumbent Spokane Valley City Councilman Gary Schimmels in a race Schimmels led by three votes after Tuesday’s count. On Wednesday, Pace led by 183 votes, carrying 50.15 percent of the  vote. Schimmels has been on the Valley council since the city incorporated in 2003.

Appointed council incumbent Rod Higgins extended his lead over challenger Linda J. Thompson, from 143 votes Tuesday night to 459 votes in Wednesday’s total. Higgins has 51.2 percent of the vote.

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