November 28, 2013 in Washington Voices

Spokane Valley Mayor Tom Towey will step down after two terms

By The Spokesman-Review
 
Jesse Tinsley photoBuy this photo

Spokane Valley Mayor Tom Towey is finishing up his second two-year term as mayor and will leave the council at the end of the year. He is one of six people being considered to fill the vacancy created by the retirement of state Rep. Larry Crouse.
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Spokane Valley Mayor Tom Towey has been counting down the number of City Council meetings he has left for several weeks, but that doesn’t mean he’s eager to leave his post as the ceremonial head of the city.

“I’m going to miss the people I talk to, both the citizens and the staff,” he said.

But he’s also ready for a break. “I haven’t taken a vacation in four years, so I’m going to take a couple weeks off. At least.”

Spokane Valley has a city manager form of government. The mayor is elected by council members every two years and is in charge of representing the city. Towey served as mayor for all of his time on the council. “I was on the council for 15 minutes,” he said.

Towey said he had no aspirations to be mayor. “I really had someone else in mind,” he said, declining to name the person. “He had a little more whiskers than I had, a little more experience.”

The two years he spent attending council meetings before he took office helped him settle into the position, Towey said. He knew his job was largely to lead the council meetings and represent the city at public events, such as ribbon cuttings, meetings, breakfasts and luncheons. “A lot of things came easy because of that,” he said. He also credits the help he received from his assistant, Sue Passmore, and City Clerk Chris Bainbridge.

It was a divisive time in city politics when Towey took office with four others who ran together on the Positive Change slate. They largely campaigned on their opposition to the Sprague/Appleway Revitalization Plan. Towey said he was afraid it would create financial difficulties for the city.

In his briefcase Towey still carries a six-year budget projection he received at his first finance committee meeting after he took office. It projected a $25 million deficit in 2014. The new council quickly jettisoned SARP, stopped plans to buy a City Hall and cut vacant staff positions. Since then the city has been in the position of only having to make trims to its budget to deal with falling revenue.

The current council isn’t likely to create budget problems by launching some sort of massive project, but Towey said he worries that doing a series of smaller, beneficial projects that the city really can’t afford will create a snowball effect. That’s why he keeps the old budget projections close by. “It’s a reminder to me that things can get out of hand real fast,” he said.

The early divisiveness included a rocky relationship between the council and city staff. The new council’s first official action in 2010 was to ask for the resignation of then city manager Dave Mercier. Towey said he believes that relationship is on much firmer ground now.

“The council and staff, in the last three or four years, have really tuned into each other,” he said. “It’s visible now. They’re really hitting on all eight cylinders. I think hiring (city manager) Mike (Jackson) was really the best thing for this city.”

Towey, 70, said he always planned to leave the City Council after the end of his first term. “I think that new ideas and new approaches to the council is a good thing,” he said. “It’s healthy for a council to rotate.”

He said he understands how people can say they intend to stay for one term and then change their minds. “I can understand them wanting to go to the next term,” he said. “You’re in the middle of things. You want to help out.”

When Towey leaves the council he will be accompanied by longtime council member Gary Schimmels. Councilman Dean Grafos will become the most senior member of the council. But Towey said he’s not worried about what will happen after he and Schimmels leave. “There’s always a little bit of that,” he said. “I’m really confident with leaving. They have a solid foundation to build on.”

While Towey plans to take a vacation after he leaves office on Dec. 31, he may not get much rest. He is one of six people being considered to fill the vacancy created by the retirement of state Rep. Larry Crouse. Towey said he expects the local Republican Party to forward three names to the Spokane County commissioners for consideration at the beginning of January. It is up to commissioners to appoint someone to fill the rest of Crouse’s term.

Whoever is appointed to fill the vacancy must run on the November ballot to keep the position. Towey said if he is not appointed to the vacant seat he plans to run in November.

Towey said if he does win a seat in the House of Representatives, he won’t stick to his one term only rule. Freshmen legislators need to focus on building relationships first, he said. “You don’t go in there with the idea you’re going to set the world on fire,” he said.

His half brother, Bill Bates, won the election to replace Towey on the council. “Before I ran, I thought he would make a better councilman than I would,” Towey said. “I still do. He’ll be a good one.”

As for who should replace him as mayor, Towey said he hopes Chuck Hafner will get the job. “He has the understanding of the office and the responsibilities of the mayor,” he said. “I think he’d make a great mayor.”

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